Middle East conflict: A major inflection point in history?

Saturday, 11 November 2023 00:10 –      – 99

facebook sharing button
twitter sharing button
whatsapp sharing button
viber sharing button
sharethis sharing button

Palestinian families fleeing Gaza City and other parts of northern Gaza towards the southern areas, walk along a highway on 9 November 2023, amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas. Thousands of Palestinians were fleeing on foot November 8, in a surge away from the fighting and intense bombardment in Gaza as Israel said it was tightening the “stranglehold” around Hamas. People walked south from Gaza City, many with nothing but the clothes they wore, while combat raged over a month after the Hamas attacks that killed 1,400 in Israel, sparking the deadliest ever war in Gaza – AFP


By S. Shamsul Moin

As per OECD’s report in April 2023, Israel posted a strong growth of 6.4% in 2022. Aided by its dynamic high-tech sector, Israel’s economy has rebounded strongly from the pandemic and has proven resilient to the global economic headwinds. The 7 October surprise attack however, upends Israel’s economic outlook. The coming days are crucial since the world is watching whether Israel will agree with the immediate humanitarian truce overwhelmingly called by the United Nations General Assembly.

Israel, where it stands on the world map

As the majority of the older generation of our times may know, there was really no country named Israel on the world map. The movement to create a Jewish homeland had emerged in the late 19th century, though it wasn’t exclusively focused on a homeland in Palestine. Uganda and Argentina were among the several alternatives proposed over the years. Creating a Jewish state in Palestine was a deliberate, drawn-out and violent process, killing tens of thousands of people and displacing millions. Palestinians were dispossessed of vast swathes of land. Over 80 % of Palestinians in what became Israel in 1948 were made homeless overnight. The process may have culminated in 1948, but it had begun in the early 20th century, and continues to this day.

The Balfour Declaration

In 1917, Britain’s then Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour, wrote a letter addressed to Lionel Walter Rothschild, a figurehead of the British Jewish community. The letter was short (just 67 words), but its contents had a seismic effect on Palestine that is still felt to this day. It committed the British government to “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” and facilitating “the achievement of this object”. The letter is known as the Balfour Declaration. In essence, a European power promised the Zionist movement a country where Palestinian Arab natives made up more than 90 % of the population. A British Mandate was created in 1923 and lasted until 1948. During that period, the British facilitated mass Jewish immigration. Many of the new residents were fleeing Nazism in Europe and they also faced protests and strikes. Palestinians were alarmed by their country’s changing demographics and British confiscation of their lands to be handed over to Jewish settlers.

Arab Revolt 

Escalating tensions eventually led to the Arab Revolt, which lasted from 1936 to 1939.In April 1936, the newly formed Arab National Committee called on Palestinians to launch a general strike, withhold tax payments and boycott Jewish products to protest British colonialism and growing Jewish immigration. The six-month strike was brutally repressed by the British, who launched a mass arrest campaign and carried out punitive home demolitions, a practice that Israel continues to implement against Palestinians today. The second phase of the revolt began in late 1937 and was led by the Palestinian peasant resistance movement, which targeted British forces and colonialism. By the second half of 1939, Britain had massed 30,000 troops in Palestine. Villages were air bombed, curfews imposed, homes demolished, while administrative detentions and summary killings were widespread. In tandem, the British collaborated with the Jewish settler community and formed armed groups and a British-led “counterinsurgency force” of Jewish fighters named the Special Night Squads.

Within the Yishuv, the pre-state settler community, arms were secretly imported and weapons factories established to expand the Haganah, the Jewish paramilitary that later became the core of the Israeli army.

UN partition plan

By 1947, the Jewish population had ballooned to 33 % of Palestine, but they owned only 6 % of the land. The United Nations adopted Resolution 181, which called for the partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states. The Palestinians rejected the plan because it allotted about 55 % of Palestine to the Jewish state, including most of the fertile coastal region. At the time, the Palestinians owned 94 % of historic Palestine and comprised 67 % of its population.

Ethnic cleansing of Palestine

Even before the British Mandate expired on 14 May 1948, Zionist paramilitaries were already embarking on a military operation to destroy Palestinian towns and villages to expand the borders of the Zionist state that was to be born. In April 1948, more than 100 Palestinian men, women and children were killed in the village of Deir Yassin in the outskirts of Jerusalem. That set the tone for the rest of the operation, and from 1947 to 1949, more than 500 Palestinian villages, towns and cities were destroyed in what Palestinians refer to as the Nakba, or “catastrophe” in Arabic. An estimated 15,000 Palestinians were killed, including in dozens of massacres. The Zionist movement captured 78 % of historic Palestine. The remaining 22 % was divided into what are now the occupied West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip. An estimated 750,000 Palestinians were forced out of their homes. Today, their descendants live as six million refugees in 58 squalid camps throughout Palestine and in the neighbouring countries of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. On 15 May, 1948, Israel announced its establishment. The following day, the first Arab-Israeli war began and fighting ended in January 1949 after an armistice between Israel and Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. In December 1948, the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 194, which calls for the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

Oslo Accords 

The years of war ended with the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993 and the formation of the Palestinian Authority (PA), an interim government that was granted limited self-rule in pockets of the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) recognised Israel on the basis of a two-state solution and effectively signed agreements that gave Israel control of 60 % of the West Bank, and much of the territory’s land and water resources. The PA was supposed to make way for the first elected Palestinian government running an independent state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with its capital in East Jerusalem, but that has never happened. Critics of the PA view it as a corrupt subcontractor to the Israeli occupation that collaborates closely with the Israeli military in clamping down on dissent and political activism against Israel. In 1995, Israel built an electronic fence and concrete wall around the Gaza Strip, snapping interactions between the split Palestinian territories.

Wholesale slaughter of the Palestinian people

What we are witnessing today is Israel’s relentless carpet bombing of Gaza including hospitals, schools, refugee camps, ambulances, mosques etc. Israeli onslaught reached its pinnacle when they cut access to electricity, water, and communications. The Israeli establishment has turned this war into a medieval-like siege, pushing millions of civilians into starvation and horrible deaths.

The besieged Palestinian enclave faces a growing humanitarian catastrophe. Internationally accepted rules of armed conflict were passed under the Geneva Conventions in 1949, which state children must be protected and treated humanely. However, Israeli air strikes on Gaza have killed one child every 10 minutes since the start of the war. Assault involved the use of internationally banned weaponry, such as white phosphorus. Residents in Gaza have flocked to hospitals and United Nations schools for safety, hoping that Israel will abide by international law and not attack those coordinates. However, places of shelter and medical care have also not been free from Israeli attacks.

As at the date of writing this article, at least 10,022 Palestinians have been killed including at least 4,104 children and 2,641 women. Also, at least 25,408 Palestinians have been injured including 6,360 children and 4,891 women.

Over the past four weeks, a chorus of voices from various international bodies and numerous civil society organisations have echoed calls and shed light on significant observations. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, in their assessments have pointed to the commission of war crimes by Israel. They cite the use of white phosphorus bombs and the deliberate targeting of civilians and non-military structures, characterising Israel as an enormous disproportionality on Gaza.

Where is the UN?

The United Nations General Assembly has voted overwhelmingly in favour of a resolution calling for an immediate humanitarian truce between Israel and the Palestinian armed group Hamas. Regrettably, the said resolution is non-binding, but serves only as a barometer of global opinion.

The United Nations Security Council, the only UN body with authority to issue binding resolutions on member states, failed to adopt a resolution on the ongoing situation in Gaza as the resolutions were rejected by the US using its veto power.

There is a history of the US blocking UN resolutions critical of Israel through its veto power. The US has used its veto power at least 34 times to block UN Security Council resolutions that were critical of Israel.

The majority of these resolutions were drafted to provide a framework for peace in the decades-long Israel-Palestine conflict, including asking Israel to adhere to international laws, calling for self-determination for Palestinian statehood, or condemning Israel for the displacement of Palestinians or settlement building in occupied Palestinian territories.

In this backdrop, the New York Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Director, Craig Mokhiber has left his post, protesting that the UN is “failing” in its duty to prevent what he categorises as genocide of Palestinian civilians in Gaza under Israeli bombardment and citing the US, UK and much of Europe as “wholly complicit in the horrific assault”.

“Once again we are seeing a genocide unfolding before our eyes and the organisation we serve appears powerless to stop it. This is a textbook case of genocide. The US, UK and much of Europe were not only “refusing to meet their treaty obligations” under the Geneva Conventions but were also arming Israel’s assault and providing political and diplomatic cover for it.” Mokhiber stated in his final communication as the New York Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Director.

Towards the end of global order?

The post-World War II global order was founded on liberal values to maintain peace and prevent conflicts. There is a growing debate questioning the global order with public opinion increasingly challenging their authenticity in light of the fundamental values underpinning the international order.

The United States, which positions itself as the key architect and stakeholder in the rules-based liberal international order, it seems, respects international law only when it suits its interests. So, a question arises: why should others respect this order from now on?

The United States is facing its fourth major inflection point in history since the early 20th century, and if world leaders get it wrong, the results could be similar to what occurred during the 1930s that ultimately led to World War II. That’s according to the CEO of Foreign Policy Think Tank Atlantic Council, Frederick Kempe. According to Kempe, it’s a feeling shared in many corporate boardrooms.

JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon recently warned, “This may be the most dangerous time the world has seen in decades.”

The war crimes in Palestine are undeniable. Palestine is the test of our collective humanity. Unfortunately, the world is gradually losing its moral compass. Humanity should prevail in these dark times.

(The writer is a lawyer specialised in the practice areas intellectual property, trade and corporate finance.)