April 30, 2008
‘What Has Happened to the Conscience of the World?’
A hospital worker shows journalists the bodies of four children after their house was shelled by Israeli tanks in the Beit Hanoun neighborhood of Gaza Strip on Monday [April 28 2008] while they were having their breakfast. (Reuters):
In this April 25 photo, Palestinians chant slogans against the Israeli blockade of Gaza. (AP)
Siraj Wahab, Arab News
JEDDAH, 30 April 2008 — The headlines coming out of Gaza daily stun people as women and children are slain by Israeli airstrikes and the plight of the Palestinians worsens through blockades and embargoes of food, fuel and freedom. Pick up any newspaper, turn on any news channel and the message is the same: Gaza is a war zone — a war zone with only one army and an entire population of victims, struggling to stay alive and wondering if they will be alive tomorrow.
Arab News recently gathered four young Saudis to voice their views on the current Palestinian situation, and their assessments were both brutal and often pessimistic about the future of the Middle East as long as Israel disregards human rights and seeks to isolate the Palestinians instead of reaching consensus with them.
“Israel is meting out collective punishment,” said Badria Modeer, who is studying international relations at Dar Al-Hekma Women’s College. “The whole population is being attacked. They are killing infants; they are killing children. Why? And the worst part is nobody can stop them. What has happened to the conscience of the world? Where is humanity? Do other people in the world not see what we are seeing on our television screens every day and every night?”
“The whole Gaza Strip is surrounded by Israelis,” said Ahmad Sabri, 21, who studied political science at Jeddah’s King Abdul Aziz University. “Why did they cut fuel supplies to the entire country? Why did they cut electricity? Power cuts led to dozens of patients dying in hospitals. Isn’t this a massacre? If those patients had been Israelis there would have been a flurry of condemnation led by the United States, but when it’s Palestinian patients who die quietly in the night because there’s no electricity nobody talks about them. This is mass murder.”
Most took a dim view of US foreign policy and its unflagging support for Israel and the failure of the United Nations to act effectively.
“I am not optimistic. Israel is a bully,” said Khaled Yeslam, 25, a graduate of Jeddah’s College of Business Administration who now works at a PR firm. “Israel came into being by force, and it will not listen to reason. American politicians are completely subservient to the Israeli lobby.”
“I don’t believe in the UN; it is not fair,” said Hidaya Abbas, 20, who is a student at Dar Al-Hekma College. “The UN can’t do anything. Instead of being busy putting pressure and sanctions on Iran just because it is allegedly in the process of producing nuclear energy why don’t they impose sanctions on Israel, which has 200 nuclear warheads? Iranians are not at war with anyone, but Israel has no qualms about bombing civilians. Why can’t the UN slap sanctions on Israel? It is a useless organization.”
“America is directly responsible for what is happening in Gaza today because they support the Israeli occupation morally, financially and militarily,” Sabri said. “They also support Israel in the United Nations by blocking all resolutions that condemn Israeli massacres. More specifically, the American government’s foreign policy is the problem.”
“I am for peace. I fully support King Abdullah’s peace initiative that calls for the creation of Palestine on pre-1967 borders,” Modeer said. “If we can’t have the entire cake, we can have some piece of cake — at least we have something rather than having nothing. Saudi Arabia is a rich country. It has good relations with the Americans, and if we pressure America, then Americans can pressure Israel to give up its occupation.”
Not everyone shared Modeer’s conciliatory perspective.
“I think peace can only be between two equal parties,” said Sabri. “I’m against the peace initiative, because it gives legitimacy to the occupation. It lends dignity to thieves. Yes, the Israelis are thieves. They stole our land. According to the international law, Palestinians have the right to resist occupation just like all the wars of liberation in history. Nobody can deny them the right of armed resistance. This happened everywhere.”
“Anybody who is talking about peace with Israelis does not make sense to me,” Abbas said. “Israel is occupying Palestine; how can we make peace with them? Let me simplify it. I have a house, and suddenly someone comes and tells me ‘I will take your house and then I will kill you’. So will I say: ‘OK, OK. Don’t kill me; take half of the house?’ That doesn’t make sense to me. Peace treaties are like that. If somebody wants to kill me and take my house, I don’t give him half of my house — I fight back. They are Zionists at the end of the day, and they are occupying our lands. They are taking something that doesn’t belong to them. They are killing children. So it is the right of the Palestinian people to fight back, and they are fighting. They are not terrorists — the occupiers are.”
The extreme events in Gaza are leading to worries about a conviction among some young people that the horrific situation requires a violent response.
“Islam stands strictly against killing civilians, but any occupier is not a civilian,” Sabri said. “He is stealing my land; he is stealing my water. There are five million Israelis living on my land, and there are six million Palestinian refugees all over the world. It doesn’t matter whether he is holding a gun or not. The most important fact is that most Israelis are reservists and will be called to service whenever required. So every Israeli has to be resisted.”
“This is creating a new generation of extremists,” Yeslam said. “We see blood being spilt in Palestine, and here are our people talking about business, economy and peace. So naturally, they are getting attracted to the extreme point of view: that of violence. You can’t blame the youth. They are frustrated — very, very angry at their helplessness. Remember, the Bin Ladens and the Al-Zawahiris emerged out of this chaos. They exploited the frustration of our youth. The world should wake up and tell Israel to stop its barbarity.”
All of them long for the rarest commodity in the Middle East, which is peace.
“Those Israeli settlers have the right to live in Palestine like all Christians in Palestine and like all the Jews in Iraq, like the Jews in Tunisia and Egypt and the Christians in Yemen,” Sabri said. “They have the right to live as Palestinian citizens like all the Jews and Christians living in the Islamic world. There are a lot of Christian Palestinians. They are our brothers and sisters. They are not occupiers; they are part of the country. This is what should happen. There should be coexistence. But the Israelis came as an armed force, so they are occupiers, and they need to be resisted.”
“Every European and every Americans should log onto IfAmericansKnew.org website to know what is happening in Palestine,” Abbas said. “All of us would stop thinking in a selfish way. This earth belongs to all people. We are all brothers and sisters in this world and share this world, and it is important that we find solutions for our grandchildren.”
“Israel should lift the siege immediately,” Modeer said. “Commit to the peace deal — open the borders. Let there be free trade. Let the Palestinians live in peace.”