A quagmire of death and despair

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
November 14, 2023

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeLast Sunday, several local groups — including the Concerned Muslims of T&T, the Joint Trade Union Movement, the Movement for Social Justice, the Emancipation Support Committee and the Non-Governmental Organisations of T&T for the Advancement of Women — called upon the Government to cut diplomatic relations with Israel for its savage attack upon the Palestinian people.

They joined a growing number of governments that have cut ties with Israel and international organisations that have called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. Over 10,800 Palestinians, including more than 4,000 children, and 1,400 Israelis have been killed so far.

The Israeli government says what it’s doing in Gaza is a normal practice of Western governments which, in the pursuit of their war aims, have killed thousands of innocent civilians. It cited Hiroshima and Nagasaki where over 200,000 civilians perished after the United States dropped atomic bombs and “the hundreds of civilians who were killed in Fallujah as US forces fought Iraqi and American battles against the Islamic State” (NYT, November 7).

On October 30, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reminded his people of the tragedy when the Royal Air Force bombed the Gestapo headquarters in Copenhagen in 1945. He called it “a perfectly legitimate target… The British pilots missed and instead of the Gestapo headquarters, they hit a children’s hospital nearby. And I think 84 children were harmed and burned to death. That is not a war crime. That is something you do not blame Britain for doing”.

Netanyahu could have gone back farther into British history. In 1898, a British expeditionary force under the command of Horatio Herbert Kitchener slaughtered thousands of Muslims to avenge the death of General Gordon who was killed by a Mahdist army in Khartoum in 1885.

Like Gaza today, the British (read Western) superiority in weapons prevailed. Caroline Elkins writes: “Equipped with machine guns and modern rifles, Kitchener’s troops faced an enemy force nearly twice their size. With [Winston] Churchill there to bear witness, British forces killed at least ten thousand and wounded over thirteen thousand. The general lost only forty-seven British soldiers, with another 382 wounded” (Legacy of Violence).

On Wednesday, Netanyahu talked about the possibility of Israel’s “long term control over Gaza after the war”. To the contrary, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke of steps to achieve peace: “These steps must include Palestinian-led government and Gaza united with the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority” (NYT, November 8).

Yet the fear remains: UN experts have declared that “the Palestinian people are at grave risk of genocide” (NYT, November 9).

Sixty years ago, Malcolm X spoke about the Palestinian cause. “The Palestinian struggle for justice is not just a cry for justice. It’s a blistering battle for the most fundamental human rights that every living soul on this planet should inherit by birthright… Just as the civil rights movement in the United States fought against the chains of racial discrimination so too do the Palestinian people strive to shatter the chains of occupation and tyranny…

“Advocating for the rights of the Palestinian people is not synonymous with denying the rights and security of the Jewish people. The fight for justice in Palestine is not an assault on any particular group but an unwavering stand against the policies of a Zionist state that has for far too long stripped Palestinians of their rights…

“It is in the best interest of the entire world to seek a just and enduring solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict… The battle for justice in Palestine is not merely a political struggle, it is an elemental moral battle… It’s the fight for the right to exist in peace and security, free from the ceaseless spectre of violence and dispossession.”

On October 25, Jordanian Deputy Prime Minister Ayman Safadi warned: “The amount of hatred that is going to remain with us after the guns go silent is something that we’ve been for years trying to get over and get people to accept the humanity of each other.” On November 4, he reiterated that in this war, “Israel has killed more children that all global conflicts did since 2019. The whole region is sinking in a sea of hatred that will define generations to come.”

Frantz Fanon recounts the story of a seven-year-old boy during the French-Algerian War: “[He was] marked by deep wounds made by a steel wire with which he had been bound while French soldiers mistreated and killed his parents and his sisters. A lieutenant had forcefully kept the boy’s eyes open, so that he would see and remember this for a long time.”

Five days after he reached camp, the child told his grandfather: “There is only one thing I want: to be able to cut a French soldier up into small pieces, tiny pieces” (A Dying Colonialism).

Israel, it seems, intends to re-occupy Gaza after the war. Ahmed Majdalani, a senior Palestinian official, warns: “We will not return to Gaza atop an Israeli tank. We need a political solution, international guarantees. We won’t repeat the same story as before” (NYT, November 8).

Even in his pain, Majdalani should remember Fanon’s judicious warning: “In a war of liberation, the colonised people must win, but they must do so cleanly, without ‘barbarity’.” Colonial wars cause a lot of pain and barbarity. One hopes this conflict is resolved sooner rather than later.