Palestine, the Poppy and the Mask
Over the last week or so, three things have taken place which, when bounced into the same basket of news, might cause an impartial observer to feel that he was trapped in an international web of shallow deceit.
Revealed in no particular order of importance, much as this week’s X factor results, the Palestinian bid for statehood appears to have collapsed, just days after its UNESCO success, owing in no small part to the failure of France and the United Kingdom to stand by their soliloquies on democracy and human rights; Obama and Sarkozy have been caught expressing their true feelings for the “lying” Israeli leader off-camera, and the British Prime Minister and the heir to the royal throne have intervened internationally in support of their footballers’ right to wear the poppy (those same footballers themselves caught in a frenzy of hyped allegations about racism) in a friendly match against Spain.
What is the connection, you may ask, wearing a puzzled face? In the theatre of international relations, the answer is, of course, “the mask”.
Let’s start with the poppy, the wearing of which now appears to have become a default act of patriotism, even ignoring the fact that the majority of the population probably could not answer the Trivial Pursuit question of ‘which act is said to have precipitated the First World War?’ It does not matter whether those thousands of innocent deaths – the deaths of the young soldiers sent to the frontlines in the face of certain slaughter – brought any discernable benefit to the country, or whether John Terry and Frank Lampard could name those benefits today. What matters is the position, internationally, that we support our troops, unquestionably. The same position that the British media adopted towards the Iraq war eight years ago, without questioning whether it was more patriotic to bring back young men and women from a war that was entirely unnecessary and unjustifiable, not to mention unlawful, for reasons that were never truthfully spelled out. The poppy has become the mask behind which we can believe that the wars fought in our name have been honest and earnest, pursuing democracy and human rights, whilst studiously ignoring what either of those notions actually entail.
One thing that both democracy and human rights ought to bring, for example, is a legal and social culture of non-discrimination, a fundamental duty that States must promote within their borders in order to be worthy of any democratic label. A failure to acknowledge universal support of the right not to be discriminated against in the provision of goods and services, in the distribution of assets and wealth by the State, as well as the non-segregation of citizens, are amongst the most fundamental rights of them all. Indeed, it was the converse position on discrimination, namely ethnocide and genocide in the Second World War, that led to the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in December 1948. Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people, speaks the Preamble of the Declaration that arose as a direct consequence of the Holocaust.
Yet today, the Israeli state discriminates against its Arab and Muslim citizens in so brazen a fashion, putting up a mask of democracy so thoroughly, that few outside its borders fully appreciate the scale of its discriminatory practices. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has slammed Israel for these practices which prevent Palestinians from exercising their most basic civil rights, including the right to freedom of movement within its borders, rights to access and security of land, rights to education and employment as well as public privileges, as well as the right to return. Israel’s official, and illegitimate position, is that the Convention does not apply to the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Yet the policies of segregation are so deeply embedded in Israel’s legal landscape that nothing short of a blanket equality provision, such as those created in post-apartheid South Africa, would begin to redress the balance created. The effective requirements of discrimination law might enable the beginnings of a single, fair and equitable state for both Jewish and Palestinian peoples, but there is no political appetite for this. The only remaining answer for a people de-humanized within their own borders is to seek political independence. Yet the international community, for all their talk of human rights and democracy, is unwilling to support their bid for independence either.
The only remaining hope, then, for the Palestinians, is for the international community to speak out with passion against a legal regime that segregates the communities in a way that America ought to be ashamed to support, given its own recent history. The sad, terrible truth for Palestinians is that nobody dares speak up for them in a forum that really matters. Amongst the permanent members of the UN Security Council, the fear of upsetting the United States is so great that Britain and France dare not engender its wrath by voting in favour of Palestinian statehood.
Obama and Sarkozy are right to say that Netanyahu has lied and bullied his way into a position where nobody dare criticize Israel publicly. They are wrong, though, to be so afraid to need to make their own criticisms behind a mask of secrecy. In order to force change for the Palestinian people, the world’s leaders need to have the formidable belief and purpose that David Cameron and Prince William have shown the global community this week in pursuit of the fundamental right to wear the poppy. Palestinians are, perhaps, slightly more fed up than Obama. They, too, have to deal with Netanyahu every single day. If only the Palestinians had the patriotic fortunes of pinning everything on the petals of a poppy.
November 13th 2011.