By Tariq Ramadan
20 November 2012
In a world that celebrates the onward march of democracy, the Palestinian people have been left behind. When the first free elections (internationally recognized as fair and transparent) were held in the Occupied Territories in 2006, the democratic victory of Hamas rapidly plunged the Palestinians into a cycle of endless violence. The people had chosen the wrong winners and have been regularly and brutally punished for its error ever since. By voting for the fighters, it was as if they had given Israel a free hand to treat the entire population like “terrorists”, with imprisonment, summary execution, torture and regular air strikes, not to mention daily humiliation at military check-points and the horror of the apartheid wall of shame. What a remarkable success for democracy! Vote freely, to become prison-camp inmates.
There is no end in sight. The so-called “peace process” has never fulfilled its promises. While the Israeli government and the colonists continue their slow colonization — thereby destroying the very notion of two states — dialogue breaks down and dies. US President Barack Obama, that Nobel Peace laureate, has never, with the exception of a handful of speeches, lifted a finger for peace, let alone on behalf of the Palestinians. On the contrary, he has carried unilateral support for Israel even farther than his predecessors. During the recent American election campaign, in quest of a second term, he totally washed his hands of Palestine. Letting a few Arabs be killed in Palestine and in Syria made it all worthwhile. Likewise, the upcoming “democratic” election in Israel is linked with the most recent violent clashes, aerial bombardments, targeted assassinations and the death of dozens — and soon hundreds — of civilians. Killing Palestinians and deploying armed forces, which only increase the danger, is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s winning strategy. The true message of democratic elections in Israel and the US is this — kill and let kill.
The response of the democratically elected regimes that took power in the wake of the Arab awakening must be more than simply symbolic. The immediate dispatch of the Egyptian and Tunisian foreign ministers must be saluted, just as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s firm position, both in 2008 and today, must be hailed. These are clear signs that times are changing and that government policy in these countries now reflects popular sentiment. But strictly national strategies only contribute to isolation and cannot build a concerted regional approach strong enough to weigh on future developments. The outcome may well be a brief emotional upheaval, with the Arab masses expressing their anger and their support for the initiatives of the Tunisian, Egyptian and Turkish authorities, but with no firm outcome, since Israel is continuing its attacks and intends to accomplish its objectives. Once more, the Palestinians may fall victim to a populist and nationalist exploitation of their cause. Newly elected officials issue firm condemnations, their populations demonstrate angrily and Palestinians keep on dying. The Palestinian cause calls for more than verbal support from the Arab countries — the time has come to form coalitions, to devise strategies that would concretely involve states from the Middle East through Latin America, South Africa and Asia, to establish a true front to defend justice and the rights and dignity of the Palestinians in a determined defence of the oppressed against their oppressors.
The western media, in virtual unison, claim that Israel is merely defending itself against Palestinian rocket attacks. What a lie! It’s the 2008 scenario repeated, with the media regurgitating the mendacious propaganda of the Israeli government. For weeks and months, piloted aircraft and drones have been flying over Gaza, terrorizing the population and striking at individual targets. Four times last month, the Israelis raided Gaza : The Palestinian leadership did not react to the provocation until after the death of a child. A rocket was launched, followed by agreement on the terms of a truce by the two sides one day before the summary elimination of Hamas leader Ahmad Jabari! Meanwhile, Israel attacks, kills and provokes in silence and presents itself in the media as the victim that must defend itself. The scenario is the same as in 2008, which cost the lives of nearly 1,500 Palestinians.
The Arab world is destabilized, weakened. The civil war in Syria (where the international community seems to agree to disagree and allows the situation to deteriorate), tensions in Lebanon, Iran’s complex foreign policy, instability in Tunisia and Egypt, and Yemen and Jordan combine to make it difficult — perhaps more than under the dictatorships of the past — to undertake concerted action. And all the while, Israel pushes ahead with its long-term policy of facts on the ground: To isolate Gaza, to dismiss Mahmoud Abbas, punish resistance and increase the pace of colonization until finally no peaceful outcome remains possible. The Israeli government does not want peace. It is playing for time, as some cabinet ministers now openly admit.
And still, it is a disgrace. In the minds of westerners, raised on the values of the Enlightenment that posit the fundamental equality of all humanity, the idea that Arab lives and blood — and in a broader sense, those of Muslims today — are worth less than Israeli lives and blood, than the lives and blood of the women, children and men of the dominant powers. This racism, whether institutionalized by law or informally accepted, lies at the core of the White Man’s Burden and at the root of the apartheid regimes. It nurtured the Zionist project from its inception and has now expanded, in turn colonizing government policies in the North, in the media and in popular perceptions. Human beings are categorized — people like us, or those who look like us, are more worthy of living than “the others.” This return of the repressed is fraught with risk. We are living in dangerous times. Perhaps it will fall to the Global South to reject such dismal logic; perhaps it is time for people of conscience to stand up, to speak up and proclaim that the death of an innocent Palestinian taints our silence with guilt. Perhaps it is time to go beyond fine words and to organize boycotts and disinvestment campaigns, sanctions and broad alliances, to mobilize, to act, to let the Israeli authorities know that today’s arrogance and deafness only reflect the extent of tomorrow’s defeat.