By Aijaz Zaka Syed – Dubai
This week marks the 90th anniversary of the Versailles Treaty. It was in January, 1919, exactly 90 years ago, that the World War I victors – the United States, Britain, France and Italy – began drawing up the map of the current Middle East at the Paris conference. And creating much of the mess that you see today in the region, especially in the Holy Land.
Perhaps it’s only apt that the Western leaders descended on the Middle East this week on the 90th anniversary of the Versailles Treaty.
Within hours of Israel’s Ehud Olmert declaring ‘mission accomplished’ in Gaza and even as Palestinians were burying their dead and picking up pieces, literally, of what remained of their lives, world leaders landed first in Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt to deliberate on Israel’s security and then flew to Jerusalem. To do what? Perhaps to pat Olmert and his team on the back for what they have accomplished in Gaza.
The delegation included the leaders of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Czech Republic and European Union president.
Hailing Olmert for his commitment to peace, the visitors assured him of their utmost concern for the safety and security of Israel. “Six world leaders dropped everything to come here and express their support for Israel’s security,” an Israeli diplomat told San Francisco Sentinel.
Israel’s security! That’s the buzzword. That’s what matters. The Sharm el Sheikh summit also reiterated the world leaders’ commitment to the Middle East peace by “ending the arms smuggling into Gaza.”
The peace process begins and ends with stopping of arms smuggling into Gaza. And European leaders repeatedly reassured the great State of Israel that they would do everything to protect it. Protecting Israel? From what? From those homeless and hungry people who have been under siege for years and constantly punished from air and the sea.
What is the mighty, nuclear-armed Israel afraid of? A defenceless people reeling from one of the deadliest and pusillanimous attacks ever inflicted on a civilian population by a military power?
The Palestinians have buried nearly 1500 of their loved ones, more than 500 of them children. Many more could be buried under the rubble of those buildings and apartments Israel has flattened in its vicious war on the phantoms spawned by its own insecurities.
For full three weeks, world powers watched in dazed indifference as the brave Israeli army bombed and bombed Gaza. The international community with all its fine institutions couldn’t or didn’t move a finger to stop the Jewish state as it went on a killing rampage for 22 days.
And when this nightmare ended, you would have thought the world would rush to Gaza offering help and sympathy or at least a kind word if nothing else to make up for its criminal inaction all these days. But who cares for some dead Palestinians?
After all, as a colleague cynically argued, the Palestinians have always been dying as long as you could remember. What’s new?
Indeed. This is why these world leaders had no time to fuss over the Palestinian victims, especially if they happened to have died on the side of Hamas. The world doesn’t even pretend to be even handed in this hopeless game anymore.
So just as Gazans were trying to make sense of what they’d just been through, the contingent of peacemakers lined up to shake hands with Olmert and drink to the health of Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak in Jerusalem.
So what if they had been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent people. Who cares if there’s blood on Israeli leaders’ hands? After all, this is not the first time the world has taken the side of the aggressor, rather than the victim.
Israel’s security is everyone’s responsibility. So France’s Nicolas Sarkozy, who had wowed many in the region with his mediation efforts earlier, led the European leaders in offering troops and all possible help to stop the weapons smuggling into Gaza. Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi offered the services of his Carabinieri for the same noble mission.
As if the smuggling of some humble essentials, and weapons at times, into Gaza was the real issue here; as though this was the only clear and present danger to world peace.
None of those worthies had the courage to tell Israel that it’s its brutal occupation that is at the heart of this conflict. Why would those tunnels be dug up in the first place, if it weren’t for Israel’s lockdown of Gaza and incarceration of its entire population?
Interestingly, amid all this peace making, there was no mention of what Israel has just visited on the people of Gaza. No condemnation of the innocent lives summarily snuffed out and no tears for Gaza’s children who died in their mothers’ arms — some in their wombs. Nary a word of sympathy for the thousands of Gazans who have lost everything they had to this war. No censure of deliberate targeting of schools, hospitals, mosques and UN shelters.
Big powers could have cleared the historical mess they have created by being a little more just and reasonable towards the people who have been cheated out of their land as well as their freedom and dignity. Instead all they have done all these years is repeatedly add insult to injury by always siding with the ruthless bully that they have imposed on the Middle East.
But not all the world powers and their endless plotting can defeat the Palestinian resolve to set themselves free. Israel can go on shouting to the world it has won in Gaza.
Olmert could go on crowing that Israel’s objectives have been met. But what has Israel accomplished in Gaza except killing more innocents to prove its invincibility?
Even its much-touted goal of obliterating Hamas remains far from realised. The resistance movement remains standing on its feet and is as resolute as ever in its quest for freedom.
In fact, this obsessive campaign against Hamas has only added to its stature, not just in the eyes of the Palestinians but across the Muslim world. More important, it has given Hamas the legitimacy that Israel and the West have tried to deny it all this while.
What happened in Gaza is nothing but a disgraceful defeat of Israel, even worse than what it suffered in Lebanon in 2006. Israel might have destroyed the tiny piece of land that epitomises defiance and resilience of human spirit like no other city perhaps ever has. But it can never crush the indomitable spirit of the Palestinian people. The idea of a Free Palestine will outlive and outlast every scheming tyrant desperate for short-lived glory.
– Aijaz Zaka Syed is Opinion Editor of Khaleej Times. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: Aijaz@khaleejtimes.