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Palestinian human rights should not be a diplomatic tool in the game of nations

Palestinians lift placards during a rally demanding international support for Palestinians against Israel similarly to that shown for Ukrainians against Russia on March 7, 2022 [SAID KHATIB/AFP via Getty Images]
Palestinians lift placards during a rally demanding international support for Palestinians against Israel similarly to that shown for Ukrainians against Russia on March 7, 2022 [SAID KHATIB/AFP via Getty Images]

After nine Turkish activists were killed by Israeli commandos who boarded Turkey's humanitarian ship the MV Mavi Marmara in 2010 in international waters (a tenth activist died of his wounds later), the international community did not condemn categorically this brutal human rights violation; nor did it offer to mediate between Turkey and Israel. Yet, within days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Western countries started to support the energy pipeline between Turkey and Israel to set up an energy corridor between two countries. If this project materialises, Europe will have an alternative to Russian energy, the imports of which reached 155 billion cubic metres last year. When it comes to political benefits, policy makers will seize every opportunity and change every tactic to ensure that their own national interests are looked after.

From the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Western governments have progressively tightened sanctions against Russian political leaders, billionaires and businesses, while publicly supporting Ukrainian popular resistance and opening their borders to refugees. Newspapers and TV channels have celebrated Ukrainian resilience with moving humanitarian stories. In the first broadcast of its kind, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the audience at the annual Grammys music awards watched by millions on TV. This support seems normal for every country where the rule of law is established.

Is there any difference, though, between the Ukrainian women who fight against the Russian army with Kalashnikovs, and any number of Palestinian women who have paid with their lives for standing up to the Israeli occupation of their land? Why don't the western liberals, democrats and human rights advocates show the same solidarity with the Palestinians even though Israel has seized control of 85 per cent of Palestine?

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This apparent hypocrisy and lack of solidarity is nothing new. American human rights activist Rachel Corrie was crushed to death by an armoured Israeli bulldozer in the Gaza Strip in 2003. Corrie's mother's highlighted the double standards brilliantly when she said: "She believed that her foreign features and blonde hair would deter the bulldozer – but she was wrong. She was crushed to death when the Israeli settler's bulldozer ran her over repeatedly and now her case is forgotten by the international community. 'The driver of the bulldozer had not seen Rachel before she was crushed beneath the vehicle,' it said. No charges were brought and the case was closed."

What the Ukrainian war has exposed very clearly is how politicians in the West use human rights for their narrow national interests. After invading a sovereign neighbouring country, Russia's Ambassador to Israel, Anatoly Viktorov, warned that Moscow will respond "accordingly" if Tel Aviv supplies Kyiv with defensive military equipment, and the foreign ministry in Moscow condemned — and thus highlighted on the international stage — "Israel's illegal occupation and creeping annexation of Palestinian territories." This condemnation only arose after the Israeli government sent humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

Belatedly, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said that, "Current events in Europe have shown blatant double standards," with the US and European governments giving Ukraine military aid and moral support while failing to condemn Israeli abuses against Palestinians. Clearly, Palestinian rights are ignored by the international community as a matter of routine until such time that their mention on a global stage may result in some narrow national benefit.

- Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

No human rights in Gaza – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

The cruel reality is that Ukrainian civilians are suffering at Moscow's hands as the government apparently dreams of resurrecting the faded Russian-Soviet Empire. The intention is to show its iron fist to NATO and the US.

Palestinian civilians, of course, have been experiencing a brutal military occupation for decades, not a matter of weeks; since June 1967, in fact. According to Amnesty International, half a century of Israel's occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip has resulted in systematic human rights violations — including the crime of apartheid — against Palestinians living there.

Israel's so-called "separation barrier" has been built over the past 20 years or so, allegedly as a defensive measure against legitimate Palestinian resistance to the military occupation; that "security" argument has since "collapsed". Nevertheless, hundreds of thousands of illegal Israeli settlers now live in illegal settlements reached by settler-only roads beyond the wall. Much of the 708 kilometres of the "apartheid wall" is built on occupied Palestinian land.

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"The barrier," wrote Human Rights Watch's Deputy Director, Middle East and North Africa Division, Eric Goldstein, this week, "serves another purpose [other than defence]: solidifying Israeli control over large chunks of the West Bank." He illustrated this with a visit to a settlement whose residents seem not to have "got the message" about the "defensive" nature of the wall: "For years, some of them have been passing through the settlement's original fence to operate horse farms in the buffer zone." The farms, Goldstein pointed out, sit on land next to the barrier, which in this area consists not of a wall but a high chain-link fence. "North of that fence, the Palestinian owners of the land have a clear view of Israelis riding horses among their olive trees." The Israeli government pays for Israelis to have "therapeutic riding lessons", thus effectively subsidising "the illegal settlement enterprise."

In 2004, the International Court of Justice determined that the barrier's route violates international law. Israel went ahead and built it regardless. Illegal settlers have unfettered access to occupied Palestinian land, while its rightful owners are blocked from access to what is theirs.

And yet when a Palestinian seeks to resist the Israeli occupation of Palestine, the West calls him a militant extremist. Ukrainians who do the same in, say, Mariupol, are celebrated as heroes. The hypocrisy could not be more glaring, because both Israel and Russia are treating international law with contempt.

We can and should take many lessons from Russia's invasion of Ukraine. One of them is that Palestinian human rights matter too, and must not become a diplomatic tool in the cynical and hypocritical game of nations.

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

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