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From oppressed to oppressor

Publication Date : 01-08-2014


Friedrich Engels described the horrors of 19th Century English oppression in Ireland as a “misfortune”.

Perhaps he might have chosen a better word for the devastation of one nation subjugating another, but today there is no word to describe the living conditions of Arab Palestinians who have endured Israeli occupation for the past 66 years.

Arab Palestinians live in ghettos, endure endless economic blockades and are subject to mass arrests and imprisonment on a daily basis. In the Gaza Strip, their homes, schools and hospitals are being bombed with no regard to the loss of human life, particularly those of women and children.

Over the decades, many have fled their homes to refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and within the Occupied Palestinian Territories themselves.

The United Nations estimates that, today, there are around five million Palestinians and their descendants who have been “displaced”.

Meanwhile, much of the world watches in silence. Many continue to describe Palestinians generally as “terrorists” for defending the last remnants of their homes and lives while the powerful military machine called the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) and Israel as a whole are the “victims”.

For many years I thought that the people of Israel would never become oppressors.

I thought that, as victims of Nazi genocide, they would remember the cruelties inflicted on them throughout history and would never commit such atrocities on others.

History teaches us that the Jews were massacred in 1190 at York. We know also of the pogroms of Tsarist Russia and, worst of all, the Holocaust.

Unfortunately, many in Israel have forgotten all that now that they are rich and powerful. Many – especially young Israelis – have assumed the new mentality that they can do no wrong and that the lives of Arabs are dispensable: if any Arab Palestinian die, it’s due to his own actions.

Angela Godfrey-Goldstein, a peace activist in Jerusalem, says that Israelis are not listening any more and that their attitude is “who are you to tell us what to do?” And so the victim has become the oppressor par excellence.

The latest IDF onslaught in Gaza has taken many civilian lives and it all began because Hamas and Fatah split over the administration of Occupied Palestine.

Fatah’s influence is confined mainly to the West Bank while Hamas is popular in Gaza.

Also, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once indicated that the Two-State Solution of the Oslo II accords (brokered by the West) would not succeed because Fatah and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation were not representative of all Palestinians.

When Fatah brought Hamas into the Palestinian administration, the Israeli government said it would not deal with “terrorists” and demanded that Hamas be thrown out of the administration.

Quite simply, Israel was just not interested in peace, and it had the western media to tell its story and was militarily powerful to take on anyone.

For many years I thought that the United States would never allow such cruelty and injustice to be perpetrated on defenceless people anywhere in the world.

I once thought that the Americans were the defenders of freedom, democracy and a just world order.

There was a time when we hoped that the Land of the Free would remember that it too was settled by immigrants escaping war, persecution and famine.

Many of them were slaves from Africa and endured centuries of economic deprivation and racial persecution.

It’s unthinkable that people with such a background would not rally to protect and defend the rights of Palestinians to their homeland.

It is also unthinkable that the United States would allow such grave injustices on a people – even if those people were Arabs. But the Americans have clearly forgotten that.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, in a speech in the House of Commons last Tuesday, called on Europe to remember history and what happens when powerful leaders trample on small nations without challenge.

He was of course inviting Europe to stand together against Russia for its alleged role in the current conflict in Crimea and Ukraine.

He could have, in the same breath, added that western powers must stand together in the face of the Israeli oppression of Gaza – but he did not.

He could have reminded the British people that they had a moral duty to the Palestinian state because Britain contributed to geopolitical havoc when it created the State of Israel out of the British mandate for Palestine in 1948.

Cameron could have played fair to both sides. Obviously Palestinian lives do not count in the best traditions of western political thought and morality.

It is important for us in Malaysia to take heed of what is happening in the world today.

In dealing with internal conflicts of our own, we must never have the kind of mentality now pervading in Tel Aviv, Washington and London.

Even if we were once the victim, either through colonialism or economic and social deprivation, we should never resort to unjust means to rectify the situation: it is important that we treat all communities with fairness, although some of us are more powerful than others.

Sensitive issues like religious misunderstandings can be resolved peacefully only if we have the humility to listen and not “do as we like”, the way the Israelis are behaving.

There are many ways to resolve conflicts, but lasting solutions are always by negotiated and adopted by peaceful means.

There is just too much hatred in today’s world but we as a nation must not succumb. Subjugating others in any form is tempting and appealing to our baser instincts, but it will only corrupt us as a people and the damage will be irreversible.


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