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Denying existence of Palesti8k8+com+loginnians will not solve issues

张杰Angel改张杰 | 8k8+com+login | Updated: 2024-07-15 19:14:01

Displaced Palestinians are seen in Jabalia, northern Gaza Strip, on May 30, 2024. [Photo/Xinhua]

Othering a people is as insidious as labeling them, if not more so. It can fuel misconceptions, discrimination and prejudice. It can justify massacres and genocide. If one considers others who are not like themselves to be subhuman or less deserving of even the most basic human rights, it makes it all the easier to justify their dispossession, impunity and mass murder.

"There was (and is) no such thing as Palestinians." This infamous phrase uttered by Israel's fourth prime minister Golda Meir in 1969 was resurrected earlier this year in a session of the Israeli Knesset by the country's Minister of Settlements and National Missions Orit Strock, who said: "There is no such thing as a Palestinian people…every cultured person in the world knows that this land is ours, for the Israeli people, and only for us." It would not be the first time, or likely the last. In 2023, Israel's Finance Minister Bezalel Yoel Smotrich said during a visit to France that "there are no Palestinians because there aren't a Palestinian people".

The Palestinians, who have and continue to endure untold suffering and historical injustice, are "a non-people" with no state and no history. How much easier then does it become for Israel, the self-proclaimed only democracy in the Middle East, to ethnically cleanse, dispossess and bomb to smithereens the peoples of the besieged Gaza Strip since the events of 7 October 2023? As the global "champions" of liberty turn a blind eye to the situation in Gaza, human rights are being treated as an a la carte menu.

This is the genealogy of hate and violence. The state of Israel, and its Zionist ideology, does not regard Palestinians to be human beings worthy of life. This is evidenced by the astonishing quantum of "collateral damage" since Israel's assault on Gaza began. Children, pregnant women, noncombatants, journalists, health workers, the elderly and the disabled have not been spared. Civilian infrastructure like hospitals and universities have been bombed and bulldozed. Water supplies have been cut off. Millions of people have been systematically displaced from the majority of the Gaza territory and forced into inhumane makeshift camps in the middle of nowhere. But they are, after all, by Meir's dictum, "a non-people", so there is a moral cover for these Euro-American sponsored atrocities.

What is happening to the Palestinians is manifestation of the systems of colonialism and imperialism whose defining logic is dismembering. It has its roots in early period of European colonialism which transformed into contemporary Euro-American imperialism to maintain Western hegemony. These forces dismembered non-Americans from their humanity, relegating them to sub-human status, alterity and statelessness, without nationhood, history, culture and feelings.

Israel as a settler colonizer perceives Palestine as an "empty land", empty of people, culture and history and a future. There are in fact striking similarities between Israel's ideology of racial subjugation by a 'God-chosen people' and apartheid South Africa's belief in racial and religious superiority over an inferior black race.

The defining locus of war, concomitant with the strategic imperative of imperialism is to see the other as nonhuman. Once their humanity is stripped, the moral license to annihilate them is granted. Rachel Busbridge, a senior lecturer at the Australian Catholic University, writes that since the establishment of Israel in 1948, Palestinians have always regarded "Zionism as a colonial settler ideology that has sought to expel them from their land, with the expansionist aim to claim all of historic Palestine as a Jewish state". According to Busbridge, the difference between colonialism and settler colonialism is that the settler colonizer is guided by intention to eliminate the native, whereas the colonizer is mostly driven by and concerned with exploitation of natural resources.

It is for this reason that South Africa brought before the International Court of Justice a case of possible acts of genocide by Israel on the people of Palestine. Drawing from its three significant experiments at the altar of dismemberment in modern history, South Africa, as a proponent of peace and just world order, is rightfully mobilizing the global community to reinstate Palestine into humanity and the global community of nations.

We can assert, therefore, that South Africa's case at the ICJ is an act of "re-membering" the people of Palestine. It is a right course of action as many countries join South Africa in rejecting coloniality and all forms of oppression anywhere in the world. This is a historical mission dating back to the founding of the African National Congress in 1912. The ANC committed democratic South Africa to be in solidarity with all those who continue to struggle. For his part, then ANC president, Chief Albert Luthuli, remarked in 1953 that "our interest in freedom is not confined to ourselves only. We are interested in the liberation of all oppressed people in the whole of Africa and in the world as a whole… Our active interest in the extension of freedom to all people denied it makes us ally ourselves with freedom forces in the world".Democratic South Africa's founding father, Nelson Mandela, famously said, "We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians."

What has been happening at the Hague since South Africa launched its humanist act replayed the scenes at the United Nations during the anti-apartheid struggle days, when the liberation movement and its supporters pleaded with the global community to intervene and end a crime against humanity. It was a long walk to freedom, leading to the isolation of the apartheid regime which ultimately crumbled through the sweat, blood and wisdom of peace-loving people in South Africa and around the world.

Palestine too shall be free. We do well to note that many other countries have joined the South African case at the ICJ where the plausibility of genocide has been established. To quote prominent legal academic and South Africa's former Public Protector advocate Thuli Madonsela: "The fog of war narrative Israel is trying to hide behind does not apply. The fog of war applies when opposing armies exchange fire and accidentally hit civilians as collateral damage. In this case there are no two armies firing at each other. Only Israel is deliberately firing at residential areas where it sent civilians for safety. History will judge global leaders of our time harshly for this inhumanity."

In this connection, what is happening at university campuses across the world is yet another sign that whilst the Euro-American empire may choose indifference and the convenience of geostrategic considerations over human rights, solidarity with the people of Gaza is growing. China calls for a permanent cease-fire and for the creation of two states coexisting peacefully side by side.

The quest for justice for the Palestinian people will endure until their liberation is achieved, as was the case in apartheid South Africa. Acts of "re-membering" are not events but a continuous process until all forms of coloniality, colonialism and imperialism are dismantled and buried so as to never rear their ugly heads again. And yes, we believe that the state of Israel must exist, securely and peacefully, alongside the State of Palestine. The struggle is not against the Jewish people, but a government that is using disproportionate force of lethal power that defies the rules of war. The Jewish people deserve to be safe, as much as the Palestinians have a right to life and statehood. The May 23 decision of the ICJ should be welcomed by all. Finally, the spirit of accountability is prevailing.

The author is a visiting professor at Fudan University and postgraduate student at the University of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. He works as director-general of the National School of Government in South Africa.

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