Keep the Palestinian struggle out of Putin’s war in Ukraine
Lest we forget, President Vladimir Putin supports Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s continuing destruction and maiming of women and children including thousands of Palestinian refugees in Syria. Since March 2011, pro-government forces have killed 3,196 Palestinian refugees, including 491 under torture, and 2,663 others are still missing, since disappearing into intelligence prisons, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, a UK-based activist group. The latest pictures coming from Mariupol in Ukraine resemble yet another Syria in making. Thousands of civilians including women and children have been killed in a war that only started on 24 February 2022. Putin’s culpability in Syria has left mayhem and increased plight for the people of Syria including thousands of Palestinian refugees in places such as Yarmouk refugee camp. Yarmouk residence joined Syrians in 2011 to demand political inclusion and extension of human rights. Since, Yarmouk has been bombed and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians refugees face a bleak future. Whilst the world was witnessing an attempt to annihilate political dissenters in Syria, Russia continued supplying weapons to pro-government fighters and vetoed almost all resolutions aimed at stopping al Assad from continuing killing his people. In 2019 Russia and China vetoed a United Nation Security Council resolution that called for a truce in the region of Idlib, the last rebel-held stronghold in northwestern Syria. It was the 13th time Russia vetoed a resolution on the Syrian conflict and the seventh in the case of China. Russian support in Syria increased dramatically when the Arab Spring a series of uprisings across the Middle East – began in 2011. Fearing a possible snowballing of events into Russia, Putin hastened to support al Assad to thwart national uprising in Syria.
Western skeptics have enough reasons to excuse Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. In the middle of destruction of property, death and displacement of millions of people they argue against Europe’s double standards on treatment of refugees. The treatment of refugees from Ukraine by European countries have invited widespread criticism. The double standards on how Ukrainian refugees are treated have exposed disturbing racial fault lines, particularly on how refugees from Middle East, Africa and Afghanistan have been treated. Poland’s extraordinary mobilisation to help Ukrainian refugees raises some uncomfortable questions about the country’s toughness shown towards asylum seekers and migrants from the Middle East and Africa. The blatant double standards have unfortunately driven many people into taking strong positions on the invasion of Ukraine. Many have drawn examples from the Palestinian struggle to justify and explain the double standards of Europeans and Western nations in general. Israel has been continually destroying Palestinian properties unabated; they have displaced millions and killed thousands since the occupation of the Palestinian lands ensued and gained momentum in 1948. Notwithstanding, the world’s reaction in Ukraine has been starkly different compared to Palestine. Palestinians have demonstrated sympathy to the plight of Ukrainians. Understandably, Palestinians have endured bombardment and displacement most of their lives. All things being equal in global politics, the continual destruction of property, forcible removals and expansionist campaign by Israel should have attracted similar condemnation and forceful global response in Palestine.
There are many who believe that following the events in Ukraine, the plight of the Palestinians is likely to be amplified henceforth, I am one of them. They argue that the Palestinian struggle should remain focused on fighting the occupation and growing international solidarity. Palestinian international solidarity efforts have managed to galvanise people from across the world, those efforts must continue.
In conclusion, there is one anecdote relevant to emphasize some points highlighted in this article. In 2011 when al Assad started killing his people in Syria, Hamas was forced to take a position. In 2012 senior members of Hamas and their families left their headquarters in Damascus in “quiet protest”. Hamas is one of the leading political organisations in Palestine, it had its headquarters in Damascus, Syria for the better part of its existence. It can be argued that in hindsight Hamas decided on what was best for the Palestinian struggle. One can only imagine what would have become of Hamas and indeed the Palestinian struggle had it decided to remain in Syria and continued receiving aid from al Assad and Russia. The invasion of Ukraine by Putin deserves a similar judgement, irrespective of politics of the warring parties and notwithstanding the obvious double standards; Palestinians and those who support the struggle of Palestine must insist on a just and balanced position. Palestinians must support the plight of the displaced people of Ukraine without taking a political position in the conflict.