Written in honor of Shireen Abu Aqla and Nakba Day
I thought I would take some time to share my recent reflections on two continuing conflicts that trouble the world (or should). These are the ongoing aggressions in Ukraine and Palestine. The brutal, naked aggression of Russia in Ukraine has captivated the world for almost three months. The recent killing of the noted and much beloved journalist for Al-Jazeera, Shireen Abu Aqla, a 51-year-old Palestinian American, has also shocked many. She was a correspondent for Al Jazeera’s Arabic news channel and had reported on the Israel-Palestinian conflict for two decades. Her killing has reignited some attention for the long-standing aggression against the Palestinian people.
It is laudable that the US and Europe have responded so promptly and vigorously to Russia’s gross violation of international laws and norms and the enormous suffering they have imposed on the people of Ukraine. Though they differ in significant ways, the situation for Ukrainians and Palestinians is much the same. In both cases, civilian populations are bearing the brunt of the struggle. In both cases the aggressors (Russia and the Zionists in Israel) began their assault with only the flimsiest of arguments and proceeded to seize territory with brutal disregard for civilians. The actions of both have displaced countless refugees.
When one views photos, there is little discernable difference between the pictures of the destruction Russia has levied in Mariupol, Kiev, and Kharkiv, and pictures of the aftermath of Israeli assaults on Gaza over the last 20 years. The level of civilian deaths compared to those of armed combatants in both cases is far out of line with most average military operations. I can only surmise that both Israel and Russia are conducting “special operations.” And after all, to the victims (if they survive) does it really matter whether their homes were destroyed by Russian artillery or by an Israeli bulldozer bought with US taxpayer dollars?
The Zionist landgrab in Palestine began around 1895, well over a hundred years ago. It has been a slow-motion deconstruction of an indigenous culture and people. The Russian adventure in Ukraine began just a few months ago—it is an application of blunt force to seize land. Yet the objectives in both cases are the same. It is also interesting that both aggressors started with the claim that their proposed victims were cultural or ethnic “cousins” and would welcome them. They were, in both cases, simply denying their identity and legitimacy as peoples, as cultures, and as nations.
The ironies are countless. Russia has claimed that its aggression in Ukraine was all about “de-Nazification.” Ukraine’s President Zelensky is Jewish himself and Ukraine has long been a home to a large Jewish population, especially in the heavily targeted port city of Odessa. Zionists claim they are all about eradicating “terrorism.” By that they seem to mean anyone who opposes their aims. Zionists have used terrorist tactics themselves over and over. Claims by Russia about Nazis and about terrorists by Israel are mostly propaganda to excuse their own transgressions. To put it simply, both Russia and Israel try to cover their acts by claiming that their victims are the real aggressors. It is a crude “blame the victim” tactic.
Both the Russian and Zionist Israelis claims of a “right” to the territory they are trying to seize rest on the false premise that their victims have no real claim to a separate cultural identity. The Ukrainians (according to Russian propaganda) are just generic Slavs—and Slavs are all basically Russian. Likewise, Zionists have argued that there really are no Palestinian people. To Zionists, Palestine was a ‘land without people for a people without land.’ At best, Palestinians are just Arabs who could easily go anywhere else and be comfortable in the huge lands controlled by other Arab speakers. Both claims are just nonsense. Both people’s have distinct national identities.
A simple question comes to mind: would we designate the Ukrainian army as a ‘terrorist organization” simply because they forcibly resist Russia’s ridiculous assertion that Ukrainians are just Russians, and that Russia is therefore their legitimate government? Of course not. Yet that is what we have done for years with Palestinian resistance forces…
Some might claim that my observations are somehow antisemitic because they involve criticism of Israeli state policy, but they also involve criticism of Russian government pronouncements, statements which have been virulently antisemitic. Furthermore, “Semitic” is really a linguistic term, rather than a racial or ethnic designation. Arabs (including Palestinian) are all semitic people. My issue is not with Judaism as a religion or Jewish descent and ethnicity or about semitism—it is simply about current Israeli state policy. In the same vein, I have nothing against Russian culture or ethnicity, I only object strongly to their current government policy. While both Russia and the Israeli government like to speak out ferociously about Nazis, their behavior is very much in keeping with that reprehensible group. In order to come to terms with these seeming contradictions, people need to understand that the current government of Israel simply does not speak for all of the world’s Jews. No doubt Putin does not speak for all Russians either.
Russia has made a point of suppressing press coverage of their outrages and Israel has long history of doing the same. Shireen Abu Aqla was clearly marked as a member of the press. The fact that one of her colleagues was shot at the same time makes the idea that her shooting was in any way “accidental” tenuous at best. Likewise, Russia was responsible for the deaths of several American journalists. As Israel learned early, and Russia has learned over time, controlling the narrative, muddying the waters, and an effective propaganda program can do wonders to confuse the American public.
Just a few weeks into the current struggle in Ukraine, Russian began what it calls “negotiations.” Those continue today, but they have never ceased their aggression or made any move towards true reconciliation. The same has been true for Israel since about 1947. Anyone who questions my characterization of these events should read David Hirst’s definitive history The Gun and the Olive Branch: The Roots of Violence in the Middle East.
There are many cries today that Russia must not be allowed to hang on to its territorial gains—that would simply be appeasement and encourage aggression by rewarding it. I quite agree. It is worth noting then, that Zionist expansion in Palestine over the last 120 some years has almost never been rolled back. This was exacerbated by the 1947 UN resolution recommending partition of Palestine, a US backed “solution” that gave some 56% of the land to the Jewish 30% of the population (even though they actually owned only some 7%). And things have gone so badly downhill that today, Palestinians struggle to hold some 22% of their original land—and have little real control over that.
All this should matter very much to Americans. Our assistance to the people of Ukraine is worthy of applause—yet why have we never truly supported the struggle of the Palestinian people? Millions of displaced Ukrainians will have to be resettled—either at their old homes or in new ones, yet five generation of Palestinians now live in exile, and we have done little to help them. In fact, the US has largely financed Israel aggression.
Americans like to believe they are a moral exemplar to the world. We have certainly shown leadership in that direction in our response to events in Ukraine. Most of Europe rallied around the cause. One sad truth is, however, that our supposedly great ally Israel was very slow and ambiguous about condemning Russian aggression. Little wonder since Russia’s current project is so similar to their own. The other truth is that the idea of America as an exemplary moral model will gain little traction unless we are more even-handed in our responses to aggression. Across the Global South, response to the US led initiative to curb Russian aggression has also been somewhat tepid. It is no wonder. The US has been far from even-handed in the past.
There has been heated debate over whether the US should send Ukraine “defensive” weapons or “offensive” weapons. It is a distinction without any real difference. It is true though that we could send the people of Palestine Javelin missiles. These could be used (purely defensively of course) to destroy the Israeli bulldozers that constantly demolish their homes.
The US hardly hesitated before imposing crushing sanctions on the huge country of Russia. The hope was those sanctions would lead to better behavior. Certainly, similar sanctions could quickly compel Israel to live up to its long-standing promises to allow a Palestinian state and a reversal of their aggressive settlement policy. This is really not a question of complex geo-politics. It is a matter of fair-play, basic justice, and human rights. America should buckle down and finally do for Palestine what we are doing for Ukraine.
Gilbert Schramm. May 15, 2022