For anyone relying on the mainstream media for information about the rest of the world, the knowledge they receive builds up into a flavour-of-the-month approach to history. Correspondents flock to the latest flash point and, augmented by older, more experienced hacks now more used to reporting from the comfort of their computer screens, they set out to tell the story of the day as it unfolds.
The first quarter of this year has seen this happen frequently in the Middle East; first Tunisia, then Egypt, now Libya, with Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia simmering in the background. And just as the Saudi and Bahraini ruling families have benefited from the world’s attention being focused further west in the Middle East and North Africa region, allowing them to crack down brutally on protesters without fear of US and British cruise missiles raining down on Manama or Riyadh, so too have the Israelis been able to salvage something out of their fear of democratic reform across the Arab world.
Having trumpeted their own cause as the Middle East’s “only democracy” for decades, the thought that neighbouring countries might also bloom into Arab democracies was too much for Israel to bear. Losing its great ally and protector Hosni Mubarak allowed Israeli politicians to show their true credentials, which are often far from democratic. The military occupation of the Palestinian territories has been strengthened and the siege of Gaza rumbles on, “eased” by the Zionist state to no great extent (and certainly not enough to allow Gaza’s reconstruction to begin); the Judaisation of Jerusalem continues apace and illegal settlements continue to expand. Gaza is bombed by Israel on an almost daily basis – civilians are killed and their homes are destroyed – and when rockets are fired into southern Israel in retaliation, Israel feels that it has carte blanche to “retaliate” again, and the cycle continues.
Israel-Palestine is off the front pages and sometimes even the inside pages as well, but that doesn’t mean that all is well in that part of the world. A conference in Geneva last week heard first-hand testimonies from Palestinians who had been detained without charge by Israel; so-called “administrative detention” is used by Israel and, it must be said, the Western-backed Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, against political opponents, including those who are Israeli citizens. One fourteen year-old girl, born just after her father was imprisoned by Israel, asked, “How long must I live like an orphan?” With around 10,000 (the exact figure is unknown) Palestinian political prisoners being held by Israel, there must be many more children asking the same question. About 300 children are actually among those in Israeli jails some of whom, it has been reported, don’t even know why they are there.
The simple fact is that Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians is ongoing, whether reported by the Western media or not, and it is more often than not the latter; the murders of the Fogel family in the illegal settlement of Itamar received extensive media coverage, and rightly so. The regular brutal assaults by Israeli settlers on Palestinians and their land and property rarely receive any coverage at all; protected by Israeli soldiers, the armed settlers can attack Palestinians almost at will, secure in the knowledge that they will not be censured. The settlers are a microcosm of the way Israel itself behaves, knowing that the US government will cover its back at the UN Security Council regardless of the severity of its lawbreaking.
What is happening in Palestine, to the Palestinians, is not a tsunami; nor is it an earthquake or flood that has created a disastrous humanitarian catastrophe. It is a deliberate policy by successive Israeli governments that have, since before the state’s founding, sought to take control of ever more Palestinian land with as few Palestinians within it as possible. The ethnic cleansing of Palestine didn’t end with the Nakba of 1948; it is ongoing. Officially-sanctioned discrimination against Israel’s Palestinian Arab citizens is intended to drive them across the old Green Line and, if possible, further east across the border into Jordan. Zionist strategists still maintain that Jordan is the de facto Palestinian state and “silent transfer” is encouraged to expel the population slowly but surely. Any notion that there remains sufficient Palestinian territory free of Israeli settlements, settler-only roads, and Israeli-designated “nature reserves” and “military zones” to form a viable Palestinian State is fantasy; the US government knows that, the British government knows that and the EU knows that. And yet all continue to push for “peace negotiations” which they know are doomed to failure as long as Israel’s territorial ambitions are not reined in and the settlements are dismantled. Talk of “land swaps” to allow Israel to keep the massive settlement blocs that surround Jerusalem makes a mockery of international laws and conventions which make it illegal to settle people on a land conquered in war.
While the world is engaged with attacks on Libya and the media is focused on what may well be another Iraq scenario for Western governments, spare a thought for the Palestinians and the injustices that continue to be heaped upon them by an Israel emboldened by political support from London and Washington. And take with a pinch of salt the concern for the people of Libya expressed by Cameron, Obama, Clinton, Sarkozy and the oil-rich Arab despots backing their latest military adventure in the Middle East. Their concern is for themselves and Libya’s natural resources and the need to embed Western-friendly forces in the middle of the belt of latent North African democracies in order to protect Western national interests. If freedom for the people of the region fits with those interests, all well and good; if not, then they will be brushed aside and the status quo will be maintained same owners, different managers.
In Kuwait in February, David Cameron said, “denying people their basic rights does not preserve stability, rather the reverse”; just days later he told a Jewish audience in London that his support for Israel is “indestructible” but made no mention of Israel’s continued denial of the basic rights of the Palestinians. A half-hearted call for an end to “illegal settlement activity” and for Israel to allow “more humanitarian goods into Gaza” is meaningless unless backed-up by political or economic sanctions, and both Cameron and the Israeli government know that.
Of course, Messrs Cameron and Obama and their new bunch of “allies” could prove me wrong by sending cruise missiles towards Bahrain and Yemen as a warning to the dictatorships there that violent repression of the people is unacceptable; they could even introduce serious sanctions against Israel to make it comply with UN Resolutions and international law in order to make life more bearable for the Palestinians, but I’m not holding my breath. In the world of international relations, double standards and hypocrisy are the norm, and justice plays second fiddle to “interests”. Those Arab leaders supporting the US, Britain and France against Libya should remember what happened to other Western-backed Arab regimes whose usefulness passed its sell-by date; the fates of Saddam Hussain and Hosni Mubarak should loom large in the minds of the monarchs, sheikhs and presidents across the Arab world as they scramble to win brownie points from western governments, but they won’t. The reality is that they are all “western” governments, in outlook if not in make-up, the modern equivalent of Frantz Fanon’s “Black Skin, White Masks”; history almost dictates that they won’t give their ex-colleagues at the Arab League table more than a passing thought. The neo-colonial roundabout has already ensnared the Palestinian Authority which is little more than a stooge for Israel’s security services, so who will it be next? Freedom and democracy are great concepts, but are allowed to flourish selectively by those within whose hands the power lies. If the Arab rulers can’t see that, then God help the people of the Middle East, because Western governments won’t.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.