Gaza and Our Common Humanity

Kayode Komolafe

The situation in Gaza significantly  featured at the yesterday meeting of United States Secretary of State Anthony Blinken with President Bola Tinubu in Abuja. 

Although the focus of the meeting was, of course, on the bilateral relations between Nigeria and the United States, Foreign Affairs  Minister Yusuf Tuggar said while Nigeria and the United States agreed on the ultimate “two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Nigeria stressed its  support for the call for a ceasefire at least for humanitarian purposes in the Israel war on Gaza. Tuggar clearly defined the areas of “commonality” and  “differences” in the policies of the two friendly countries towards the worsening crisis in Gaza.

Such a clarification is important  in this  age in which obfuscation and hypocrisy have become potent tools of foreign policies by some world powers.

The mood of Nigerians who are genuinely  concerned about the killings and destruction in Gaza was aptly captured last Monday by  a former foreign affairs minister, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, when he  laid bare on “Arise News”  the issue of Gaza as an open sore on the conscience of humanity.

It was Akinyemi’s first appearance as a guest on the television this year. So the anchors began with the customary  Happy- New- Year  greetings to the professor to kick off that segment  of “The Morning Show.”  They expected  a response of “Happy New Year.” But the veteran of Nigeria’s foreign  affairs establishment  said  he would not respond in the expected tone because of the catastrophe unfolding in Gaza, where Israel has been waging a  war to free the hostages and “eliminate” Hamas. 

In fact, today is the 110th day of the war.

In Akinyemi’s view, contrary to the  nominations  for the “Man of the Year” by various media organisations in the world at the end of 2023, those who  actually deserved such a recognition were aid workers, medical personnel, journalists, United Nations staff etc. who have been killed by Israel’s bombings since the horrific attack on the country by Hamas on October 7 last year.

In the ensuing  barbaric war, over 25,000 Palestinians have been killed including more than 10, 000 children. Even the Biblical  principle of reciprocal justice is that of “an eye for an eye” as contained in the Old Testament  books of Exodus and Leviticus. The principle is definitely not that of 25 eyes for an eye as Israel seems to calculate in  conducting the war in Gaza with outrageous impunity.  Worse still, supplies of food, water, fuel and medical to Gaza have been at the mercy of Israel.  Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced. Children have died of hunger and dehydration. Refugee  camps have been bombed. Houses, schools and hospitals have been destroyed in the Israeli mission of “destroying Hamas terror infrastructure.”  Resolutions for a humanitarian  ceasefire at the United Nations have been blocked by America. With the full backing of the United States, Israel has serially  ignored international laws and conventions in the prosecution of this savage war.  Israel has even killed  in error some of the hostages that  the war is partly waged to rescue.  And at least 535  Israeli soldiers have been killed in Gaza since October 7 last year, including the 24 who  were killed  only yesterday. No country could have displayed so much impunity without America’s support. Yet western reactionary ideologues are quick to blackmail those crying for justice in Palestine by accusing them of “antisemitism.” No. Anti-Zionism should not be falsely equated to  anti-Semitism.  To condemn the recklessness of the Netanyahu’s extreme right-wing  regime does not amount to hatred for the great  people Israel, who in some respects  are also victims of the blind policies of the Israeli state.   

For any observer imbued with compassion the  question that readily comes to mind is this: whatever happened to our common humanity in the face of the humanitarian catastrophe on display in the territories which have been occupied by Israel  for 57 years? 

Perhaps, the most soul-lifting aspect of Akinyemi’s statement on “Arise News” last Monday  is  what he called the “Mandelisation” of the foreign policy of South Africa. The  legacy of immense moral capital bequeathed to the free South Africa by its first president , Nelson Mandela, has become manifest in that nation’s response to Israel’s lawless behaviour in Gaza. It is, of course, well known that the spirit of Mandela is that of justice and humanity in the affairs of men whether at national or at the international level. It is this spirit  that has prompted South Africa to assume moral leadership in the world by making a case of genocide against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the highest legal institution of the United Nations, also called the World Court.  Unlike  the International Criminal Court (ICC) which is better suited for  prosecution of individuals  charged with war crimes, the ICJ carries immense moral weight in adjudicating on  cases among nations. That’s  why a lot of hope is pinned by all lovers of freedom and justice  on the ruling of the court  to end  the Gaza disaster. However, there should be no illusion about the situation in Gaza.  After the 15 judges of the ICJ must have given their rulings, the ball would, of course, be  in the court of the United Nations Security Council to enforce the verdict. And America may again “stand with Israel” in opposition to the international convention.

In the course of  a two-day hearing, South Africa accused Israel of the “crime of genocide”  by violating the 1948  Genocide Convention. Noteworthy is the fact that  both South Africa and Israel are party  to the convention.

Therefore, South Africa wants the World Court to stop Israel immediately from further killings in Gaza  pending the full hearing of the case. This prayer of South Africa, perhaps,  could have been unnecessary if the United States had not blocked the United Nations resolution for a humanitarian ceasefire. Well, Israel’s President, Isaac Herzog, has dismissed the case as “preposterous,” describing it as a “blood libel.”

As the world awaits the ruling of World Court, it would be in order to salute South Africa for asserting our common humanity in the true spirit of Mandela.  Whatever comes out of the case, South Africa has made the moral point to Israel and its western backers that the world is not a jungle where might  is right. After all, an Israeli minister has described the Palestinians as “human beasts” in a hate speech that may bear historical resonance for generations.

All this is happening at a time the West increasingly abandons its liberal values, a trend which actually became more explicit with the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  On the false  pretext of disarming Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, the United States and the United Kingdom flagrantly violated international laws and invaded the less powerful country. No one could stop the two western powers at the time. The lawlessness of Israel in Gaza  20 years after  is reminiscent of the war crimes committed in Iraq in a different context.

More than 10, 000 children are killed in Gaza,  yet western powers do not see the urgency  of a humanitarian ceasefire!  Where lies the moral content of the foreign policies of these countries? 

A few days after the October 7 attack on Israel by Hamas, President Joe Bidden was on a  solidarity visit to Tel Aviv. Before his arrival, an Israeli bomb had dropped on an hospital in Gaza. Here is what Bidden told Netanyahu about the incident: “I was deeply saddened and outraged by the explosion of the hospital in Gaza yesterday, and based on what I’ve seen, it appears as though it was done by the other team, not you.” Biden  said so on October 18, 2003  without any evidence of independent investigations. Since then Israel has  bombed nearly all the hospitals in Gaza and ordered the evacuation of patients. Israel has  claimed that Hamas used the hospitals as centres of military operations and for hiding equipment. Western powers have  been silent on this  savage conduct of the war. The same western diplomats who made a passionate case  for a ceasefire in the Russia-Ukraine war are now opposed to a ceasefire in the Israel war on Gaza. Their  justification is that Hamas should be “eliminated” in Israel’s exercise of its right to self-defence. It doesn’t matter to western powers that while they join Israel in calling Hamas a “terrorist” organisation, lovers of justice and freedom all over the world see Hamas as a liberation movement fighting for freedom, justice  and human dignity in Palestine. In the process Hamas too commits its own war crimes.

Some western leaders are myopic about these things probably  because of the crucial elections coming up this year in their respective countries. They, therefore,  subsume the geo- strategic implications of the escalation of the  crisis in Gaza for world peace and the global economy in their electoral calculations.

The response of Biden and others  to the humanitarian catastrophe shows that contemporary western leaders are not sufficiently learning from their own history. In 1943, one of the leading American public intellectuals, Reinhold Niebuhr, a theologian,  observed on a rather   triumphalist note that “the world problem cannot be solved if America does not accept its full responsibility in solving it.” Over 80 years after, America has simply abandoned its moral responsibility by giving Israel the greenlight to kill Palestinians indiscriminately in Gaza.      

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to maintain  the military control  of Gaza whenever  the war ends. To achieve that odious ambition, however, Netanyahu may have to declare himself the governor-general of the occupied territories in the true tradition of colonialism. However, like previous vicious settler-colonialisms in history, the Israeli occupation of Gaza, West Bank and East Jerusalem will one day come to an end and Palestine will become a land of freedom.

To be sure, the security of Israel and  the statehood for Palestinians should not be mutually exclusive as Netanyahu and his extremist regime in Tel Aviv are presenting things before the world. Doubtless, the resolute opposition of  Netanyahu and his  fellow extremists to a Palestinian state makes the outlook for Gaza grimmer.

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