With the dropping of the first bomb by Russian forces on Ukraine, the western world erupted in cries of outrage. We watched as international laws were invoked, crippling sanctions were immediately put into place, social media hashtags trended and the same neighbouring countries that were against Syrian refugees welcomed Ukrainians with open arms. The hypocrisy is blinding.
The Biden administration has assessed that Russian forces committed war crimes in Ukraine and would work with others to prosecute offenders. But the U.S. is not a member of the International Criminal Court and persistently opposes any international scrutiny of its own conduct and especially of its ally, Israel.
Israel's occupation of Palestinian land is well into its seventh decade, and millions of Palestinians live under military occupation with no end in sight. Not only have Palestinians had their land annexed causing millions to be displaced since 1917, but they continue to be disenfranchised and have been for almost a century. On social media, the world cheered Ukrainians as they mobilised their civilians to join the resistance, throw Molotov cocktails, and take up arms against an occupying army. When Palestinians or Iraqis do the same thing, they are branded as terrorists and justifiable targets.
When Russia intervened in Syria's civil war on behalf of President Bashar Assad in 2015, helping his forces bomb and starve entire cities into submission, there was international outrage then but very little action. Syrian refugees fleeing to Europe died on treacherous sea voyages or were turned back as many countries branded them a threat to Western culture. These were people, they were children, women, and men yearning for safety and a better life for their families. Why did that narrative only apply when it fits the mold Europeans have created to describe a “civilized population” - one with blonde hair, blue eyes, etc.
Since 2014 an exhausting war in Yemen between a Saudi-led coalition and Iran-backed Houthi rebels has left 13 million people in starvation. But even thousands of accounts of children starving to death has not brought sustained international attention or cry for immediate action.
“The United States and the United Kingdom have supported Saudi Arabia’s seven-years-old war in Yemen, which created the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe in decades,” said Bruce Riedel, formerly of the CIA and National Security Council, he continued to say that it’s “understandable” the many in the Middle East view this as double standard by the West.
Just last week, Palestinian medics reported than more than 150 Palestinians have been injured as Israeli police attacked worshippers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem during the holy month of Ramadan. As tensions ran high, Israeli warplanes continued to bomb central neigbourhoods in Gaza throughought the night. Innocent Palestinain civilians continue to be assaulted by Israeli settlers.
In these moments, we are left to question whose lives are deemed worthy in the eyes of the world. We’ve experienced this for decades in the Middle East. Seeing the whole world quickly plaster the Ukrainian flag everywhere and collectively mobilize in celebration of resistance from a power hungry occupier when they’re “white, blonde, blue-eyed” stung a little differently this time. All European and North American media outlets bombarded us with headlines condemning Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine. It took only 5 days for sanctions against Putin to take place, but it’s deemed “unhelpful” against 70 years of military oppression against Palestinians making it incredibly frustrating for the Palestinian cause.
Addressing imbalances of power and reinventing global governance institutions are fundamental prerequisites to resolving long-standing conflicts and injustices - but without equality, accountability and sincerity, that will not be possible.