Palestinians in Gaza and occupied Arab territory have been celebrating the ceasefire that has brought the military conflict between Hamas and Israel to an end, at least for now. In Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu has been gloating over his country's 'victory' in its battle to emasculate Hamas through destroying its offices and secret tunnels.
There is little question that people around the world will feel relieved that the crisis has drawn to an end, that they do not anymore have to wake up every morning to television images of buildings being pulverised and children being killed in Gaza by Israeli air strikes, of Israeli civilians dying from Hamas missile attacks inside Israel. There will be relief in knowing that there will be no more nightly raids by Israeli bombers on homes and media offices in Gaza, that at least for now fear will be replaced by hope --- that there will not be a repeat of the blood and gore the world has been witness to in these past eleven days and nights.
And yet there are the critical questions that have not been answered, perhaps will never be answered. When Netanyahu and his government decided to launch those raids, the raids killing hundreds of Palestinians, including scores of children, it was a war crime he was pushing his country into. But that has hardly worried him or his people. What mattered was the destruction of Hamas. What did not matter was that in all that criminal activity, it was innocent civilians who perished, it was homes that were flattened, it was water and other essential supplies that came under strain.
Netanyahu, one can be reasonably certain, will not be treated as a war criminal in the way Slobodan Milosevic, Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic have been treated, quite properly, as men who committed crimes against humanity in Bosnia-Herzegovina. When former warlords from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Congo are hauled before the International Criminal Court to be prosecuted for their evil deeds in the past, people everywhere heave a sigh of relief that these bad characters are getting their comeuppance. But it is here that the collective sense of satisfaction screeches to a halt. We wait for the ICC to net other men who have in the course of their careers been guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. We wait. Nothing happens.
Reflect on the sordid stories of powerful men who have in our times caused calamity to befall nations in the Middle East and elsewhere. There is a clear, transparent case against Tony Blair and George W. Bush over the brazen, illegal manner in which they invaded Iraq and ended up destroying the country. Nothing has happened to them. No questions have been raised about their behaviour and the ICC has never thought it necessary to bring them under prosecution. Bush has set up his presidential library in Texas and in London Blair runs his own organization. And then there is Henry Kissinger, whose role in the destruction of Cambodia in the 1970s remains a tale of how diplomacy dwindles into crime. Kissinger, now in his nineties, is feted in the West for his scholarly analyses of foreign policy.
There is a dichotomy of behaviour, a selectivity, which subverts the values that people anywhere live by or aspire to live by. Back in 1971, soldiers of the Pakistan army, led by their commanders, committed war crimes in Bangladesh and yet these soldiers and these officers were never prosecuted, never questioned about the atrocities that Bengalis lived through. In Myanmar, the army has killed Rohingyas, burnt their homes and villages and pushed a million survivors into Bangladesh. While condemnation of the army has come thick and fast, no moves have been made at the international level, at the International Criminal Court, to bring Myanmar's generals to trial. But, yes, the search for war criminals in Rwanda and in other countries in Africa goes on apace. And that is where this behavioural dichotomy comes in.
That explains why successive Israeli governments which have been instrumental in promoting illegal Jewish settlements in occupied Arab land have not been taken to task. That explains why the Biden administration waited until Netanyahu finished Israel's killing mission in Gaza before expressing its happiness that hostilities had finally come to a halt. Washington could have compelled the Israeli government into pulling back from its Gaza raids once the ferocity of Israeli forces became public knowledge; it could have not prevented the United Nations Security Council from deliberating on the crisis. And that is where that dichotomy question comes in again.
Hamas, from such a western perspective, is a terrorist organization which must be eradicated. The bombing sorties by Israeli warplanes night after night on Gaza, again from such a western perspective, are not terror or state-led terrorism, but a necessity in the interest of peace. Feel the absence of morality here?
That is the shame of it all. How many innocent men and women and children died in Iraq because of Bush and Blair and how many have lost their lives in Gaza because of Netanyahu are questions the answers to which, if we ever come by them, will shame us all. To what extent is NATO guilty of fomenting the crisis that overthrew and killed Muammar Gaddafi in Libya is a question historians will wrestle with. To what purpose?
Yes, to what purpose? Harry Truman sent tens of thousands of Japanese to sudden death in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. To the end of his life he offered no contrition for that act of mass murder. No one in the West has pinned the label of war criminal on him. He went peacefully to his grave.
Syed Badrul Ahsan is a senior journalist and writer. [email protected]