International community is failing Syrians and Palestinians
Killing Palestinian and Syrian civilians is, it seems, illegal yet permissible. This is one of the enduring lessons of the last few weeks. Bashar Assad can continue his regime’s killing spree that has so far seen half a million killed and Israeli snipers can continue to pick off Palestinian protesters and journalists at will, just so long as they do not kill too many. Israeli forces on the last three Fridays have injured around 4,000 Palestinians; mostly with bullets and often in the legs, almost certainly deliberately.
Palestinians in Gaza and, until recently, Syrian civilians in Eastern Ghouta live in besieged and blockaded enclaves where food and medical resources are restricted. Syrian civilians in Ghouta had no choice but to live under the control of armed groups, many of them Islamist. In Gaza, Palestinians remain under Hamas rule but are largely fed up with it.
Ghouta and Gaza have been bombed frequently. The armed groups in both enclaves do fire back at civilian targets but without the firepower of their better-armed opponents. The Syrian regime has been bombing hospitals and schools across the country. Israel has bombed hospitals and schools in Gaza in its four wars since 2006.
The contempt for health services is acute. Last Friday in Gaza, an Israeli soldier shot a Palestine Red Crescent Society medic in Rafah in the knee with live ammunition. A further 10 paramedics were forced to evacuate their medical point after inhaling tear gas. Israel has also refused to allow Yousef Karnaz, a Palestinian wounded by Israeli army gunfire on March 30, to leave Gaza for urgent medical care in Ramallah to save his remaining leg. He had one leg amputated because of Israel’s delays in initially responding to the request. A 17-year-old, Mohammad Al-Ajouri, also had a leg amputated for the same reason.
In Ghouta and Gaza, Syrian and Palestinian doctors have been working under the most extraordinary circumstances. Medical supplies in Ghouta were very short and regime forces used to remove surgical supplies from aid convoys heading to the enclave. In Gaza, the World Health Organization reported in February that the health sector was on the verge of collapse and that supplies of 42 percent of drugs were completely depleted.
For sure, Israel has never killed civilians in anything like the numbers carried out by the Syrian regime. Israel does carry out torture but not on the industrial scale of Syria. But, just because the statistics may not be as alarming, Israel does still systematically violate international law. As the last three Fridays have demonstrated, Israel has a shoot-to-kill policy and illegal open-fire orders.
Palestinians in Gaza and, until recently, Syrian civilians in Eastern Ghouta live in besieged and blockaded enclaves where food and medical resources are restricted.
The Syrian regime has used chemical weapons multiple times, as verified by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, often without any international reaction. Even now OPCW inspectors are having their patience tested waiting for Russia and the Syrian regime to grant them access to Douma, at a time when handpicked journalists seen as favorable to the regime, were able to tour Douma on 16 April in safety. Yet, one wonders whether if Israel did use chemical weapons in Gaza, would any state do anything? Is there ever a red line for Israel in dealing with Palestinians that might trigger real consequences? The answer is probably not. Why would Israel use the likes of sarin in any event? It does not need to. But before its apologists rush to condemn the suggestion that Israel would ever consider this, it did deploy white phosphorus in crowded civilian areas in 2009, including inside a UN school. White phosphorus causes severe burns all the way to the bone. Israel was also accused of using phosphorus bombs during the invasion of Beirut in 1982.
The international alliances are differing only in name. The US gives Israel carte blanche, and Russia does the same for the Syrian regime. Both have proffered a plentiful supply of vetoes at the UN Security Council. European states claim to speak for both sets of civilians but in reality do very little, save fund aid organizations. EU states are increasingly bystanders in Syria and in Israel/Palestine.
In the UK, the Stop the War Coalition only complains of Western and Israeli interventions in the Middle East, but has yet to organize protests outside the Russian and Iranian embassies for their interventions and bombing of civilians in Syria. For those of this viewpoint, the US is always imperialist, but not Russia. Too many on the right, though often not the far-right, will accuse Russia of anything, whilst the left tends to excuse it of nearly everything.
Values and principles are too often cherry-picked and not evenly applied. International law and the rules-based order are non-existent in both Syria and Palestine. Accountability is rightly demanded for the Syrian regime, but even now Israel’s aggressions and war crimes in Gaza in 2009 will never be followed up. The only moral and ethical positions are the ones that put civilians first regardless of the politics.
The final and most devastating common feature is that the international community has zero strategy and no plans to end either of these two protracted conflicts. That is the most grotesque failure of all.
- Chris Doyle is director of the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU). He has worked with the council since 1993 after graduating with a first class honors degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Exeter University. Twitter: @Doylech