Now I have something else to worry about – the poor people of West Papua. Well, somebody has to worry about them and there seems to be a lack of volunteers.
I admit I hadn’t been aware of their plight before this week when The Jerusalem Post published a thought-provoking opinion piece by Adam Perry under the headline “West Papua – the forgotten people.”
Perry, a British Jew, began researching global conflicts after watching a TV report of a demonstration by about 50 people outside the Sri Lankan Embassy protesting the torture and deaths of thousands of Tamils. The following day, he came across an anti-Israel demonstration in the West End of London, where tens of thousands rallied to protest an Israeli retaliatory bombing mission “that destroyed some houses and killed three people.”
“I started researching other global conflicts and human rights concerns that were being marginalized and ignored due to the power politics in the United Nations and the media’s infatuation with Israel,” recalls Perry.
During a stint living in Australia, he became involved in the movement for self-determination for the people of West Papua. They could certainly do with some publicity.
Read Perry’s op-ed online for background information, but to summarize, West Papua is the western half of the island of New Guinea, bordering the independent nation of Papua New Guinea, some 250 km. north of Australia. After centuries of Dutch colonization, West Papua was promised independence in 1961. Two years later, as the Western world looked the other way, Indonesia forcibly took over the area, which is rich in natural resources, including gold.
“Since 1963, an estimated 500,000 West Papuans have died at the hands of the brutal Indonesian occupying forces, accounting for more than 25% of the population,” writes Perry. “These numbers have been ratified by several studies and human rights groups (including the International Association of Genocide Scholars and Yale Law School). Daily killing, torture and imprisonment without trial by the Indonesian military and police carries on with no consequences and little condemnation.”
The story of the hapless West Papuans reminded me of the fate of the persecuted Hindu minority of Bhutan. In May 2010, I wrote about the misery of the approximately 100,000 Bhutanese refugees of Nepalese origin, ousted from the kingdom for refusing to live in accordance with the Buddhist traditions that rule there. I have only rarely come across updates on their plight since then. Bhutanese refugees, for some perverse reason, aren’t considered front-page headline material.
Their situation is made more dire by the fact that the main claim to fame of the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is the creation of the gross national happiness index as a measure of psychological well-being. As I noted at the time, “At least the Palestinians have mastered the art of public relations; how many people have even heard of this Bhutanese minority? And when the ‘oppressor’ happens to be Buddhist as opposed to Jewish, who’s going to take them seriously? Blaming poverty and a refugee problem on the Jews is so prevalent it’s practically the norm. But fingering smiling, pacifist Buddhists is as far from the bon ton as Bhutan is from Tel Aviv.”
Incidentally, the Christian minority of Bhutan also finds the famed happiness elusive. According to the World Watch Monitor list for 2016, Bhutan is 38th out of the 50 countries ranked according to where life as a Christian is most difficult. North Korea (for the 14th year running) heads the list, but Christians in 36 out of the 50 ranked countries suffer from Islamist extremism.
UNHCR, the UN’s agency for refugees, proudly announced in 2015 that it had managed the resettlement of more than 100,000 Bhutanese refugees from Nepal to third countries since the launch of the program in 2007.
The figures are impressive to those of us more accustomed to UNRWA, the UN body that deals with Palestinians, who have a unique “perpetual refugee” status. Palestinians whose families moved in 1948 when the Arab world declared war on the nascent Jewish state continue to be considered refugees nearly 70 years later – even those who moved a few kilometers to neighboring Arabic-speaking, Muslim-majority states.
The resources that go into perpetuating the refugee status of the Palestinians could, of course, be spent on the newer refugees, many of them Muslim victims of Islamists in places like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan and Nigeria, to name but a few.
And that’s another part of the problem for the West Papuans. As Perry notes, Indonesia is an important member of the powerful 57-country-strong Organization of Islamic Cooperation, giving it added leverage.
West Papuans and non-Buddhist Bhutanese are not alone, neither in their suffering nor in being largely ignored by the world media and international activists. A Reuters report from February 9 said more than 1,000 Rohingya Muslims might have been killed in an army crackdown in Myanmar (Burma to older readers). The report quoted two senior United Nations officials from two separate UN agencies working in Bangladesh, where nearly 70,000 Rohingya have fled in recent months. They were concerned that the outside world had not fully grasped the severity of the crisis unfolding in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
To be a Muslim minority persecuted by a Buddhist majority obviously causes such confusion that the average Western liberal prefers to overlook the issue altogether. Demonization of Israel – the current mutation of antisemitism – and regarding Israel as the source of all evil are far safer.
I doubt Myanmar Apartheid Week will be coming to a campus near you any time soon. And West Papuans will also have to wait.
Israel Apartheid Week, on the other hand, has spread to some 225 cities worldwide and lasts much longer than the seven days its name implies – although the “apartheid” part of the name is the far bigger lie. The organization boasts that the 13th Annual Israeli Apartheid Week will take place in March and April.
According to its own publicity material, “Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) is an international series of events that seeks to raise awareness of Israel’s settler-colonial project and apartheid system over the Palestinian people and to build support for the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.”
The 2017 events “will mark 100 years of Palestinian resistance against settler colonialism since the inception of the Balfour Declaration.”
This could almost be seen as a positive development – at least it’s an acknowledgment that Jews lived here a century ago. Let’s take it a step further: The day that the Palestinians can admit that there were Jewish Temples on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem millennia ago, there will be email@example.com
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