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David Matas: Ukrainians and Palestinians

by David Matas, May 18, 2022

Every time a new refugee crisis attracts global attention, an old crisis fades into the background.  Chronic victims of old tragedies say do not forget us, and rightly so.  All of us need to remember the old unresolved problems. 

 

Yet, we also must not forget that each atrocity has its own individual characteristics. Old tragedies justify our attention because of what they are intrinsically, not because of similarities they may have, if any, to new tragedies.

 

Now that global attention is focused on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we see pleas not to forget victimized Syrians or Afghans or Tamils or Rohingyas and so on. These pleas are proper. The plight of Ukrainians should not turn us away from the other crises.  Yet, the global response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine is not a one size fits all response appropriate for all human rights crises. 

 

We see this error in transposition in the opinion piece posted on the CBC website titled "Palestinian Winnipegger grateful for world's response to Ukraine, though it's been painful to witness".  The general drift is that it is painful to witness the world's response to Ukraine because the world has not shown the same solidarity, against Israel when "Israel shelled Gaza last year and many times before", nor in favour of "the right of the Palestinians to resist their occupation and colonization, or even to defend themselves."

 

It is, of course, legitimate to be concerned about the plight of the Palestinians.  It is also quite right to express regret that attention to their plight may well be diverted by the attention given to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  Nonetheless, these situations are completely different.

 

Ukraine is defending itself against an unprovoked and brutal invasion by Russian forces. Russia is an autocracy without press, prosecution or court accountability for its invasion atrocities.  In its defence, Ukrainian forces are not dropping thousands of bombs onto Russia or deliberately targeting Russian civilians. Ukraine is not claiming that Russia should not exist.

 

Hamas, in contrast, has launched thousands of rockets and mortars into Israel and has deliberately targeted civilians. There was no invasion by Israel of Gaza and no threat of invasion. Israel does not claim that a Palestinian ruled Gaza should not exist. Hamas is part of an active, violent anti-Zionist movement claiming that Israel should not exist, denying that Israelis have the right to self-determination in their ancestral homeland.   

 

Israel has a free press and an independent prosecution and judiciary. The courts, prosecution, and press in Gaza are under the thumb of Hamas.    

 

The posted article, rather than pointing a way to a solution, is symptomatic of the problem.  The article condemns Israeli behaviour but ignores the terrorism which prompted that behaviour.  The article says nothing about the Hamas crimes against Palestinians, not least the systematic use of Palestinian civilians as human shields. 

 

The claims in the article that Jews are colonizers and occupiers ignore the reality that Jews are indigenous to the ancient land of Israel, that the Jewish presence in Israel preceded the Muslim presence by centuries and that there has been a continuous presence of Jews in the land of Israel for millennia.  The accusations further disregard the reality that Hamas controls Gaza, Israel having withdrawn its forces in 2005.  The allegations as well fly in the face of the Oslo Accords, to which the Palestinian Authority agreed.  Those Accords divide the West Bank into three areas, one controlled by the Palestinians, one controlled by Israel and one jointly controlled.

 

The charges of colonization and occupation made against Israel were never made against Jordan or Egypt before 1967, when Jordan controlled the West Bank and Egypt controlled Gaza.  Yet those countries had far more control over those territories than Israel does today.

 

The complaints are further belied by the fact that there were more Jewish than Palestinian refugees created by the Arab wars against Israel.  It is these Jewish refugees and their descendants who form a good half of the Jewish population of Israel today.

 

Palestinians are victims.  But Israel is not their victimizer.  It is rather anti-Zionists, driven by hatred and bigotry against a Jewish state.  These anti-Zionists, by a litany of slanders, incite Palestinians to attack Israel. When Palestinians, goaded on by this incitement, do so and Israel defends, both Palestinians and Israelis suffer.

 

By all means, let us not, because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, forget about the plight of the Palestinians. But let us be clear about what that plight us - the instrumentalization, weaponization and engineered victimization that anti-Zionists have inflicted on them. If we want to help the Palestinians, and we should, what we need to do is combat the incitement of anti-Zionism which turn them into fodder for the anti-Zionist cause.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

David Matas is senior counsel to B’nai Brith Canada.

 
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