By Anver Versi
The US is economically, militarily and culturally the most powerful single country in the world and its hold on the rest of the globe is such that a ripple in the US can cause a tsunami halfway across the world – for good or bad.
Few of us will have failed to notice that in global terms, the last year has been one of the ugliest in recent memory. Many commentators have linked the election of Donald Trump as the US President to this explosive new rise in tensions around the world.
They contrast this to Barack Obama’s election, when a mood of optimism and hope swept the globe. But Trump has set out to completely dismantle his predecessor’s legacy; where Obama was a unifier, he is a divider; where Obama looked for peace, he has been stoking the fires of war; where Obama has shown compassion, he has shown cruelty; where Obama stood against oppression, he has embraced the despots.
With such a radical departure from accepted values of global leadership, including withdrawing from the climate change agreements and raising the political temperature in the Middle East by tearing up the carefully worked Iran nuclear deal, Trump has set the world on a path of conflagration.
There is a Swahili saying that the fire that burns your neighbour’s house will not spare yours. Africa has already felt the stinging lash of Trump’s tongue and with the supreme hawk, John Bolton as his security adviser, worse can be expected.
But if the temperature had been steadily rising over the year, we finally had flames in May. Trump’s decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, coinciding with the 70th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were moved from their homes at gunpoint and dumped in refugee camps in Gaza, triggered appalling scenes of unarmed protestors being shot by snipers.
The juxtaposition of images, showing Palestinians running for their lives – many carrying wounded or dead children – alongside scenes from the glossy ceremony in Jerusalem, celebrating the opening of the new US embassy, brought home, in no uncertain terms, the reality of the new world order. The rich and powerful, comfortable, on the one hand and the poor, oppressed and disenfranchised, struggling to live on the other.
The parallels with the Sharpeville Massacre in South Africa in 1960 were uncanny. Most Africans, and not just from South Africa, can easily empathise with the plight of the Palestinians, who in Gaza, according to UN rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, are “in essence, caged in a toxic slum from birth to death; deprived of dignity; dehumanised by the Israeli authorities to such a point it appears officials do not even consider that these men and women have a right, as well as every reason, to protest.”
Taking a stand for decency
That at least 60 were shot dead by Israeli soldiers, and thousands wounded, including children, has been roundly condemned around the world, including by the AU Commissioner, and also by a group of nine prominent Israelis, who signed a letter to the UK’s Guardian newspaper, in which they said: “The killing of over 50 (at the time of writing) demonstrators and the thousands more wounded is reminiscent of the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960 in South Africa. The world acted then. We call upon decent members of the international community to act by demanding that those who commanded such shootings be investigated and tried.”
South Africa acted. It immediately withdrew its ambassador to Israel and is likely to vote through a motion to cut all ties with that country. It has not forgotten that the US and Israel were the only two countries in the world to overtly support the apartheid regime in South Africa.
One year ago, the UN published a landmark report on the situation in Israel, which found “beyond a reasonable doubt that Israel is guilty of policies and practices that constitute the crimes of apartheid.” Under intense pressure, the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, withdrew the report from the UN website but Rima Khalaf, the head of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), which published it, resigned in protest. “I resigned because it is my duty not to conceal a clear crime, and I stand by all the conclusions of the report,” Khalaf said.
It is perhaps telling that Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, representing Trump at the US embassy in Jerusalem, received blessings from Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, the Sephardi chief rabbi of Israel, who is now under investigation for calling black people ‘monkeys’ during one of his sermons.
South Africa has shown the way by refusing to turn a blind eye to the hideous trampling of human rights in Israel. In a world that is becoming increasingly ugly and distorted, South Africa’s principled stance is a thing of rare courage. NA