Whenever I have visited Palestine and speak to Palestinians I am always asked, “Why doesn’t the West care about our suffering?” It’s a question that I try to avoid answering, but the brutal truth is that many Westerners, their governments and media simply don’t care. The fact that a humanitarian disaster is unfolding now in the Gaza Strip, for instance, has little impact.
That Palestinians are the victims, not the perpetrators, of one of the greatest crimes of the 20th century has virtually no traction these days, despite the shocking statistics emerging from the occupied Palestinian Territories, which reveal a harrowing story of high unemployment, hardship, death and misery.
Before I’m deluged with protests, though, let me say this: if you want evidence that the world has become a more uncaring, unsympathetic and indifferent place, consider the latest theatrics of US President Donald Trump who stepped inside the demilitarised zone separating North and South Korea to create a media storm at the weekend.
Ever the showman, instead of taking National Security Adviser John Bolton along for this historic step, Trump invited friendly media instead, including Fox News presenter Tucker Carlson. As the President — no stranger to the power of television — engaged in political pantomime with the leader of one of the most brutal regimes in the world, Carlson defended the friendly photo-opportunity with the North Korean dictator.
Talking to his friends in the studio he opined that while North Korea is “a disgusting place, obviously” and “there’s no defending it” — I just knew that there was a “but” coming, and he didn’t disappoint — “On the other hand, you’ve got to be honest about what it means to lead a country. It means killing people. Not on the scale that the North Koreans do, but a lot of countries commit atrocities, including a number that we’re closely allied with.”
He was possibly referring to Israel and Saudi Arabia; in these strange times, there are no closer allies to the Trump administration than Tel Aviv and Riyadh. The Zionist State has ignored and violated more UN Sanctions than any other country in the world and faces constant allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The number of Palestinians killed by the brutal Israeli occupation (“Defence”) forces runs into thousands, with tens of thousands more who have been wounded; many have life-changing injuries and amputations.
Israel has bombed schools, hospitals and UN buildings, razed communities to the ground and bulldozed homes despite protests from the international community. Does anyone really care? It doesn’t seem so. Since 30 March 2018, at least 195 Palestinians, including 41 children, have been killed by Israeli forces shooting at civilians taking part in the “Great March of Return” protests near the nominal border fence between Gaza and Israel. Other protests have taken place at the beach against the Israeli Navy’s blockade, and there have been night-time activities near the perimeter fence. According to the UN, 28,939 Palestinians were injured and another 76 were killed as a result of other Israeli actions, including air strikes and artillery shells.
Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, also has an appalling human rights record, not least against dissidents and those seeking basic freedoms in the Kingdom. The murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October last year told us all we need to know about the total contempt that the regime in Riyadh has for international laws and conventions.
The bodies of desperate African, Asian and Arab refugees and their children floating in the Mediterranean Sea, as well as the corpses of South American migrants washed up on the river bank on both sides of the Rio Grande which forms the border between Texas and Mexico have failed to move Trump, his administration or his supporters. His government lawyers even stand in court defending policies which have seen migrant children locked in detention centres and cages without soap, toothpaste and tooth brushes, or changes of clothing.
So should we really be surprised at Tucker Carlson’s routine observations from the Korean demilitarised zone? His words speak volumes about the callous new era which dawned with the arrival of populist politicians like Trump in the corridors of power. Carlson not only defended the antics of the US President but also insisted that he wasn’t a “relativist or anything”; he was merely stating that Trump was responsible for choosing “between the bad people and the worse people” when it comes to diplomacy. “He’s, you know, far less sentimental about this stuff, and maybe, I think more realistic about [the North Korean leader].”
Carlson is one of a long line of Fox TV hosts who are robust defenders of the Trump administration. His praise was effusive: “Trump was about as happy as I’ve ever seen him because it really is something that hasn’t been done before and probably would not have been done without him, and his very different style of governing and thinking.”
There you have it. Trump, according to his closest supporters who witnessed his behaviour with Kim Jong-Un at the weekend, obviously couldn’t give a flying fig about human rights, the murder of journalists, the drowning of refugees, the hardship of those living in war zones or the plight of the Palestinians. In fact, Trump has proved time and again that he has not one ounce of sympathy for them, not least the people of Palestine. Not only has he trashed their legitimate right of return but he also wants to see UNRWA dismantled and last year stopped the $300m annual donation to the refugee agency founded in 1949. UNRWA’s mission is due to come up for renewal later this year in the UN General Assembly, where support has traditionally been strong, but nothing can be taken for granted in this new political climate.
The agency provides essential services for around five million registered Palestinian refugees across Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the occupied West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza Strip. It is the only official body which really safeguards and advances Palestinian rights under international law. Nevertheless, the survivors and descendants of the 700,000+ Palestinians who were driven out of their homes or fled in the 1948 war that led to Israel’s creation refuse to give up their right of return to the homes and land from which they were driven at gunpoint by nascent Israeli militias.
While the Palestinians must realise that their miserable conditions may have been more or less created by the West thanks to the likes of the Balfour Declaration and Britain’s premature withdrawal from its Mandate over Palestine, they must also know that the solution lies in their own hands.
Sympathy and humanitarian aid is in short supply these days, but if they’re looking to Washington and the West for moral leadership, they are mistaken. With Trump at the helm, they can only expect to see America’s support for Israel become even more overt; US decisions about Jerusalem, Syria’s Golan Heights and future annexation of more Palestinian land prove this beyond doubt. Trump’s theatrics are definitely bad news for Palestine and the Palestinians, but that just means that they have to work harder to push their case for justice and freedom by all means at their disposal. History and international laws are on their side: Israel knows it; America knows it; the West knows it; now the Palestinians just have to act upon it.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.