More than 10,000 people killed, starting with 1,400 Israeli military and civilians and, going on to over 9,000, mainly civilian, Palestinians. Still counting. A compact urban centre already reduced to tens of thousands of tons of concrete rubble (and buried flesh) by aerial, artillery and tank bombardment. Still blasting away.
A highly localised, but vicious, battle confined to barely a few hundred square kilometres, is also being fought globally, with clashes between anti-war protestors and complicit Governments and confrontations between complicit and dissident geopolitical power blocs.
In Gaza, the Israeli-occupied West Bank and, in Israel’s urban hubs, several million humans are traumatized by the terrifyingly intense slaughter and destruction inside this cramped space. In the rest of the world, billions of media-immersed humanity are virtually traumatised by the sheer physical brutality of this ongoing violence, complicit as the entire networked human community is, today, in this carnage.
On the one hand, the new globalised corridors of power are echo chambers for a renewed collective human agonising over revived colonial memories – memories triggered by the Israeli-Palestinian death-embrace, and a transparent colonial-superpower military nexus. The UN’s meeting rooms are debating formal definitions of a new ‘Apartheid’ and even a new ‘Holocaust’ as the world’s nations angrily debate the newest site of war.
“Eliminating Hamas” may be the stated goal of the ongoing offensive by Israeli Occupation forces. But the immediate result on the ground in Gaza and the West Bank is intensive military operations causing huge civilian casualties, massive infrastructural devastation, and a worsened militarisation of the Occupation across Palestinian territory.
The military actions may be presented as ‘countering insurgency’ by a non-state “terrorist” actor, Hamas in this case. But Gaza is part of the State of Palestine along with the West Bank and, like the West Bank, remains a part of the UN-recognised area under Israeli military occupation since the 1967 ‘Six-Day War’. This also includes the Golan Heights seized from Syria in 1967, which too has been outlawed by the UN.
The Palestinians have been continuously waging national resistance to both Israel’s continuous military expansion of state territory since 1948’s creation of Israel as well as its huge forcible expansion of Israeli settlements in the supposedly ‘independent’ State of Palestine. Along with the vast majority of UN Member States, Sri Lanka had formal relations with the State of Palestine long before it officially began engaging with Israel, first via the Israeli Interests section at the US Embassy in Colombo and later with full diplomatic representation.
The United Nations itself was initially set up by the few colonial powers which became militarily dominant after their victory in World War II. Nearly two thirds of UN Member States today, were non-existent in the first decade of the world body.
It was this colonially dominated world body that was used by the retreating colonial powers to try to create continued spheres of influence in the decolonised regions and thereby their continued favourable economic linkages and geopolitical loyalties. Only in a very few new States was this decolonisation not controlled by their withdrawing colonial masters. Even the creation of Israel and ‘The Partition’ of the Indian subcontinent into India and Pakistan were parting shots of colonial powers.
Even in those anti-colonial rebellions that attempted a complete break with the colonial grip, those national liberation leaders were often subsequently assassinated and/or their newly-liberated states were steered into the neocolonial embrace. Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, Indonesia’s Sukarno and, Congo’s Patrice Lumumba are only the best known among many more martyred national liberation heroes.
Thus during the post World War II period of withdrawal from its colonies, the United Kingdom and the other western powers were easily able to firstly enforce the formal recognition of the State of Israel with its growing population of migrating European Jews.
The British had an excellent prior experience of this type of ‘settler colonisation’ in its forcible creation of a purely European ‘Union of South Africa’ in 1910. This was a deal between London and the European colonist leadership in South Africa, in which all the European colonists in South Africa, most of whom were private white settler communities that had forcibly settled on indigenous Black South African tribal lands.
British colonial deals
The White exclusive South African State was created by a combination of British colonial deals with these European colonists, military suppression of the various indigenous Black tribal nations and, the dispossession of vast tracts of their lands. By the 1930s, the British were happy to accede to Pretoria’s pressures for full independence.
And, in 1948, the Boer-led White Government formally created an ‘Apartheid’ nationhood in which all non-Europeans were systematically denied any semblance of sovereign and active citizenship. All the Western powers supported this on the presumption that a White South Africa would be a post-imperial Western bulwark of the West-dominated global system of that time. The only true citizens were the Whites and this exclusivity remained so until decades of protests and limited armed struggle pushed it out.
Despite mounting global disrepute, Apartheid was expanded in scope. To better secure access to newly discovered mineral deposits, the indigenous Black tribal nations were isolated in, and restricted to, their designated ‘reservations’.
But by the 1970s, a majority of the world community comprised newly independent Third World states that had experienced colonialism, struggled to free themselves, and knew well their old colonial oppressor nations.
Starting with many poorer nations supporting the Black South African liberation struggle, the South African racism challenge was systematically addressed by many UN agencies through various mobilisations of the world community to push for an end to State racism.
In 1962, the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 1761, a non-binding resolution condemning South African apartheid policies and establishing the United Nations Special Committee against Apartheid and calling for imposing economic and other sanctions on South Africa. In 1963 the UN Security Council passed Resolution 181 calling for a voluntary arms embargo against South Africa.
But these were token gestures by a reluctant old colonial power bloc. The very last to even to acknowledge such sanctions were the Western powers, those very same former colonial powers that had originally helped set up an independent White-controlled South Africa. By the late-1980s, however, buckling down to world opinion, the US, UK and 23 other nations had passed laws placing various trade sanctions on South Africa.
Various types of international sanctions were imposed: from cricket and other sports boycotts to economic and cultural boycotts. And the South African freedom movement led by Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned for 27 years, finally won.
Today, in terms of numbers, the UN is dominated by the Global South, even if the Great Powers yet control the decisive Security Council. The world community remains helpless with its primary tool of global governance, the United Nations fully deadlocked on any action to begin managing this immensely volatile crisis. Even though the UN General Assembly convened a Special Emergency Session last week, the Resolution it passed calling for an immediate ceasefire is not enforceable by the UN. It only serves as a guidance for the UN system as well as the world community as to what needs to be done immediately.
In Gaza, the urban blocks of one of the world’s most densely populated places are so shattered that one has to look hard to identify whether they are office blocks or flats or shops or hospitals or schools or any other installation. It is impossible for Israel and its Western backers to convince the world that the bombardment of Gaza and military operations in the West Bank are nothing more than the continuation of the strengthening of Israel’s control over the whole of Palestine.
But the UN today is not the world body it was in 1948. The West has already learned this, hence an increasing distancing of the UN General Assembly by the US. This was most noticeable in the ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ charade used by the West to invade the Persian Gulf region. NATO invaded Iraq as well as Libya quite ignoring UN law and policy. The West has continued this practice with Israel.
This recourse to old colonial-style intimidatory strategies is clearly to be seen by the huge military build-up by the US in support of Israel. The two aircraft carrier task forces in the Mediterranean and another in the Persian Gulf Region, comprise the largest concentration of naval power since possibly World War II. The Gulf Wars did not see such a deployment of carrier units. This is because the US must confront not one – as with Iraq in the Gulf Wars – but several hostile actors in West Asia. But will the West actually go to war with Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Iran in West Asia?
Right-wing superpower advocates will paint the West and Israel backing down, as an exposure of the continuing decline of Western hegemony. Will Washington, Brussels and Tel Aviv listen to saner voices in their own societies that will bring geopolitics in line with civilised global governance?