Two sieges, two destinies

Hussein Haridy , Thursday 28 Apr 2022

The West’s double standards on Israeli actions in Palestine and the war in Ukraine explain why the silent majority in Egypt and the Arab world does not support its reaction to the Russian invasion.

Two sieges, two destinies
Two sieges, two destinies


On 17 April, Roman Catholic Pope Francis delivered his Urbi et Orbi message on the occasion of Easter. It was a much-needed speech about peace in which he called for “peace for ever-torn Ukraine,” adding that “in this terrible night of suffering and death, may a new dawn of hope soon appear. May the leaders of nations hear the people’s plea for peace.”

The Pope referred to the victims of the war in Ukraine, stressing particularly the fate of orphaned children and pointing out that “we cannot help but hear their cry of pain, along with that of all children who suffer throughout the world and those dying of hunger or a lack of medical care.”

The Pope, unlike other Western leaders, also said something very relevant as well as very significant for the Middle East and especially for the Palestinians, without naming them specifically. He expressed the hope that the conflict in Europe would also “make us more concerned about other situations of conflict, suffering, and sorrow.” He called for peace in the Middle East, a region which has been “racked by years of conflict and division,” and added “let us ask for peace upon Jerusalem and peace upon all those who love her, Christians, Jews, and Muslims.”

I for one share the ideas set out in the Pope’s Urbi et Orbi message of 2022. The laudable ideas in it have led me to reflect on two siege situations, one dating back to 2007 and the other starting only recently in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol. You have probably guessed the first one that goes back to 2007 when Israel for fictitious “security reasons” laid siege to two and a half million people in the Gaza Strip. These people are no different from the Ukrainians currently suffering from the siege of Mariupol.

The population of Gaza has been suffering the grave consequences of an unprecedented and inhumane siege by the Israelis for the last 15 years. Gaza has become the world’s largest prison as a result, and the world should never have allowed any country to subject two and a half million people to such an ordeal and one which has no end in sight.

Yet, the Western powers that have been pouring military and economic assistance into Ukraine for the last six months at least in order to fight against what they have dubbed the “Russian invasion” of that country have not taken any firm or responsible position in rejecting the Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip.

From our perspective in Egypt and the Middle East, we consider the Western reaction to the war in Ukraine and the never-ending sanctions on Russia plus the military escalation orchestrated with the Ukrainian government to be a true measure of the double standards that work against the rights and interests of the Palestinians and the Arabs, and, I would add, of Muslims everywhere.

The Western powers decry the Mariupol siege and the “Russian invasion” and “occupation” of Ukraine. They have called for financing the reconstruction of Ukraine after the war is over by using part of the Russian foreign reserves that have been blocked in western banks. But while they go along with the Israeli doctrine of attacking any country near or far that could be a threat to Israeli security, they deny the Russians the same right.

In justifying its “special military operation” in Ukraine, Russia has claimed that it has had to act in this way to forestall future threats to its security – which is the same justification used by Israel in attacking the Palestinians, whether in Gaza or the West Bank or neighbouring countries that it considers to pose a threat to its existence. The irony is that whereas the Israeli arguments are unfounded, the Russians have points that should be discussed and considered.  

This policy of double standards employed by the Western powers plays a great part in explaining why the silent majority in Egypt and the Arab world does not buy the Western reaction to the war in Ukraine. They see the inhumane Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip continuing without the West doing anything to help the population of Gaza or pressure the Israelis to lift the siege.

To their credit, the Egyptians, Arabs, and Muslims have called for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine as a prelude to the peaceful resolution of the differences between Russia and Ukraine. They also hope that the kinds of pressures and sanctions imposed on Russia to stop the war in Ukraine can also be considered as a way of contributing to ending the Israeli siege of Gaza and Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Golan Heights.


*The writer is former assistant foreign minister.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 28 April, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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