What contrasting Western responses to Ukraine and Gaza crises mean for future conflicts

What contrasting Western responses to Ukraine and Gaza crises mean for future conflicts
Left: Palestinian refugees flee Gaza City amid ongoing battles between Israel and Hamas in late 2023. Right: Ukrainian refugees cross the border into Poland following Russia’s full-scale invasion in early 2022. (AFP photos)
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Updated 03 March 2024
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What contrasting Western responses to Ukraine and Gaza crises mean for future conflicts

What contrasting Western responses to Ukraine and Gaza crises mean for future conflicts
  • West seen failing to punish Israel for not respecting laws of war while hitting Russia hard for the same reasons in Ukraine
  • Unequal treatment could make it harder to hold perpetrators accountable and deter war crimes going forward, experts warn

LONDON: Two years after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and six months since the Hamas-led attacks that provoked Israel’s assault on Gaza, critics say the responses to these parallel crises are indicative of a double standard at play in the international order.

Following Russia’s invasion of its neighbor on Feb. 24, 2022, the US and European nations were united in their response as they condemned Moscow’s actions as a breach of international law, imposed sanctions, sent weapons and funding to Kyiv, and offered sanctuary to refugees.




A rescuer walks past buildings destroyed by Russian shelling on the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv on April 16, 2022. (AFP)

After the Oct. 7 attacks last year, in contrast, there was a grim sense of inevitability in the West about what would come next: That Israel would respond ferociously against the Palestinian enclave from which the attack was launched, exacting a heavy toll on civilians in the process.

As the body count rose in Gaza as a result of the Israeli bombardment, one might have expected the international community to respond with a similar chorus of condemnation against the aggressor as it did to the situation in Ukraine, and equivalent expressions of solidarity with the injured party.




This picture taken on January 3, 2024 shows a view of buildings destroyed by Israeli bombardment in the central Gaza Strip. (AFP)

One might also have expected the similar demands within the UN Security Council for an immediate ceasefire, sanctions and the diplomatic isolation of Israel, along with a generous package of aid for Palestinians.

A glance at the recent foreign aid package approved by the US Senate is perhaps indicative of Washington’s priorities. About $60 billion is to be allocated to Ukraine, $14 billion to Israel and just $10 billion to global humanitarian efforts, including those in Gaza.

IN NUMBERS

30k Palestinian civilians killed since Oct. 7, 2023, according to Gaza Health Ministry.

31k Ukrainian soldiers killed since Feb. 24, 2022, according to President Zelensky.

$14bn US aid package to support Israel and military operations in the region.

$60bn Package allocated to Ukraine.

Sarah Yager, the Washington director at Human Rights Watch, believes the effects of this perceived Western double standard might be felt far beyond the duration of these two crises, eroding whatever faith remains in international humanitarian law.

“Russia’s indiscriminate airstrikes on hospitals and schools have, rightly, drawn condemnation from (US) administration officials,” Yager wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine. “But Israel has carried out attacks striking hospitals and schools without eliciting much protest from the White House.

“Some might argue that the United States can afford a little hypocrisy in order to support its long-time ally, Israel. But playing a part in the erosion of international law will have harmful consequences for the United States far beyond Gaza.




Emergency responders bring wounded children at al-Shifa hospital following Israeli strikes in Gaza City on October 10, 2023. (AFP)

“Future declarations by the State Department concerning atrocities will ring hollow, making it harder to hold perpetrators accountable and deter international crimes. Pressure on warring parties to abide by the law — for example, Azerbaijan or Sudan — will carry less weight.”

Agnes Callamard, the secretary-general of Amnesty International, has similarly condemned the West for the contrast between its support for Ukraine and its relative silence over the Israeli army’s assault on Gaza.

She recently said these differing standards were evident in the “demand that we all rush to the defense of Ukraine, as we should, because Ukraine has been aggressed by Russia and they are unbelievably suffering in Ukraine.

“At the same time (the West) tells us not to act on the bombings and suffering of the people of Gaza. The double standard of those governments is the bigger threat to human rights right now.”

Israel denies accusations that its military deliberately targets health workers and civilian infrastructure. Instead, it has accused Hamas of using tunnel networks beneath Gaza’s hospitals to direct attacks, store weapons and conceal hostages.




Israeli troops inspect what they said was an entrance to a tunnel dug by Hamas militants inside the Al-Shifa hospital complex in Gaza City in the northern Gaza Strip on November 22, 2023. (AFP)

Any damage to medical facilities, therefore, is the fault of Hamas, Israeli authorities say, accusing the group of using patients and doctors as human shields.

Jamie Shea, an associate fellow with the International Security Program at Chatham House, said it is important to recognize that while the situations in Ukraine and Gaza might appear broadly comparable, viewing the two conflicts as “subsets of the same basic political confrontation” is wrongheaded.

“There will always be some similarities (in wars), such as the terrible impact of war on the civilian populations or the desire of the Western powers to avoid regional escalation,” Shea told Arab News.

“But Ukraine and Gaza are not subsets of the same basic political confrontation in the way that the Ukraine-Georgia conflicts are linked through Russia, or the pro-Iranian militias in the Middle East, like the Houthis, are being mobilized because of Israel’s bombardment of Gaza.”

Another counterargument to the double-standards accusation is that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lacks the moral clarity of the Russia-Ukraine war. 

In comments to the Wall Street Journal in December, British lawmaker Alex Sobel, a Labour co-chair of the UK parliament’s all-party group on Ukraine, said: “There is no moral justification for the Russian invasion. Zero.

“But in Israel and Palestine, it’s about the fact that there are two peoples on a very small amount of land, and political and military elites on both sides are unwilling to settle for what’s on offer.”

Furthermore, as Yager noted in her article for Foreign Affairs, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was arguably unprovoked, unlike Israel’s retaliation for the cross-border attack by Hamas.




People view the portraits of Israelis taken hostage by Hamas are displayed at a site in Tel Aviv on February 3, 2024. The captives were seized by the Palestinian militants during their surprise attack on Israel on Oct. 7, 2023, provoking an Israeli offensive that has so far killed more than 30,000 Palestinians. (AFP)

Nevertheless, Yager stressed that when “a country decides to use military force, it must fully adhere to the laws that govern conduct in war.”

Eugenie Duss, a research fellow at the Geneva Academy who specializes in the laws of armed conflict, told Arab News that such laws, which apply to state and non-state actors alike, are designed to protect civilians.

Yet it seems that in the view of many Western governments, these rules do not apply to civilians in Gaza. For example, 12 million Ukrainian refugees who fled the Russian offensive have been welcomed by host countries and their rights duly respected.

“I knew a lot of Ukrainians who came (to Britain) about two years ago,” Alla Sirenko, the president and founder of the Ukrainian Cultural Association in the UK, told Arab News.

“They have mostly been women with children and the elderly, and in most cases they have been hard-working people.

“The majority of them have been admired for their resilience, intelligence, hard work and good nature, and (while) most of them are looking forward to returning to Ukraine when it is safe to do so, there has been a lot of goodwill from the British people toward them.”




Refugees from Ukraine (left) are welcomed by volunteers in San Ysidro, California on April 8, 2022. Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion had been welcomed in Western countries. On the other hand, Palestinian refugees remain stranded at the severely damaged Maghazi camp as they have nowhere to go. (AFP photos)

This welcoming environment was encouraged by the UK government, which offered British citizens financial incentives to offer their spare rooms to house Ukrainian refugees.

Similar schemes generally do not exist in the West for refugees who flee conflicts in the Middle East, including the war in Gaza.

One exception is Canada, which offers a temporary visa-extension scheme for Gazans with relatives who are already resident in the country.

Shea acknowledged the perception of a Western double standard in this, which appears to value the lives of Ukrainians over their counterparts in Palestine. However, he believes the West is trying to inhibit a mass displacement of Palestinians from Gaza because it is concerned about what would happen next.

“In Gaza, the West is trying to prevent a mass exodus of the Palestinian population (including to the West Bank) as this would allow Israel to reoccupy the territory and diminish further the amount of land available to the Palestinians for a viable two-state solution,” he said.

“Once forced to leave, Palestinians are unlikely to be able to return, given the likelihood of more Israeli settlements. And in contrast to the Ukrainians in Europe, they are unlikely to be welcomed by countries like Egypt and Jordan, already experiencing severe economic stress.”

Of course, even the Western support for Ukraine is not limitless. As the war increasingly appears to be mired in a stalemate, politicking in Washington is hampering the allocation of further US aid and, as Western populations grow weary of concurrent crises, goodwill could quickly evaporate.

Colin Alexander, a senior lecturer in political communications at Nottingham Trent University in the UK, said it is “well-trodden ground … that publics become overwhelmed by news of more than one conflict at a time.”

Journalism relies on the “evocation of emotions to create traction” even if the reality is “much more complicated,” he told Arab News, and with multiple victims in multiple conflicts, the attempts to elicit empathy could prove “overwhelming” for some audiences.

“Herein, the world edges toward a difficult scenario, diplomatically as well as militarily,” Alexander said. “The Middle East, Ukraine, North Korea, Taiwan — suddenly there are too many crises to comprehend for even the most avid newsreader.”

So far, however, the Ukrainian Cultural Association’s Sirenko said there is no sign that either a sense of “news fatigue” or any perceived double standards in policies on Gaza has reduced the level of sympathy among the British public for the Ukrainians who have found sanctuary in the UK.

“They don’t feel harassed or diminished because of the war in Palestine,” she said. “We are all sorry about it, but it’s not affecting life for Ukrainians in the UK nor the goodwill of the British people towards them.”

 


Google fires at least 20 more workers who protested its $1.2bn contract with Israel

Google fires at least 20 more workers who protested its $1.2bn contract with Israel
Updated 59 min 54 sec ago
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Google fires at least 20 more workers who protested its $1.2bn contract with Israel

Google fires at least 20 more workers who protested its $1.2bn contract with Israel

NEW YORK: Google fired at least 20 more workers in the aftermath of protests over technology the company is supplying the Israeli government amid the Gaza war, bringing the total number of terminated staff to more than 50, a group representing the workers said.

It’s the latest sign of internal turmoil at the tech giant centered on “Project Nimbus,” a $1.2 billion contract signed in 2021 for Google and Amazon to provide the Israeli government with cloud computing and artificial intelligence services.

Workers held sit-in protests last week at Google offices in New York and Sunnyvale, California. The company responded by calling the police, who made arrests.

The group organizing the protests, No Tech For Apartheid, said the company fired 30 workers last week — higher than the initial 28 they had announced.

Then, on Tuesday night, Google fired “over 20” more staffers, “including non-participating bystanders during last week’s protests,” said Jane Chung, a spokeswoman for No Tech For Apartheid, without providing a more specific number.

“Google’s aims are clear: the corporation is attempting to quash dissent, silence its workers, and reassert its power over them,” Chung said in a press release. “In its attempts to do so, Google has decided to unceremoniously, and without due process, upend the livelihoods of over 50 of its own workers.”

Google said it fired the additional workers after its investigation gathered details from coworkers who were “physically disrupted” and it identified employees who used masks and didn’t carry their staff badges to hide their identities. It didn’t specify how many were fired.

The company disputed the group’s claims, saying that it carefully confirmed that “every single one of those whose employment was terminated was personally and definitively involved in disruptive activity inside our buildings.”

The Mountain View, California, company had previously signaled that more people could be fired, with CEO Sundar Pichai indicati ng in a blog post that employees would be on a short leash as the company intensifies its efforts to improve its AI technology.


Britain’s home secretary touts UK-Rwanda migrant deportation deal during visit to Italy

Britain’s home secretary touts UK-Rwanda migrant deportation deal during visit to Italy
Updated 23 April 2024
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Britain’s home secretary touts UK-Rwanda migrant deportation deal during visit to Italy

Britain’s home secretary touts UK-Rwanda migrant deportation deal during visit to Italy
  • Deal, in which Britain will pay Rwanda to process the migrants, is aimed at deterring people from crossing the English Channel from France
  • It is similar in some basic aspects to Italy’s controversial pact to outsource the processing of asylum-seekers to Italian-run centers in Albania

ROME: Britain’s home secretary on Tuesday touted Britain’s migrant deportation deal with Rwanda as a “new and creative” deterrent to an old and growing problem. But he said he took seriously criticism by the UN refugee agency that it violates international law.
Home Secretary James Cleverly visited Italy, ground zero in Europe’s migration debate, hours after the UK Parliament approved legislation to enable the government to deport some people to Rwanda who enter Britain illegally.
The deal, in which Britain will pay Rwanda to process the migrants, is aimed at deterring people from crossing the English Channel from France. It is similar in some basic aspects to Italy’s controversial pact to outsource the processing of asylum-seekers to Italian-run centers in Albania.
Human rights groups have said both deals, forged by conservative governments amid anti-migrant sentiment among voters, violate the rights of migrants that are enshrined in international refugee conventions.
On Tuesday, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said the UK-Rwanda deal is “not compatible with international refugee law” because it uses an asylum model “that undermines global solidarity and the established international refugee protection system.”
Cleverly defended the deal as a necessary response to a problem that has outgrown the international institutional way of processing migrants. He said Britain will not tolerate people smugglers determining who arrives on British soil.
“People-smuggling mass migration has changed (and) I think demands us to be constantly innovating,” he told a gathering at the Institute of International Affairs, a Rome-based think tank.
He said he took seriously the UNCHR criticism and said Britain was a law-abiding country.
“Of course we will respect the UN enormously,” he said when asked about the UNHCR criticism. “We take it very, very seriously. Doesn’t mean to say we always agree with their assessment. But we will, of course, look at that.”
Cleverly visited the Italian coast guard headquarters on Tuesday and on Wednesday is to visit the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, where tens of thousands of migrants have arrived after crossing the Mediterranean Sea on boats setting off from northern Africa.
Lampedusa is closer to Africa than the Italian mainland and is often the destination of choice for migrants, whose numbers reached 157,652 new arrivals in Italy last year.
The numbers arriving in Italy so far this year are actually way down, presumably thanks to Italy’s European Union-endorsed agreement with Tunisia to stem departures. As of Tuesday, 16,090 migrants had arrived by sea in Italy so far this year, compared to 36,324 in this period last year.
Spain has actually outpaced Italy so far this year in terms of migrant sea arrivals, with 16,621 arriving this year as of April 15, the last available date.
In Britain, the numbers pale in comparison to the southern Mediterranean, even during peak periods: In 2022, the number of people arriving in Britain from across the Channel reached 45,774, though last year the number dropped to 29,437.


Ukraine suspends consular services abroad for men of fighting age

Ukraine suspends consular services abroad for men of fighting age
Updated 23 April 2024
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Ukraine suspends consular services abroad for men of fighting age

Ukraine suspends consular services abroad for men of fighting age
  • Ukraine’s foreign affairs ministry “announced a temporary suspension of accepting new applications for consular services” for men between 18 and 60
  • It made an exception for documents allowing Ukrainians to return to Ukraine

KYIV: Ukraine authorities on Tuesday suspended consular services for men of fighting age living abroad, after announcing measures to bring them home amid manpower shortages in the army fighting Russia.
Ukraine’s army has been struggling to hold frontlines, partly due to a lack of soldiers over two years into Russia’s invasion.
Ukraine’s foreign affairs ministry “announced a temporary suspension of accepting new applications for consular services” for men between 18 and 60.
It made an exception for documents allowing Ukrainians to return to Ukraine.
The move would likely oblige Ukrainian men to return from abroad to undergo administrative procedures that were previously available abroad.
The government has already adopted a mobilization law, due to come into force on May 18, that toughens penalties against draft dodgers and obliges men to keep their military registration up-to-date.
The ministry said men would be able to access consular services once the law came into force and “after updating their military registration.”
“Male citizen of Ukraine aged 18 to 60 with valid military registration documents will have full access to consular services,” the ministry said.
Ukrainian men have been forbidden to leave the country since the invasion began, apart from a few exceptions.
But some lived away before the war began, and Ukrainian media estimates that thousands more illegally fled the country.


Major arrests at NYU campus as Gaza protests spread

New York University students set up a
New York University students set up a "Liberated Zone" tent encampment in Gould Plaza at NYU Stern School of Business.
Updated 23 April 2024
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Major arrests at NYU campus as Gaza protests spread

New York University students set up a "Liberated Zone" tent encampment in Gould Plaza at NYU Stern School of Business.
  • Some of America’s most prestigious universities have been rocked by protests in recent weeks
  • On Tuesday, the New York Police Department said 133 people had been arrested at NYU and released after being issued with court summons

NEW YORK: More than 130 people were arrested overnight during pro-Palestinian protests at the New York University campus, as student demonstrations gather pace in the United States over the Israel-Hamas war.
Some of America’s most prestigious universities have been rocked by protests in recent weeks as students and other agitators take over quads and disrupt campus activities.
The demonstrations come amid sweeping debates over Israel’s assault on Gaza, following Hamas’s deadly invasion on October 7.
Such bastions of higher education — Harvard, Yale, Columbia and others — are grappling for a balance between students demanding free speech rights and others who argue that campuses are encouraging intimidation and hate speech.
On Tuesday, the New York Police Department told AFP that 133 people had been arrested at NYU and released after being issued with court summons, as protests also intensify at Yale, Columbia University and other campuses.
As the holiday of Passover began Monday night, police began detaining demonstrators at an encampment at NYU who had earlier refused orders to disperse.
A New York University spokesman said the decision to call police came after additional protesters, many of whom were not thought to be affiliated with NYU, suddenly breached the barriers erected around the encampment.
This “dramatically changed” the situation, the spokesman said in a statement on the school’s website Monday, citing “disorderly, disruptive and antagonizing behavior” along with “intimidated chants and several antisemitic incidents.”
“Given the foregoing and the safety issues raised by the breach, we asked for assistance from the NYPD. The police urged those on the plaza to leave peacefully, but ultimately made a number of arrests.”
The spokesman said the school continues to support freedom of expression and the safety of students.
But protests have grown large and disruptive enough — New York Police Department spokesmen have spoken of their officers facing violence when confronting protesters at NYU — to draw the attention of President Joe Biden and his administration.
“Anti-Semitic hate on college campuses is unacceptable,” US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona posted on X on Tuesday, expressing concern about the unrest.
The protests began last week at Columbia University, also in New York, with a large group of demonstrators establishing a so-called “Gaza Solidarity Encampment” on school grounds.
But more than 100 protesters were arrested after university authorities called the police onto Columbia’s campus Thursday, a move that seemingly escalated tensions and sparked a greater turnout over the weekend.
Social media images late Monday appeared to show pro-Palestinian Jewish students holding traditional seder meals inside the protest areas on campuses including at Columbia.
There were also demonstrations at MIT, the University of Michigan, UC Berkeley and Yale, where at least 47 people were arrested Monday after refusing requests to disperse.


France arrests eight in PKK financing probe

France arrests eight in PKK financing probe
Updated 23 April 2024
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France arrests eight in PKK financing probe

France arrests eight in PKK financing probe
  • The arrests took place in the Paris region and in southern France, the PNAT anti-terror unit said
  • French prosecutors suspect the eight of preparing and financing terrorist acts

PARIS: French police arrested eight men on Tuesday as part of an investigation into the finances of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), banned as a terror organization by Turkiye and its Western allies, anti-terrorism prosecutors told AFP.
The arrests took place in the Paris region and in southern France, the PNAT anti-terror unit said.
The PKK has been designated a terrorist organization by Turkiye, the United States and the European Union.
French prosecutors suspect the eight of preparing and financing terrorist acts, and of conspiring to extort, or attempt to extort, funds to finance a terrorist organistion between 2020 and 2024, the PNAT said.
Investigators believe the eight to be connected to a campaign to collect funds from Kurdish business people and other Kurds in France, a source close to the case added.
Police can hold the suspects for up to 96 hours for questioning, the source said.
Another source said the funds were destined for use in Belgium, where police on Monday raided Kurdish-run media as part of a probe undertaken at the request of a French anti-terror judge, the PNAT said.
The PKK has waged a decades-long insurgency for greater autonomy for the Kurdish minority of Turkiye in the southeast of the country, in a standoff with the Ankara government that remains unresolved to this day.