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22 Nov, 2009

Yet Another Palestine Day is Commemmorated With More Talk And No Action

Originally Published: 22 Nov 2009

This November 29 will mark the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people, its 32nd year since being approved by the UN General Assembly in 1977. Yet another year has gone by in commiserating a day marking probably the most explosive, expensive and divisive political conflict in modern history.

If anything, the day should be renamed a Day of Shame as it brings out the worst in all three monotheistic religions directly involved in this complex geopolitical squabble. Although Islam, Christianity and Judaism all claim to be faiths of peace, compassion and wisdom, the plight of the Palestinian people proves them to be the exact opposite. It also underscores the double standards, hypocrisy and shamelessness of global leaders who practise these faiths.

Indeed, there is probably no other day on the long list of UN commemorative events that deserves more soul-searching than this one. Recent developments testify to that.

On Nov 16, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon released the annual report to the General Assembly on the human rights of the people in occupied Palestine, including East Jerusalem. Available for download, the report covered five areas, and I quote verbatim:

(a) The humanitarian and human rights situation in the Gaza Strip and Israel;

(b) The policy of closures and severe restrictions on freedom of movement in the Occupied Palestinian Territory;

(c) The wall inside the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, and its impact on the enjoyment of human rights;

(d) Palestinian house demolitions and forced displacement in Area C and East Jerusalem;

(e) Palestinian child prisoners in Israel.

Here are just a few of the shocking details in the report which, naturally, was ignored by the international media:

<> The Israeli blockade of Gaza has impeded the flow of goods, including food and, at its peak, created a serious shortage in basic commodities, including wheat flour, meat, canned foods and beverages. A majority of the Gazan population (65 per cent) currently live below the income poverty line, while more than half of those (37 per cent) live in extreme poverty.

<> Electricity cuts, together with Israeli attacks on Gaza’s water and sewage systems during Operation Cast Lead, left both systems on the verge of collapse; 48 of Gaza’s 130 water wells were not functioning due to lack of electricity and damage to pipes. Approximately 45 additional water wells were operating only partially for the same reasons.

<> Since sewage treatment plants could not be repaired due to the ban on the import of construction materials, between 50 and 80 million litres of untreated and partially treated sewage have been discharged daily into residential areas and into the Mediterranean Sea since January 2008, causing serious environmental and health problems. According to the World Bank, only 5 to 10 per cent of wells in the Gaza Strip yield safe drinkable water

<> The Gaza Central Drug Stores reported that of the list of 416 essential drug items and 596 essential disposable items, 72 and 111, respectively, were at zero stock level during June 2009…..As of 31 August 2009, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed that since the beginning of 2009, 22 persons had died as a result of their inability to obtain access to medical treatment outside the Gaza Strip.

The brunt of the shame over these appalling conditions is borne by the Arab and Islamic leadership. The Prophet Muhammad declared the pursuit of justice and the end of oppression as being amongst Islam’s highest callings. Yet, year after year, the Arab and Muslim peoples get insulted, attacked and humiliated while their leaders do nothing except issue ritual condemnations, making them more of a laughing stock.

No wonders they command little respect amongst their own peoples or on the world stage.

Bethlehem-based Palestinian blogger Mazin Qumsiyeh wrote last week: “What most irritates us here in Palestine is the collaborative Arab regimes and certain Palestinian self-appointed “leaders” whose spinning wheel also squeaks without going anywhere. They think the only way to maintain their privileged positions is to coddle up the US/Israeli policies while trying to maintain some legitimacy with their people by “condemning” or “deploring” Israeli actions on the ground that also “harm” the “peace process”.”

The Christian world, too, has much to be ashamed of. Christianity is supposed to be based on compassion. Yet, Christians tolerate the encirclement of the birthplace of Christ by an eight-metre-high Israeli wall and the inability of millions of Christians to visit their holy sites without being subjected to the ignominy of applying for an Israeli visa, a country they may not actually want to visit in the first place.

In the 1990s, the Christian-majority European states and the United States vigorously demanded that Muslim-majority Indonesia free East Timor and recognise it as an independent state. Today, they fret incessantly about human rights in Myanmar, China and Darfur. Yet, they deny statehood to Palestine and tolerate Israeli abuse of human rights there. Double standards are indeed alive and well.

As for the Jews and Israelis, shame on them for running around craving sympathy for the six million souls who perished in the holocaust and yet confining the Gazans to a life that is not too different from that in the Nazi concentration camps.

In his report Mr. Ban wrote that the “reported ill-treatment of (Palestinian) children includes beatings by the Israeli occupying forces, being forced to stand or sit for long periods in extremely painful and harmful positions, in most cases with hands tied together and eyes blindfolded, threats of sexual abuse and hooding the head and face in a sack.”

Sounds to me like a concentration camp (or Guantanamo Bay, or Abu Ghraib).

Reading these shameful details made me wonder whether today’s generation of Jews and Israelis truly deserve any sympathy for the holocaust. I also wondered what those who perished in that unspeakable horror would think about the pain and suffering their grand- and great grand-children are inflicting on the Palestinian people today.

Is there supposed to be a difference in the torment being felt by those who were at the receiving end of the white phosphorous attacks in Israel’s pulverisation of Gaza last December and those who suffered in Hitler’s gas chambers?

In many global forums, the actions of the Jewish state of Israel are today being associated with apartheid, nazism and war crimes. Is there no sense of shame at this, or just the usual sense of denial and “victimisation”?

The fate of the recent Goldstone report makes it additionally clear why Palestinian suffering continues.

On Nov 5, the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to adopt the Goldstone report by a vote of 114 in favour and 18 against, with 44 abstentions. However, in Washington DC., the U.S. House of Representatives, on Nov. 3, passed a resolution by a vote of 344 to 36 condemning the same report.

This is a clear reflection of the global divide today. The world backs the report, but U.S. politicians, mostly Christians but financially backed by Jewish businessmen and the powerful Israeli lobby, vote otherwise. Israel, a “free and open democracy,” lauds the American version of democracy, and scoffs at the UN General Assembly.

And so it continues, year after miserable year, wasting valuable time, money and intellectual resources that could otherwise be harnessed to solve far more pressing global problems.

For all their publicly declared pursuit of peace, compassion and wisdom, the three monotheistic faiths and their religious and national leaders cannot seem to resolve this protracted conflict.

Come next year, my column on this subject will probably echo the same theme. What a terrible, terrible shame that would be.