The Middle East Tragedy: The Big Powers Legacy

Palestinians' rights are marginalized in US policy because they offer nothing to benefit the policy makers. (Photo:, file)

By Hasan Afif El-Hasan

Arab people today are not only oppressed and marginalized, they are considered dangerous and disposable by their own tyrant rulers and the world’s community.

From Palestine to Iraq, from Syria to Yemen, and from Egypt to Libya, the Middle East Arab civilians, individuals, families, and communities, who are not involved in hostilities, are being massacred, starved, humiliated and forced to seek safety in neighboring countries and beyond. The dead, the wounded and the crippled, the homeless and the stateless became war’s refuse, ignored even reviled by their so called “Arab brothers” and the international community. These are mostly victims of systematic, planned and deliberate attacks carried out by governments, theirs and foreign, and armed groups with different identities and ideologies.

The international community and its organizations have abandoned their responsibilities to act, stop the carnage and protect people caught up in armed conflicts today because the ‘big powers’ created the conflicts and they control the global order\. They abused their power then and failed their moral responsibility to protect their victims today.

The Middle East has shown time and again that when the international community ceased to provide institutional checks to mitigate the tyrants, the invaders, or the colonizers, it opened a Pandora’s Box of evils that infected the region and the remnants of the World’s societies.

Palestine after the 1917 British Balfour Declaration to establish a national home for the Jewish people, Afghanistan after the 1979 Soviet invasion, and Iraq after the 2003 US-UK invasion are cases in point.

Until the first Arab- Israeli war and the emergence of the military rule under Nasser, Egypt had been a country with long established political parties under the monarchy including al-Wafd, a secular party, one of the first in post-colonialism, and it had the Muslim-Brothers party. Sadly, Egypt’s military under Nasser and his successors destroyed the democratic experiment in Egypt, and other Arab military leaders followed Egypt’s example. In the name of military security against Israel’s threat, Arab states since then entered the 21st century burdened by undemocratic governments, emergency laws and military courts.

And in Afghanistan, when the Soviets occupied the country, the US trained and armed thousands of young men, recruited from Muslim countries to fight against the Soviets, the US global competitor and archenemy. The battle cry was “the defense of a Muslim country against the godless communists.” After the defeat of the Soviets, militant Islamists founded an alliance named ‘al-Qaeda’ under the leadership of Osama Ben-Laden. Al-Qaeda called for ending the US military presence in Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries. It is the infamous terrorist group that carried out the 9/11/2001 attack in New York and Washington D.C. killing more than 4,000 Americans.

The US-UK invasion of Iraq that was utterly without credible pretext is the biggest crime of the twenty-first century. The horrifying invasion of Iraq led to the death of hundreds of thousands in a country where civilians had already been devastated by American and British sanctions. It destroyed the country, generated millions of refugees and instigated a sectarian conflict that is tearing the country and the region apart. It is utterly astonishing that some US intellectuals and political leaders called this war at one time, “the liberation of Iraq.” The invasion of Iraq created terrorists including ISIS and escalated terror attacks well beyond what had been predicted by intelligence agencies according to the American historian and political activist Noam Chomsky. And after years of occupation, the US and its partners abandoned their official war aims, leaving the country in absolute anarchy under the influence of the only victor, Iran.

The UN organizations decry the chaos, the crimes against humanity in the Middle East for which they bear all the responsibility, but they do nothing to stem the horror they created. The ‘big powers’ can be described by a popular Arab maxim that portrays the worst criminal as the one who “kills his victim and walks in his funeral.” The ‘big powers’ have self-understanding of themselves as the conscience of humanity, but they adopt “the principles of power and privilege” at the expense of truth and justice according to Noam Chomsky. The modern inter-state system and international relations has borne no ethical or moral principles.

Nothing has changed since the eighteenth century when Thomas Hobbes described the international system of states as being in a continuous ‘posture of war’ where ‘big powers’ are at liberty to act to secure their own interests unimpeded by any moral strictures. Even after the defeat of the Nazi and Fascist regimes and the start of post-war liberal democratic era, the UN Charter enhanced the role of the ‘big powers’, and legitimated their claim to leadership in international politics. The ‘big powers’ seek to claim their vision of themselves as moral voices and platitude, but they support and help oppressors as long as they serve their interests whether they are military rulers, invaders, occupiers, or colonizers. The ‘big powers’ have prolonged the suffering and the state of permanent wars in the Middle East. Arabs today are treated regularly by the ‘big powers’ and the international community as prototypical “non-people.”

Before the outbreak of the “Arab Spring” and the civil wars that followed, Noam Chomsky had spoken on behalf of the Palestinians whose suffering is minimized or ignored by the international community as an example of the decline in the morality of the ‘big powers’ and the UN organizations. Israel has been following a colonial policy based on extermination and expulsion of the indigenous Palestinian population from their lands and replaces them with a “higher race people!”, and the international community has failed to intervene on behalf of the victims. The strongest support for Israel’s colonialism in the international arena comes from the US, Canada and Australia, the so-called settler-colonial societies who treated the natives of their countries as “non-people” and tried to exterminate them.

The Palestinians’ rights are marginalized or even ignored in US policy because they have no wealth or power and they offer nothing to benefit the policy makers. Israel, on the other hand, has been a highly valued military and technology strategic ally. And apart from the alliance consideration, evangelical Christianity has been a major popular force in the US in support of Israel. Evangelical Christians hailed “the return of the Chosen People to the land promised by the Lord.” They were even more supportive when Israel conquered the rest of Palestine in 1967.

When human rights organizations called on the ‘big powers’ to help end the occupation and lift the Israeli siege on Gaza, the call was ignored. Those who criticized Israel’s aggression did that because its course of action against the Palestinians would not enhance Israel’s internal politics or its reputation. The American scholar Ronald R. Krebs wrote an article in November/December 2011 issue of Foreign Affairs magazine subtitled “How the Israeli Occupation is Destroying the Nation.” The nation he was referring to is not Palestine that has been decimated and its people are either in refugee camps or under occupation. He wrote: “The conflict threatens Israel because of the havoc it wreaks on the country’s internal politics.” He was concerned about the intoxicated and seductive aggressors to be harmed by using their power to colonize, humiliate and abuse the Palestinians.

In October of 2011, when the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit who had been captured from attacking army unit by Hamas, was released, The New York Times Magazine published an article that was devoted to his family suffering. Shalit was freed in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, “about whom and their families we learned little, apart from serious debate as to whether their release might harm Israel” because the Palestinian prisoners and their relatives are viewed as “non-people.”

We heard much about Shalit, but nothing about the thousands of Palestinian civilians and the suffering of their families, held in Israeli prisons for long periods without charge. New York Magazine pretends to advocate liberal ideas and human rights but it is impossible to be both human rights advocate and ignore the suffering of the Palestinians. Too much is now known about the history of the conflict and the human-rights record and the so-called peace process.

In a speech to the J-Street Jewish organization in Washington, US Vice President Joe Biden criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over his regime’s illegal settlement activities in the Palestinian occupied territories, not on the immorality of occupation and because the Palestinians as a people deserve to live free in their own state. Biden criticized Israel because according to the Vice President “The present course Israel is on is not one that’s likely to secure its existence as a Jewish, democratic state-and we have to make sure that happens.” Biden also urged young American Jews to reject efforts to “delegitimize Israeli” and to speak out more forcefully against what he called the growth of anti-Semitism in Europe.

The ‘big powers’ are responsible for the ills of the Middle East including the uprooting of the indigenous Palestinians from their homeland; they support tyrant Arab rulers; and by invading countries just because they can, they caused the spread of terrorism from a small tribal area in Afghanistan-Pakistan borderlands to a vast region from West Africa to Southeast Asia.

The world will be doomed to violence, cruelty and bitter suffering and the impassable barriers to peace will remain unless the powerful learn to respect the dignity and human rights of the others.

– Hasan Afif El-Hasan, Ph.D. is a political analyst. His latest book, Is The Two-State Solution Already Dead? (Algora Publishing, New York), available on and Barnes & Noble. He contributed this article to

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