It is always refreshing to see the international community come together in emergencies when individual countries are blighted by man-made and natural disasters. Many European countries, for example, including Italy, Croatia, Greece and Cyprus, as well as Russia and Egypt, have responded with great urgency by sending firefighting aircraft and other equipment to help Israel battle ongoing wildfires in the central part of the country, which is in the grip of a major heatwave.
Why, though, do we not see a similar response to the humanitarian crisis unfolding before our eyes just a few short kilometres away in the Gaza Strip, where more than one million Palestinians face hunger and malnutrition thanks to a lack of basic foodstuffs and fresh water because of the cuts in funding and politicised restrictions imposed on traditional aid providers, including NGOs and charities? Their living conditions and general health and well-being are deteriorating daily under the brutal Israeli-led siege. Why are we seeing such international apathy towards the Palestinians?
Can anyone really explain why there was such an international response and concern for one of the wealthiest countries in the world and yet there remains a blatant lack of compassion coupled with a callous disregard for the plight of the people living in neighbouring occupied Palestine? When it comes to human rights, it seems, there is clearly a different approach based on geographic location and — dare I say it — ethnicity. Arab lives aren't worth saving, right?
Lest we forget, most of the Palestinians in Gaza are refugees; they had their lands stolen from them at gunpoint during the Nakba (Catastrophe) of the creation of the state of Israel. Despite having a legitimate right to return to their homes and lands, they are still living a hand-to-mouth existence as the world's longest-suffering and neglected refugees, forced to sit back and watch as billions of US tax dollars and other generous aid packages have poured in since 1948 to support and expand the Zionist project.
The Palestinians living in Gaza can look forward to a lifetime of uncertainty, hardship and hunger, whereas those born on the other side of the nominal border — Israel has never declared where its borders lie — will never know what it is like to go without food, water and medical care. Nor will they face the daily uncertainty of facing armed incursions, missiles and bombs, and even artillery shells targeting children playing football on the beach, without one of the world's strongest armed forces to protect them.
The wildfires are thought to have started on Thursday during the Lag B'Omer holiday in Israel; it is a Jewish festival which is usually celebrated with bonfires. Restrictions were put in place this year due to the weather warnings, fuelling speculation that bonfires which were allowed to burn out of control were the source of the crisis.
Dozens of homes have been destroyed in multiple locations around central Israel after forests caught fire, causing major damage to small towns along the highway connecting Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Firefighters have battled fires along the boundary with Gaza, as well as near Ben Gurion International Airport and the Holy City.
Ignoring the Lag Ba'Omer bonfires, a government spokesman has blamed "incendiary balloons launched by Hamas" from the Gaza Strip. Once again, in the twisted world of Zionist propaganda, Israel has portrayed itself as the victim of Palestinian aggression, providing the right-wing government with an excuse, no doubt, for yet another military offensive in "self-defence" against the besieged and beleaguered people in the coastal enclave. To its eternal shame, the international community is more than willing to play along with that distorted narrative.
Don't get me wrong. It is right and honourable that an international rescue team is fighting wildfires in Israel and responding to the crisis, but what I want to know is why the same spirit of a truly international community doesn't apply with equal enthusiasm to the bigger, more devastating and, in human terms, much more costly crisis just a few miles down the road in Gaza? Don't Palestinian lives matter anymore? Did they ever?
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.