Vinoth Ramachandra

Last weekend we were invited to remember World Refugee Day, Father’s Day and International Yoga Day. No need to guess which was the most popular. Crass commercialism rules. And the greatest tragedy for me is the way it has engulfed so many affluent churches, reinforcing their inward focus and tendency to being mere pawns in the hands of corporate and political forces.

If anyone experienced a local church remembering World Refugee Day, I would love to hear from you- and especially how it was remembered.

Since 2000, the 20th of June has been marked by the UN as World Refugee Day to honour those who are forced to flee their home countries under the threat of war, persecution, conflict and environmental disasters. The UN High Commission for Refugees informs us, in a report released last week, that one out of every 122 people in the world is now either a refugee, internally displaced or seeking asylum. The number of people forcibly displaced at the end of 2014 had risen to 59.5 million, compared with 51.2 million a year earlier and 37.5 million a decade ago. Overall, the largest refugee populations under UNHCR care are Afghans, Syrians and Somalis – together accounting for more than half of global refugees.

Refugee camps have become permanent settlements for many people, as in Palestine since 1948. Children born in such camps may spend their entire lives there, lacking citizenship rights let alone access to basic education and healthcare. These become the breeding ground for political and religious extremism. Pakistan, Iran, and Lebanon are hosting more refugees than other countries, yet receive scant financial help from the rich world (the politicians of whom only complain about the relatively meagre numbers who end up on their shores). Humanitarian organizations are also massively under-funded. There is no political will to resolve long-standing conflicts, and statesmanship on the world stage is sorely lacking.

In Denmark’s recent elections, the results of which were announced on World Refugee day, the candidate who received the most personal votes turned out to be the most fascist, running on a brazenly xenophobic ticket. Danes and Britons can go as “economic migrants” to the USA. But an “economic migrant” to these countries from Africa or Asia is regarded as a criminal. And often, especially in Britain and Australia, it is the recent migrants from South Asia who become the most vocal in opposing migration from their home countries, jealously guarding their jobs from competition.

As for the patronising demand that all migrants must “accept our values”, it is clear that the Western media will never rest until their sexual mores are imposed on the rest of the world. Tourists show no respect for native values and sensibilities- as in the case of those who stripped off their clothes on the top of a mountain in East Malaysia that local peoples regard as sacred. The typical Western media reaction has been to ridicule such local superstitions and “backwardness”. Ironically, Canada, Australia and Scandinavia have been pilloried in the same media for the way their aboriginal populations were decimated by “re-education” in mainstream (often church-run) schools. So, either “They should become like us” or “Leave them to themselves”- this is the impoverished language of late modern secularism. Respect for other peoples and their cultures involves mutual listening and interrogation, not blind accommodation or arrogant dismissal.

As for International Yoga Day, this was the work of India’s Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It is a good example of how traditional Indian religious practices have been colonized and “de-religionized” by Western enthusiasts and then reclaimed, commodified and transmitted by modern Indian gurus and their middle-class followers as a political tool.

Yoga is a Sanskrit word that can be translated as “discipline”. It has a complex history with a number of disparate traditions, but the classical text is Patanjali’s Yoga-sutras which was probably composed around the fifth century A.D. It was Swami Vivekananda in the late nineteenth century who elevated yoga into both a “science of supra-consciousness” and a unifying sign of the Indian nation. As the religious historian Peter van der Veer notes (in his book Imperial Encounters: Religion and Modernity in India and Britain), this was not only for national consumption but for consumption by the entire world.

“This is a new doctrine, although Vivekananda emphasized that it was ancient ‘wisdom’. Especially the body exercises of hatha yoga, underpinned by a metaphysics of mind-body unity, continues to be a major entity in the health industry, especially in the United States. What I find important in Vivekananda’s construction of yoga as the core of ‘Hindu spirituality’ is that it is devoid of any specific devotional content that would involve, for example, temple worship and thus a theological and ritual position in sectarian debates. Vivekananda is, first and foremost, interested in Hindu unity… Hindu nationalism could hardly exist without such a notion… there seems to be no escape today from the relentless marketing of India’s spirituality.”

Thus for modern religious Hindus, yoga is “Indian spirituality”. For Western “fitness” devotees, yoga is merely a route to mental calm and physical health. Both represent the combination of consumerism and cultural imperialism that we saw last weekend. I suggest that truly divine spirituality is rather seen in the men and women who risk their security and comforts to protect, support and speak for refugees all over the world.

On my first visit to Nepal in 1989, I was appalled at the grinding poverty in which the vast majority of its citizens lived. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of tourists from all over the rich world came to trek, climb the Himalayas or seek some variation of private nirvana. None of this tourist wealth “trickled down” to the poverty-stricken masses huddled on the river banks in Kathmandu or in the remote villages which had neither roads nor healthcare facilities. The Hindu caste-system was strongly entrenched, and conversion to Christianity forbidden. Yet an “underground” Church flourished, comprising mostly very poor folk; and foreign Christian doctors, nurses and agrarian researchers helped build a functioning infrastructure while corrupt politicians and business elites pocketed the wealth flowing from tourism.

Most of the “tourist paradises” of the Majority World – from the Caribbean islands (playgrounds of the rich and famous) to Bali, tell the same story. The poor are invisible not only to the hotel and tourist industry, but to the global media, until disasters in the form of hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis strike. But the recent tragedy in Nepal illustrates the close nexus between corruption, oppressive religious and cultural systems, and the betrayal of citizens by their own governments.

When the Indian Ocean nations were devastated by the tsunami of 26 December 2004, I raised the question: why is it that when hurricanes and earthquakes hit places like Florida or Japan, the loss of life is minimal; but that when the same disasters occur in Central America or South Asia, the devastation is mind-boggling? The answer is simple and straightforward: poverty. Or poverty combined with corruption and incompetence on the part of government officials. In South Asia, annual warnings about floods and cyclones are routinely ignored when the technology needed to save lives and property is readily available. Coral reefs and mangrove swamps (that absorb much of the impact of tropical storms and ocean surges) have virtually disappeared from our coastal belts. Building contractors frequently violate safety standards, even when building in earthquake-prone areas.

Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, even animal predation, and other natural events are not aspects of the Fall, as has been understood in much of the Christian tradition, but rather the way God has chosen to bring about ecological changes and biodiversity on the planet. The awesome Himalayan ranges themselves were produced by earthquakes. The “fallenness” of the human condition is expressed in our increased vulnerability to such events. It is sinful human actions (including wrong priorities) that result in the heavy loss of life, much of which is preventable. Poverty and economic inequalities on the scale seen in our world cannot be blamed on God. They represent a violation of God’s will for humanity.

God has chosen to create us humans as part of a material world. So, as material beings, we share in the unpredictability and vulnerability of the rest of the created order. Our solidarity as a human species is what leads to our rejoicing in the joy of others and weeping over the pain of others. To only receive through the good that others do, but not to suffer the consequences of what others do, would be a denial of our inter-dependent creatureliness. Natural events such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis are a painful reminder of our fragility, our interconnectedness with and dependence upon nature.

When tragedies strike, the first thing to do is to express our human solidarity, not to forget that these are our fellow men and women, creatures like us who are in the image of God and for whom Christ died. Our Christian response is well summed up by the theologian Jon Sobrino: “To let ourselves be affected, to feel pain over lives cut short or endangered, to feel indignation over the injustice behind the tragedy, to feel shame over the way we have ruined this planet, that we have not undone the damage and are not planning to do so, all this is important. It motivates compassion and immediate emergency assistance, but more importantly it sheds light on the most effective way to help in the tragedy.”

There will always follow the clamouring existential questions and our feeble, stuttering human answers. But more importantly, what we experience is a sense of indignation that “the same thing” always happens and “the same people” always suffer; and a yearning for things to be different some day.

Finally, every protest against innocent suffering, as well as every free embrace of others’ suffering, are both alike reflections of God’s own response to suffering – as seen supremely in God’s incarnation in Jesus Christ. In Christian thought, God is inherently relational: a three-fold movement of ceaseless giving and responsive love. So, in answer to the oft-asked question, “Where was God in these tragedies”, we can say, humbly yet boldly, that the Triune God of sacrificial love was present in the pain and terror of the victims, in the grief of the survivors, in the heroism of people who risked their lives to save others, and in the anger and protest expressed against the vulnerability of the poor in a technologically rich world.

I don’t normally re-publish other peoples’ Blog posts or news articles. However, as Israelis go to the polls today, and the world’s media continue to misinform us about the history and current realities of the Middle East, this passionate appeal by Professor Richard Falk is worth disseminating:

“If deterrence is a security necessity for the United States and Israel, it should be even more so for Iran that is truly faced with a genuine, credible, and dangerous existential threat. I would not argue that Iran should acquire nuclear weapons, but rather that it has the strongest case among sovereign states to do so, and it is a surreal twist of realities to act as if it is the outlier rather than the nuclear weapons states that refuse to honour their obligation set forth in the Non-Proliferation Treaty to seek nuclear disarmament.

Israel’s military threats directed at Iran clearly violate the international law prohibition contained in Article 2(4) of the UN Charter that prohibit “threats or uses” of force except for self-defense against a prior armed attack or with an authorisation by the Security Council.

Despite this threat to international peace in an already turbulent Middle East, there is a widespread international acceptance of Israel’s behaviour, and in fact, the best argument for the sanctions regime is that it offsets the concerns of the Israeli government and thus reduces the prospect of a unilateral military strike on Iran.

Overall, this opportunistic treatment of Iran’s nuclear programme is less indicative of a commitment to non-proliferation than it is an expression of geopolitical priorities. If peace and stability were the true motivations, then we could expect to hear strident calls for a nuclear free Middle East tied to a regional security framework. Until such a call is made, there is a cynical game being played with the complicity of the mainstream media.”

See the entire article at:
http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2015/03/open-letter-republicans-150315092511580.html

Last Tuesday a gunman walked into a restaurant in a town in the Czech Republic, killed eight customers at random before shooting himself. The incident was reported in small print in most newspapers outside the Czech Republic.

Contrast this with the recent shootings in Ottawa, Sydney and Copenhagen. These were immediately dubbed “terrorist attacks”, although it was subsequently found that the gunmen acted alone, were home-grown citizens, had a history of mental instability (including violence) and were known to the local police. Yet the attacks led to frenzied calls for tighter restrictions on foreigners, more surveillance of vulnerable minorities, expanded powers to the police and security services, and self-righteous affirmations of “national values”.

Following the shootings in Paris, a wave of assaults, arson and vandalism targeting mosques and Muslim organisations occurred in the USA and Europe, including in Copenhagen where Denmark’s only purpose-built mosque, which opened last year, was defaced with Nazi swastikas.

Disturbing questions arise. Are acts of violence “terrorist” only if they are perpetrated by people with a Muslim background? Why are the atrocities committed by ISIL/ISIS given heightened publicity (which is, after all, what groups like this actually seek!) while similar atrocities committed by pro-Western regimes in the Arab world and elsewhere are routinely ignored? Despite the boastful claim to be tolerant, pluralist democracies, how much real civic engagement is there in Western nations among people of different faith-commitments, whether “religious” or “secular”?

The Western media, and especially popular TV channels (like Fox News) and pulp tabloids, are notorious for the profound ignorance they display of the world’s great religions, Christianity no less than Islam. And there are, of course, those deracinated elites who want to obliterate all religious sensibilities while proudly defending “free speech”.

In a letter to a Danish newspaper following the Copenhagen shooting, my wife wrote: “Yet another violent act which no words can suffice to condemn! But this aside – let us take a moment to search our own hearts. When we defend the right to, the need for, and the necessity of free speech for a democratic, truth-loving world, do we Scandinavians really practice this central principle unconditionally? Do we really believe with all of our beings in free speech? Would we defend cartoons that ridicule the idea of the equal worth of women, blacks and homosexuals? Or that vigorously promote a rebirth of Nazism with its history of violence against Jews and other minorities? Do the Muhammad drawings just manage to reveal us as people who do not have enough imagination to understand that there are other sensitivities and values than the ones we hold?”

In an older Blog post (July 2010) I gave the example of Rocco Buttiglioni, Minister of European Affairs in the Italian government, who was selected by the president of the European Commission to be its commissioner of justice. When in his interview he acknowledged that he was a practising Roman Catholic and believed that homosexual activity was a sin but should not be criminalized, he was disqualified from taking office on the grounds that his personal moral convictions were “in direct contravention of European law”. Rocco rightly called his treatment “the new totalitarianism”.

Let me repeat some things I stated in that post of five years ago because they continue to be relevant to debates about freedom of thought and speech in the West.

We can agree that shunning language that demeans and humiliates people is a way of showing respect for the worth and dignity of others. For instance, the use of “invalid” for people with physical or mental disabilities was a dreadful way of speaking (yet, ironically, the same societies that have dropped the term “invalid”- and even “handicapped”- are promoting a public ideology that regards foetuses and elderly people with disabilities as of no intrinsic value, thus demonstrating that language-change alone does not alter our moral perceptions).

But things took a sinister turn when the “political correctness” lobby stressed the political in the phrase and started using naked power to outlaw any moral viewpoint other than their own. How being “sensitive in one’s speech” moved from being a matter of good manners, civility or politeness to becoming political marked a significant cultural shift.

This was the culmination of changes in Western society that thinkers such as Alasdair MacIntyre, Jeffrey Stout and Charles Taylor have traced in some detail. Moral languages which were once part of coherent intellectual traditions have broken down. All that is left are fragments of earlier beliefs. There is no shared set of moral values that holds societies together, only institutions such as governments, legal systems or markets. Institutions survive, but the beliefs that gave them meaning are forgotten. And when moral truth itself is seen as a matter of mere personal taste, how can we engage in public moral argument? We only talk past each other. And when we want our way to prevail we resort to the naked assertion of power. The loudest voice or the most airbrushed speaker wins. (Hence the power of rabid tabloid headlines, scurrilous cartoons, and spin doctors).

This is the new repression that masquerades as “political correctness” and “tolerance”. The tragedy, of course, is when it surfaces on university campuses which once held academic freedom to be indispensable in the quest for truth – the freedom to publish any opinion, however outlandish, provided one was willing to submit it to critical scrutiny and debate. It is seen when a Singaporean law professor had her invitation to speak at a prestigious American university revoked after intense pressure from the “gay” political lobby, because of her views on homosexuality; or when some academics in the UK campaigned to exclude Israeli scholars from attending conferences because their views were considered Zionist.

Who will safeguard genuine intellectual freedom and reasoned argument in the media and the universities of the future?

The Western media, which comprises the bulk of international media, have provided us with round-the-clock coverage of the Paris shootings, while conveniently under-reporting other deadly attacks against civilians. Violent incidents in Nigeria and Yemen in the last week led to far more civilian deaths than in Paris, and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Nigeria lamented that Western countries were simply ignoring the threat in his country posed by Boko Haram.

When hundreds of schoolgirls were kidnapped by Boko Haram last April, Obama and Cameron outdid one another in making resounding promises of support for Nigeria. But precious little has been done since then (by way of technological,logistical and perhaps even military help) for the Nigerian government and army to free the schoolgirls and defeat a brutal militia. As so often in our recent past, terror has to strike at the heart of Western cities before the “dark side” of our global interconnectedness awakens people from their slumber.

But awakening can lead to panic and knee-jerk reactions, rather than to a new commitment to understand the historical backgrounds to global events or the causes of Islamic radicalization in Europe. That is what we have witnessed in the more popular sections of the Western media last week. The killings fanned the growing hysterical propaganda about the “Islamification of Europe”, and far-right demagogues were suddenly claiming to uphold “Judaeo-Christian values”!

Surely, a central “Judaeo-Christian value” is hospitality to strangers. Another is self-restraint in speech and action when dealing with particularly vulnerable communities experiencing alienation from the mainstream. A third is “taking the beam out of one’s own eye before one tries to take the speck out of another’s eye”.

All these values have been jettisoned in much (albeit, not all) of the media coverage.

The solidarity rally in Paris was attended by several international leaders who are enemies of free speech and independent journalism. Benjamin Netanyahu was prominent among them, even as the International Criminal Court launches an investigation of Israeli state-inspired terror in Gaza last September. The irony was not lost on Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Bernard Holtrop, who said: “We vomit on all those people who are suddenly saying they are our friends… I’ve got to laugh about that.”

In terror attacks like this, the epithet “Muslim” is always applied to the perpetrators, but rarely to the victims or the heroes. The murdered policeman Ahmed Merabet was a Muslim, and so was Lassana Bathily, the immigrant from Mali who saved many Jewish shoppers in the kosher supermarket that was attacked. Responding to a petition signed by 300,000 Parisians, President Hollande has publicly honoured him with French citizenship. The stories of these Muslims need to be told more widely in the American and European media.

One can condemn the sheer wickedness of the Charlie Hebdo massacre without condoning the double standards employed when it comes to “free speech”. All civil rights are limited by other rights and responsibilities. France has tough laws not only against defamation and libel, but also against the denial of the Holocaust (but not other genocides). I doubt if Charlie Hebdo or the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten would publish satirical cartoons offending women, homosexuals or Jews.

The fall out in other countries of the irresponsible application of “free speech” also needs to be taken into consideration. Violent attacks on “soft” targets – such as local Christians in Pakistan and Niger (as this week)- regularly accompany what Western cartoonists may regard as innocent fun. If I know that my exercising “free speech” is going to result in the killing of innocent others elsewhere, and yet persist in that speech, am I not partly responsible for their deaths?

The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has pointed out that those who have untroubled access to the dominant discourse in a society like France or Britain simply assume that their moral position is natural. Not so. He wisely observes:

“If I can say what I like, that is because I have the power and status to do so. But that ought to impose the clear duty of considering, when I engage in any kind of debate, the relative position of my opponent or target in terms of their access to this dominant means and style of communication- the duty which the history of anti-Semitism so clearly shows European Christians neglecting over the centuries.”

And he concludes: “The sound of a prosperous and socially secure voice claiming unlimited freedom both to define and to condemn the beliefs of a minority grate on the ear. Context is all.” [Faith in the Public Square, 2013]

The abuse of liberty may be the surest way to kill it.

The tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents, prominent among them high-school and university students, whom the world saw on the streets of the territory for two months since September were reasonable and peaceful, even in the face of sometimes terrible provocation.

Last week saw the police clearing away the barricades and the few hundred protestors who remained. One of the business groups that took out an injunction to clear the protest sites is a joint-venture controlled by Chinese state-owned Citic Group.

On 2 December, three of the co-founders of the Occupy Central movement called for protesters to retreat. The three turned themselves in to a police station the next day, though the authorities have not charged them with any offence.

Talks between student leaders and city officials proved fruitless. An attempt to travel to Beijing was blocked by Hong Kong authorities, and two leaders – Joshua Wong and Lester Shum – were arrested for obstructing police and are now out on bail.

The silence of the British government over the events in Hong Kong has been utterly shameful. Britain has yet again betrayed one of its former colonies by failing to honour its treaties and promises. In 1984 Margaret Thatcher’s government signed a treaty with the Chinese that guaranteed Hong Kong’s core values and way of life, including freedom of speech and assembly, until 2047. Thatcher’s successor John Major made a pledge before the handover in 1997 that Britain would ensure that the terms of the joint declaration were adhered to. At the time of the handover, the then foreign secretary, Robin Cook, reiterated that Britain would do everything in its power to defend Hong Kong and its freedoms.

Beijing also promised to grant Hong Kong a genuine one person-one vote for the elections of their chief executive in 2017. Instead, a sham consultation resulted in Beijing presenting to the people of Hong Kong the following proposal: you can have one person, one vote, provided we pre-screen all the candidates so that we are 100% in control of the final outcome.

At root, then, the protests on the streets of Hong Kong were not about democracy. They were about keeping promises, honouring treaties. That is a fundamental moral issue. Both the Chinese and British governments have broken their promises to the people of Hong Kong and have so betrayed them.

The truth is that morality, and even democracy, has been undermined by corporate greed. Business-as-usual with China trumps all moral considerations. The young people of Hong Kong are expendable. The super-rich in Hong Kong and Shanghai, just like their counterparts in London or New York, find talk of freedom and human rights irksome. The only freedom they care about is the freedom to make more money; and for that they will, paradoxically, sell their souls to the worst regimes in the world.

Capitalism was once believed to be the hand-maiden of democracy. Open up trade and markets, and political freedoms will follow. That was the myth behind which European and American capitalists and their governments hid in the early 1990s when relocating all their manufacturing industries in China. They chose to ignore fact that capitalism is morally promiscuous and can flourish under both the best and the worst of political regimes. But the more Europe, the US and Australia are economically “owned” by China, the more muted is their condemnation of that regime’s worsening repression.

Anson Chan was the chief secretary in both the British colonial government of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government under Chinese rule. In a column in the British newspaper, The Observer, in October 2014 she wrote:

“I genuinely did not think at the time of the joint declaration that it would turn out this way. I thought that the co-signatories, Britain and China, would honour all the promises laid down in the treaty and guarantee Hong Kong ‘one country, two systems’. They included guaranteeing: independence of the judiciary, the rule of law and our rights and freedoms and, in particular, that we would move steadily towards genuine universal suffrage.”

She went on to note that, where students in Hong Kong were concerned, “For them the big change since I was their age is perhaps the decline in social mobility. Now within the territory there is a sense of ‘them’ and ‘us’. Those who make money are tempted to stay quiet, to maintain their links, their status. The rest, they want what many people want across the world- a good education and an open society.”

(With apologies to Aldous Huxley)

“Activism, scholarship, dissemination of information, persuasion, protest, and solidarity are the most powerful weapons that powerless people have. Let us use them wisely.”

These words- which provide bloggers with a worthwhile goal other than mere narcissism- come from the pen of Ilan Pappé, one of Israel’s most courageous and controversial scholar-activists. Pappé is one of a band of revisionist historians who, since the release of pertinent British and Israeli government documents in the early 1980s, have been re-writing the story of Israel’s creation in 1948 and confronting the dominant master-narrative of Israeli society.

According to the latter, Israel is the innocent victim engaged in a continuous struggle for survival against dark, irrational forces pitted against it on all sides. This myth is swallowed wholesale by many in Israel as well its supporters worldwide. Pappé has argued that in understanding the current plight of Palestinians we should go back to 1948, even 1882, not 1967. The Israeli state has from its inception been expansionist and colonialist. The expulsion of Palestinians from their towns and villages at the very outset of Israel’s creation constituted the “ethnic cleansing” of Palestine, in accordance with Plan Dalet, drawn up in 1947 by Israel’s future leaders. Moreover, the Zionist ideology that produced the 1948 ethnic cleansing is the one that keeps refugees in their camps today, discriminates against Palestinians inside Israel, and oppresses those under occupation in the West Bank and imprisonment in the Gaza Strip.

We can argue, as scholars regularly do, about the historical roots to the conflict and whether “ethnic cleansing of Palestinians” is the appropriate description; but what we cannot do is deny the present unacceptable reality. What we see in “Greater Israel” is a sovereign state ruling directly its own citizens and, at the same time, ruling indirectly (through its proxies) an occupied and imprisoned community in Gaza and the West Bank. This is the status quo that the government in Israel wants to maintain. Every act of violence by Hamas or unrepresentative Palestinians (as in the recent horrific attack by two axe-wielding men on a Jewish synagogue) is exploited by government propaganda to stereotype and caricature all Palestinians and to tighten its stranglehold on Gaza and the West Bank, crushing Palestinian aspirations for an end to the 66-year dispossession and conquest.

Mainstream Western media are not only highly selective but fickle when it comes to reporting on the Middle East. The 50 day war in Gaza this summer has been quickly forgotten, a war in which Israel killed 2,200 Palestinians, including more than 500 children. Courageous human rights and peace groups within Israel (B’Tselem and Break the Silence) are investigating independently what happened in Gaza, as the official army investigation will be a cover-up.

While the attack on the Jewish synagogue was front-page news in many Western TV and print media, the routine killing and maiming of Palestinians civilians by Israeli forces and settlers is ignored in mainstream coverage. Since 2000, about 9 times as many Palestinians have been killed as Israelis. About 20 times more Palestinian children have been killed than Israeli children, and about 7 times more Palestinians injured. To learn these facts, I have to trawl independent media sites, such as al-Jazeera, Counterpunch and Znet. Or consult my colleagues in Palestine.

A report by the International Crisis Group, issued in July, advocates that the PA-Hamas unity government formed in April 2014 be reinstated and actively supported by the West as well as the major Arab states. (Middle East Briefing No. 39, available at http://www.crisisgroup.org) Note that in signing this agreement last spring, Hamas explicitly agreed to renounce violence and implicitly accepted the moderates’ strategy of negotiations for peace. Netanyahu saw the unity agreement as a threat and hence launched his all-out attack on Hamas activists in the West Bank that quickly led to war.

Monoethnic, despotic regimes in many countries (such as my own) look to Israel’s example in how to deal with their own intransigent ethnic and religious minorities. Seize land, re-settle it with members of the majority community, protect the latter by sending in an occupation army, label all attacks on the new settlers as “terrorist” or “extremist” acts and use them to justify further acts of repression.

The recent decisions by the Swedish government and the British parliament to recognize a Palestinian state (the UN General Assembly has already recognized Palestine) are largely symbolic gestures. They are welcome as expressions of solidarity with suffering Palestinians. But in practice they amount to little. While insisting that everybody recognizes Israel’s “right to exist”, Israel will never recognize the Palestinians’ “right of return”, let alone their right to liberation and self-determination. Israel’s settlement and development programs in the occupied territories- all illegal, as Israel was informed in 1967 by its highest legal authorities and affirmed recently by the World Court- are designed to undermine the possibility of a viable Palestinian state.

As long as it is protected by its rich, benevolent Uncle Sam, Israel can continue to thumb its nose at international law and the international community. (See Noam Chomsky’s Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians)

This is why, despite the international consensus on a “two-state solution”, several Arab and Jewish intellectuals and activists have advocated (over several decades) an alternative path to follow: namely, exerting pressure on Israel to become a full-fledged pluralist (or binational) democracy– one that respects the human rights and civil liberties of all its citizens and subjects, and enabling the mutual recognition of collective cultural and religious identities. There are civil society groups within Israel, as well as NGOs working among Palestinians, who continue to promote this vision. They need our blessings and our prayers.

[See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4lsmFS75ed4 for a BBC HardTalk interview with Ilan Pappe]

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