The situation facing the Palestinian people in Gaza and the West Bank is deteriorating day by day and is likely to become ever more catastrophic.
A UN resolution calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire between Israel and Hamas and for immediate accessibility for humanitarian aid was finally passed on 26 October, with overwhelming support from most member nations (120 in favour, 14 against and 45 abstentions).
The resolution condemns all acts of violence against Palestinian and Israeli civilians, including all “terror and indiscriminate attacks”. It calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all civilians illegally held captive.
The resolution also stresses the grave impact that armed conflict has had on women, children and other civilians with specific vulnerabilities, including people with disabilities, the elderly and the sick.
Dire situation in Gaza
- Sign up for Aliran's free daily email updates or weekly newsletters or both
- Make a one-off donation to Persatuan Aliran Kesedaran Negara, CIMB a/c 8004240948
- Make a pledge or schedule an auto donation to Aliran every month or every quarter
- Become an Aliran member
The Hamas attack on Israel on 7 October has reportedly resulted in the killing of over 1,400 people, including civilians and soldiers, and the taking of over 200 hostages, including children. The attack, of course, was shocking.
While not minimising or justifying the horror of the attack, we need to acknowledge that the hostility and atrocities in the Israel-Palestinian ‘conflict’ did not start on 7 October, but began decades ago.
Gaza has been under blockade for 16 years and has been referred to as the “world’s largest open-air prison”.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has said, “It is important to also recognise the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum. The Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation… but the grievances of the Palestinian people cannot justify the appalling attacks by Hamas. And those appalling attacks cannot justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.”
Guterres was deeply concerned about the clear violations of international humanitarian law in Gaza, stating that “no party to an armed conflict is above international humanitarian law”.
It is instructive that for these comments, which many have described as balanced, Israel’s ambassador to the UN has called for the secretary general’s resignation.
Of course, Israel and its allies have claimed the “right to self-defence” as justification for the current brutal decimation of Gaza and the attacks in the occupied West Bank.
With Gaza being devastated by bombs and now an invasion, aid group Oxfam states that only about 2% of the required aid in Gaza is reaching the people.
The group’s regional Middle East director Sally Abi Khalil said last week, “The situation is nothing short of horrific – where is humanity? Millions of civilians are being collectively punished in full view of the world, there can be no justification for using starvation as a weapon of war.”
Daily, the situation deteriorates. Israel has cut off water, food, fuel and electricity in Gaza, which the UN has called a form of “collective punishment”.
Meanwhile, raids and arrests have escalated in the West Bank, with people being killed and displaced there as well.
A humanitarian truce is unlikely to take place anytime soon.
And so the death toll climbs. The Gaza Health Ministry reports that over 8,500 people have been killed – mainly women and children – and this number is rising by the day.
Children in this conflict
Children make up about half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people. Tragically, they have been caught in the crossfire of war – irrespective of which side the artillery is fired from.
According to Save the Children, in the past 15 years, children in Gaza have endured six major moments – five escalations in violence and the Covid pandemic – as well as a life-limiting land, air and sea blockade imposed by Israel. Indeed, many children have never known life without a blockade.
In the ongoing ‘conflict’, Unicef reports that some 40% of those killed in Gaza have been children – an average of 420 children killed or injured daily. Let’s not forget the children among the Israelis who were killed and injured on 7 October.
Unicef’s Middle East and North Africa regional director Adele Khodr said, “The killing and maiming of children, abduction of children, attacks on hospitals and schools, and the denial of humanitarian access constitute grave violations of children’s rights. Unicef urgently appeals on all parties to agree to a ceasefire, allow humanitarian access and release all hostages. Even wars have rules. Civilians must be protected – children particularly – and all efforts must be made to spare them in all circumstances.”
Save the Children reports that one child is killed every 15 minutes as a result of the Israeli bombing. This is unacceptable. Children are paying the price of a conflict that does not involve them.
Standing with the people of Palestine
Malaysia has long been a supporter of the rights of the Palestinian people and was one of the 120 UN member states which voted in support of the resolution.
Given the gravity of the situation, the government is managing a humanitarian trust fund for the people of Palestine, which has collected millions of ringgit for aid.
The government has also instructed the Ministry of Education to initiate a “Palestine Solidarity Week“. Unfortunately, this initiative is turning out to be controversial.
The programme covers education institutions – schools, vocational and matriculation colleges, and teacher education institutes nationwide and runs from 29 October until 3 November.
According to the ministry, the programme aims “to instil in students a profound sense of human rights, courtesy and compassion. It seeks to cultivate empathy and concern for the plight of individuals, irrespective of their race, religion or social status.”
Teaching such values would seem to be a good thing. But the challenge is that few people are adequately trained to deliver such programmes in schools nationwide. So who will conduct this programme and how will they conduct it to achieve its objectives?
To be consistent in teaching humanity and universal values, such programmes cannot be limited to only one situation, in this case the Palestine-Israel conflict.
Rather, the focus needs to extend to situations and conflicts elsewhere in the world, for example, in Myanmar, Yemen, Sudan or Kashmir.
If the focus is confined only to solidarity with the Palestinian people, then let’s be careful to avoid a situation where the programme ends up promoting hatred, violence or racism. Exactly not what the Ministry of Education intended.
Closer to home
Perhaps such lessons should start closer to home. It would be wonderful if our children are taught to recognise and respect the humanity in people of different faiths, ethnic groups and nationalities.
Facilitators could also highlight the concerns of marginalised groups, including the low-income group, the homeless, the stateless, people with disabilities, Orang Asli, migrant workers and refugees here in Malaysia.
The lessons to inculcate compassion and understanding of others would be more effective if children can see the daily practice of these values by adults around them – in all that is said and done.
So how are we showing schoolchildren we value the humanity in everyone? Do our mainstream narratives or government policies and actions support the values of humanity and universal values that promote understanding and compassion?
How much understanding and compassion have we shown refugees and migrant workers in our country? Are the intended constitutional amendments removing safeguards against the statelessness of children a sign of compassion and understanding? Is the recent attempt at the forced eviction of farmers and the destruction of their farmlands in Tambun, Perak an example of understanding and compassion?
End the conflict
The controversy over the Palestine solidarity week programme in schools should not distract us from the urgent need to mobilise support for the Palestinian people.
Palestinians and everyone else in the region deserve the right to live in dignity, protected against abuse and free from endless oppression and denigration. Every person’s human rights must be recognised and respected.
So let’s redouble our commitment to promoting a shared humanity and universal values that cultivate “empathy and concern for individuals, irrespective of their race, religion or social status”.
Co-editor, Aliran newsletter
1 November 2023
With thanks to James Lochhead for his input