Cyprus Mail
Guest ColumnistOpinion

Black lives matter. Do Palestinian lives matter?

displaced palestinians, who fled their houses due to israeli strikes, shelter in a tent camp, in rafah
A Palestinian child in a tent camp in Rafah, southern Gaza

By Fahri Zihni

Of course, all lives matter. All human rights, including the ultimate right to life itself apply to all humans irrespective of race, religion, or any other human attribute.

But the point of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement was about pointing out the ambivalent attitude of the North American society as a whole to racial injustice.  It remains an emphatic statement which continues to challenge America about its appalling record on this. Black Americans, who account for 13 percent of the U.S. population, accounted for 27 percent of those fatally shot and killed by police in 2021. They are three times more likely to be in prison than white Americans, and four times more likely to get life sentences. All of this happens in one of the richest countries in the world, and is accepted as “business as usual”. Hence the BLM initiative.

According to the Times of Israel of 9 March 2023, long before the events of 7 October 2023, five former police commissioners demanded that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu removes his coalition partner and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir from office. They stated that he was acting outside his remit and risked igniting violence with Palestinians. They expressed their concerns about the self-confessed supremacist Ben Gvir’s intentions during the month of Ramadan as “throwing a lit match into a barrel of gunpowder, which could in the best case bring about a third intifada, and in the worst case ignite an unnecessary fire in the Muslim world”. They were proven right but with his vested interest to stay in office, Netanyahu ignored their advice.

On 1 February 2022, Amnesty International headlined reports which set out to demonstrate “how massive seizures of Palestinian land and property, unlawful killings, forcible transfer, drastic movement restrictions, and the denial of nationality and citizenship are all components of a system which amount to apartheid under international law”. It went on to report that “In 2018, Palestinians in Gaza began to hold weekly protests along the border with Israel, calling for the right of return for refugees and an end to the blockade. Before protests even began, senior Israeli officials warned that Palestinians approaching the wall would be shot. By the end of 2019, Israeli forces had killed 214 civilians, including 46 children”.

The 7 October attack on Israel by Hamas terrorists was appalling. They killed, in cold blood, 1,200 people including innocent women and children, committed acts of cruelty and rape, and took 240 people hostage, following a pre-meditated plan of violence. It is difficult to see any fair minded person not regarding these acts as utterly abominable.

However, it is also quite clear that Netanyahu government have encouraged and armed illegal Israeli settlers to terrorise and humiliate Palestinians in their own homeland. This government has also overseen the violation of a catalogue of Palestinian human rights as described above. For all this, it must share culpability for the events of 7 October.

It is also perfectly understandable for Israel to take necessary actions to ensure that this kind of atrocity can not take place again. As a starting point, it will no doubt wish to improve its defences by improving its intelligence operations which have proven to be spectacularly deficient.

No solution to decades long conflict is easy. However, it is not by any means impossible for Israel to identify, arrest and/or expel the 1,500 members of the Hamas militia who were responsible for the 7 October atrocity. As two US aircraft carriers stationed across the water are ready to provide battle support to Israel, and no military support exists for the Gazans, Israel is undoubtedly in a very strong position to negotiate on its own terms.

Yet, no attempt has been made by Israel to even try this obvious “gunboat diplomacy” option. This does call into question what the real intention of the ultra-right Netanyahu 7-party coalition might be. Is this intention really about securing the release of hostages and assuring the future protection of Israel, or is it about using local American military presence as an opportunity to force the exodus of 2 million Palestinians to pave the way for the annexation of Gaza?

Each mother, father and child suffers the same pain and devastation for the death or maiming of their loved ones, whether Palestinian or Israeli. The pulverising of Gaza with 40,000 tons of bombs, the killing of some 20,000 innocent civilian Palestinians (including thousands still buried under the rubble), and the displacement of 1.8 million people cannot be morally justified. How can 20,000 deaths of one community of people be equated to 1,200 of another? The Israeli military actions are totally disproportionate.

Israelis have the right to defend themselves. Do the Palestinians? The answer is that they are fast becoming completely defenceless, and will be at the mercy of the brutal Netanyahu government. Who will heed them? All their friends including the Arab nations have all but abandoned them in favour of business, money and USA support.

Palestinian lives matter. A negotiated solution must be realised. How, though, if bombings and bloodshed are allowed to continue? Will this not just create even more hatred and violence for future generations, which will inevitably spill over to other countries? Is this another 9-11 in the making, and discord, seemingly, for ever?

Although this conflict is between Jewish Israelis and Muslim Palestinians, the solution is in the hands of Christian countries such as the USA, UK, France, Germany and the EU as a collective. They need to persuade President Netanyahu to stop the bombing and get back to the negotiating table.

Especially during this Christmas time, can the leaders of these countries sleep at night with a clear conscience, knowing that they are bearing silent witness to this carnage?

 

Fahri Zihni is former chair of Council of Turkish Cypriot Associations (UK), a former policy advisor at the UK’s Cabinet Office and a former president of Society of IT Management, UK

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