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25 Apr, 2010

Now Thais will realise how it feels to live under an occupation

Originally Published: 25 April 2010

Do the Thai people now realise what it means to live and suffer under an “occupation”?

I have to thank the red-shirts for this “Middle East conflict in miniature” unfolding in Central Bangkok. When it is all over, I hope the Thai people will see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from a different perspective and sympathise more earnestly with the Palestinian people living under the heavy-handed yoke of Israeli occupation.

Only a few weeks of occupation of Central Bangkok has led to much consternation about the public inconvenience and commercial losses. Early frustration quickly graduated to outrage and anger.

Palestine has been occupied for more than 60 years. Palestinians face daily arrest, harassment at checkpoints, destruction of their olive trees, house demolitions, extra-judicial assassinations and more at the hands of Israeli authorities. The world sees or hears little about this.

Indeed, the red-shirts’ occupation of Central Bangkok can be seen from both perspectives.

The reds could be equated with the Israelis, especially the Jewish fundamentalist settlers, who are illegally occupying land that does not belong to them, and don’t give a damn about the monumental problems they are causing to innocent people.

Alternatively, they could be equated with the aggrieved Palestinians who are resorting to desperate tactics, including violence, to seek justice, fairness and an end to occupation, deprivation and poverty.

For those watching from the sidelines, the question is: When someone occupies your home, to what extent are you wiling to go to drive the occupiers out? How angry do you get? How long are you willing to wait for the security apparatus and legal channels to do what they are supposed to?

Bangkokians see a government that does nothing to end the occupation of the country’s prime real estate; the Palestinians see the US and European governments who do nothing to end the Israeli occupation.

Bangkokians see Thaksin Shinawatra’s financial support all over this; the Palestinians see the clear hand of Jewish financiers and media barons who fund the Israeli occupation and its massive infrastructure requirements through their global conglomerates.

The Thai government has branded the red-shirts “terrorists”. Many thanks. That puts the red-shirts in the same category as those creating havoc in south Thailand, where only Muslims are considered “terrorists”. I can now prove that violence is not a uniquely Islamic trait.

Indeed, as I listen to the abusive, vicious language used by the red-shirt leaders to whip up anti-government anger and keep their followers motivated, I wonder what’s the difference between that and the tactics the Muslim mullahs are accused of using in whipping up sentiments against the “infidels” or the Jewish media barons in whipping up sentiments against Iran.

How much longer before some poor red-shirt, his/her mind numbed by the daily dose of hate-filled rhetoric, decides to open fire at innocent people. I don’t see many western governments wagging a finger at the red-shirts about the potentially destructive impact of this incitement.

Thai people are also learning that political violence has its root causes with equally deep-rooted, heavily self-righteous differences about its historic origins. All sides see their respective “jihad” as being “just.”

Behind the scenes, the pot is kept simmering by the all-too-familiar combination of egomaniacs, spoilers, face-saving tactics, media manipulation, blame-games, disinformation and false-flag operations. What a complete waste of human capital to see people with phenomenal leadership, rhetorical and organisational skills squandering their talents in manipulating the poor purely for self-interest.

It’s not just here in Thailand where such conflicts are under way.

A report in the Indian media on April 23 quoted Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh as describing “left-wing extremism” as “the gravest threat to internal security”. The Hindu, one of India’s leading national dailies, quoted the prime minister as saying, “No quarter can be given to those who have taken upon themselves to challenge the authority of the Indian state and the fabric of our democratic polity,” in an apparent reference to the April 6 massacre of 76 security personnel by Maoists in Chhattisgarh province.

At the same time, Dr Singh added, “We cannot overlook the fact that many of areas in which such extremism flourishes are under-developed and many of the people, mainly poor tribals, who live in these areas have not shared equitably the fruits of development.”

Now cut to the situation in Palestine.

John Ging, Director of Operations in Gaza for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East last week held a news conference at the UN in New York to discuss the situation in Gaza as a result of the Israeli economic blockade.

“It’s bewilderingly difficult for them (the Palestinians) on a daily basis. It’s a struggle to survive [with] the infrastructure and water and sanitation in a state of collapse and all that goes with that,” he said, stressing that there is no prospect for restoring a legitimate economy because there is no commercial trade into or out of Gaza.

“That leads to the impoverishment of the people, and the physical suffering of so many continues on a daily basis, not just physical suffering, but psychological suffering because people are at their wits’ end to understand when all of this will come to an end.”

He added, “It’s time to put the people before the politics. If we do prioritize the people, and if we do focus on the needs of the people, in many of our views, that will make the politics easier moving forward. Ignore the people, abandon the people, leave the people to despair and desperation, and that will make the politics more difficult going forward.”

Sound familiar?

If I was a red-shirt leader, I would declare victory and go home. Clearly, the red-shirts have already “won”. No-one will ever forget this stand-off. No future government can afford not to learn its lessons. Even previously taboo subjects like the monarchy have come out into the open. Thai society will lick its wounds, search its soul and emerge fairer, stronger and just.

By any account, that would be Mission Accomplished.

Declare victory, guys. End the occupation.

Maybe, just maybe, the Israelis will come to their senses and end theirs too.