The World Around Us
May 18, 2021
Oppression, dispossession and powerlessness

THERE IS A Vincentian calypso which was rendered a few decades ago with the line “No man is free until all men are free everywhere.” By this token, none of us is truly free, even those of us who enjoy the trappings of freedom in everyday life. Were we free when the vast majority of South Africans lived under the oppressive system of apartheid? Are we free now whilst the Palestinian people endure oppression, dispossession and powerlessness at the hands of the State of Israel? The current conflict between Israel and Palestine was sparked by the former’s attempt to evict a group of Palestinian residents from East Jerusalem. For context, readers will recall that Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its “undivided capital”, a claim which is rejected by a majority of the international community and by the Palestinians who claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Readers will also recall that conflict between Israel and Palestine is nothing new. Two reference points can be used to trace the roots of the current conflict. First, the foundation of the State of Israel in 1948 and second, the six-day war in 1967 when Israel captured then Arab-controlled parts of Jerusalem, including the Old City and its holy sites. These developments sowed the seeds of all future conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians.

The most recent escalation of violence has already resulted in dozens of casualties on both sides, including children. At the time of writing, the death toll in Gaza had climbed to a total of 188, including at least 55 children and 31 women, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. A further 1,225 people have also been injured in Gaza. For its part, the Israeli military has also accused Hamas of placing rocket installations and tunnel entrances close to civilian infrastructure such as hospitals and schools, thereby exposing civilians to danger.

The conflict is also a major foreign policy test for the new Biden Administration in the United States (US). Biden came to office extolling the virtues of multilateralism in what appeared to be a clean break from the previous Trump Administration.

However, to date, the Biden Administration’s response to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict appears to run counter to the President’s pledge that ‘multilateralism is back’. It has been reported that the US blocked a consensus Security Council statement on the conflict. The US has also been implicated in using delaying tactics to put off an open meeting of the Security Council, although it finally agreed to the meeting taking place on Sunday, May 16.

Since Biden assumed the Presidency, his Administration has reportedly pushed other Security Council members to make statements on the ongoing conflicts in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, as well as in Myanmar. Therefore, the Administration’s seeming reluctance to speak truth to Israel in particular, is baffling at best.

The longer the conflict goes on, real, not hypothetical lives, are being lost. This makes it incumbent on all interested parties, especially the leadership of the Israelis and Palestinians, to find a long-term solution to the underlying problems which continue to inspire conflict.

What is clear is that the ongoing oppression and dispossession of the Palestinian people is a recipe for future conflict. In this regard, a one state solution does not seem to be the path which will empower the Palestinians to determine their own fate. This makes genuine efforts toward a two-state solution much more critical.

A few weeks ago, using the ongoing conflicts in Myanmar and Yemen as reference points, I wrote about the dire consequences that follow when the international community fails to discipline bad actors. When bad actors know that their actions will go unchecked, they are then emboldened to act with impunity. In this context, blind loyalty to the Israeli government or to Hamas in Palestine is suboptimal. Especially on the Israeli front, criticism of the policies and actions of the government should not be seen as anti-sematic or unchristian, and such accusations are reductionist and unhelpful.

Finally, in the immediate term, both sides in the conflict should agree to a cease fire followed by negotiations to end the conflict. Following this, all parties should work towards a permanent solution. Without a permanent solution, there will be a repeat of violence as we have seen over the years.