President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s cracklingly combative question as to ‘why does the United Nations apply one rule to Israel and another rule to us?’ when declaring the opening of the Welimada courts complex this Friday must surely delight the hearts of his steadily growing band of nationalist cheerleaders in Sri Lanka.
“The end of times’?
Certainly these are repugnant hypocrisies, played out on the world stage to devastating effect. As thousands of bloodied children coated with dust are pulled out from the rubble of the Gaza Strip, Palestine bodies pile up on the streets and clog corridors in hospitals that have also been bombed. Israeli settlers are being armed by the security forces to infiltrate and chase out the Palestianians in the West Bank even as bombs flatten Gaza.
These horrifying scenes go to question the very basis of humanity, symbolising the evils that men do to each other and the atrocities that are unblushingly perpetuated in the name of religion, history and land. Make no mistake, the carnage that is continuing in the Palestine has a far wider impact than vexed questions of Israeli occupation or the right to self determination of Palestinians.
In effect, what is unfolding before our eyes is the final dismantling of the international ‘rules based order’ that emerged from the barbarities of two world wars when just men and women sat together and decided that there could never be a recurrence of the horrors that the world had witnessed. In the most dreadful irony, the killing of Palestinians, their ‘extermination’ and their ‘dehumanizing’ as ‘animals’ is justified by vocal front runners of Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightwing regime.
The ‘dehumanizing’ of the Palestinians
That is similar on all points to the ‘dehumanizing’ of the Jewish people by Nazi Germany. This is the Israeli Final Solution for the Palestinians in as much as Europe’s gas chambers were the cemeteries for their Jewish citizens. When Sri Lanka’s conflict between the State and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was at its height, the question that was often asked by moderate Sinhalese from their extremist neighbours was, ‘do you want the Tamils to be pushed into the sea?’ The answer to that question was, ‘well, they have Tamil Nadu to go to.’
But that very question was also asked by LTTE training instructors when they were indoctrinating child cadres, ‘remember that you have nowhere to go to, this is your land, you must fight for it, if needed, you must die for it.’ From injustice comes resistance, from historic ‘occupation’ and systemic discrimination comes the will to fight and to die. One historic evil is supplanted by another historic evil.
Which is greater than the other, who are the killers and who are the victims? Certainly in Sri Lanka, we have all become victims not only of decades long conflict but also of political leaders using the conflict to further their personal and political greed, to rape the country and to pulverise the populace. Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims alike have suffered and are suffering.
“Pot calling the kettle black”
Victimhood is not exclusively the province of one race. So perhaps the question that the President should have asked on Friday was not as simplistic as asking the United Nations to come with clean hands to question Sri Lanka’s record of war time killings as he did but to ask as to why our national systems of accountability became so weakened as to allow international interventions in the first place.
That said, it is also true that the architecture of international human rights accountability that had been built up so carefully and meticulously through decades is now being threatened as it never has been before. Like the citizens of Gaza, this too is on life support and will, short of a life saving miracle, be reduced to an empty shell. As the United States led invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq catapulted the world into a ‘war against terror’, little was it understood at the time that the nations fighting against ‘terror’ were also inextricably part of that ‘terror.’
That result is now only too clear. The biblical apocalypse or the ‘ending of all times’ in the Book of Revelations that we see in Palestine contrast oddly with sanctimonious pontifications that echo in the halls of the United Nations. A few days back, a non-binding resolution for a ‘humanitarian truce’ was carried by a strong majority with the United State and Israel opposing while many self appointed guardians of the ‘rules based international order’ abstained.
These included the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and several European states. The ‘double standards’ were clear. Affirming an angry global mood, young people marched in Washington, London and the European capitals world calling their Governments to account. That was in regard to manifest hypocrisy displayed in regard to conflicts in Palestine and Ukraine. Their chants were similar to what Sri Lanka’s President thought fit to utter.
They asked, “why do you condemn Russia’s actions in Ukraine in indiscriminate strikes, in starving civilians and not allowing humanitarian aid but stay silent on Israel’s atrocities in Palestine?” In fact, this allegation of ‘double standards’ applies in other respects as well.
For example, Canada’s undeniably jejune Prime Minister who had declared Genocide Day in regard to the killings of Tamil civilians in the Wanni conflict, stirred himself only belatedly to declare ’deep concern’ in regard to the ‘catastrophic’ fate of Palestinians in Gaza.
In South Asia, India abstained on the UN resolution. At a time when credits are rare, it must also be said that to its undoubted credit, Sri Lanka along with its other neighbours in the region voted for the resolution. But in its aftermath, Israel’s strikes on Gaza intensified. These included hitting hospitals, ambulances, deliberately targeting journalists, killing the highest number of United Nations humanitarian staff in what amounted to clear international crimes.
‘Collective punishment’ of a people
And as terror rains down from the skies, the United Nations is paralyzed to stop the carnage. Secretary General Antonio Guterres’s categorizing the strikes as ‘collective punishment’ of the Palestinian people and the historic occupation of Palestinian lands provoked a furious response by Israel.
Unstintingly generous support was offered by the United States and its Western allies to Israel in the wake of brutal killings and abductions of settlers by Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighters who broke through so-called impenetrable border defences on October 7th.
In the face of Israel’s blatant violation of international human rights law, that support has only now slightly changed to unconvincing calls to ‘minimise’ civilian casualties. The few voices for sanity come from independent Rapporteurs of the United Nations who repeatedly castigate Israel’s blatant violation of international human rights law.
And the human tragedies continue. One of the latest victims of the strikes on Gaza was a budding and flamboyantly talented Palestinian poet and novelist Heba Abu Nada.She had written just a day before she was blown to bits that, ‘if we die, know that we are satisfied and steadfast, and tell the world, in our name, that we are just people/on the side of truth.’
But questions as to what is ‘justice’, what is ‘truth’ call out for answers as she is buried along with hundreds of her compatriots. Ironically, many among the Israeli victims of the Hamas attacks were themselves advocates of peace, fighting against Netanyahu.
As in Sri Lanka, here too, it was the moderates and the peacemakers whose efforts were blown to smithereens as the Netanyahu regime bolstered its failing popular support with promises to exterminate the Palestinian people, precisely the outcome that Hamas and its Islamist brotherhood wanted.
In each and every place where populations are ‘dehumanised,’ where children are killed and countries destroyed, the violators work to a single play book.
It is the victims who have no voice.