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From Syria to Gaza: The West’s Humanitarian Double Standards Exposed
As imagines pour out of Gaza of the dead and wounded; whole buildings and blocks destroyed by Israeli shelling, it might seem incomprehensible that anything positive could come out of this horrible situation. But I believe that something hopeful is developing. You see, one of the strongest ideological weapons that the propagandists in the West are able to use to provide cover for their geo-political interests in the Middle East is their supposed concern for the humanity of peoples subjected to “dictatorial and murderous” regimes. That concern became the justification for the war in Iraq, once the “weapons of mass destruction” hustle was exposed for the sham that it was, and was also the rationale for unleashing NATO against Libya and for the current support for the “rebels” in Syria. It has been an effective weapon. It has disarmed and marginalized anti-imperialist radicals, galvanized confused liberals into supporting U.S. intervention and silenced the U.S. domestic human rights movement.
But the cognitive dissonance required to reconcile such expressed concern for suffering people with the images of brutality and death in Gaza has created psychological tensions that are forcing many, for the first time ever, to begin to at least question what they thought they understood about the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Images of Israelis in bikinis running from the beaches of Tel Aviv or from trendy cafes to the sound of air raid sirens, and shots of unexploded rockets falling in open fields in Israel, which at one time would have been enough to engender equivalency for morally-skewed U.S. audiences, now seem curiously unpersuasive when juxtaposed with the images coming out of Gaza of the bodies of families—infants—being pulled out from under the rubble; no warnings, air raid sirens or bunkers for them.
So when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Nytanyahu proudly announces that his country’s “defense” forces carried out over 1,000 air strikes in a tiny area crammed with 1.7 million stateless and trapped Palestinians defended only by a comparatively rag-tag military resistance wildly flinging rockets back at their tormentors, Israeli action begins to, for some, be seen as the grossly disproportionate and obscene spectacle that it really is. But I am not going to exaggerate what is developing. When Human Rights Watch, that veritable mouthpiece for Western imperialism, places the blame squarely with the Palestinians, many are convinced by its self-declared “objective” and “non-political” reporting. And when President Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton sternly lecture Hamas for effectively bringing this calamity on themselves and give unconditional support for Israel to defend itself against the people it has been dominating in one of the longest occupations in human history, their speeches still resonate with many.
But there are different narratives beginning to be explored in the virtual world that question Israeli military actions. Even mainstream media outlets like the New York Times and Washington Post ran stories and images that for the first time did not read like something that had been dictated to them by the Israeli lobby AIPAC. Such growing skepticism is going to impact the ability of policymakers in the U.S. not only to continue their unconditional support for Israel, but also to sustain a moral argument for intervention in Syria, once they are able to shift attention back to that latest imperialist adventure. With the images of destruction and death in Gaza still fresh in the minds of the American people, the position that the West must take action against an Assad government responding to domestic insurgents armed to the teeth by U.S. client states, while the Israeli army, one of the most powerful in the world, is justified, if not encouraged, to bomb, kill and destroy in the name of defense, will be shown to be the gross hypocrisy that it is.
So for those of us who have seen the demobilization of the peace and anti-war movement under President Obama, struggled against turning “humanitarian intervention” into a tool of Western imperialism, and been horrified by the tendency among progressives to accept a framework advanced by the U.S. in which those lives that seem to be in alignment with U.S. and Western interests are somehow more valuable than other lives, we welcome this tiny crack in the ideological armament of the West. We recognize that a central element of the global struggle against oppression takes place in the terrain of values and consciousness and that the more people in the U.S. develop the critical consciousness to “see” the real interests involved in moves by their government and their allies, the better it will be for the world’s people.
As the elites of the U.S. and Europe desperately struggle to maintain their 500-year hegemonic position in a world that is increasingly turning against them, true progressives who have purged themselves of the dominating rationalizations of Eurocentric, white supremacy can build on this developing awareness to unmask the political and economic interests underlying foreign policy decisions coming out of the capitals of Europe and the U.S. We can develop a new humanitarianism based on the principle of reciprocal solidarity with the peoples of the world who are struggling against the ravages of global neoliberal capital and colonialism. And we can stand in principled solidarity with the people in Syria committed to non-violent political change and the Palestinian people who want an end to occupation and the attempted negation of their humanity.
This is the breach that we might have; let’s find the political courage to fill this breach with a new vision of what is possible.