The price of solidarity

Image: Chrisna Senatus


Considerations on Palestine, Indonesia and the “Human Rights” Dilemma

When I enthusiastically shared in the media the news that Indonesia had refused hosting the Israeli team for the Under-20 World Championship, scheduled for May 20-June 11 in Indonesian cities, some readers were unimpressed.

While any news related to Palestine and Israel often generates two very different types of responses, Indonesia's latest act of solidarity with the Palestinian people has failed to impress even some pro-Palestinian activists in the West. His logic had nothing to do with Palestine or Israel, but with the record of human rights by the Indonesian government itself.

This supposed dichotomy is as ubiquitous as it is problematic. Some of the most genuine acts of solidarity with Palestinians – or other oppressed nations in the Global South – tend to take place in other nations and governments in the South. But given that the latter are often accused of poor human rights records by Western governments and Western-based rights groups, such gestures of solidarity are often questioned as lacking in substance.

Beyond the militarization of human rights – and democracy – by Western governments, some of the concerns about human rights violations are worth pausing: Can those who don't respect the rights of their own people have the credibility to defend the rights of others?

Though intellectually intriguing, the argument, and the issue, lack self-awareness, limit the exercise of the right, and reflect a misunderstanding of history.

First, the absence of self-awareness. In the West, defending Palestinian rights is based on reaching out, educating and putting pressure on some of the most destructive colonial and neo-colonial powers in the world. This advocacy includes civil engagement with countries that, for example, invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, plagued Africa and continue to subjugate many nations in the Global South.

These Western governments were also the ones that either handed over the title to Palestinian lands – Britain – to the Zionist movement or sustained Israel militarily, financially and politically for generations – the US and others.

While little tangible progress has been made with regard to substantive policy changes away from Israel, we remain engaged with these governments in the hope that change will occur.

Rarely do Western activists present arguments similar to those observed against Indonesia – or other Asian, African, Arab or Muslim countries. Personally, I was never once reminded of the moral conflict of seeking the solidarity of Western governments that have long been engaged in the oppression of the Palestinian people.

Second, the exercise of the right. For many years, and particularly since the end of World War II, Western governments have struggled to fulfill the roles of judge, jury and executioner. elaborated international law, but implemented it selectively. They approved the Declaration of Human Rights, however they selfishly determined who is worthy of this humanity. launched wars in the name of defending others, but have left in their wake more death and disorder than existed before these “humanitarian interventions”.

Some human rights activists in the West rarely realize that their influence derives in large part from their own geographic position and, more importantly, their citizenship. This is why Hannah Arendt rightly argued that individuals can only enjoy human rights when they obtain the right to be citizens of a nation-state. “Human rights lose all meaning as soon as an individual loses his political context”, wrote her in her seminal book The right to have rights.

While some activists have paid a high price for their genuine solidarity with the Palestinian people, others understand solidarity in purely conceptual terms, without considering the numerous political obstacles and sometimes concessions that an occupied nation faces.

The fact that Palestinian civil society launched the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement in 2005, in that particular order, reflects the awareness among Palestinians that it will take more than individual acts of solidarity to end the Israeli occupation and to dismantle the apartheid Israeli. Divestment means that companies that benefit from the Israeli occupation must cut their ties with Israel – even though some of these companies may have questionable practices.

The same logic applies to sanctions, which require strong political will from governments to ostracize Tel Aviv until it ends its occupation, respects international law and treats Palestinians as equal citizens.

If having a perfect human rights record is a prerequisite for government support, not many, if any, countries will qualify. Oppressed people simply cannot exercise these rights, since they do not have the privilege or the leverage to shape a perfectly harmonious global solidarity.

Finally, the need for a better understanding of history. Before signature of the Oslo Accords between the Palestinian leadership and Israel in 1993, the term “human rights” was considered an important component in the Palestinian struggle. But it was neither the only nor the main driving force behind the Palestinians' quest for freedom. For them, all aspects of Palestinian resistance, including the pursuit of human rights, were part of a broader liberation strategy.

Oslo changed all that. He avoided terms like resistance and redefined the Palestinian struggle, based on that liberation of human rights. The Palestinian Authority respected the task assigned to it, and many Palestinians joined in the game simply because they felt they had no alternative.

However, by elevating the human rights discourse, Palestinians have become trapped in wholly Western priorities. Its language, which in the past was consistent with revolutionary discourses of anti-colonial movements in the Middle East, Africa and the rest of the Global South, has been reworked to appeal to Western expectations.

This is not to suggest that anti-colonial movements have not upheld human rights discourses. In fact, such speeches were at the center of the courageous fights and sacrifices of millions of people around the world. But for them, human rights was not an isolated moral position, nor a political position to be used or manipulated to enhance the moral superiority of the West over the rest or to sanction poor countries, often in the name of stringent political or economic concessions. .

Palestinians are deeply concerned about the human rights of other nations. They should, because they experienced firsthand what it means to be stripped of their rights and their humanity. But neither are they in a position, nor should they seek one, that would allow them to condition the solidarity of others on the West's politicized human rights agendas.

Ramzy baroud is a journalist and visiting professor at Istanbul Zaim University. Author, among other books, of These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons (Clarity Press).

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves.

Originally published on the portal counter punch [].

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