Palestine- An Issue Out of Colonial History
On 2 November 2023, the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research (CSCR) hosted a webinar on the topic “Palestine-An Issue Out of Colonial History”. The event aimed to trace back the historical roots of the Palestinian conflict in the colonial past to ascertain the current war on Gaza from the lens of the oppressor and the subjugate.
The event was moderated by Mr Talha Ibrahim, the Director of Research at CSCR, who set the stage by introducing the subthemes. He highlighted the devastating impact of the conflict in Gaza, by pointing out the severe humanitarian crisis caused by Israeli airstrikes that resulted in a high number of causalities, including innocent civilians, women, and elderly as well as the tragic loss of journalists. The moderator condemned the relentless bombardment and criticised the collective punishment doctrine employed by the Israeli government. Describing the widespread destruction of the residential buildings, religious sites, and healthcare facilities, he painted a grim picture of the current state of Palestine. Highlighting the displacement of a significant percentage of the population, Mr Ibrahim also pointed out the inhumane conditions faced by those still residing in Gaza. Also, while criticising the disproportionate nature of Israel’s response, he called out the international community for not addressing this issue. He challenged the narrative that justified Israel’s actions under the banner of self-defence and called for a ceasefire while pointing out the reluctance of some Western states to support de-escalation efforts.
Following the opening remarks, Deputy Head of Mission of the State of Palestine to Pakistan Dr Nader Alturk, provided a comprehensive overview of the Palestinian crisis. Emphasising the historical significance of Palestine, Dr Alturk highlighted the territorial changes over time. Condemning the collective punishment and siege imposed on Gaza, he called attention to the toll it is taking on civilians and infrastructure. He also criticised the international community’s support for Israel and stressed the need for accountability. Discussing Israeli ambitions, particularly regarding the Al Aqsa Mosque, Dr Alturk called for global support in ending the occupation, upholding human rights, and working towards a peaceful resolution. He acknowledged the protest and demonstration in solidarity with Palestine around the world, stressing the importance of unity in advocating for peace and justice.
Ms Ayesha Malik, Deputy Director at the Research Society of International Law, shared her perspective through the lens of international law. She asserted that Israel’s claims of reoccupation since 2005 have not been valid as they maintain significant control over Palestine. Control does not necessarily require military presence. She added that the right of self-defence does not apply to occupiers, but rather to the oppressed who actually own the land. The speaker also addressed the war crimes, specifically highlighting the potential use of starvation as a method of warfare, while also mentioning statements from Israeli officials indicating the intent to restrict essential resources. Discussing the targeting of refugee camps and civilian areas, she raised questions about the proportionality of military actions. While emphasising the need for accountability, both through the International Criminal Court (ICC) and universal jurisdiction, she also encouraged the submission of evidence, especially through the relevant website. She touched upon the importance of advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ), citing previous opinions on the construction of the wall in occupied Palestinian territories. The speaker highlighted new advisory opinion on whether an apartheid regime exists in Israel and if the prolonged occupation violates Palestinian rights, viewing it as a potential legal victory for Palestinians. She said that despite challenges international law can still play a crucial role in seeking justice.
Dr Mukesh Kapila, Professor Emeritus of Global Health & Humanitarian Affairs at the University of Manchester, focused on the role of advocacy and solidarity movements. He discussed the part of the Palestinian diaspora in global solidarity for the Palestinian cause. The esteemed speaker highlighted that Palestinians are dispersed around the world due to generations of dispossession and dislocation. He pointed out that while solidarity movements are important, they face challenges in making a significant impact due to geopolitical and security considerations. Dr Kapila underscored the significance of a clear and unified message to effectively communicate the Palestinian cause to a global audience. Additionally, solidarity movements were urged to unite with other movements worldwide that are advocating against injustices. The speaker stressed the need for smart and strategic advocacy with strong leadership ideally from among the Palestinian voices. The presentation concluded by emphasising that while legal arguments are important, transforming the world through solidarity efforts is crucial for a just solution to the Palestinian question.
Associate Fellow at the King Faisal Centre for Research and Islamic Studies Mr Umar Karim, highlighted the shortcomings of the Oslo Accords, which fell short of acknowledging a Palestinian state, and argued that with the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Rabin, the Oslo Accords effectively came to an end. The regional factor, particularly Arab involvement, has diminished over time, with Egypt and Jordan normalising relations with Israel and a weakened Syria. Besides, the 2002 King Abdullah Peace Initiative was a significant proposal, offering normalisation in exchange for an independent Palestinian state but Israel did not reciprocate. The speaker pointed out that the Israeli political elite maintain a take-all, give-nothing approach, and confidence in the overwhelming support and defence patronage from the United States. This approach has been consistent across different Israeli political factions. The new generation in the Gulf, influenced by Israeli propaganda, perceived Israel as a technological giant. This contributed to a shift in societal dynamics which encouraged some Gulf States to engage with Israel. The speaker added that the event of October 7 can be described as a turning point, shattering the perception of Israeli invincibility, and impacting the psyche of both Israelis and the Arab population. The subsequent collective punishment imposed on Palestine further eroded any soft corner that had previously existed for Israel. The impact on regional security and regime survival in the Arab world was also discussed. The speaker emphasised that the status quo could not continue, signalling a shift in the geopolitical landscape surrounding the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
Ms Sadia Tasleem, a faculty member at Quaid-i-Azam University and a PhD scholar at the University of British Columbia, wrapped up the webinar by sharing her thoughts on the role Pakistanis can play. She expressed the need to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people, acknowledging the historical trauma and dispossession they had endured. Emphasising the importance of sustained, informed engagement with the Palestinian cause, she recognised the significance of using social media as a tool to express solidarity, educate and challenge mainstream narratives. Ms Tasleem proposed short-term actions, including participating in protests and assemblies and boycotting products supporting the Israel war machinery. In the long term, the speaker urged for scholarship and spaces for Palestinian students in Pakistani institutions. She also added the need to address injustices within Pakistan to build stronger networks of solidarity. She acknowledged that while making a difference might be uncertain, standing up for justice and what is right was a worthy endeavour.
The panel discussion was followed by a question and answer session with the audience. In response to a question directed towards Dr Alturk, he emphasised the Palestinian Authority’s diplomatic efforts to halt Israeli hostilities and criticised the disregard for international humanitarian law. Dr Alturk underscored that Israel’s United Nations membership is contingent on its compliance with resolutions 181 and 194, which it has violated, warning that such breaches could impede peace and stability. He expressed gratitude to Pakistan for its unwavering support for Palestine and for offering scholarships in engineering and medicine to Palestinian students, suggesting an expansion of these scholarships to include International Relations, Media, International Law, and Diplomacy.
To a question that doubted the significance of international law, Ms Malik stated that despite the lack of enforcement mechanisms, international law provides a framework for resisting occupation and criticising Israel. She affirmed that it validates Palestinian resistance and their right to self-defence but does not extend this right to Israel as an occupier. Ms Malik expressed faith in international law’s ability to deliver moral victories, citing the 1971 advisory opinion on South African apartheid as an example. However, she lamented the minimal contribution of the Global South to the creation of international law.
When asked about the impact of Western double standards in the Gaza crisis on Muslim youths and the youth of the Global South, Dr Kapila responded that Western culture, including economic and political culture, continues to be dominant. There is no alternative to neo-liberal freedoms that have become pervasive. The West’s non-compliance does not make these values wrong. Indeed, there is frustration about Western double standards, however, ultimately, the youth from the Global South see their future in the Western approach.
Mr Karim emphasised that there was no inclination among Arab countries to confront Israel, and they were looking for de-escalation to avoid military confrontations within the region. Ms Tasleem mentioned a growing sense of disappointment and alienation within the Muslim youth in the West, leading to a divide in their perception of the Western project and its discourses.
Overall, the discussion highlighted the need for continued discourse and education on the Israel-Palestine conflict, international law, and its impact on global perspectives. The event was recorded and will be available on YouTube for wider dissemination of the valuable insights shared.