Monday, 07 September 2020 13:01

How much do we care about Palestine?

Written by
How much do we care about Palestine? NSTP file pic

If we did a survey today and asked if Malaysians care about the plight of the Palestinians, we may be surprised to discover that there may not be as enormous support as we would have thought.

For one, we were never made aware of the Israeli-Palestinian issue other than from what we read, watch or hear.

We have no diplomatic relations with Israel and most Malaysians have no contact with an Israeli Jew. The only connection Muslims here have of them is found in the verses of the Quran, where the behaviour of the "children of Israel" is mentioned in several chapters.

Malaysia has an official policy of not recognising the state of Israel for as long as it continues to grab, occupy and settle in Palestinian land. This is also the policy of the Organisation of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC) for which our first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, was lauded when he was appointed its first secretary-general in 1969.

After the 1967 Six-Day War, in which Israel occupied Palestinian territories in the West Bank, Gaza, and some of the land belonging to Jordan, Syria and Egypt, the Arab states acted in unison to fight back the Israelis.

The Peace Treaty of 1979, brokered by the United States, saw the return of the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt, but not the territories belonging to the Palestinians. Even worse, the Palestinians who took refuge outside during the war were not allowed to return to their homeland.

The Arab League, a coalition of 22 Arab countries, made it their national duty and issued the Khartoum Resolution, often remembered for its three "nos": no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it.

Unfortunately, today, the Arab League is little more than "a talk shop" with half of the OIC members abandoning their pledge, recognising and establishing diplomatic relations with Israel. These countries include Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, several African states, including Nigeria, the Gambia and Senegal, and some Central Asian states such as Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

The latest Arab country to have diplomatic relations with Israel is the United Arab Emirates and there are intensive efforts made by the US to persuade Sudan, Bahrain and Oman to do likewise. The shift in policy of these OIC members relate to their own national interests — some did it for economic benefits, some were carolled and dangled with carrots, some did it for security reasons and many because of their fear of the rise of Iran.

Iran, which used to be a monarchy like most of the Arab states, became a populous Islamic state under Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979 and there is fear that its ideology would spread in the Middle East. The Arab Spring of 2011 signalled that ordinary people are wary of the autocratic system of their monarchs.

To keep the status quo, many of these Arab leaders would not mind seeking alliances with Israel, which does not see eye to eye with Iran. This is why Saudi's recent move to allow Israeli planes to fly in their airspace is seen as a tactical political move in the interests of the monarchy, but not necessarily the people. However, within the OIC, there remains some strong-willed countries that would not tolerate Israel and its policies.

Malaysia is one of them. The few others include Indonesia and Pakistan — and these are not Arab states. Today, the Israel military has maintained a tight cordon along the Gaza Strip, making it impossible for the Palestinians living there to receive food and medical supplies from outside. A 708km wall constructed in 2002 borders the West Bank, making it difficult for its inhabitants to move at ease.

Thousands of Israeli settlements were built within the wall to saturate the Palestinian population. The biggest insult came in May 2018 when the US, under Donald Trump's administration, decided to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognising it as Israel's new capital.

It is not for Islamic solidarity that hardcore supporters like Malaysia must hold firmly to the Palestinian cause. It has to do with humanitarian rights of the people who are slowly being forced to abandon their own land to give way to the colonisers.

After all, if 400 million Arabs who worship the same God and write the same alphabet and recite the same poetry cannot unite for the Palestinian cause, the international community should. This is not an Arab issue. It has to do with the sufferings of people who are oppressed and in the midst of being thrown out of their land.

The writer is Malaysia's former ambassador to the Netherlands and the Fiji Islands

Published in: New Straits Times, Monday, 07 September 2020