West’s moral standing and the slaughter of Palestinians

Today, for the many instances of injustice, but mainly through their treatment of Palestinians ever since 1948, the West is gradually but surely losing its moral authority.

Mahfuz Anam

Mahfuz Anam

The Daily Star


Whatever gains the world made in the laws-based international system in the post-war era stands almost completely shattered in the eyes of the people of the developing world, given how the plight of the Palestinians has been ignored for the past 75 years. PHOTO: REUTERS/THE DAILY STAR

October 27, 2023

DHAKA – We condemn Hamas for its atrocities on innocent civilians, but we must condemn Israel much more for the atrocities they have been committing for the last 21 days. In judging what’s going on in Gaza, let us remember that Hamas is, as termed by the US, a terrorist organisation. But Israel is a state with a formal army—well equipped with the latest US-supplied weapons; national boundaries—regularly extended with annexation; a constant flow of money, and everything else that a formal state gets. The conflict is between an organisation and a state. Thus, when the “state” deliberately kills more than 7,000 Gazans—40 percent of whom were children—shouldn’t there be a more proportionate condemnation?

The cover story of The Economist for the week of October 14-20 has the banner heading of “Israel’s Agony.” Its briefing page story is headlined “From shock to fury,” with a second heading that reads: “Hamas’s atrocities and Israel’s retaliation will change both sides for ever.” If I am to believe this issue’s reportage on what the UN secretary-general termed the biggest humanitarian crisis, I would have to accept that Hamas committed all the crimes and Israel only retaliated, and that too with the highest restraint. It made me wonder whether I was inhabiting the same planet as these publishers. Either I have forgotten all my humanity, or a section of the West has.

The French President Emmanuel Macron—visiting Israel last Tuesday, while Israeli bombing killed 700 overnight, and US President Biden, while the death toll of Palestinians rose to more than 6,000—in their recent speeches, pleaded with Netanyahu that Israel should not “fight without rules.”

I sincerely tried to comprehend this plea. Would it be alright to kill Palestinian men, women, and children if the so-called rules are followed? Is that what the two presidents were saying? Hasn’t the world already been a witness to the massacre that has been taking place in Gaza over the past several weeks? Have there been any signs or traces of “rules” anywhere? Does subjecting more than two million inhabitants of Gaza to a slow death, by cutting off food, water, gas, electricity, and all medical supplies exhibit any respect for “rules”? Even in saying that Israel should follow the “rules,” there was no warning of any consequences if they didn’t. On the contrary, President Biden asked the Congress for one of the highest ever one-time allocations of more than $100 billion, principally for Israel and Ukraine.

If there ever was a mockery made of indiscriminate killing, of the slaughtering of children, of making a whole community homeless, of mass eviction, indiscriminate arrest and torture, then the aforementioned calls for “rules” to be followed when carrying out mass murder is one such instance. None of the Western leaders has yet called for any ceasefire or stopping of the mass killing. Even a Brazil drafted Security Council resolution calling for “humanitarian pauses”—not a ceasefire, not a call for anything substantial, but only little “pauses” in the constant killing so that humanitarian aid could reach the desperately needy—was vetoed by the US on October 18, though it received unanimous support from all other Security Council members, including France. A subsequent push for pauses in fighting to allow humanitarian aid access, proposed by the US on October 25, was vetoed by China and Russia. The call for “rules”—which is a nuanced request for restraint on the perpetrators of the ongoing mass murder—is at best a tap on the wrist, while Israel was given the green light to destroy Hamas even if it meant razing Gaza to the ground with all its two-million-plus inhabitants.

Random killings and detention is a regular occurrence in the West Bank, which has no presence of Hamas, proving that it is the Palestinian population as a whole, and not just Hamas—an organisation—which is the real target of the State of Israel.

From the ashes of the second world war and from the Nazi’s butchery of European Jewish people emerged a set of international laws upholding universal values of life, liberty, and freedom of expression, giving birth to notions of “crime against humanity,” etc. The most fundamental of all rights were those of life and liberty. Don’t these apply to the Palestinians?

Whatever gains the world made in the laws-based international system in the post-war era stands almost completely shattered in the eyes of the people of the developing world, given how the plight of the Palestinians has been ignored for the past 75 years. The constant oppression over this period, which grew more brutal and inhumane in the last two decades, stands as proof that the justness of a cause is not the issue here, but whether or not that cause benefits the West.

The US invasion of Iraq was based on a lie. Was anybody held responsible for destroying that country? The subsequent invasion of Ukraine by Russia has all but destroyed international laws in general and the values they represented in particular. It appears to have reduced inter-state relations to nothing more than a power game fueling a new arms race, bringing never-ending smiles for the military-industrial complex (to use a term coined by President Eisenhower in his farewell address in 1961).

Gaza, which has been widely termed as an “open-air prison,” is among the most densely populated human habitations in the world. Half of the people from the North—more than a million—have been forced to leave their homes and possessions, and “evacuate” to the South, further accentuating the population pressure there. These refugees from the North of Gaza are now living on the streets, parks, and open spaces, mostly under the open sky. All the while, the passage of water, food, electricity, gas, and all medical necessities have been blocked since October 7, the day of the Hamas attack.

On Tuesday, in his address to the Security Council, the UN secretary-general told the world that we were on the verge of a severe man-made catastrophe. UNRWA, the biggest humanitarian organisation run by the UN in Gaza, will run out of all medical supplies by the time this article is printed. Imagine the plight of all the patients needing oxygen, all the children in incubators—nearly 200 of them—and all those in emergency rooms. They will all die within minutes as the oxygen runs out. If this is not planned mass murder—and state-sponsored at that—then what is?

So, this is Israel’s “right to self-defence,” in the name of which they are entitled to kill, maim, abduct, rape, torture, dislodge, and simply drive people out from their homes, not to mention, take possession of properties that Palestinians have owned and lived in for generations, if not for centuries. Israel can accuse any Palestinian of any crime and have him or her sent to prison, at any time of the day or night—all, of course, in “self-defence.” On Wednesday, Israel conducted what it called a “targeted raid” with tanks, indicating perhaps the beginning of the ground invasion.

I am unsure as to how much the West knows that its prestige in the eyes of those of us from Asia, Latin America, and Africa is not so much due to their skyscrapers, highways and technical wizardry, but far more for their laws, justice, institutions, governance, and culture of tolerance. Many of my readers may argue that the West’s sense of justice only applies to themselves and is not meant for us. The history of the colonial period, its racism, its obliterations of native populations, its exploitation of the riches of the colonies, and the sense of inferiority that they were systemically able to inject in our minds are the most powerful examples of how the colonisers were able to “other” us and dump us in history’s dustbin. Still, their legal institution earned them some respect.

Today, for the many instances of injustice, but mainly through their treatment of Palestinians ever since 1948, the West is gradually but surely losing its moral authority. By their hypocrisy, the West is in fact creating a sense of hopelessness that is driving the global youth, especially the deprived ones, towards desperation—which will inevitably fuel greater insecurity and violence.

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