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If Ukraine can have an international brigade, why can't Palestine and Syria?

February 27, 2022 at 5:30 pm

A Ukrainian soldier is seen behind tires in Zhuliany neighbourhood of Kyiv during Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine, on February 26, 2022 [Aytaç Ünal / Anadolu Agency]

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has said that she will support anyone who wants to go to Ukraine to join an international brigade of fighters against Russia. She described such a mission as taking part in a battle “for freedom and democracy”.

I can’t help but wonder, though, about those who’ve left British shores to fight overseas only to have their citizenships revoked by an unsympathetic British government. The only difference I can see between those who want to fight in Ukraine and those who want to fight in Palestine, Syria, Libya or Iraq is skin colour and faith.

There are at least 100,000 Muslims living in Kyiv. Is Truss going to support their British and European brothers and sisters who want to go out to fight alongside them in the Ukrainian capital? She told the BBC on Sunday morning that it was up to people to make their own decisions in such situations; she also said that the Ukrainians are fighting for freedom, “not just for Ukraine but for the whole of Europe.”

Why, I wonder, are democracy and freedom more precious in Europe than, say, in Syria, where dictator Bashar Al-Assad is trying to crush the last vestiges of a revolution in which Syrians dared to dream about their own democratic state? And why are Palestinians who resist Israel’s brutal occupation demonised as “terrorists” and shunned by the “democratic” and apparently freedom-loving West? I know many people who would like to go out and join the Palestinians in defence of their legitimate rights as they fight for survival against apartheid Israel.

As Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urges foreign nationals “to join the defence of security in Europe”, his government is ready to arm an “international” legion of volunteer foreigners who wish to join the Ukrainian army in its fight against Russian forces. “This is not just Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” he pointed out on his official website. “This is the beginning of a war against Europe. Against European unity.”

Palestinian leaders have made similar statements about securing the future of Islam’s third holiest site, the Noble Sanctuary of Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem, which is under attack by Israeli occupation forces, including illegal settlers. If an international call was made for millions of Muslims across the West to protect Al-Aqsa from the murderous designs of the Israelis, would Foreign Secretary Liz Truss approve? Somehow, I doubt it. As I wrote a couple of days ago, “The crisis in Ukraine exposes the hypocrisy of Israel and its Zionist allies.” Among the latter stands Truss and the government in which she has a senior role.

“Everyone who wants to join the defence of security in Europe and the world may come and stand shoulder to shoulder with Ukrainians against the invaders of the 21st Century,” said Zelenskyy. Now imagine that Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh — whose democratic election as Palestinian Prime Minister in 2006 was rejected by those same Zionist allies — issued such an invitation to Muslims around the world, and Britain in particular, to protect the people of occupied Palestine from Israel and its settler-colonialism. Apartheid, remember, is akin to a crime against humanity, and the annexation of territory through military action is illegal; Israel is guilty of both.

Moreover, some of the settlers and soldiers who bolster and enforce Israel’s occupation of Palestine hold British and other European passports. But hey, that’s OK it seems, because they are white and Jewish, while those who oppose them are “only” Arabs.

Read: Russia sees military coordination with Israel on Syria continuing

In 2019, I visited an amputee clinic where traumatised Syrian children were being taught to walk again. I met British doctors, teachers and aid workers who have had their citizenship revoked because they were working in rebel-held Idlib. Unable to make a legal challenge against the British government’s decision from a war zone, they are now in a legal black hole.

They didn’t pick up weapons or go out to fight; they simply wanted to help the ordinary Syrian people in their struggle for democracy and the best way they could do this was by using the skills that they have. They must all be wondering why the British government which stripped them of their passports is ready to back those looking to do the same in Ukraine, and even take up arms there. Can there be any more blatant example of hypocrisy, Islamophobia and racism than that being displayed by Liz Truss and, presumably, her boss Boris Johnson and their cabinet colleagues?

When people are in trouble it is human nature for people to want to help in any way they can. I would not dream of criticising anyone who wants to join an international brigade to help Ukrainians in their struggle. But if that’s OK, then it should also be OK for others to go to help the people of Palestine, Chechnya, Libya, Syria, Yemen, occupied Kashmir and other trouble spots.

In the 1930s, around 60,000 young people left North America and Europe to join the International Brigade, groups of foreign volunteers who fought on the Republican side against the fascist Nationalist forces during the Spanish Civil War (1936–39). What is rarely reported is that while many left Britain to fight for the republicans, there was also a few who fought alongside the fascists. Neither faced any problems when they returned to Britain.

While Truss and UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace insist that British soldiers will not be sent to Ukraine to fight, the position of British citizens who decide to join the international brigade needs to be clarified. The foreign secretary needs to explain why the defence of democracy in Ukraine is acceptable, but standing up against tyrants, dictators and authoritarian regimes elsewhere is not. We have a right to know. More to the point, so do the people of occupied Palestine and Syria. If the Ukrainians can be helped by an international brigade, why can’t they?

Opinion: The crisis in Ukraine exposes the hypocrisy of Israel and its Zionist allies

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.