A version of this article first appeared in The Star Editor’s Choice application for iOS and Android tablets.
Last week, a truce was reached between Israel and Hamas, ending days of intense fighting between the two sides. While Hamas fired rockets into Israel, the Israel Defence Force (“IDF”) laid siege on Gaza. This operation, known as ‘Pillar of Defence’, left more than 100 Palestinians dead and nearly a thousand wounded.
Palestine is the rallying cry of the Muslim world. The cause resonates with Muslims all over the globe, from Sudan to Sumatra, India to Indonesia. The occupation of Palestine is seen as a great injustice inflicted by the West upon the Palestinians and perpetuated by the unwavering support given by the United States of America for the state of Israel.
We Malay-Muslims are no different. This latest round of violence dominated our headlines. On Facebook walls and Twitter feeds, we talk of boycotts and donating funds to Gaza. We kept ourselves updated with what was happening, sharing stories and photos, giving our two cents worth of opinions and we demonstrated after Jumaat prayers.
The issue even warranted an emergency motion in the Dewan Rakyat. Members of Parliament took turns to denounce Israel and declare their support for the Palestinians. The Dewan Rakyat unanimously (would anyone dare to disagree?) adopted a motion to condemn Israel’s attack on Gaza. Bi-partisanship seems like such an elusive commodity when it comes to local issues, yet an international cause with no direct bearing on Malaysia managed a bi-partisan response.
From this outpouring of emotions and of outrage, we bring to fore our deep-rooted prejudices against the Jews. Most of us have never met a Jewish person before, but we have nothing but hatred for them. We use phrases like ‘Yahudi laknatullah’ (translation: Jews, damned by God). A book known as ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’, already denounced as a hoax for decades, is still referenced frequently as proof of ‘Jewish conspiracy’ to control the world. Some of us even condoned the holocaust, citing how Adolf Hitler should have ‘finished the job’ back then. The actions of the Israeli government are equated with every single Jewish person in the world.
But the Jews are a nation and Judaism is a religion. Zionism, which gave rise to Israel, is an ideology. Israel is a country and Israeli is a nationality. There are Israeli-Jews that ordered the attacks, and there are Israeli-Jews who are trying to attain a peaceful solution to the conflict. There are also movements by some Jews against the very creation of the state of Israel itself. So how can we hold every single Jew and every single Israeli responsible for the plight of the Palestinians and the larger Muslim world?
Have we forgotten when we were ourselves labeled ‘terrorists’ because of the actions of a few Muslims? Yet we have no qualms with tarring a whole nation with the same brush as the actions of some.
The conflict is not a religious war, despite what our sermons tell us. It is a humanitarian issue. We should care about what is happening to the people of Gaza not just because they are Muslims, but because they are humans. We may have a certain affinity to them as fellow Muslims, but that in itself should not be our sole motivation. The loss of any life, whether by an Israeli missile or a Hamas rocket, should be mourned, for it is humanity that suffers.
That is not to say we blind ourselves to how disproportionate this conflict really is. That we try to pretend as if this is an even war, the belligerents on almost equal footing, in a misguided attempt to be neutral. Being objective and fair, does not mean that we cannot take sides and we cannot condemn Israel for the atrocities it has committed with impunity, simply because it has the backing of its allies.
In our clamour to stand with the Gazans, to show that we care and to display our altruism, we expose our own hypocrisies. We are all experts in the Middle East conflict, we are all keyboard jihadists and we are all Free Palestine activists. Once the bombings stopped, we forget the Gazans as easily as how we suddenly remembered them. Our Palestinian fervor dissipates until the next time the Israeli government decides to flex its military muscle for ‘self defence’.
Meanwhile, not very far from Palestine, the Syrian uprising has been raging for more than a year. Nearly 40,000 Syrians have lost their lives in the conflict, thousands more injured and nearly 500,000 displaced. Yet, we hardly batted an eyelid. Where are the fundraisers, the social media chatter and the emergency motion?