Palestine – The Urgency to Restore Human Rights to an Occupied People

15 Feb

The Israel – Palestine situation is a worrying one which involves complex historical problems that has been ongoing for years since The British left the area while it was under its mandate. Early efforts to resolve the Palestinian issue through UN intervention and armed clashes involving neighbouring Middle Eastern countries against Israel has met with little success of a peaceful resolution.

After the declaration of the establishment of the State of Israel, and with the British mandate ending one day later on May 15, 1948, neighboring Arab countries such as Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Transjordan, Holy War Army, Arab Liberation Army, and local Arabs invaded Israel, culminating in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

To this day, the Middle East remains a region plagued by military unrest, with Israel often, at the center of most of these conflicts. Its occupation of Palestine territories remain sharply divided, with opinions from different camps professing different views on how the land issue should be resolved. The effect of its occupation has even spilled into conflicts with neighbouring countries. The most recent military attack occurred in Lebanon last year when Israel attacked the former after they captured two Israeli soldiers during a cross border operation.

Instead of trying to decipher why the Middle East, Palestine in particular, appears to be a conflict- plagued region, this essay, aims to address a more urgent concern – the human rights situation in Palestine. As a pheriphery to the discussion, I will also introduce the Singapore government’s stance on the Middle East even though there is scant information available.

According to Ilan Pappe, a senior lecturer in the University of Haifa Department of Political Science and Chair of the Emil Touma Institute for Palestinian Studies in Haifa, on an opinion piece in Electronic Intifada, based on the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem’s 2006 annual report,

The Israeli military killed 660 citizens in 2006.

He further notes, “The number of Palestinians killed by Israel last year tripled in comparison to the previous year (around two hundred). According to B’Tselem, the Israelis killed one hundred and forty one children in the last year. Most of the dead are from the Gaza Strip, where the Israeli forces demolished almost 300 houses and slew entire families. This means that since 2000, Israeli forces killed almost four thousand Palestinians, half of them children; more than twenty thousand were wounded.”

Pretty astonishing figures. Yet, we have not even begin to touch on atrocities committed over the past years. The human rights abuse committed by the Israel government on Palestinians has been well- documented.Noam Chomsky’s Fateful of Triangle which was first written in 1983 and later with a second 1999 updated edition provides a grim and comprehensive picture of the human rights abuse situation pre-millenium providing stark details on the US government’s involvement and support of Israel’s military action against the Palestinians.

Last year, former US president, Jimmy Carter’s new book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid” drew criticisms for its allegation of comparing Israel to imposing apartheid on Palestinians. In a commentary piece by John Duguard, a South African law professor teaching in the Netherlands and currently Special Rapporteur (reporter) on Palestine to the United Nations Human Rights Council, he said that Carter’s comparison to the Apartheid is of special interest to him. He pointed out that

“restrictions on freedom of movement imposed by a rigid permit system enforced by some 520 checkpoints and roadblocks resemble, but in severity go well beyond, apartheid’s “pass system.” And the security apparatus is reminiscent of that of apartheid, with more than 10,000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons and frequent allegations of torture and cruel treatment.”

He went on, ” Many aspects of Israel’s occupation surpass those of the apartheid regime. Israel’s large-scale destruction of Palestinian homes,leveling of agricultural lands, military incursions and targeted assassinations of Palestinians far exceed any similar practices in apartheid South Africa. No wall was ever built to separate blacks and whites.”

On Counterpunch, reviewing on the same Carter book, Uri Avnery, an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom, commented that the apartheid does share similarities with the Palestinian Occupation. They include the systematic building of roads in the West Bank for Israelis only and not Palestinians or the “temporary” law preventing Palestinians to live with their Israeli spouses.

Yet, he feels that the situation in Palestine is more tricky. There are several differences including the question of the land issue. In South Africa, it is agreed that South Africa must remain intact but not so in Israel/ Palestine. He also points out that in South Africa, White oppression on the Black was rejected by the latter. For Israel/ Palestine, both people wanted a state of their own. Lastly, in South Africa, the White minority ruled over a huge Black majority. However, in Israel/ Palestine, there are almost equal numbers on both sides. Moreover, the South African economy was dependent on Black labor while the Israeli government has succeeded in excluding the non-Israeli Palestinians from their domestic labor market by replacing it with foreigners.

He went on to say that these differences needed to be highlighted to overcome the Occupation. He went on,”

Israel is accepted by the world as the “State of the Holocaust Survivors”, and therefore arouses overwhelming sympathy.

It is a serious error to think that international public opinion will put an end to the occupation. This will come about when the Israeli public itself is convinced of the need to do so.

As if the Palestinian situation is not confusing enough, the recent fighting involving gunfights, and kidnappings between the Hamas and the Fatah factions has seriously dealt a blow to peace within Palestine, thereby indirectly affecting international opinion on the situation.

The calamity is indirectly caused by Washington and the EU in Brussels, which considered Hamas a terrorist group who took power in March during elections. After being elected to government, the Western world suspended direct financial aid to the Palestinians with the current Hamas-led cabinet by Prime Minister, Ismail Haniya. The Hamas-led government has so far resisted pressure to renounce violence, recognise Israel and abide by peace deals between the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Israel. The Fatah , led by the President Mahmoud Abbas, which has roots in PLO, is accused of being pro-west, and receiving weapons from the West.

Laila, a Palestinian journalist who runs a blog, recorded an essay for the BBC’s World Update program, painted a grim picture of Hamas, one year after being in power”

Everywhere there was a sense of misery, hopelessness and abandonment. It was there in the frowns and even smiles of every man woman and child.

Just one year ago around this time, it was the elation that was unmistakable… …

For arguably the first time in their history, Palestinians felt they had actively changed their lives for the better, voting out the corruption that had beleaguered them for years…. …

Sanctions were quick to be enforced. The borders were shut. The people encircled and became impoverished beyond precedent. Gaza was plunged into darkness.

What is most alarming is how all of this unfolded with such purpose and yet with so little protest.

Before our very eyes, global powers have colluded to create a strip of land more isolated than North Korea itself. In so doing, they have sentenced Gaza’s residents to a living death in the world’s largest internment camp… …

In Singapore, the government has more than often adopted a pro- US and Israeli stance with regards to the Palestine issue.

In Minister George Yeo’s interview with CNA on the occasion of the Inaugural Asia-Middle East Dialogue (AMED) held in Singapore, he said that, ” It’s complicated and we are not in any position to affect the main play in the Middle East.”

Another MP, Warren Lee, when tabling a question on relations with Israel and the Palestine Authority, was told that by Singapore Minister Of State For Foreign Affairs Zainul Abidin Rasheed that “we urge Hamas to renounce the use of violence and continue to make efforts to work with Israel to build lasting peace in the Middle East and an independent Palestinian state through the Quartet Roadmap.”

The problem with adopting a simplistic pro- US and Israeli stance is that we more than often not neglect the intricacies and complex historical problems.

Nevertheless, the recent factional fighting between Hamas and Fatah; compounded with Israeli’s human rights abuse over the years towards Palestinians should make the Palestine situation of even greater concern world- wide.

===

References

Palestine, Wikipedia,
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palestine#The_19th_and_20th_centuriesTranscript of Minister George Yeo’s Interview with CNA on 22 June 2005, on the occasion of the Inaugural Asia-Middle East Dialogue (AMED) held in Singapore, http://app.amed.sg/internet/amed/read_content.asp?View,216,

REMARKS BY SINGAPORE MINISTER OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS ZAINUL ABIDIN RASHEED IN PARLIAMENT, 2 MARCH 2006.
http://app.mfa.gov.sg/pr/read_script.asp?View,4438, In response to questions by Members of Parliament:, Dr Warren Lee on Relations with Israel and the Palestine AuthorityPalestine 2007: Genocide in Gaza, Ethnic Cleansing in the West Bank, Ilan Pappe, The Electronic Intifada, 11 January 2007

APARTHEID: Israelis adopt what South Africa dropped, 29 November 2006, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, IMEU.net, By JOHN DUGARD

Israel and Apartheid, Freedom Ride, By URI AVNERY, January 23, 2007, http://www.counterpunch.org/avnery01232007.html

Raising Yousuf, Unplugged: diary of a Palestinian mother, http://a-mother-from-gaza.blogspot.com/

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