Anger on the streets

Print edition : August 22, 2014

Demonstrators outside the Houses of Parliament in London calling for an end to the violence in Gaza, on July 26. Photo: Justin Tallis/AFP

Michelle Bachelet, President, Chile. Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP

Nicolas Maduro, President of Venezuela. Photo: Ariana Cubillos/AP

Rafael Correa, President of Ecuador. Photo: Meridith Kohut/Bloomberg

Evo Morales, President of Bolivia. Photo: EVARISTO SA/AFP

Dilma Rousseff, President of Brazil. Photo: Eraldo Peres/AP

Ollanta Humala, President of Peru. Photo: MARIANA BAZO/REUTERS

Governments, especially those of the U.S. and E.U. countries, have remained largely indifferent to the decimation of Gaza, while people across the world have condemned the Israeli action.

With the death toll mounting by the day in Gaza and the Israeli army now resorting to the targeting of hospitals, schools and buildings housing other essential services, the people housed in the largest open-air prison in the world need international solidarity more than ever. Sadly, it is in short supply, mainly because of the indifference to their plight in many capitals of the world. The governments in the region, many of them mired in conflicts of their own, have been paying only lip service to the plight of the Palestinians. Hamas, which has been administering Gaza, has made many political miscalculations in recent years. The fall of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt last year was one of the biggest setbacks for Hamas, which was an offshoot of the Brotherhood.

The new military-led government in Egypt has proscribed the Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation and also tarred Hamas with the same brush. When the last serious outbreak of hostilities happened in 2013, the then Egyptian President, Mohamed Morsi, had negotiated a settlement within days. The new Egyptian President, retired Field Marshal Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, on the other hand, has openly expressed his contempt for Hamas. After he took power, the blockade of Gaza from the Egyptian side has been further tightened. Unlike on previous occasions, Egypt has effectively sided with Israel this time. Egypt, along with Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), has basically stood aside and watched as the chicken shoot in Gaza has gone on. The ceasefire proposals the Egyptian government put forward at the start of the Israeli attack on Gaza only took into account the demands of the Jewish state. Khaled Elgindy, a former senior Palestinian diplomat who is currently with the Brookings Institution in Washington, told The New York Times that now there was “clearly a convergence of interests” between many Arab regimes and Israel.

The Turkish and Qatari governments are the only ones working on behalf of the Gazan people to find a long-lasting solution to their appalling situation. They have been articulating in international forums the Palestinian position on the urgent need for lifting the stifling blockade. Unfortunately, these two governments have lost a lot of international credibility, mainly because of the dubious roles they played in Libya and Syria. The Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) have issued statements condemning the Israeli invasion of Gaza but have not been able to convince Arab or other Muslim countries to do anything tangible on behalf of the beleaguered Palestinians. The Iranian government, despite being estranged from Hamas for the last couple of years, has issued a strong statement terming the Israeli actions as being akin to “genocide”. The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called on Arab governments to accelerate arms supplies to the Palestinian people so that they could defend themselves better. “All of the world, especially the Islamic world, has a responsibility to equip the Palestinian people,” he said. The Hizbollah leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, also issued an emotional appeal for Islamic solidarity over Gaza.

Compared with the government leaders in the region and in the West, their counterparts in Latin America have taken a more moral and courageous position. British Prime Minister David Cameron justified the Israeli attack by saying that it was “not disproportionate”. The governments of Brazil, Ecuador and Bolivia recalled their Ambassadors from Israel to protest against the frontal military offensive against a civilian populace of over 1.7 million people wedged in a 40-mile-long ghetto. Venezuela had recalled its Ambassador to Israel after the last barbaric assault, “Operation Cast Lead”, which led to the deaths of more than 1,350 Palestinians. Chile has suspended its free trade negotiations with Israel and also recalled its Ambassador. The President of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, and the Bolivian President, Evo Morales, have described Israel’s assault on Gaza as attempts at “genocide and extermination”. President Maduro has demanded that the United Nations expeditiously address “the systematic violation of the human rights of the Palestinian population in Gaza by the state of Israel and adopt the necessary measures to stop these violations”. At the end of July, Peru joined other countries from the region and withdrew its Ambassador from Israel.

Unlike Western leaders who have supported Israel’s renewed military occupation of the Gaza Strip by arguing that Israel has the right to defend itself, Maduro said that there could not be a “moral comparison between occupied and massacred Palestinians and an occupying state which operates on the margins of international law”. The African National Congress’ (ANC) parliamentary bloc has called for the expulsion of the Israeli Ambassador in Pretoria and the recall of the South African envoy from Tel Aviv. The ruling ANC’s chief whip in Parliament, Steone Sizane, called on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to stand up and act immediately to protect the Palestinian people. “The situation involving Palestine and Israel is an undeclared war, in which the aggressor, Israel, has destroyed the Palestinian economy, robbed people of their land, unilaterally changed borders, and unilaterally built a wall to keep Palestinians from their own land,” he said.

Anger of ordinary people

Ordinary people have chosen to display their anger towards and contempt for Israel’s scorched-earth policy in Gaza by staging huge protests. The English cricketer Moeen Ali chose to wear a wristband highlighting the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the massacre in Gaza during the third Test with India. The award-winning actor Javier Bardem was one of the few names in international cinema to come out openly and criticise the genocide. The Oscar-winning actor, a Spanish citizen, said that he was ashamed of the European Union and his own government for allowing the unprecedented attacks on defenceless civilians to continue. “Yes, I am European and I’m ashamed of the European community that claims to represent me with its silence and utter shamelessness,” Bardem caustically observed.

Nobel laureates and prominent artists and writers have in an open letter accused the international community of being culpable in the ongoing genocide. “Over the period of 2009-19, the United States is set to provide military aid to Israel worth $30 billion, while Israel’s annual military exports around the world have reached billions of dollars. In recent years, European countries have exported billions of dollars worth of weapons to Israel, and the European Union has furnished Israeli military companies and universities with military-related research grants worth millions of dollars,” the letter said. The renowned Israeli conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim said in a statement that both Israelis and Palestinians “are losers in the conflict”. He criticised the Israeli military assault on Gaza, saying that there can be “no military solution” to the conflict.

Chicago, Paris, London, Berlin and other European cities have been witnessing big rallies demanding an immediate end to the massacre of the Palestinians and the cessation of the long-running siege of Gaza. London saw one of the biggest protests, with around 50,000 people taking to the streets. The French government had to ban protests in some cities after they turned violent. French President Francois Hollande personally issued a warning to the protesters: “Those who want to demonstrate at any cost will be punished.” Punishment for unauthorised protests in France carry jail terms of up to six months. More than 5,000 people turned out in Tel Aviv in the last week of July to protest against the war being waged by their government. Millions of Iranians in all the major cities participated in nationwide protests against the Gaza genocide on the occasion of International Al-Quds Day on July 25.

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