Syr­ian as­sault

Does the world re­ally care about Pales­tini­ans?

The Jerusalem Post - - FRONT PAGE - • By ARI INGEL

Since 2012 an es­ti­mated 3,720 Pales­tini­ans have been killed, 1,674 im­pris­oned, 309 have gone miss­ing and at least 120,000 have been dis­placed. Their ter­ri­tory has been block­aded by the army; forc­ing them to live with­out food, wa­ter, elec­tric­ity and med­i­cal ser­vices. It has been re­ported that peo­ple were forced to eat grass, dogs and cats to sur­vive, with around 200 peo­ple dy­ing of star­va­tion. An as­sault on their ter­ri­tory on April 24 of this year was re­lent­less, with war­planes car­ry­ing out more than 85 air-strikes, fir­ing a bar­rage of mis­siles and drop­ping bar­rel bombs that killed in­dis­crim­i­nately, not dis­tin­guish­ing be­tween civil­ians and armed in­sur­gents. Hospi­tals were tar­geted and de­stroyed.

I’m not talk­ing about the Gaza Strip, but rather Syria and the Yar­mouk Pales­tinian camp, where the per­pe­tra­tors have been a com­bi­na­tion of the As­sad regime and Rus­sians, along with Is­lamic State and al-Qaida af­fil­i­ated mil­i­tants.

In 2012, there were ap­prox­i­mately 560,00 Pales­tini­ans liv­ing in Syria. Ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions Re­lief and Works Agency for Pales­tine Refugees (UN­RWA), of the re­main­ing 438,000 Pales­tini­ans, over 95% (418,000) are in crit­i­cal need of sus­tained hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance, al­most 254,000 are in­ter­nally dis­placed and an es­ti­mated 56,600 are trapped in hard-to-reach or in­ac­ces­si­ble lo­ca­tions.

As noted by the watch­dog or­ga­ni­za­tion UN Watch, since 2012 the United Na­tions Hu­man Right Coun­cil (UNHRC) has not held a sin­gle emer­gency ses­sion regarding the Pales­tini­ans in Syria; it has not passed any res­o­lu­tions con­cern­ing their plight and has not set up any com­mis­sions of in­quiry about their well be­ing. By con­trast, dur­ing ap­prox­i­mately this same pe­riod, the UNHRC has passed 68 res­o­lu­tions con­demn­ing Is­rael, held eight emer­gency ses­sions, en­listed five in­quiries and has black­listed it once.

It begs the ques­tion: why does the world re­act so vis­cer­ally when Is­rael is en­gaged in con­flict with the Pales­tini­ans but stay largely silent when it’s some­one else?

This is not a new phe­nom­e­non. Many are un­aware or have for­got­ten that over 3,400 Pales­tini­ans were killed by the Jor­da­nian mil­i­tary be­tween 1970 and 1971; fol­low­ing the 1991 Gulf War, the Kuwaitis un­leashed a sys­tem­atic and vi­o­lent cam­paign against the Pales­tini­ans liv­ing in Kuwait, re­duc­ing their pop­u­la­tion of 400,000 to less than 30,000; and Egypt has kept its own block­ade of the Gaza Strip for the past 10 years. Not to men­tion the vast hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions doc­u­mented by Amnesty In­ter­na­tional and Hu­mans Rights Watch com­mit­ted by Ha­mas and the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity against their own peo­ple. As an ex­am­ple, part of Gaza’s cur­rent elec­tric­ity cri­sis is caused by PA Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas, who has stopped mak­ing pay­ments for elec­tric­ity there in an ef­fort to ex­ert fi­nan­cial pres­sure on Ha­mas to cede con­trol of the ter­ri­tory to him.

Even beyond the Pales­tini­ans, while the tragic killing of 10 Pales­tini­ans the week of April 1 in Gaza made head­lines ev­ery­where, what went bar­ley no­ticed was the 14 peo­ple, in­clud­ing eight women and five chil­dren, that were killed in a sin­gle Saudi air-strike in Ye­men on April 2. Dur­ing the week of April 22, around seven Pales­tini­ans were killed in the Gaza protests, while on the Sun­day of that week, another Saudi air-strike in Ye­men killed at least 21 peo­ple, with many of the dead and wounded be­ing chil­dren.

In fact, ac­cord­ing to re­ports, the Saudi Ara­bian siege of Ye­men has left around 2.2 mil­lion Ye­meni chil­dren mal­nour­ished – 80% of them se­verely – yet Saudi Ara­bia has never been con­demned by a sin­gle UN res­o­lu­tion. The war in Ye­men has been called the “for­got­ten war.”

While some will in­evitably dis­card this ar­ti­cle as a mere at­tempt at “whataboutery,” it is pre­cisely that re­ac­tion that goes to the heart of why many Pales­tini­ans and their sup­port­ers in the West re­main silent.

There is an over­rid­ing fear that any men­tion of Pales­tini­ans suf­fer­ing at the hands of any­one but the Is­raelis will take the fo­cus off of Is­rael, which they have spent years care­fully build­ing up to be a state that em­bod­ies an evil not seen since World War II. Any­thing that works against this nar­ra­tive negates it in their eyes. As Sir Ian Hamil­ton stated: “Pro­pa­ganda is in­verted pa­tri­o­tism, draws nour­ish­ment from the sins of the en­emy. If there are no sins, in­vent them! The aim is to make the en­emy ap­pear so great a mon­ster that he for­feits the rights of a hu­man be­ing.”

This log­i­cally leads one to ques­tion whether or not those speak­ing out on be­half of the Pales­tini­ans in Gaza and the West Bank – but ig­nore their fel­low Arab brethren suf­fer­ing else­where – are do­ing so be­cause they gen­uinely care about their fate or whether they are sim­ply mo­ti­vated by their dis­like for Is­rael, or per­haps Jews in gen­eral.

Many of these peo­ple wish to por­tray Jews as in­ter­lop­ers on Pales­tinian land, with no his­tor­i­cal ties to the re­gion; a Eu­ro­pean in­ven­tion.

Pres­i­dent Ab­bas re­cently echoed these very sen­ti­ments in a speech to the Pales­tinian National Coun­cil, which he deemed a “his­tory les­son.” He claimed that the Jewish con­nec­tion to Is­rael was a lie, backed by the an­ti­semitic trope that Ashke­nazi Jews are not the de­scen­dants of an­cient Is­raelites at all, but rather Khaz­ars. He stated that “Is­rael is a colo­nial pro­ject that has noth­ing to do with the Jews” and that “Euro­peans wanted to bring the Jews here to pre­serve their own in­ter­ests in the re­gion.”

If the Arab coun­tries truly cared about the Pales­tini­ans, why have they kept them iso­lated in camps for the past 70 years, deny­ing them many ba­sic hu­man rights in their coun­tries? The Pales­tini­ans that were dis­placed dur­ing the 1948 war were even­tu­ally af­forded full rights in Jor­dan, how­ever, in Le­banon, they do not have the same rights af­forded to Le­banese cit­i­zens. They are barred from over 30 pro­fes­sions, in­clud­ing white-col­lar jobs in fields like medicine, law, en­gi­neer­ing and ed­u­ca­tion. They can­not own prop­erty or at­tend pub­lic schools, and la­bor laws do not pro­tect them. Mean­while in Syria, now that Yar­mouk has been de­pop­u­lated, there are re­ports that the area will be re­de­vel­oped for Syr­ian use and that the Pales­tini­ans could be re­lo­cated to a more bar­ren ter­ri­tory. Con­versely, in Is­rael, an Is­raeli Arab sits on the Supreme Court, and over 1.2 mil­lion Arabs live in Is­rael as cit­i­zens with full rights, who can live and work where they choose.

In­stead of a true con­cern for their well be­ing, the Pales­tinian peo­ple of­ten seem to be used as a weapon to dele­git­imize Is­rael. For in­stance, Pales­tinian refugees are the only refugees in the world that have their own gov­ern­ing agency at the United Na­tions, and they are also the only refugees whose de­scen­dants are also con­sid­ered refugees, for­ever, whether set­tled in another coun­try or not.

Jewish set­tlers are uni­ver­sally con­demned but the “right of re­turn” for Pales­tini­ans is on the table for dis­cus­sion, when in re­al­ity they rep­re­sent two sides of the same coin. If there is to be a two-state so­lu­tion, Pales­tini­ans have to un­der­stand that, for the most part, they can’t go back to what is now Is­rael, just as for the most part, Jews can’t go back to Judea and Sa­maria. The “March of Re­turn” is no less an af­front to peace than the set­tlers in­hab­it­ing new ter­ri­tory in the West Bank.

But does this ex­plain the at­ti­tudes of many West­erns to­ward Is­rael? Why the du­al­ity of con­dem­na­tion of Is­rael and lack of me­dia at­ten­tion for the plight of Pales­tini­ans and Arabs else­where? In ad­di­tion to the above, it is most likely a com­bi­na­tion of age-old an­ti­semitism that is once again on the rise through­out Europe and North Amer­ica, along with the tena­cious pro-Pales­tinian groups in the West who co-opt, and then con­flate, any mi­nor­ity or hu­man rights move­ment with their own strug­gle. And yet for some oth­ers, it is the per­plex­ing line that Western coun­tries view Is­rael as one of them, so they are to be held to a higher stan­dard then the Arab coun­tries. Philip Luther of Amnesty In­ter­na­tional re­cently stated, the “civil­ians of Yar­mouk are be­ing treated like pawns in a deadly game in which they have no con­trol.” The same can be said about the Pales­tini­ans in Gaza and the West Bank.

The au­thor is an in­ter­na­tional at­tor­ney, the pres­i­dent of the Al­tal­ena Foun­da­tion and a mem­ber of the Creative Com­mu­nity for Peace.


SOL­DIERS LOYAL to Syria’s Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad are de­ployed near the Yar­mouk Pales­tinian camp in Da­m­as­cus last month.

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