May 21, 2021 Editorial
Kaieteur News – Yesterday, American President, Joe Biden welcomes a ‘ceasefire’ between the Israeli government and the Palestinian militant group, Hamas, a break in the violence brokered by Egypt. The violence over the past week and a half has been terrible, as it has been disproportionate, with Palestinians accounting for 232 of the estimated 244 persons killed. According to news reports, of the 12 Israeli casualties, two were children, while children accounted for over 58 of the casualties on the Palestinian side.
The latest round of violence began when Israel’s security forces invaded the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, Islam’s third holiest site, on May 8, itself an escalation growing out of the Israeli government’s ongoing evictions of Palestinians out of the Sheik Jarrah neighbour in the city. In a not unpredictably violent response, militant group Hamas fired largely improvised rockets into Israeli territory and, also not unpredictably, Israel responded with its doctrine of unequal force, levelling buildings, devastating civilian infrastructure and indiscriminately killing civilians along with Hamas soldiers.
Our own government’s initial reaction to the conflict was a mixture between a principled stand on the right to religious worship and the both-sides approach that has typified countries upon whom Israel’s greatest ally, America, has had an historically ‘strong’ influence, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on May 12 releasing a message that read in its entirety:
“The Government of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana has noted with growing alarm and concern the escalating violence between Israel and Palestine which has resulted in the senseless loss of lives, the destruction of property, the displacement of persons, and a further setback in the Middle East. The Government of Guyana condemns all acts of violence and finds repugnant the invasion of the Al-Aqsa mosque. We hold sacred and worthy of respect, places of worship of all religious faith. The Government of Guyana implores all parties to apply restraint and to cease all actions that are in contravention of international and humanitarian law. Guyana stresses that constructive dialogue between the Israeli and Palestinian authorities is pivotal to advancing the peace process and to the realization of the two-state solution as the legitimate end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
The events that are taking place in the Middle East might appear to be worlds away from our present reality here in Guyana but there exists a history that sees us having much more in common than most people know. Roughly over 81 years ago, in its edition of May 11, 1939, the New York Times carried an article that began, “The British Government has ‘considerable hope’ of British Guiana as a permanent settlement for Jewish refugees from Central Europe, Malcolm MacDonald, Secretary for Colonies, told the House of Commons today [May 10] in announcing the publication of the report of the special committee that studied the question. At the same time, the Colonial Secretary indicated that British policy for Palestine, discussed in detail by the Cabinet today, would be announced soon.”
Despite the great detail that came with the plan for Jewish migration to the Essequibo, the Rupununi area in particular, the scheme never came through. Four months after the publication of the Times article, Germany would invade Poland and set in train a series of events that would result in war on a global scale, World War II, and end with the horrors of the Holocaust, the extermination of European Jews at Nazi death camps like Dachau and Auschwitz. In 1947, two years after the end of the war in 1945, European Jews would begin the great migration to Palestine as decided by the colonial power that controlled, at the time, both Guyana and Palestinian territories. What has followed has been decades of violence in which, eventually, a clear winner, Israel, has emerged, propped up primarily by American economic and military aid. While there is in any conflict winners and losers, the reality is that the Palestinians have not simply lost, but continue to exist in a shrinking world as the Jewish state of Israel expands and continues to dominate the Palestinian people in what an increasing number of credible persons have called apartheid. Even in America, a resurgent Democratic party has been moving away from a default support of Israel’s actions, with Senator Bernie Sanders, himself of Jewish heritage, this week proposing a bill to block US $735M in weapons sales to Israel, even as he affirmed the sanctity of both Israeli and Palestinian life in the conflict.
As a country, Guyana has its own issues of division to deal with, particularly as our oil ‘wealth’ (with its potential for exacerbating conflict) grows – however, we have a responsibility to be, as a country, capable of identifying and accurately describing disproportionately executed conflict when it occurs. We cannot and should not look at the abuses taking place in the occupied territories in Palestine and respond with a tepid approach – had the events of 1939 gone differently, Guyana could have easily been Gaza.
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