Israel does not have the right to kill Palestinian civilians without any limit, Malaysia’s former PM Mahathir bin Mohamad tells Arab News

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Updated 16 November 2023

Israel does not have the right to kill Palestinian civilians without any limit, Malaysia’s former PM Mahathir bin Mohamad tells Arab News

Israel does not have the right to kill Palestinian civilians without any limit, Malaysia’s former PM Mahathir bin Mohamad tells Arab News
  • Veteran statesman condemns Israel’s “humanitarian oppression” of the Palestinian people in Gaza
  • Says Israel can only stave off a repeat of Oct. 7 by negotiating with Hamas, giving back Palestinian land

RIYADH: Israel’s military assault on Gaza is a disproportionate response, and the conflict can only be halted through negotiation with Hamas and by pursuing a two-state solution, according to Mahathir bin Mohamad, the former prime minister of Malaysia.

The veteran statesman, who held office from 1981 to 2003 and from 2018 to 2020, making him the country’s longest-serving prime minister, has long been a staunch supporter of Palestinian national rights.

Compared with the 1948 Nakba, or “catastrophe,” that resulted in the creation of the state of Israel and the dispossession of millions of Palestinians, Mahathir believes the current conflict in Gaza presents an even greater threat and is more akin to an extermination.

“This is worse than the previous Nakba because this is not war. This is, simply, a humanitarian oppression,” he told Arab News.

“We don’t see soldiers fighting each other. We see, simply, Israeli soldiers killing civilians. That is not war. It is a humanitarian disaster.”

Israel launched its military assault on Gaza with the intention of eliminating Hamas after the Palestinian militant group mounted its unprecedented attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7, which resulted in the death of 1,200 people, Israelis and foreigners, and the taking of more than 200 hostages.

The US and many other Western governments have repeatedly voiced their support for Israel’s right to defend itself and broadly backed the aim of eliminating Hamas, which Washington and many European governments consider a terrorist organization.

“It may have the right to defend itself but not to the extent of proposing to kill Palestinian civilians without any limit,” said Mahathir.

“Already, they have killed 12,000. They claim they have lost 1,400, but now they have killed more than 12,000 Palestinians. That is not the way to secure the well-being of Israel.”

The steadfast Western support for Israel has started to wane, however, as the civilian body count in Gaza continues to rise, prompting growing calls for an immediate ceasefire, the establishment of humanitarian aid corridors, and a negotiated settlement of the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Mahathir, who was in office during the 1993-1999 peace process, when the Palestine Liberation Organization, led by Yasser Arafat, came close to its goal of establishing an independent Palestinian state, said the violence of Oct. 7 was all but inevitable after Israel failed to keep up its end of successive agreements.

“For 70 years, the Israelis have been oppressing the Palestinians, have taken their land and built settlements on their land,” said Mahathir.

“And they (the Palestinians) have tried many ways, including negotiation by Arafat. But every time they tried to solve the problem, the Israelis reneged on their promises. For example, when Arafat finally agreed that the state of Israel should exist, that there should be a two-state solution, the Israelis (did) not implement the promise they made that there should be a two-state solution.

Arab News’ Noor Nugali interviews Mahathir bin Mohamad, Malaysia’s longest-serving prime minister. (AN Photo)

“So, what can the Palestinians do? They had to eventually resort to violence. They have no other way. The world is not helping them. There is no justice. So the attack on Oct. 7 is because there is no other way for them to regain their land. It’s not terrorism, it’s to fight to liberate your own country.”

Mahathir doubts whether Israel ever truly countenanced the possibility of an independent Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines and with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Instead, he believes Israel wants to dispossess the Palestinians of all their remaining lands west of the Jordan river, and goes so far as to accuse the current government of orchestrating a campaign of attempted extermination.

“What they want is actually, if what they are doing in Gaza is any evidence, what they want is to rid the world of all Palestinians. That is their final solution,” said Mahathir.

“They learned this from the Nazis of Germany. The Nazi solution to the Jewish problem was to kill all Jews. Now, it seems that Israel is adopting that approach to the problem, wanting to kill all Palestinians so that the Middle East will not have any Palestinians left.”

The “final solution” refers to the killing of 6 million Jews by the Nazis, primarily in purpose-built death camps, between 1941 and 1945.

Last weekend, Saudi Arabia hosted an extraordinary joint summit of the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Riyadh, during which leaders demanded an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and rejected Israel’s justification of its actions as being self-defense.

They urged the International Criminal Court to investigate the “war crimes and crimes against humanity that Israel is committing” in the Palestinian territories, according to the summit’s final communique.

They also demanded an end to the siege of Gaza, access for the delivery of humanitarian aid, and a halt to the sale of arms to Israel, and called on the UN Security Council to take action.

“Just asking the Israelis to stop the war is not doing very much, because everybody is saying that,” said Mahathir. “But the Islamic countries can demand from the UN all peacekeepers to be sent to Gaza so that they can look after the welfare, the well-being, the security of the Gazan people.

“Today, the Gazan people have no defense. They are being killed almost as if they are not human. And this is what Israel is doing. Merely asking Israel just to stop killing is not enough. Israel will not stop killing.

“But I think at least they should send peacekeepers. They should supply food, medicine, water and all that, all the needs of the people in Gaza. And they should be there, represented as peacekeepers, to stop this unfair killing of innocent people by the Israeli military.

“And it’s not only killing that Israel is doing. They’ve cut off water, electricity, food supplies, humanitarian aid for close to a month now. And they’re saying that they want to eliminate Hamas, that they want to eradicate the terrorist group, Hamas.”

Mahathir does not believe that Hamas can be defeated by force of arms alone. Instead, he said that Israel and its allies will have to negotiate with the group if they hope to end the cycle of violence that led to the Oct. 7 attacks.

“If you want to eliminate Hamas, sit down and negotiate with Hamas,” he said. “Give back the land belonging to the Palestinians; the Palestinians who are ready to acknowledge there is Israel. That was not (the case) before but now they accept that there is Israel.

“Israel must give back the land belonging to the Palestinians and that should be done through negotiation, not through killing. Killing is uncivilized. Yes, we’ve heard so many officials say that dialogue should be open. There should be more conversation. There should be a conversation also taking place. But Israel says they needed a proportionate response to what happened to them.”

In the meantime, Mahathir believes Arab and Islamic countries in the region should offer sanctuary to Palestinian women and children, while the men should remain behind to prevent a permanent Israeli occupation.

“If the Israelis keep on killing the Palestinians, we should provide asylum for at least the women and the children,” he said. “The men should stay back in Gaza, because if you don’t, then the Israelis will occupy Gaza. So, the men will stay back, and they should be given some way of defending themselves.

“At the moment, they cannot defend themselves. They have no weapons, and they are being killed. Whether they are Hamas or not has not been ascertained. They (Israel) are killing people, saying they want to get rid of Hamas. But the people, the babies, who were killed, are they Hamas? How can you justify killing people?”

Mahathir established the Kuala Lumpur Initiative to Criminalize War in 2015, as well as the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission to investigate the activities of the US, Israel and their allies in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

He has also accused the West of increasing the likelihood of a third world war as a result of its intervention in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Part of the problem, in his view, is the dearth of moral values among the current crop of world leaders.

“We are getting world leaders who have no conscience,” Mahathir said. “We have very poor qualities of world leaders. To find the president of the US actually approving the killing of the Palestinians, that shows the quality of leadership.

“A leader should always move toward doing good things and correct things — just use the rule of law. But now the US president and the prime minister of the UK and many other European leaders, the quality of leadership is very bad. They have no conscience, no moral values. They like to see wars being fought and they don’t mind if there is no justice, if the laws are broken.”

At a time when islamophobic and antisemitic hate crimes appear to be on the rise worldwide in response to the ongoing crisis in the Middle East, Malaysia has managed to maintain a degree of harmony among its diverse population, which is made up of a majority of Malay Muslims along with Buddhists, Christian Chinese and mainly Hindu Tamils.

“Malaysia is a multiracial, multireligious country,” said Mahathir. “We have different beliefs, different cultures, but each one of us accepts that we have to tolerate each other.

“Of course, we are different. We cannot be the same. If God wants us to be the same, we will all be Muslim. But there are people who are not Muslims, and Muslims must tolerate the non-Muslims. That is part of the teachings of Islam.

“So, we adhere to the teachings of Islam and we live together. They have their own way, we have our own way and we tolerate that, for instance.”

Mahathir said this has been achieved through widespread recognition of the fact that resorting to violence can only harm the nation and its people. It is a lesson he believes other countries ought to take on board.

“If we have confrontation, (if) we have violence, (then) we will destroy the country. In the end, nobody gets anything,” he said. “Everybody in Malaysia understands that if you fight, the whole country is going to be destroyed. Everybody is going to suffer.

“Yes, we have our differences. We can settle our differences around a table, not by fighting each other. When you fight each other, you kill people and you destroy the country. In the end, even if you win, the country is destroyed. Of course, if you lose, you will also face a country that is no longer, well, stable.”

Britain’s new protest laws unlawful, London court rules in rights group’s challenge

Britain’s new protest laws unlawful, London court rules in rights group’s challenge
Updated 5 sec ago

Britain’s new protest laws unlawful, London court rules in rights group’s challenge

Britain’s new protest laws unlawful, London court rules in rights group’s challenge
  • Civil rights group Liberty took the government to court over changes to public order laws made last year
  • Judge rules new regulations gave the police almost unlimited powers to shut down protests
LONDON: Britain unlawfully gave police wider powers to impose conditions on peaceful protests which cause “more than minor” disruption to the public, London’s High Court ruled on Tuesday.
Civil rights group Liberty took the government to court over changes to public order laws made last year, which it says gave the police almost unlimited powers to shut down protests.
The case was heard in February amid a wider crackdown on protest movements in Britain and across Europe, as environmental activists have used direct action protests to demand urgent government action against climate change.
Judges David Bean and Timothy Kerr ruled in the group’s favor on Tuesday, finding that the regulations granting the new powers were unlawful.
The High Court granted the government permission to appeal and suspended its decision that the new powers should be quashed pending the outcome of the appeal.
Liberty’s legal action focused on the Public Order Act, under which the police can impose conditions on a protest if it could cause “serious disruption to the life of the community.”
The law was amended last year, so police could impose conditions in cases where a protest could cause “more than minor” disruption, which Liberty said was unlawful.
Government lawyers argued that ministers were given express powers to amend the law on what amounted to serious disruption.
But the High Court ruled that the government exceeded its powers, which “did not extend to lowering the threshold for police intervention.”

Thai minister quits over legal complaint seeking PM’s dismissal

Thai minister quits over legal complaint seeking PM’s dismissal
Updated 41 min 4 sec ago

Thai minister quits over legal complaint seeking PM’s dismissal

Thai minister quits over legal complaint seeking PM’s dismissal
  • Pichit Chuenban says his resignation would allow the country ‘to move ahead and not impact the administrative work of the prime minister that needs continuity’

BANGKOK: A Thai minister at the center of a pending legal complaint seeking the dismissal of Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin resigned on Tuesday, in an effort to insulate the premier from possible repercussions.
A group of 40 senators lodged a complaint to the Constitutional Court last week against Pichit Chuenban, 65, saying his appointment last month as minister to the prime minister’s office breached the constitution, as he has a criminal record.
The court was due on Thursday to decide whether or not to accept the case, which could lead to Srettha’s suspension.
“Even though I have been vetted and honestly believe that I am qualified by law, this matter is linked to the prime minister,” Pichit said in his resignation letter, shared with media by Srettha’s office.
He said his resignation would allow the country “to move ahead and not impact the administrative work of the prime minister that needs continuity.”
It was not immediately clear whether the resignation would have any impact on the complaint submitted to the court.
Pichit was jailed for six months in 2008 for contempt of court after an alleged attempt to bribe court officials with 2 million baht ($55,000) hidden in a paper grocery bag.
His law license was suspended for five years by the Lawyers Council of Thailand after the incident. The government has said it carefully vetted Pichit’s qualifications and was confident it could defend his appointment before the court.
Pichit becomes the third minister to quit Srettha’s cabinet, after his foreign minister and deputy finance minister resigned following a cabinet reshuffle last month.
The senators, whose term has ended, are currently lawmakers in a caretaker capacity pending the selection of a new chamber. They have accused Pichit of lacking integrity and ethical standards to hold a ministerial post.
Government critics say Pichit was appointed due to his close relationship with a client, ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who returned to Thailand last year after 15 years in exile. Thaksin, an ally of Srettha, still wields considerable political influence, despite officially being retired.
The government has insisted Pichit was appointed due to his capabilities.

Arab Americans reject Biden, Trump reelection: Survey

Arab Americans reject Biden, Trump reelection: Survey
Updated 45 min 3 sec ago

Arab Americans reject Biden, Trump reelection: Survey

Arab Americans reject Biden, Trump reelection: Survey
  • President gets 7%, predecessor 2% support because of Gaza ‘genocide’
  • Much higher backing for third-party candidates Jill Stein, Cornell West

CHICAGO: A national survey of Arab Americans released on Monday shows that most respondents overwhelmingly reject the reelection of both President Joe Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump.

Conducted by the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee and the Truth Project on May 17 and 18, the survey shows support for Biden at 7 percent and Trump at 2 percent.

Arab and Muslim voters played a significant role in helping Biden defeat Trump in several key swing states in the November 2020 presidential election.

After taking office in January 2021, Biden responded by unveiling “A Plan for Partnership” with the Arab-American community that was to help strengthen ties with his administration.

But Biden’s unequivocal backing of Israel, including helping to approve more than $40 billion in military aid for the country’s alleged genocide in Gaza — which has taken more than 35,000 Palestinian lives — has all but erased that support and his edge over Trump in key swing states, according to the survey organizers.

“Since the start of the genocide many have speculated about who Arab Americans would vote for — Biden or Trump. The answer is neither, with third-party candidates getting substantial support,” ADC National Executive Director Abed Ayoub said in a statement to Arab News.

Third-party candidates Dr. Jill Stein and Dr. Cornell West received much higher support among Arab Americans.

Stein, who is Jewish and with the Green Party, received 25 percent support while West, who is African American, received 20 percent.

Not mentioned in the survey was leading third-party candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. His views have varied from calling for peace and recognition of Palestine to rejecting accusations that Israel’s actions in Gaza constitute genocide. Kennedy has declined repeated requests from Arab News for interviews.

Five national polls released in March and April from Quinnipiac University, Fox News, Marquette Law School, NBC News and Marist College showed Kennedy with 13 percent support for his independent presidential bid. Stein and West received only 3 percent each in the national polls.

As the presidential election approaches, “it is evident that Arab-American and allied voters are supporting candidates that are listening to our concerns and demands,” ADC said.

In its survey, 19 percent of Arab Americans said they were “undecided” and 3 percent said they would not vote in November.

ADC said support for Stein and West is based on the two running on an anti-genocide platform.

Stein has been a “strong and vocal supporter of Palestine” throughout her career, ADC noted, adding that West has also adopted this stance.

Arab, Muslim and other voters have shown significant opposition to Biden’s reelection in more than 30 state primaries, including five key swing states where he won by slim margins over Trump.

The primary election campaigns have been led by the #AbandonBiden movement, which told Arab News that it is considering hosting its own “Presidential Convention” in the autumn to galvanize Arab, Muslim and “progressive” voters to consider alternatives to Biden.

The ADC / Truth Project survey is based on outreach to 36,139 Arab Americans and “allied voters” who were asked one question: “Who are you voting for in November?”

Over the two days, 2,196 (6 percent) responded. ADC said this was “a high level of enthusiasm” in the presidential election race.

The Truth Project is a social welfare body committed to uniting a diverse coalition of Americans and organizations who support justice and equality in Palestine.

ADC has a large national grassroots membership base, and was founded in the 1980s to fight for civil and Arab-American rights.

North Korea’s Kim was ‘sincere’ in Trump talks: Seoul’s former president Moon

North Korea’s Kim was ‘sincere’ in Trump talks: Seoul’s former president Moon
Updated 53 min 36 sec ago

North Korea’s Kim was ‘sincere’ in Trump talks: Seoul’s former president Moon

North Korea’s Kim was ‘sincere’ in Trump talks: Seoul’s former president Moon
  • Former South Korean president Moon Jae-in was instrumental in brokering two high-profile summit meetings between Kim Jong Un and then-US president Donald Trump
SEOUL: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un offered to give up his nuclear arsenal if America guaranteed his regime would survive, former South Korean president Moon Jae-in said in a recently released memoir.
Moon, who led South Korea for five years from 2017, was instrumental in brokering two high-profile summit meetings between Kim and then-United States president Donald Trump, aimed at securing Pyongyang’s denuclearization in return for sanctions relief.
But after the second summit collapsed in 2019, diplomatic outreach was abandoned, with relations between the two Koreas now at one of their worst points in years, as Kim doubles down on weapons production and draws closer to ally Moscow.
In the memoir released Friday, titled “From the Periphery to the Center,” former president Moon outlined in great detail his interactions with the North Korean leader.
“Kim said he would forsake nuclear weapons if there was a guarantee of regime survival,” Moon said in the book, adding that he felt the young North Korean leader was “very honest.”
According to Moon, Kim’s reasoning was: “I have a daughter and I do not wish her generation to live with nuclear weapons... Why would we continue to live in difficulty, under sanctions, with nuclear weapons if our security can be guaranteed?“
But the North Korean leader was “well aware of mistrust from the international community and the (belief from the) US that the North had been lying” about its commitments to denuclearization, Moon said.
Kim specifically asked him how the North could manage to “make Washington believe in our sincerity” to disarm.
In five years since the Hanoi summit, Pyongyang has declared itself an “irreversible” nuclear weapons power, accelerated weapons development, branded Seoul its “principal enemy” and threatened war over “even 0.001 mm” of territorial infringement.
It has also moved closer to Moscow, purportedly supplying it with arms in exchange for space technologies, something which would violate rafts of United Nations sanctions on both countries.
Despite how things have played out, Moon said in his memoir that he still believed Kim was sincere in his plans to denuclearize, but that it was strongly contingent on “corresponding measures” from the US.
Kim and Trump failed to strike a deal because Washington demanded complete denuclearization before it would consider providing sanctions relief, Moon wrote.
“In retrospect, I regret that (South Korea) did not mediate more effectively by listening to the North’s demands and relaying them to Washington if deemed reasonable,” he said.
“Though there are negative views about Trump, he was a very good fit for me as a counterpart in alliance diplomacy,” he said.
“While there are assessments that he is rude and harsh, I liked him for his honesty. A person who has a smiling face but acts differently and thus can’t be read is more difficult to deal with,” he added.
Trump was both apologetic and regretful that the Hanoi summit ended without a deal, Moon wrote.
Trump was “willing to accept (the North Koreans’ terms) but then-Security Adviser John Bolton fervently opposed it,” Moon wrote.
When Trump asked then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for a second opinion, he agreed with Bolton, leaving Trump no option but to walk away, Moon wrote.
It is impossible to take Kim’s words at face value now, Hong Min a senior analyst at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul, said.
What was clear “is that Kim tried to change the status quo by expressing his intention to denuclearize,” he said.
The only way to know if Kim was serious, would have been to strike a deal in Hanoi and “gauge how far the North would go toward denuclearization,” he added.
Moon was succeeded by conservative Yoon Suk Yeol, who has taken a significantly more hawkish stance on North Korea.
Yoon has not commented on the memoir but his minister for unification Kim Yung-ho said on Monday that taking Kim’s words at face value could have lead to a security-related “miscalculation.”
“While ignoring North Korea’s (nuclear) capability, if we only focus on the North’s intentions, this could result in a miscalculation of the security situation,” he said, according to the Yonhap news agency.

Charges dropped against 9 Egyptians in migrant shipwreck case

Charges dropped against 9 Egyptians in migrant shipwreck case
Updated 31 min 2 sec ago

Charges dropped against 9 Egyptians in migrant shipwreck case

Charges dropped against 9 Egyptians in migrant shipwreck case
  • International human rights groups argue the defendants’ right to a fair trial is being compromised as they face judgment before an investigation is concluded

KALAMATA, Greece: Greek prosecutors recommended dismissing charges against nine Egyptian men accused of causing a shipwreck that killed hundreds of migrants last year and sent shockwaves through the European Union’s border protection and asylum operations, as their trial was opening on Tuesday.

Speaking at the opening of a trial against the nine in the southern Greek city of Kalamata, public prosecutor Ekaterini Tsironi said that Greek jurisdiction cannot be established as the overcrowded trawler sank outside Greek territorial waters.

The defendants, most in their 20s, face up to life in prison if convicted on multiple criminal charges over the sinking of the “Adriana” fishing trawler on June 14 last year off the southern coast of Greece.

More than 500 people are believed to have gone down with the fishing trawler, which had been traveling from Libya to Italy. Following the sinking, 104 people were rescued — mostly migrants from Syria, Pakistan and Egypt — and 82 bodies were recovered.

International human rights groups argue that their right to a fair trial is being compromised as they face judgment before an investigation is concluded into claims that the Greek coast guard may have botched the rescue attempt.

Defense lawyer Spyros Pantazis asked the court to declare itself incompetent to try the case, arguing that the sinking occurred outside Greek territorial waters. “The court should not be turned into an international punisher,” Pantazis told the panel of three judges.

Kontaratou questioned all nine defendants through an interpreter. The accused said their intention was to travel to Italy, not Greece, and several declared their innocence.

Kontaratou acknowledged that there “were no Greeks on board, it was not under a Greek flag and all the documents refer to the (vessel being) 47 nautical miles away.”

It wasn’t immediately clear if the judge’s remarks indicated she would dismiss the case.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres last year described the shipwreck as “horrific.”

The sinking renewed pressure on European governments to protect the lives of migrants and asylum seekers trying to reach the continent, as the number of people traveling illegally across the Mediterranean continues to rise every year.

Lawyers from Greek human rights groups are representing the nine Egyptians, who deny the smuggling charges.

“There’s a real risk that these nine survivors could be found ‘guilty’ on the basis of incomplete and questionable evidence, given that the official investigation into the role of the coast guard has not yet been completed,” said Judith Sunderland, an associate director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch.

Authorities say the defendants were identified by other survivors and the indictments are based on their testimonies.

The European border protection agency Frontex says illegal border detections at EU frontiers increased for three consecutive years through 2023, reaching the highest level since the 2015-2016 migration crisis — driven largely by arrivals at the sea borders.