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18 Apr, 2024

How Thailand, the “Land of the Free”, can bring peace to the Middle East

Bangkok — This may come as a shock to many, but the people of Thailand, the “Land of the Free”, are uniquely placed to help bring peace to the Middle East.

How so? Very simple. Just visit both Israel and Palestine, see and experience the reality for themselves.

A nice, peaceful way of establishing the truth and then deciding whom and what to believe.

Because the Truth, and Truth alone, will set Palestine free.

Why are the Thai people so uniquely placed to play this role? In fact, why should they bother at all?

For many reasons.

Within the next few weeks, the fate of the remaining eight Thai hostages — be it good or bad — will again dominate the headlines.

The barrage of information, disinformation and misinformation will resume, with all sides jockeying to establish their perspectives as “The Truth”.

In a world of deep fakes, manipulation, bald-faced lies and mind-bending persuasion tactics, to sift fact from fiction is of paramount importance, especially in order to better understand the broader context and history of an intractable conflict.

As many people discover when they travel, what they read and see in the media is often vastly different from the reality on the ground.

A trip to Israel and Palestine can have the same impact.

Thailand is known as the “Land of the Free”. It has never been colonised. And its bend-with-the-wind foreign policy strives to maintain good relations with all sides.

On one side, Thailand and Israel have extensive military, commercial and economic relations. There are 28,000 Thai workers in Israel.

Israeli business are active in Thailand selling security services, information technology, agricultural know-how, alternative energy products, pharmaceuticals and more.

Many dual-citizen Israelis are embedded in Thai business circles, academia, media and NGOs.

On the other side, Thailand recognises and has diplomatic relations with the state of Palestine.

It has always voted with Palestine in UN forums.

It has regularly hosted Palestinian delegations for “study trips” to share Thailand’s experience in promoting tourism.

If Thai taxpayers are helping Palestinians promote tourism, Thai taxpayers have every right to visit Palestine as tourists.

At the ITB Berlin in March 2024, the Israelis had a pavilion to promote “Tourism for Peace.”

The Thai people should take them up on that.

That’s when the experiencing-is-believing challenge will begin.

The first step is a visa application.

Israelis can visit Thailand with no visa. But Thais need visas to visit Israel.

Monitor the process. Check out the documents required, the “interview”, the “attitude” of the Israeli consular officers, the content and quality of questions asked.

Then ask about getting access to Palestine. See what happens.

Although Thailand recognises the “State of Palestine”, access to the “State of Palestine” is controlled by Israel, an occupying power in violation of all international law.

Millions of Thais would love to visit the “State of Palestine” — for leisure and business, to create jobs, income and prosperity for the people of Palestine.

But they need Israel’s permission first.

So, even if they don’t want to visit Israel at all, just Palestine, they still have to apply for a visa and submit to an interrogation and security check by an Israeli immigration/security officer.

In fact, many Thais do visit Palestine as part of strictly controlled religious tours.

But they have to go through an Israeli border control checkpoint, either via the Allenby bridge on the Israel-Jordan border or via Tel Aviv airport.

If the Israelis have a “file” on anyone for pro-Palestinian activism, that individual will be subjected to extra scrutiny.

A Thai-Muslim will be treated very differently from a non-Muslim.

For those who get there, check out the segregated highways, the checkpoints, the living conditions of the local people. See the vast contrasts between life in Israel and life in the occupied West Bank. Talk to local people and hear their stories.

Then go to the southern part of Israel and look across at the utter destruction of Gaza.

Take lots of photographs and videos. Israel is promoting “terror tourism” to the sites attacked by Hamas on Oct 7.

Come back home and post them on social networks.

A famous saying in journalism reads: In times of war, the first casualty is truth.

Disinformation and misinformation is the order of the day. Both sides know that controlling the narrative is a very important part of managing public sympathy.

The Israelis are losing the narrative. They are desperate to shut down all pro-Palestinian voices — over traditional and social media, in academia, public forums, at literary festivals, international conferences.

Their traditional arguments — anti-Semitism and Holocaust suffering — are sounding trite and hackneyed.

The savagery and barbarism inflicted on thousands of innocent Palestinians proves that the Jewish extremist fanatics have no qualms about doing unto others what was done unto them.

Inspite of getting voted down in UN forums by the vast majority of countries, including Thailand, Israel faces no sanctions, no backlash. Instead, it gets extensive, sustained support from the United States and most of the European countries.

The source of this might-is-right power is becoming apparent. Social media is having a ball exposing the influence of Jewish oligarchs in the media, judiciary, security apparatus, financial markets and political power structures.

These power games also play out in Thailand.

In early January 2024, the Israeli ambassador to Thailand a publicity campaign using the popular Tuk-tuks to drum up public support for release of the hostages.

It was quietly pulled after the Thai Foreign Minister met the Ambassador and told her that Thailand did not wish to be become a staging ground for stirring up conflicts.

In early March 2024, the MFA again summoned Israeli diplomats to express concern about continued violence which injured five Thai workers. The MFA “reiterated the request of the Royal Thai Government to the Israeli side to ensure the safety of Thai workers in Israel, particularly preventing Thai workers from being employed in areas where there are serious security concerns.”

All through the conflict, the Thai side has reiterated its position, which is “to call on all sides to exert their full efforts to move the on-going talks forward to reach a humanitarian ceasefire as soon as possible, leading to the release of all hostages, avoiding further loss of lives and allowing greater access for delivery of humanitarian assistance to alleviate the plight of the Palestinian people in Gaza.”

In late March, the Israeli ambassador gave a press conference to assure that her country is of doing everything possible to ensure the safety of Thai workers and the safe return of the remaining hostages.

And so it goes, to and fro. One side of the story followed by the other side of the story.

Many Thai politicians, business leaders and media are taken on fully-hosted junket tours of Israel.

The Israelis are experts are advancing their agenda.

But they have yet to learn to live and let live.

They can learn a lot about the benefits of peace from the Thais and the people of the Mekong Region.

Such as the emergence of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam from the ashes of the Indochina wars of the 1960s and 1970s.

Such as the sufficiency economy and development project pioneered by His Majesty the late King Rama IX the Great.

Such as using Soft Power to attract 40 million tourists a year.

Such as using hearts and minds campaigns to build an inclusive society with the Thai-Muslim minority.

Peace and stability are critical to the economic future of Thailand. Travel & Tourism is now as a source of national security.

Thailand needs to be very careful of external attempts to disturb the peace if it does not want to become another Sri Lanka or Myanmar.

Never for a moment believe that it cannot or will not happen here.

Even peaceful mountain kingdoms like Nepal, birthplace of the Lord Buddha, have seen their share of violent upheavals.

The future of Thailand and the world at large will be shaped by what happens next in Israel-Palestine, possibly over the next few days.

The fate of the eight Thai hostages will soon dominate the headlines. The conflict will soon hit home.

And the first casualty will be Truth.

For the Thai people to find out the Truth for themselves is an extension of Thailand’s official policy of diplomatic neutrality.

If the Israeli government has nothing to hide, it should have nothing to fear.

The truth will set Palestine Free.

By visiting Palestine, the people of the “Land of the Free” can help solve arguably the most intractable problem of the last century.