Since 2012 an estimated 3,720 Palestinians have been killed, 1,674 imprisoned, 309 have gone missing and at least 120,000 have been displaced. Their territory has been blockaded by the army; forcing them to live without food, water, electricity and medical services. It has been reported that people were forced to eat grass, dogs and cats to survive, with around 200 people dying of starvation. An assault on their territory on April 24 of this year was relentless, with warplanes carrying out more than 85 air-strikes, firing a barrage of missiles and dropping barrel bombs that killed indiscriminately, not distinguishing between civilians and armed insurgents. Hospitals were targeted and destroyed.
I’m not talking about the Gaza Strip, but rather Syria and the Yarmouk Palestinian camp, where the perpetrators have been a combination of the Assad regime and Russians, along with Islamic State and al-Qaida affiliated militants.
In 2012, there were approximately 560,00 Palestinians living in Syria. According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), of the remaining 438,000 Palestinians, over 95% (418,000) are in critical need of sustained humanitarian assistance, almost 254,000 are internally displaced and an estimated 56,600 are trapped in hard-to-reach or inaccessible locations.
As noted by the watchdog organization UN Watch, since 2012 the United Nations Human Right Council (UNHRC) has not held a single emergency session regarding the Palestinians in Syria; it has not passed any resolutions concerning their plight and has not set up any commissions of inquiry about their well being. By contrast, during approximately this same period, the UNHRC has passed 68 resolutions condemning Israel, held eight emergency sessions, enlisted five inquiries and has blacklisted it once.
It begs the question: why does the world react so viscerally when Israel is engaged in conflict with the Palestinians but stay largely silent when it’s someone else?
This is not a new phenomenon. Many are unaware or have forgotten that over 3,400 Palestinians were killed by the Jordanian military between 1970 and 1971; following the 1991 Gulf War, the Kuwaitis unleashed a systematic and violent campaign against the Palestinians living in Kuwait, reducing their population of 400,000 to less than 30,000; and Egypt has kept its own blockade of the Gaza Strip for the past 10 years. Not to mention the vast human rights violations documented by Amnesty International and Humans Rights Watch committed by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority against their own people. As an example, part of Gaza’s current electricity crisis is caused by PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who has stopped making payments for electricity there in an effort to exert financial pressure on Hamas to cede control of the territory to him.
Even beyond the Palestinians, while the tragic killing of 10 Palestinians the week of April 1 in Gaza made headlines everywhere, what went barley noticed was the 14 people, including eight women and five children, that were killed in a single Saudi air-strike in Yemen on April 2. During the week of April 22, around seven Palestinians were killed in the Gaza protests, while on the Sunday of that week, another Saudi air-strike in Yemen killed at least 21 people, with many of the dead and wounded being children.
In fact, according to reports, the Saudi Arabian siege of Yemen has left around 2.2 million Yemeni children malnourished – 80% of them severely – yet Saudi Arabia has never been condemned by a single UN resolution. The war in Yemen has been called the “forgotten war.”
While some will inevitably discard this article as a mere attempt at “whataboutery,” it is precisely that reaction that goes to the heart of why many Palestinians and their supporters in the West remain silent.
There is an overriding fear that any mention of Palestinians suffering at the hands of anyone but the Israelis will take the focus off of Israel, which they have spent years carefully building up to be a state that embodies an evil not seen since World War II. Anything that works against this narrative negates it in their eyes. As Sir Ian Hamilton stated: “Propaganda is inverted patriotism, draws nourishment from the sins of the enemy. If there are no sins, invent them! The aim is to make the enemy appear so great a monster that he forfeits the rights of a human being.”
This logically leads one to question whether or not those speaking out on behalf of the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank – but ignore their fellow Arab brethren suffering elsewhere – are doing so because they genuinely care about their fate or whether they are simply motivated by their dislike for Israel, or perhaps Jews in general.
Many of these people wish to portray Jews as interlopers on Palestinian land, with no historical ties to the region; a European invention.
President Abbas recently echoed these very sentiments in a speech to the Palestinian National Council, which he deemed a “history lesson.” He claimed that the Jewish connection to Israel was a lie, backed by the antisemitic trope that Ashkenazi Jews are not the descendants of ancient Israelites at all, but rather Khazars. He stated that “Israel is a colonial project that has nothing to do with the Jews” and that “Europeans wanted to bring the Jews here to preserve their own interests in the region.”
If the Arab countries truly cared about the Palestinians, why have they kept them isolated in camps for the past 70 years, denying them many basic human rights in their countries? The Palestinians that were displaced during the 1948 war were eventually afforded full rights in Jordan, however, in Lebanon, they do not have the same rights afforded to Lebanese citizens. They are barred from over 30 professions, including white-collar jobs in fields like medicine, law, engineering and education. They cannot own property or attend public schools, and labor laws do not protect them. Meanwhile in Syria, now that Yarmouk has been depopulated, there are reports that the area will be redeveloped for Syrian use and that the Palestinians could be relocated to a more barren territory. Conversely, in Israel, an Israeli Arab sits on the Supreme Court, and over 1.2 million Arabs live in Israel as citizens with full rights, who can live and work where they choose.
Instead of a true concern for their well being, the Palestinian people often seem to be used as a weapon to delegitimize Israel. For instance, Palestinian refugees are the only refugees in the world that have their own governing agency at the United Nations, and they are also the only refugees whose descendants are also considered refugees, forever, whether settled in another country or not.
Jewish settlers are universally condemned but the “right of return” for Palestinians is on the table for discussion, when in reality they represent two sides of the same coin. If there is to be a two-state solution, Palestinians have to understand that, for the most part, they can’t go back to what is now Israel, just as for the most part, Jews can’t go back to Judea and Samaria. The “March of Return” is no less an affront to peace than the settlers inhabiting new territory in the West Bank.
But does this explain the attitudes of many Westerns toward Israel? Why the duality of condemnation of Israel and lack of media attention for the plight of Palestinians and Arabs elsewhere? In addition to the above, it is most likely a combination of age-old antisemitism that is once again on the rise throughout Europe and North America, along with the tenacious pro-Palestinian groups in the West who co-opt, and then conflate, any minority or human rights movement with their own struggle. And yet for some others, it is the perplexing line that Western countries view Israel as one of them, so they are to be held to a higher standard then the Arab countries. Philip Luther of Amnesty International recently stated, the “civilians of Yarmouk are being treated like pawns in a deadly game in which they have no control.” The same can be said about the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.The author is an international attorney, the president of the Altalena Foundation and a member of the Creative Community for Peace.