If we rewind the tape of human history, we can see that our history repeats itself in particular patterns.
Today, we can book a pleasant package holiday and see what is left of the glories of Pharoses, the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Ottoman Empire, Crusader fortresses and less- appealing but necessary reminders of atrocities such as the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews.
We can see for ourselves what remains of those who built great territorial powers through the injustice done to others; their teaching is everywhere, yet still we do not learn. From frequent repetitions through the modern and post-modern eras, we know for sure the legacy of dictators and the consequences of their heinous acts. We also know their welcome opposite numbers – those great promoters of justice and peace, rightly cherished by all eras of human history.
Even in this rapidly advancing first decade of the 21st century, however, we continue to witness injustice and ethical erosion in so many places around the globe and are doing so little to prevent it. Even with the hard lessons of recent history so fresh in our collective memories, we humans seem determined to go through this new century with the same flawed morality of its precursor. I am genuinely worried that we will not be able to survive!
One place, which obviously exemplifies the faulty ethics of our time, is the shameful situation of Gaza in particular, and the Palestinian territories in general, which have been under brutal oppression and injustice for nearly six decades of unbroken misery.
Once more, for almost an entire month (beginning on December 27, 2008), the world seemed content to stand by and watch as Gazans were daily shot at and bombed with impunity by the Israeli Defence Forces in collective punishment for the desperate mistakes and/or wrong-doings of a few.
The whole world saw it, knew what was happening, and still did nothing to prevent or halt it. By its collective inaction and near-total silence, the international community in fact condoned and endorsed what Israel’s government and military have done to thousands of innocent Gazans. Worse still, some states – sadly, Canada is among them – publicly voiced support for Israel under the pretext that it is a state under attack and therefore has a right to "defend itself." Yet those same nations simultaneously proclaim that Palestinians have no moral right to self-defense when they are abused, their homes destroyed, and their innocent families killed as "collateral damage." How did we sink to such an appalling and dehumanizing double standard?
The horrific genocidal ordeal of Gazan Palestinians reminded me vividly of the parallel suffering of the Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) not so long ago – how, in the midst of cultured, civilized and democratic Europe, they were virtually ignored as their own neighbours butchered them, raped their women, destroyed their traditions and way of life. The world simply looked on silently and did nothing; in fact, it was international apathy and denial that helped prevent Bosniaks from exercising their basic right to self-defense. We Bosniaks will never forget the shameful and inexcusable way we were treated by fellow human beings on a supposedly "civilized" continent. Yes, this is indeed difficult to grasp!
I can affirm without a shred of doubt that the profound suffering and atrocities Bosniaks endured did not befall them because they were "bad people," or criminals who wanted to oppress and steal from their neighbors (komsija i susjeda), but because they were regarded as "others" — strangers in their own land. Amazingly, in the advanced 20th century, it was still impossible for some minds to comprehend that there have been indigenous Muslims in the heart of Europe for more than five centuries! Thus, in order to minimize the impact of these so-called "strangers," the forces of hate gathered from 1992 through 1995 and killed 10% of the Bosniaks in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as stealing much of their land and property. Sadly, this systemic and politically-sanctioned theft of culture, identity and possessions continues to this day.
Now in 2009, not only have Gazans effectively been robbed of their country just as the Bosniaks were; they are being forced to accept peace without dignity, which is of course no peace at all, merely abject submission. They have been, and still are being, asked to legitimize the theft of their own land, as are Bosniaks in Bosnia and Herzegovina at this very moment in history.
There has been much talk of a so-called "peace process," but if you look closely, it is not a true peace process – it is a surrender-and-disappear process.
While Nelson Mandela was still in prison, P.W. Botha, then President of Apartheid South Africa, offered him his freedom on the condition that he stay out of politics. In a profound and eloquent reply Mandela declined, saying: "Only free men can negotiate. Prisoners cannot enter into contracts."
Similarly, Palestinians are not free and therefore have no leverage to negotiate a just and honorable peace on their own behalf. Any decision they are called upon to make, either by Israel or by the world community, comes with the impediment of a real or implied threat; thus they are being forced into an untenable position, just as the Bosniaks were during the Dayton Accord talks in 1995.
After nearly 50 years under Israeli control, Gazans still live in remarkably similar conditions to those endured by Black South Africans under Apartheid – they have been reduced to the status of aliens in their own land. Of course, they are given small morsels of local authority, the illusion of control, while everyone knows that real power lies firmly in the hands of their oppressors.
Israel controls all aspects of life for Palestinians — how much they get to eat, how much medical care they can access, where they can move and work, when (or if) they go to school or work, how much security they can rely on, how often their children will be deafened by low-level military air "exercises," even the state of the air they breathe.
Some have even argued that zoo animals (many being valuable species) are treated better than these "different" humans that Israel has arbitrarily classed as inferior and disposable people. This goes far beyond functional discrimination; it is a planned and inexorable policy of intentional "ethnic cleansing," or genocide. The world knows that my voice is among those speaking truth (and our numbers are slowly growing) but the majority of those in power, along with those numberless masses who support them, care more about political correctness and their personal comfort zones than about doing what is morally and ethically right.
Thus, we have had to watch once again, with increasing horror, the cold-blooded killing of children, women, the sick, and the elderly. We have watched sophisticated Israeli military technology raining down death on mostly unarmed civilians, shredding their lives and bodies, destroying all they possess in this world.
We have also heard, seen, or read the smooth lies, distortions, and shameful intellectual laziness of the media, combined with clever "spin" language from the world’s politicians who (like our own Canadian leaders) express shallow mock sorrow that the "bad" Palestinians should have to endure such pain because they don’t seem to know any better than to resist what Israel is doing for "their own good." It is once again a classical reversal of oppressor-as-victim; a carefully sanitized lie that needs to be boldly confronted for what it is.
It is disturbing to realize that the backdrop to all this unnecessary suffering and oppression is that we live in an age in which ethics do not seem to matter any more, an age in which evil can be "spun" to look good and where what is "good" or morally essential is portrayed as either weak or irrelevant.
The latest siege of Gaza has underscored once again how shockingly desensitized our world politicians have become; how cheap the blood and tears of innocent and weak people have become in an age that sees oppressors as victims and true victims as either criminals or terrorists. How do you explain this bizarre rationale to the eight-year-old whose family has been blown up before her eyes?
It is disheartening to know that today, in the 21st century, our world will still accept and support the states who openly mock and ignore international law, who will dress utter falsehood as truth and will distort factual reality to appear as falsehood.
But what is perhaps even worse is the incredible cowardice of a vastly larger segment of humanity that has conditioned itself (largely through persuasive leaders and complicit media) to remain silent in the face of clear evidence that something seriously wrong is happening to our brothers and sisters in humanity. How can we rest at ease after watching images of pain and suffering and not question what is being done to the basic rights of these people?
One group of states in which I am especially disappointed is the so-called Muslim World, which stood back during the aggression on Gaza, almost distancing itself from a humanitarian tragedy happening to innocent Gazans. This I find incomprehensible and shameful. These states have proven once again their weakness and inability to make any impact on any level of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian issue.
All of this is a powerful wakeup call that something has gone terribly wrong with our collective makeup as human beings and that we must all change before it is too late. We need to face the stark reality that those who brutally attack others and those who stand by silently as if nothing is happening are equally guilty of moral and ethical failure on a massive scale. What has happened to Bosniaks and Palestinians (among too many other "cleansed" minorities in the last several decades) could happen to us — and who would be left to stand up and cry foul on our behalf?
Gaza is not only a Palestinian issue; Gaza is not only an Arab issue; Gaza isn’t even just a Muslim issue. Gaza is the issue – and the profound shame – of every ethical, thinking and caring human being on this planet. Gazans are children of the same human family to which we all belong.