Legend has it that, back in 64 A.D., the Emperor Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Although almost certainly a myth, the comment highlights how contemptuous the hated emperor was of his people. Many Palestinians feel that this is exactly what Western leaders are doing right now, in as medieval and barbaric a fashion as the infamous Nero. As their land is being ruthlessly bombarded and their people ethnically cleansed, the world is collectively fiddling.
It fits the pattern of deep-rooted and unrecognized anti-Arab racism that informs so much of the West’s decision-making, which I covered last month. Not one Western leader has yet, to my knowledge, condemned the numerous genocidal comments made by Israeli ministers, which continue to be uttered with total impunity.
Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich included the West Bank as well as Gaza in his scope of annihilation, saying last week: “There are 2 million Nazis in Judea and Samaria, who hate us exactly as do the Nazis of Hamas-ISIS in Gaza.” A hip-hop war anthem that reached No. 1 in Israel includes lyrics such as “let’s write names on the bombs, for the children of the Gaza envelope.”
The lack of reaction shows that this does not horrify politicians as it should. Likewise, the Western media, with a few honorable exceptions, is also not interested. Why would a world that ignores such genocidal calls be concerned about Palestinian civilians?
Last week’s pause in fighting, which was extended twice, proved exactly why getting a lasting ceasefire matters. A pause resolves nothing. The bombardment resumes — it does not deserve the term “fighting,” given the asymmetry. Pauses tell you all you need to know about the intent. The aim will be to resume the bombardment. The pause allowed some additional humanitarian aid in, but this is like fattening the victims for the eventual kill. A ceasefire, on the other hand, would indicate an intent to secure a more lasting deal; one designed to be the first step toward ending the horror.
Nothing encapsulates this complacent attitude more than the tiresome, almost pedantic debate over the terms “truce,” “pause” and “ceasefire.” These were the disgraceful verbal gymnastics that dominated the debate. The British Labour Party leadership went from calling for nothing to calling for humanitarian pauses and then to calling for a cessation of hostilities, but it did not dare utter the word “ceasefire.”
The hostility to the concept of a ceasefire was instructive. The US vetoed a resolution at the UN Security Council calling for one. Countries from the Global South that are clearly appalled by the Israeli atrocities nearly all voted for one at the UN General Assembly.
One of the most ludicrous arguments was to say there was no point in a political leader calling for a ceasefire because that would make him or her look weak, as it would not happen. It would not be “practical,” as one senior British political figure told me. By such specious reasoning, nobody would have called for the end of slavery, apartheid or for the Berlin Wall to be pulled down. Imagine if politicians confined themselves solely to calling for things that were going to happen.
The one major benefit of the pauses was the release of hostages and Palestinian detainees. Yet, if the safety of the hostages had been the primary consideration, there would have been a ceasefire very early on.
The harsh reality is that Israeli hostages are far more at risk under the savage bombardment that resumed last Friday.
The pause allowed some additional humanitarian aid in, but this is like fattening the victims for the eventual kill.
The whole debate is centered more on how long Israel should be permitted to bomb the hell out of Gaza, not on whether this is right. To be clear, Israel can act to protect its citizens, but the massive carpet bombing of Gaza is totally unwarranted and is more about revenge. The total siege is clearly illegal. Former International Criminal Court Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo argued that the siege is a genocide both because of what it does to civilians and due to the aims expressed by Israeli leaders.
However, despite tokenistic statements of concern for the well-being of civilians in Gaza, this has not led to any serious policy decisions. Rather than compel Israel to end its total siege, Western complicity with Israeli crimes leaves UN and humanitarian agencies scrabbling around to try and stave off the worst humanitarian horrors with the paltry number of aid trucks allowed in per day, while their staff get bombed. UNRWA has lost at least 111 members of its staff so far.
This renewed phase of Israeli bombardment also introduces new factors. Israel is now pummeling the southern part of the Gaza Strip, having parceled the area up into hundreds of tiny segments. Most of Gaza’s population, crammed into unsanitary and disease-ridden areas in the south, are being told to move. At some point, there will be nowhere to move to. On top of that, the deathly cold of winter will wreak further havoc. The word “catastrophe” was used over a month ago, so what shall we call this?
Israel has decimated Gaza’s health infrastructure, knocking out two-thirds of its hospitals. The education system is also crushed. Gaza’s water infrastructure has not been spared. No doubt more will be smashed and rendered useless. Palestinians and many others fear this is all part of the plan to make the Gaza Strip completely uninhabitable. With no healthcare and no water infrastructure, Palestinians will be forced to flee, whether into Egypt or, as some Israelis have suggested, via the sea routes to Europe.
Does this sound absurd? Well, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has instructed his adviser and Minister for Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer to produce plans to thin the population of Gaza “to a minimum.” This is the very definition of ethnic cleansing.
Everyone is left wondering what the US will consider to be enough. When will these political leaders stop fiddling and actually get serious with Israel? Perhaps when the fatality count passes 20,000 or even 30,000. Will that be enough? Will they give Israel even longer and we see 50,000 Palestinian fatalities? After all, pretty soon the media will lose interest in Gaza and turn to some fresh horror elsewhere in the world. That would suit Israel’s leaders just fine.
US President Joe Biden has started making a few of the right noises, albeit in whispers. Israel may finally have been put on notice that American patience is not infinite. This phase of Israeli attacks may be even more brutal as a result. If and when some form of ceasefire does materialize, it will not be long before many will ask: why did we not push for a ceasefire earlier? You may be able to hit the pause button, but you cannot rewind. With every day of slaughter, all the future scenarios just get tougher and tougher. It is time to fast forward to a proper ceasefire, when maybe a new course for Gaza and its people can be charted.
Chris Doyle is director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding in London.
Source: Arab News