“I write at a moment of great anguish for the world,” Craig Mokhiber began his letter of departure as the director of the United Nation’s human rights office in New York. He said “a genocide [was] unfolding before our eyes” and the organisation he served seemed powerless to stop it. He was talking about Israel’s mass killings and blockade of 2.2 million Palestinian civilians in Gaza.
The human rights lawyer, who retired last weekend, had lived in Gaza and reported on human rights abuses there as a UN official. For three decades, he worked for the organisation during the genocides against Tutsi people in Rwanda, Bosnian Muslims, Yazidi Kurds murdered by Isis, and Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. He wrote that after “the dust settled” each time, it was clear the UN had failed in its duty to prevent mass atrocities.
Israel’s current bombardment and besiegement of Gaza, Mokhiber said in his letter to Volker Turk, the High Commissioner for Refugees, is “a textbook case of genocide. What’s more,” he added, “the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, and much of Europe are wholly complicit in the horrific assault.”
Since Mokhiber penned his farewell letter, the world has been trembling even more precariously at the mercy of its opposing axes of power. When someone who has spent his career striving to keep it safer heads for the horizon in despair, we should be very worried.
Free elections and representative parliaments are to be cherished, but without plurality and respect for human rights, some of the most self-satisfied democracies are like Swiss cheese – full of holes
Israel’s unconscionable onslaught against Gazan civilians in response to Hamas’s barbaric slaughter and hostage-taking in Israel has brought the false premise that underpins our planet’s most powerful axis into sharp focus, that premise being a presumption of moral superiority.
The largest axis of influence comprises big democratic states. The US and the UK pride themselves on being the father and mother of all democracies. Israel, as they are wont to reiterate, is the only democratic state in the Middle East. Ergo, Israel belongs on their side – the side of the good guys.
Last week, the UN general assembly managed, at last, to pass a resolution about Israel’s merciless, almost month-long assault on Gaza. It called for a humanitarian truce. This was a milk-and-water compromise designed for digestion by a toothless body. As long at the UN Security Council remains the preserve of its five permanent members, the US, Russia, the UK, China and France, the globe’s opposing axes of power – with China and Russia on the opposite side – keep a stranglehold on our planet. They pick their sides and they stick with them through thick and thin.
The disturbing reality about some of these self-congratulatory democracies is that, actually, they are not all they are cracked up to be. Free elections and representative parliaments are to be cherished, but without plurality and respect for human rights, some of the most self-satisfied democracies are like Swiss cheese – full of holes.
Civil liberties, including the right to due process and fair trial, form a pillar of the democratic code, but there are many people in Northern Ireland, for instance, who feel these liberties have been denied them by the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act. Despite consensus opposition to the Bill among political parties and civic society, Westminster went ahead and made it law, thus prohibiting new investigations of Troubles-era killings as well as cancelling civil cases and inquests. That measure no more safeguards the administration of justice than did Boris Johnson’s illegal proroguing of parliament.
When tens of thousands of people took to the streets of London last weekend to call for a halt to Israel’s onslaught on Gaza, Suella Braverman, Britain’s Home Secretary, branded it a “hate march”, showing utter contempt for the peaceful wishes of the vast majority who had participated.
What crimes were committed by the 420 children, on average, being murdered in Gaza every day? Yet the supposedly democratic axis continues to defend Israel’s warring campaign
The moneyed American version of democracy culminates in a farcical election choice between two doddery white men to run a massive, multi-ethnic country where anybody can buy a gun and innocent bystanders get killed by them almost every day; a country that still executes people, and where those of colour are disproportionately represented in its jails.
No matter how often Israeli politicians state that the military bombardment of Gaza is lawful, it is not. The watching world knows the truth. It is illegal to directly target civilians who did no wrong. What crimes were committed by the 420 children, on average, being murdered in Gaza every day? Yet the supposedly democratic axis continues to defend Israel’s warring campaign. Nestling within this axis are some of Europe’s erstwhile colonists and imperialists whose present-day wealth and power gives them a free pass to join the side of the self-righteous. If these putative model democracies genuinely believed in democratic principles, they would have stopped Israel’s killing machines weeks ago.
As wars are usually kindled by failures of diplomacy, it would make more sense if neutral states with a history of respecting human rights and civil liberties, and a track record in diplomacy, were made the peace brokers of our world. The Unesco constitution states that “since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed”.
This island has tragically learned the lesson that a state created on a sectarian template is a state doomed to violent upheaval. From day one, it elevates the citizens of one religion over everyone else. Look at what it has done in Afghanistan. Can such a state ever be truly democratic, whether it is Muslim or Jewish or Protestant or Catholic?
After the Holocaust – the most horrifying genocide in world history – it was agreed that Jewish people needed their own homeland where they would be safe. That was an entirely understandable decision in the aftermath of the slaughter of Jewish men, women and children by Hitler’s Nazis, but it was a recipe for disaster in that it sowed the seeds of injustice.
After Hamas killers broke into Israel, murdering 1,400 men, women and children and kidnapping more than 200 others last month, Britain’s prime minister said: “There are no two sides to these events. There is no question of balance. I stand with Israel.”
By saying that, he ditched every democratic principle. Since then, more than 9,000 people have been killed in Gaza. When will the world ever learn?