Friday, April 18, 2008

Palestinians versus Tibetans

Palestinians versus Tibetans - a double standard
By Gideon Levy

Tags: Israel

Israelis have no moral right to fight the Chinese occupation of Tibet. The president of the Israeli Friends of the Tibetan People, the psychologist Nahi Alon, who was involved in the murder of two Palestinians in Gaza in 1967 - as was revealed in Haaretz Magazine last weekend - chose to make his private "atonement" by fighting to free Tibet, of all places. He is not alone among Israelis calling to stop the occupation - but not ours. No small number of other good Israelis have recently joined the wave of global protest that broke out over the Olympics, set to take place in Beijing this summer. It is easy; it engenders no controversy - who would not be in favor of liberating Tibet? But that is not the fight that Israeli human rights supporters should be waging.

To fight for Tibet, Israel needs no courage, because there is no price to pay. On the contrary, this is part of a fashionable global trend, almost as much as the fight against global warming or the poaching of sea lions.

These fights are just, and must be undertaken. But in Israel they are deluxe fights, which are unthinkable. When one comes to the fight with hands that are collectively, and sometimes individually, so unclean, it is impossible to protest a Chinese occupation.

Citizens of a country that maintains a military subjugation in its backyard that is no less cruel than that of the Chinese, and by some parameters even more so, and against which there is practically no more protest here, have no justification in denouncing another occupation. Citizens of a country that is entirely tainted by the occupation - a national, ongoing project that involves all sectors of the population to some extent, directly or indirectly - cannot wash their hands and fight another occupation, when a half-hour from their homes, horrors no less terrible are taking place for which they have much greater responsibility.

The world has fallen in love with Tibet. How easy it is to do so. The picturesque figure of the Dalai Lama and the non-violent struggle he leads with his scarlet-robed monks is truly captivating. Indeed, the world has smothered the leader with awards and recognition, from the Nobel Peace Prize to an honorary doctorate at Ben-Gurion University.

The Palestinians are not as nice as the Tibetans in the eyes of the world. But the Palestinian people deserve exactly the same rights as the occupied Tibetan people, even if their leaders are less enchanting, they have no scarlet robes and their fight is more violent. There is absolutely no connection between rights and the means of protest, and from that perspective, there is no difference between a Tibetan and a Palestinian - they both deserve the exact same freedom.

Moreover, in the first years of the Israeli occupation, most Palestinians accepted it submissively, with practically no violence. What did they get as a result? Nothing. The world and Israel cloaked themselves in apathy and callousness. Only when planes started being hijacked in the 1970s did the world begin to notice that a Palestinian problem even existed. In contrast, the Tibetan struggle also was tainted with violence in the past, and it is reasonable to assume that violence will increase if the Tibetans do not attain their goal.

There is also no point in asking which occupation is crueler, the Chinese or the Israeli. The competition is harsh and bitter. The Chinese killed and imprisoned more Tibetans, in Lhasa there is less freedom of expression than in Nablus, but in general, the extent of Israeli repression in the territories is much greater today than Chinese repression in Tibet.

Nowhere in the world today is there a region more besieged and confined than Gaza. And what is the result? The world calls to boycott the occupier in the case of China, while absurdly, with regard to the Palestinians, the world is boycotting the occupied entity, or at least its elected leadership, and not the occupier. This, it seems, has no parallel in history.

Internationally speaking, the situation of the Palestinians is ostensibly better, since while all governments recognize Chinese sovereignty over Tibet, no government in the world recognizes Israeli sovereignty over the Palestinian territories. Practically speaking, this does not help the Palestinians much: Contemporary bon ton is to support the struggle for Tibet, only Tibet. The Palestinians have not even one Richard Gere to serve as a mouthpiece. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is boycotting the Olympic games but paid an official visit to Israel, where she spoke not one word about the shameful conditions in Gaza under Israeli occupation. Is there any other way to describe this, except a double standard?

In a more just world, no occupation would exist - neither the Chinese nor the Israeli. But until that time, the Israelis have to look inward at their own home and protest what is being done there in front of the Israeli Defense Ministry, before they present themselves with colorful signs outside the Chinese Embassy.

JPN: Palestinians versus Tibetans

2008-04-16 Recent world-wide protests have drawn critical media attention to the Chinese occupation of Tibet. While such attention is both important and overdue, it does raise questions about moral responsibility and political double standards.

We can put it this way: if the media were genuinely concerned to report on human right violations, they would show the Palestinians, Chechnyans, etc the same sort of sympathy they show for Tibet. The fact that their sympathy is so systematically selective suggests that it is not human rights violations that provoke their concern - and leads naturally to the question of what does. In the second article below, Uri Avnery explores the question of selective sympathy, and the factors that lead the media to fall in love with the Tibetans (who have also resorted to terrorism on occasion) while condemning the Palestinians.

Clearly, Avnery argues, the protests against Tibet accord with Washington's diplomatic interests in the region, its desire - driven largely by economic rivalry - to keep China at arm's length. In this climate, the US media is encouraged (or allowed) to be sympathetic to China's victims in a way that is not permissible in the case of the victims of America's steadfast ally, Israel.

This is by no means to detract from the urgency and justice of the cause of the Tibetan people under occupation, or the motives of the activists working to publicize their plight. It is only to say that human rights are universal and we should be wary of who is driving some of these bandwagons.

On the other hand, there are good reasons for concerned citizens to pay more attention to some causes. Clearly, we have a greater responsibility to protest policies carried on by our own governments - policies that we stand a chance of being able to change. For this reason, both Israelis and Americans (and particularly American Jews) have a special responsibility to protest the occupation of Palestine. Since our governments are conducting (and in the case of Americans, bankrolling) this occupation, we are the ones who can force our elected leaders to stop. We have a privileged position in these issues that we do not have in the case, for instance, of the Tibetan struggle. In the first article below, Gideon Levy explores the question of Israelis who are silent on Palestine but vocal on Tibet. The same questions can be extended to Americans in the cases of both Palestine and Iraq.

Again and by all means: free Tibet! But this outpouring of selective outrage rings false in countries supporting human rights violations elsewhere.

Judith Norman
Jewish Peace News

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