Editorial: The seventh week

Tuesday 14 Nov 2023


s Gaza war’s sixth week draws to an end, the international community is still unable to take a firm stance against the deliberate targeting of civilians. More than 11,000 Palestinian civilians have been killed in intensive bombardments in the first five weeks of the war. Yet the urgent international humanitarian appeals remain unheeded. The most recent of these was the call by the Joint Emergency Summit of the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in Riyadh for an immediate ceasefire and giving the inhabitants access to medical and food supplies. Gaza has been subjected to the near total destruction of its infrastructure, healthcare infrastructure and residential areas.
The Arab-Islamic summit called for an end to the vindictive war Israel is waging in the name of “self-defence.” The participants demanded that the UN Security Council adopt a strong and binding resolution imposing a halt to the Israeli aggression, calling for a comprehensive solution that ensures the unity of Gaza with the West Bank as both are to constitute the territory of the envisioned Palestinian state.
The seven-member ministerial contact group, which includes Egypt and Saudi Arabia together with the secretaries of the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), will continue to communicate with all quarters of the international community to mobilise efforts to stop the war and launch a political process to achieve a comprehensive and lasting peace. That the group also includes Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, and Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population in Asia should add considerable impetus to the work of the 57 countries that took part in the summit in Riyadh on Saturday, which it represents.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, at the summit, stressed the need for an end to double standards when dealing with Gaza. Major Western powers have failed this test, he said. He also denounced the policies of collective punishment, the blockade, and the forced displacement that Israel is carrying out in Gaza, adding these unacceptable and unjustifiable practices must be stopped immediately. He also warned of the possibility that hostilities in Gaza could spread to other parts of the Middle East because, despite the restraint being exercised by many parties, it is possible the savage acts of aggression in Gaza will cause calculations and equations to change from one moment to the next.
In his statement at the summit, Philippe Lazzarini, the commissioner-general of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Middle East (UNRWA), described in detail the magnitude of the humanitarian disaster in Gaza and urged the Arab and Muslim world to turn their solidarity for the people in Gaza into further and stronger action. Hopefully all members of the international community and, above all, the permanent members of the UN Security Council, will heed his words. He outlined three specific and urgent needs: first, a humanitarian ceasefire, with strict adherence to international humanitarian law; second, providing the essential meaningful and continuous flow of humanitarian aid; and third, marshalling the funding that UNRWA desperately needs in order to continue its work in Gaza.
The UNRWA official condemned the hypocrisy of Western powers, which the Gaza crisis has thrown into relief. Referring to his remarks at the international conference in Paris to support civilians in Gaza, he said, “I warned of the dangers of double standards.  I explicitly described the ongoing campaign aimed at dehumanising Palestinians. I also firmly stated our position against the forced displacement of the people of Gaza, most of whom are descendants of Palestine refugees. I cautioned against the spillover of the conflict into the region. The West Bank has reached a boiling point, with the Israeli Forces and settler violence claiming lives daily. The Lebanon-Israel border is simmering with tension.”
Arab and Islamic peoples have never been as united over a single issue as they are today. The world capitals bent on obstructing international resolutions and actions intended to stop Israeli brutality would be wise to think of their image among those peoples, whose anger against what is happening to the Palestinians could carry over to many aspects of the bilateral relations between Arab and Islamic nations and the Western powers that are complicit in the crimes being perpetrated in Gaza.
The global outpouring of public sympathy for the Palestinians, the massive solidarity demonstrations in world capitals, increasing presence on social media of Palestinian narratives that belie Israeli propaganda claims, and defections from Western foreign ministries in protest of their governments’ two-faced policies have all added weight to the Arab and Islamic consensus. While this is important, it is still a race against time to halt the campaign of death and destruction in Gaza where medical facilities have stopped functioning, Israel is deaf to appeals to let in humanitarian aid and fuel, and its drive of genocide and ethnic cleansing continues unabated in full view of all.
We can only remind the West that their blind rush to side with Israel will backfire in terrible ways if they continue to aid and abet Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity. No one is taken in by the claim of “self-defence” when what is really taking place is the ruthless extermination of a people whose sole crime is their just demand for self-determination in an independent sovereign state in the West Bank and Gaza. It is equally clear that the extremist government in Israel is using retaliation for the Hamas attack on 7 October as a pretext to seize and annex those territories. But scorched earth policies, disproportionate force and indiscriminate bombing will not succeed in driving the Palestinians from their land. Israel has tried these tactics before, creating waves of refugees. But not only has it failed to uproot Palestinian identity and culture, it has also strengthened the Palestinians’ attachment to their lands.
The steadfastness and resolve Palestinians have displayed in this respect have inspired widespread awe and admiration among the global public which has been forced to rethink the rhetoric of victimhood that Israel has been spouting for the past 75 years. Israel may murder more Palestinians on their land, but it will not kill the Palestinian cause which, moreover, is stronger than ever, despite the campaign of slaughter and dehumanisation being perpetrated by the extremist government in Tel Aviv.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 16 November, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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