As the genocide in Gaza proceeds, the Israel Defence Forces are literally shooting and bombing everything moving and unmoving.
Mosques, churches, schools, hospitals, homes, power plants, water plants, ambulances, convoys of fleeing refugees, and even aid trucks coming from Rafah are considered legitimate targets and fired upon without any warning. All in the name of eliminating Hamas, who seem to be hiding everywhere, “disguised” as elderly folk, ambulance drivers, worshippers, and schoolchildren. Israeli defence forces have committed every war crime under the sun in the name of the right to self-defence, supported by the United States, Western powers, and recently the G7 that met in Tokyo.
The fact that they are the occupying forces and therefore not entitled to claim self-defence under the Geneva Convention is a moot point, not when you have Uncle Sam picking up the bill and supplying all the bombs and missiles they need and using its veto power to prevent Israel from facing any retribution for its murderous rampage. Malaysia is among the nations that are vocal in their demands for a complete ceasefire and in condemning the “barbarism” perpetrated by the Zionist government.
The term “barbaric” was actually used by our PMX Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim when he addressed a packed Axiata Stadium, Bukit Jalil, in support of the Palestinian cause on the 24th of October. PMX himself did a whirlwind tour to the Middle East to rally support for the besieged Gazans, although the results have yet to see the light of day.
Nonetheless, despite the fervour and high emotions invoked generally in the country, there have emerged recently dissenting voices urging caution and invoking fear at the repercussions of our support for Palestine should Uncle Sam, like always, take revenge against critics of its protégé Israel by applying sanctions on countries that support the liberation struggle in Palestine.
Their main thesis is that, as a small country, Malaysia is subject to external forces, and since we have no direct connection or influence upon the warring parties, we should tone down, “jaga our periuk nasi sendiri” (so as to speak), and instead, wait until the dust has settled before doing anything else. Malaysia tends to lose if it maintains its present policy of strong support for freedom and justice for the Palestinians.
In this article, I am arguing for the reverse. Malaysia needs to be more vocal and proactive in reducing the suffering of the poor Palestinians, not only for their own sake but also for upholding our own moral integrity.
This article is divided into two parts. The first part deals with the casus belli underlying the reasons behind Hamas initiating the conflict on October 7, while for the second part, I will propose the role Malaysia can and should play in helping the Palestinians in their struggle against Israeli oppression.
In this first part, I will try to answer the question, “Was Hamas wrong in initiating conflicts on October 7th?” which is an important question on many people’s minds.
The United Nations Secretary General Antonio Gutierez rightly said that “the conflict in Gaza did not form in a vacuum.” His comments, by the way, infuriated the Israelis and caused Gilad Erdan, Minister of Public Security, to call for Gutierez’s resignation. More about him later.
The casus belli, or justification for Hamas initiating the conflict on October 7, was stated as three: 1) to free the Palestinian prisoners; 2) to stop Israeli aggression on al-Aqsa Mosque; and 3) to break the siege of Gaza. Other analysts also included 4) the wish to stop the normalisation of ties between Saudi Arabia, which could seal the killing of any hope for a Palestinian state, and also 5) to highlight and stop the attacks of extremist Jews with the support and connivance of the Israeli army.
Let us check the veracity of these reasons. Let us be guided by facts and data. First things first. Most parts of Palestine have been under occupation since the partition under the UN mandate of 1947, and the violent seizure of lands since the 1948 Nakba incident, and the 1967 six-day war. International laws allow Palestinians the right to resist the occupation through armed resistance (just like Ukrainians – the narrative of which is conveniently swept under the carpet by the media when it comes to talking about the case of the Palestinians).
By the same token, Israel cannot claim to be accorded the right to self-defence. Hamas is one of the parties resisting the occupation, while Israel is the aggressor. An aggressor, the one who initiated the conflict and caused all the suffering, cannot claim to be victimised by the victim. Under international laws, any Palestinians captured by the Israelis during any armed conflicts should be accorded prisoner of war status, which has special provisions, rights, and preventions of abuse under the Geneva Convention.
In 2003, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) reported that Israel does not recognise Palestinian prisoners as POWs. Instead, they are treated as politically motivated criminals or terrorists and either charged with terrorist offences or violent crimes or administratively detained without charge.
These include men, women, and children, and some are arrested for minor misdemeanours such as being caught carrying and waving a Palestinian flag. In April 2022, there were 4,450 Palestinian prisoners, including 160 children, 32 women, and over 530 administrative detainees (indefinitely incarcerated without any charges).
The United Nations Committee Against Torture in 1997 found evidence of systematic torture used by Israel against Palestinian prisoners. Israel uses imprisonment as a form of collective punishment. An estimated one million Palestinians have been arrested and imprisoned since 1967, and one in five Palestinians have been arrested and charged by the military occupational force.
An estimated 12,000 children had been detained by Israeli forces since the Second Intifada. This issue has not improved but continues to be a sore point affecting every Palestinian family due to rampant abuse, and despite damning reports by organisations like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, etc., Israel continues to flaunt international law. This has gone on since 1967, and conditions were reported to be worsening.
Violence in the West Bank
Violence against Palestinians on the West Bank has also intensified due to extremist Israeli settlers numbering 700,000 in all who live in illegal settlements established on private Palestinian land in blatant disregard for international law.
These settlers believe that as God’s chosen people, they are entitled to take over the whole of Judea and Samaria (lands comprising the West Bank), and they resort to violence to ethnically cleanse these lands of their Palestinian population. About 200 Palestinians have been killed since this year, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs, or OCHA. These figures are before October 7.
OCHA also reported that on average, three settler-related incidents per day had befallen the hapless Palestinians by these settlers, whose attacks are often carried out under the protection of Israeli soldiers. In 2022, the daily average was two incidents per day. Just recently, a settler shot dead a Palestinian farmer as he tended his orchard. Needless to say, no action was taken.
Settlers typically destroyed trees, crops, and property and sometimes prevented farmers from reaching their lands. OCHA also reported that many herding farmers had to abandon their lands and move to towns and cities – typical tactics used for ethnic cleansing.
This is a fact, and even the US State Department, and most recently, even US Vice President Kamala Harris, has raised objections and called upon Israel to rein in the settlers to no apparent effect. The Israelis realise America has to play to the public gallery in these situations for PR purposes, but they will never take these gentle admonishments any further.
Al-Aqsa Mosque in Peril
Al-Aqsa Mosque is internationally agreed upon as a Muslim holy site, where Muslims have the right to worship, and others may enter as visitors respecting the sanctity of the site.
This is the supposed status quo, applied at a holy site that lies in an internationally recognised occupied territory. In 2015, the Minister of Public Security, hardliner Gilad Erdan, lifted some of the restrictions on Jewish prayer at Al-Aqsa.
A new narrative about “maintaining freedom of worship for Jews on the Mount” emerged. Israeli hardliners in the government publicly proclaim that Al-Aqsa should be treated as a Jewish holy site rather than an exclusively Muslim site of worship. Their aim here is to eradicate the internationally agreed status quo at Al-Aqsa and to end the Islamic Waqf’s authority as the official caretaker of Muslim holy sites in occupied east Jerusalem.
The number of Jewish worshippers who enter Al-Aqsa increased from fewer than 2,000 in 2013 to 50,000. Many of the Jewish visitors are now allowed to perform prayers in Al-Aqsa, contravening agreed guidelines.
What made it worse were the violent and provocative attacks of the Israeli Army upon worshippers in the Aqsa Mosque during the Ramadan month of 2023, hitting them, firing tear gas, and killing and arresting worshippers in particular. Israeli forces continued to raid Al-Qibla Hall in Al-Aqsa Mosque. They used force and the threat of arrest to force worshippers out during the night. Scenes of brutal violence and mass arrests emerged. On one night, 440 worshippers were arrested.
The High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel repeatedly issued statements calling the establishment of Jewish religious rituals inside Al-Aqsa “a violation of its religious sanctity” and “a violation of international agreements and obligations by Israel to change the internationally recognised status quo; of course to no avail.
Had this been allowed to persist, it would not be long before the whole Al-Aqsa Mosque is taken over by the Israeli authority and turned into a multi-faith place of worship where Jews can come in as and when they like, and if the Muslim world sat idly and allowed this to happen, then the next step would be for the mosque to be turned into a temple exclusively for the Jews, as the hardliners in Netanyahu’s government were demanding.
This step-by-step strategy of Israel to alter the status of Al-Aqsa Mosque “by changing the facts on the ground” was noted by the Palestinians, who saw this as the final act of provocation and an attack on the last-standing symbol of centrality to Palestinian identity in occupied Jerusalem.
This thus formed the second casus belli for Hamas in initiating the conflict since, unless they acted, no one else would or could. Hence, it is absolutely untrue for anyone to assume or imply that Al-Aqsa should be treated as a separate issue from the conflict in Gaza. Saving Al-Aqsa from the ruthless clutches of the Jewish hardliners and what they proposed to do with it eventually is one of the core reasons for this conflict.
Blockade of Gaza
The third casus belli was to lift the siege of Gaza.
For a glimpse of life in Gaza before the Al-Aqsa Storm attack, let us refer to a report by the United Nations’ Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestine:
“The Gaza Strip is a war-ravaged, poverty-stricken area, locked into 365 square kilometres and living under a tight illegal blockade on land, air, and sea, which entered its tenth year in June 2016. The blockade, in addition to recurrent armed violence and conflict, remains the principal cause of the socio-economic and psychosocial crisis in Gaza today.
The restrictions on the movement of people and goods continue to collectively punish the civilian population, affecting every aspect of life in Gaza, undermining the local economy, and threatening the enjoyment of most human rights, in clear violation of Israel’s legal obligations under international law. In addition, since restrictions have been imposed by the Egyptian authorities from June 2013 onwards, the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt remains closed except for a few days per year.”
An Oxfam report stated as follows:
“Tougher restrictions for accessing Gaza via Kerem Shalom, the main commercial crossing. As a consequence, a really limited amount of fuel and cooking gas reaches hospitals, homes, and businesses. The fishing zone reduced from 6 to 3 nautical miles (preventing fishermen from accessing 85% of the fishing waters agreed under the Oslo Accords). Almost half of the working-age population are unemployed.”
Another report by UNICEF:
- Unemployment levels in Gaza are amongst the highest in the world: the Q1 jobless rate in 2022 was 46.6%, compared with an average of 34.8% in 2006.
- Youth unemployment for the same period (ages 15–29) stands at 62.5%.
- 31 % of households in Gaza have difficulties meeting essential education needs, such as tuition fees and books, due to a lack of financial resources.
- 1.3 million out of the 2.1 million Palestinians in Gaza (62%) require food assistance.
- At its current operating capacity, the Gaza Power Plant can only produce up to 80 megawatts (MW), supplemented by 120 MW purchased from Israel, meeting about 50% of the electricity demand in Gaza (400–450 MW).
In 2021, rolling power cuts averaged 11 hours per day. 78% of piped water in Gaza is unfit for human consumption.” These are just samples of three independent reports by world-renowned organisations to tell us the depressing story of life in Gaza.
Notice that the term “illegal and contravention of international law” occurs everywhere in this article—all perpetuated by Israel—but do we ever hear Israel being called to account for their transgressions, even a single one? Not in my lifetime, I guess.
This blockade has been in place since 2006 – 2017 long and relentless years. How long should the Gazan population live under such inhumane conditions? Is this not a just cause to resist continued occupation?
Gideon Levy, the outspoken anti-Zionist Israeli Journalist for Haaretz in a speech (you can find it on TikTok) said that “Palestinians are treated as sub-humans and are seen by most Israelis as not equal to Israelis.” “Israel” he said, “practices the most extreme form of apartheid today. They and the Palestinians share the same piece of land but whilst one party lives in relative comfort, the other lives in conditions of extreme deprivation and suffering.” He also recalls a time when he interviewed Ehud Barak former Israeli Prime Minister (1999-2001) and he posed him this question, “Sir if you have been born a Palestinian, what would you have done?” Ehud Barak, a former general of the IDF was startled but managed to answer truthfully “I would have joined the terrorists.”
Abraham Accords: The Noose
Some analysts also included the Abraham Accords especially the looming accord between Saudi Arabia and Israel was also a key trigger, and in my opinion, I tend to agree with this assessment. Many of you probably have heard of this Accord but I doubt if many have gone to the trouble to investigate what constitutes the Accords and its implications. The Abraham Accords were created during Donald Trump’s US presidency in 2020 and he proudly proclaimed them a “game changer” that will reshape the entire Middle East.
Basically, it was aimed at normalising relations between Arab countries and Israel through the establishment of full diplomatic relations and economic, social, political, and economic ties. In return, the participating Arab countries will be rewarded by America with some incentives according to their strategic needs and wants. The first Arab countries to sign these accords were the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco in 2020.
UAE for example, had ambitions of improving its economy by welcoming Israeli businessmen and investing in high technology, but it was alarmed by an increasingly hostile and assertive Iran.
Security of UAE is to be guaranteed by the USA. The USA threw in a carrot in the form of offering fifty advanced F-35 fighter planes should the UAE get on the bandwagon. (In reality, getting the planes involved a lot of pre-conditions, notably that the planes were of lower specifications than the ones that Israel possessed, and the UAE eventually declined to purchase the planes.)
Morrocco signed so that the US would recognise its claim over Western Sahara, which was hotly contested by Algeria. Sudan also signed and later duly got its name removed from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism. The accord was cleverly drafted so as to look as if it would also incorporate some form of final settlement to the Palestinian-Israeli two-state solution, but this was just eye-wash and mere lip service because both Arab signatories and Israel wanted to get into bed as soon as possible to attain individual national objectives, and neither party was really serious about seeking a diplomatic solution to the Palestinian issues.
Let me ask a simple question. Three years after the accords were signed in August 2020, did the Palestinian agenda move even an inch towards a resolution? The simple answer is no.
In fact, day by day, Israel is moving to eat up the remaining lands in Palestine, opening up even newer illegal settlements, and even causing more violence in the occupied territories and Gaza. They will only stop when all of the West Bank and Al-Aqsa are firmly in their hands and all Palestinians are forced to leave in a repetition of the 1948 Nakba.
These are their openly stated aims, especially the extremist elements in the present Israeli government. Let me present two points of the accords signed by the UAE and Israel, and I will draw your attention to the items in bold. What are the implications if an Arab country signs the Abrahamic accord? Look at Articles 4 and 6 of the Accord, which I reproduce below.
Articles of Accord
No 4. · Peace and Stability:
No 4. · Peace and Stability: The Parties shall attach profound importance to mutual understanding, cooperation, and coordination between them in the spheres of peace and stability, as a fundamental pillar of their relations and as a means for enhancing those spheres in the Middle East as a whole. They undertake to take the necessary steps to prevent any terrorist or hostile activities against each other on or from their respective territories as well as deny any support for such activities abroad or allowing such support on or from their respective territories. Recognizing the new era of peace and friendly relations between them, as well as the centrality of stability to the well-being of their respective peoples and of the region, the Parties undertake to consider and discuss these matters regularly, and to conclude detailed agreements and arrangements on coordination and cooperation.
6. Mutual Understanding and Co-existence: The Parties undertake to foster mutual understanding, respect, co-existence and a culture of peace between their societies in the spirit of their common ancestor, Abraham, and the new era of peace and friendly relations ushered in by this Treaty, including by cultivating people-to-people programs, interfaith dialogue and cultural, academic, youth, scientific, and other exchanges between their peoples. They shall conclude and implement the necessary visa and consular services agreements and arrangements so as to facilitate efficient and secure travel for their respective nationals to the territory of each other. The Parties shall work together to counter extremism, which promotes hatred and division, and terrorism and its justifications, including by preventing radicalization and recruitment and by combating incitement and discrimination. They shall work towards establishing a High-Level Joint Forum for Peace and Co-Existence dedicated to advancing these goals.
You do not need to be a rocket scientist to see that in both articles, both sides must take joint actions to counter terrorism, prevent radicalization, combatting incitement, deny their countries to base any hostile activities to the other parties, deny support ad nauseum.
Who stands to gain the most from these accords?
Simple answer: Israel. It stands to gain everything, and the Palestinian resistance movements like Hamas, Islamic Jihad, etc. will be denied any form of support, funding, or access to any media in those countries to put their message across. Not only resistance movements, but any peaceful Palestinian NGOs, aid agencies, or, for example, BDS movements or news agencies like Aljazeera Jazeera that use these countries as their bases may also be affected because their activities can be interpreted as being “hostile” and “prejudicial” to Israel.
They too may have to go or tone down if their host countries interpret these articles the way they were crafted.
And who will be doing the interpretation? The US, of course. In fact, the US was the first country to designate Hamas as a terrorist organisation in 1997, despite Hamas never having conducted its resistance activities outside Palestine and Israel. American insistence over the years led many European countries to follow suit.
What the US does, the rest follows. Saudi Arabia has always been the top target on the American Israeli list to join the normalisation bandwagon. As the centre of Islam, where the two holy mosques are situated, they consider Saudi Arabia to be the unofficial leader of the Muslim world.
If the Saudis can be persuaded to come on board, this would be a major coup for Israel and its accomplice, the US. With American connivance and abetting, the normalisation initiatives are not the “Middle East game changer to peace,” as former President Trump was trumpeting, but actually a historic scam game or betrayal of epic proportions to the Palestinian struggle towards peace and independence.
The accord seeks to finally deny the Palestinian resistance movements legality to operate in the Arab world. Confined to the occupied territories, the architects hope that this will slowly strangle and finally eradicate the Palestinian issue once and for all. When viewed in the broad context of the developments in the occupied territories and Arab world, the decision by Hamas to initiate conflict (which to some does not make sense or seems suicidal) does make a lot of strategic sense.
The United Nations, upon which much was expected, proved to be an utter failure in resolving the conflicts over the years. As a member of the Security Council holding veto power, the US has voted on 53 Security Council resolutions critical of or unfavourable to Israel.
As the relentless bombing in Gaza was exacting a terrible loss of life of innocent civilians, they vetoed a proposed resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, claiming it was “counter-productive” and may allow Hamas to regroup.
At the same time, they were rushing plane loads of yet more bombs to replenish the inventory of the IDF and continue its genocidal spree. Ukraine was put to one side, and a special budget of USD 14 billion made its way through the Senate and Congress to provide yet more weapons to an already powerful IDF army.
UN agencies that made reports unfavourable to Israel were not picked up by the world media, and only the narrative that stated Israel has the right to self-defence made its way to mainstream media. So cross out the UN if you hope for justice and fairness. Arab countries, with the exception of a few countries, proved to be good spectators rather than active players in resolving the issue (which, by the way, was expected).
Countless meetings upon meetings without any tangible outcomes you can cross most of them out as usual.
What about the acknowledged president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas the octogenarian PLO leader since 2004? This conflict highlighted his helpless and emasculated administration on the West Bank, feeble and unable even to protect the West Bank Arabs from violent settler attacks, much less to protect Gaza.
Nope, the PLO is not trusted only by Muslims but also by Palestinian Christians. Refer to the interview with Hanan Ashrawi, the former Christian minister of the PLO. When asked about Hamas initiation of hostilities, she simply replied “These are the acts of resistance against the occupation army.”
According to the latest news, Mahmoud Abbas unashamedly proposed himself as the leader of Gaza should Hamas were to go; a survey showed that the majority of Gazans do not want him to be their leader. So cross out Mahmoud Abbas.
Hence in this context what should Hamas do? Palestine was losing land day by day, even what is left cannot form a viable state. Aqsa was heading upon a path of change of ownership and status. West Bank Arabs were being attacked by settlers, killed, and driven out without any protection. Gaza was suffering intolerable suffering due to the Egyptian/Israeli blockade against the Palestinians in Gaza.
Al Sisi’s hatred of Hamas is almost equal to that of Bibi Netanyahu since he associated them to the banned Muslim Brotherhood after the illegal overthrow of the democratically elected president Morsi.
The Abrahamic Accord is in fact a tightening on the noose around the necks of the resistance movement in Palestine as a whole. If nothing was done, there will be no Palestine left to fight for. No Al-Aqsa Mosque, holy to every Muslims in the whole Muslim world, Palestinians will face a second Nakba with the inevitable shedding of innocent blood.
Arab countries too busy with domestic priorities to merit just a cursory and hollow call for a resolution to the problem of Palestine. And yet if they fight the Israelis, they can expect a vicious retribution by the Israelis as what has actually happened.
Option1. Do not fight – inevitable slow and painful death.
Option 2. Fight – quick and painless death.
Classic case of Hobson’s Choice where there is actually no better alternative – all leading to the same end.
The Gazans, and I repeat the Gazans (not just Hamas but its population) chose the latter option. Fight with resolute determination and spirit against incredible odds. Die with honour and dignity intact. Resolute faith in the Almighty. Just look at all the social media flooding the internet. Brave men and women and even children facing death with courage, hope and minimal complaints.
The Palestinian resistance (including Hamas) has made their decision to fight to highlight their own desperate plight to the world that has chosen to ignore them for the last 75 years. They knew the odds were very much against them to defeat Israel and America with their combined military might. An assorted band of irregular army of guerrillas waging war against the strongest military power in the Middle East aided and abetted directly by the strongest military power in the whole world.
A David versus Goliaths battle, only this time David consists of Palestinians and Big Bad Goliaths are the Israelis and Americans. Yet unless a strong shock was delivered to shake the region, nothing will change, and they will slowly wither away into obscurity. Oct 7 was that shock, a typhoon that smashed the aura of invincibility of the Israeli army, caused panic and confusion within the Israeli government and military high command.
Israel needed a massive infusion of arms and ammunition by America to continue the fight. Even now as the Israeli army punched through the lines and are now blockading Gaza City, the resistance is fighting back with fierce determination, resolute and unyielding courage. Losing the narrative, this time Israel and the West cannot control and shape the narrative of this war as in countless wars before this.
The social media and in particular TikTok is reaching out to the billions of viewers in the West and East. Global protests are being organized daily, Israel’s favourite tactic of creating mayhem and slaughter and later playing victim is being undermined in real time.
The mask is slipping from its face to reveal the devil behind the angelic image. Netanyahu will probably go after this saga is over. He is hated by fellow Israelis for trying to derail their democratic rights previously and now his blunder pre and post October 7 has been the final nail in his coffin.
Many westerners fed with years of pro-Israeli propaganda are suddenly viewing images which have changed their perceptions and world view.
Even in America, pro-Palestinian sentiment is growing very strongly and is threatening to derail Biden’s presidential election in 2024. He has lost the Arab votes in crucial states. Christian and Jewish organisations and individuals are marching in support for Palestine for indeed this is more than just a religious conflict but a humanitarian catastrophe that has no place in the 21st century.
This is an unintended consequence of this war.
For the Gazans who chose Hamas as their political leaders, they were aware of the intended cost of their actions. They know too well the cruelty of the Israeli army, like a candle they chose to cast the light unto the dark room at the cost of their own lives.
They need not ask permission from anyone even friendly countries like Malaysia because this struggle involves them and nobody else in the world who chose to abandon them.
We may not agree with their actions, but we should respect the courage of their convictions.
When viewed in the whole context of the socio-political suffering of the Palestinians and their lack of viable options in following the peace process, what Hamas is doing is justified both under international law and natural justice. As president Recep Tayeb Erdogan mentioned in Turkey, “Hamas is not a terrorist organisation but liberation fighters. They are mujahideen working to liberate their lands and people” In Part 2, I will be discussing what role Malaysia can and should play in helping the Palestinians in their struggle against Israeli oppression.
Prof Dr Awaluddin Mohamed Shaharoun
Member of IKRAM Akademia
Photo: Al Jazeera