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Where is everybody when Israel isn’t involved?

Apr 15, 2024 | Oved Lobel

Large anti-Israel protest in Washington, DC, in October. No other issue turns out so many protestors so consistently and globally (image: Shutterstock/ Volodymyr Tverdokhlib)
Large anti-Israel protest in Washington, DC, in October. No other issue turns out so many protestors so consistently and globally (image: Shutterstock/ Volodymyr Tverdokhlib)

Israel’s campaign to dismantle the Hamas regime in Gaza is an extremely straightforward war of self-defence following a large-scale invasion and mass slaughter and kidnapping under the cover of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli civilians on October 7.

The fighting has taken an awful toll on Palestinian civilians because of the general nature of urban combat against a massive and deeply entrenched military force that uses its own population as strategic depth. Everybody should of course be moved by the plight of Palestinian civilians in Gaza caught in the middle of this war, regardless of their politics.

But despite the undoubted civilian suffering, this is not, as is absurdly claimed by activists, an act of genocide. It is a war, one which is not demonstrably different from other recent conflicts in urban zones, such as the battles against Islamic State in Mosul and Raqqa. It should not excite such hysteria among politicians, journalists and citizens, and certainly not to the detriment of every other current conflict or crime against humanity.

The most profoundly important among these is the now two-year-old unprovoked Russian invasion of Ukraine, which every Russian official from Vladimir Putin on down as well as all state propaganda organs have made clear is a purely imperial campaign with genocidal intent.

Tens of thousands of Ukrainian children have been abducted by Russia during the conflict – in fact, Russia claims hundreds of thousands – as part of a broader attempt to erase Ukraine as an entity and Ukrainians as an ethnic and national identity group. “Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group” is an act of genocide under the Genocide Convention.

The systematic torture and mass murder of Ukrainian civilians across the country by Russia is well-documented, most infamously in Bucha, liberated two years ago, though there are countless mass graves across the country and no doubt many yet to be uncovered in areas still occupied by Russia. Nobody knows how many have been killed, though an Associated Press analysis suggested the death toll in the city of Mariupol alone could be as high as 75,000 or more.

Ukrainian male prisoners of war are reportedly castrated, with some beheaded, including one documented incident of a severed head and hands mounted on spikes. Women and children have been raped. There are allegations of Russians filling the vaginas of Ukrainian women with window sealant as part of an orgy of sexual violence to physically destroy the Ukrainian population as such. Notably, International Criminal Tribunals and the International Court of Justice have previously ruled that such rape and sexual violence in the context of the special intent to destroy a group could constitute acts of genocide.

Russia’s attack has produced more than 10 million refugees and Internally Displaced People (IDPs), with the Kremlin openly targeting the civilian population to terrorise them into submission, backed to the hilt by its military allies Iran and North Korea.

Quite aside from the humanitarian horrors, the outcome of the war in Ukraine appears likely to decide the future of the international order – in the Pacific as well as in Europe. By all rights, there should be massive weekly protests against Russia’s invasion that also call for the Australian Government to start pulling its weight in terms of military and other material and financial aid, to return our ambassador to Kyiv and generally be much more vocal about the conflict.

Then there is the civil war in Myanmar, in which a coalition of ethnic armies and pro-democracy citizens and former officials have begun to gain the upper hand against the junta, backed by Russia, China and reportedly Iran, that overthrew the democratically elected government in a coup in February 2021. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk described the junta’s systematic atrocities as “inhumanity in its vilest form” in late 2023. This includes dozens of mass killings and the aerial targeting of refugee camps and other civilian gatherings, including allegedly with thermobaric weapons.

Turk testified to some of the mass atrocities against civilians, such as “burning them alive, dismembering, raping, beheading, stabbing, bludgeoning, and using them as human shields against attacks and landmines.”

“Entire families, including elders and toddlers, have been slain,” Turk said. “While the military has often sought to destroy evidence by burning the victims’ bodies, it also displayed beheaded or otherwise defiled corpses to instil terror in those discovering them.” Such defiled corpses include heads on spikes and the burnt remains of women with obvious sexual violence inflicted against them, sometimes with “foreign objects lodged in their bodies.”

Millions have been displaced by this barbarism, though you’d be forgiven for not even knowing such a war was taking place – Australian newsrooms rarely even cover it, politicians are not particularly vocal about it and the average Australian neither knows nor cares enough to raise their voice. Given the growing success of the anti-junta coalition and the potential regional instability that could spread across Australia’s actual neighbourhood, it is inexplicable that Australian politicians and journalists seem so indifferent.

There is also the ongoing collapse of Haiti – at the best of times a corrupt, violent essentially failed state – which was recently described by William O’Neill, the UN’s top expert on human rights in the country, as “apocalyptic, it’s like the end of times… a level of intensity and cruelty in the violence that is simply unprecedented in my experience in Haiti.” This is saying quite a lot in the context of Haiti’s horrific history. O’Neill warned that the region is months or even weeks away from a massive refugee crisis.

UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Haiti Ulrika Richardson said, “There is human suffering at an alarming scale,” noting that thousands have been killed, kidnapped or injured, and sexual violence, including torture and “collective rape”, is rampant. At least 5.5 million Haitians, many of them children, are in need of assistance, with 1.4 million “one step away from famine.”

UNICEF warned last year of the systematic kidnapping of women and children. Recently, a UN report warned the situation was “cataclysmic”, with children and babies as young as three months being killed by gangs during battles, and entire families burned to death in their homes. Children are also being recruited into gangs. The report further described the gang use of sexual violence:

to spread fear, subjugate and punish the population. During gang attacks, several women and girls have been subjected to rape, including collective rape, in their homes, often after having witnessed the killing of their husbands. Some of the victims of rape have been mutilated or killed after the attacks. In gang-controlled areas, women and girls are also at risk of being ambushed and collectively raped by armed gang members in broad daylight, while on their way to work or to school. Some are forced into exploitative sexual relations with gang members and are threatened with death if they refuse. Rape of [kidnapped] hostages also continues to be used as a tactic to coerce families into paying ransoms.

Finally, there is the civil war in Sudan, which is entering its second year. Reports of barbarism, genocidal brutality and systematic sexual violence are rife. As I described that conflict previously:

The predominantly ethnically Arab [Rapid Support Forces] and its subordinate militias… have been conducting a genuinely genocidal campaign of rape, massacre and mutilation against the ethnic-African Masalit tribe in West Darfur, with 10,000-15,000 reportedly slaughtered in the provincial capital of El Geneina alone. Coupled with the displacement of whoever managed to escape the orgy of violence, including the RSF taking children and infants from fleeing mothers and bashing them to death or slitting their throats, the Masalit have been decimated. On top of this, 4%-5% of males under 44 among the 500,000 refugees that have fled to Chad are reportedly missing.

Edem Wosornu, director of operations at the UN Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), recently testified:

By all measures – the sheer scale of humanitarian needs, the numbers of people displaced and facing hunger – Sudan is one of the worst humanitarian disasters in recent memory. A humanitarian travesty is playing out in Sudan under a veil of international inattention and inaction.

In February, US Ambassador to Sudan John Godfrey said that the Sudanese civil war is “the largest displacement crisis anywhere in the world,” noting that “acute food insecurity affects about 17.7 million Sudanese, 5 to 6 million of whom may face acute starvation as early as May.” More recently, the World Food Program warned that the conflict risked “triggering the world’s largest hunger crisis.”

In March, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child warned that “24 million children are at risk of a generational catastrophe”:

Among these children, 14 million are in dire need of humanitarian support, 19 million are out of school, and 4 million are displaced, according to UNICEF, making Sudan now the largest child displacement crisis in the world.

Their conditions are appalling, with acute shortages of food and clean drinking water; UNICEF found that 3.7 million children are acutely malnourished, including 730,000 with severe acute malnutrition.

Exacerbating the situation, two-thirds of Sudanese lack access to health care services after 70-80% of hospitals ceased operation following a severe shortage of medical supplies, including lifesaving medicines.

UNICEF has warned that tens of thousands of children will likely die without improved access and additional support, including increased international funding.

There has been a sharp increase in the number of children killed or victimised by sexual violence as a weapon of war compared to a year ago. Children are at higher risk given the widespread armed recruitment of children.

US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield told reporters in April:

Today, nearly 25 million Sudanese people live in dire need of humanitarian assistance and protection; three-quarters of them face acute food insecurity. Nearly 8 million have had to flee their homes in what has become the world’s largest internal displacement crisis. We’ve seen reports of gang rape, mass murder at the hands of the Rapid Support Forces militia, of girls sold into sexual slavery, boys being made into child soldiers, of urban areas destroyed by arial weapons, and entire villages burned to the ground. And yet, as communities barrel toward famine, as cholera and measles spread, as violence continues to claim countless lives, the world has largely remained silent…humanitarian workers have been systematically obstructed from delivering aid to those in need.

Once again, aside from the horrific human suffering, this war will have serious strategic implications. And you would again be forgiven for not knowing such a conflict was even taking place given how little our media and political leaders refer to it.

Moreover, the above is far from a comprehensive list of deadly conflicts and atrocities being drowned out by anti-Israel advocacy. In any case, you will find no uproar in newsrooms demanding the use of the word “genocide” when reporting on Ukraine or Sudan. You will see no massive weekly protests through city centres waving the Ukrainian flag and demanding action to help stop an attempt to wipe out Ukrainians as a people. Nor will you find our major political parties split over any of these other conflicts and crises, assuming our political leaders are even broadly aware that they are happening.

Hardly anyone has talked about the Russian, Burmese, Sudanese or Haitian perpetrators in the same manner they’ve discussed Israel’s democratic government, much less called for Russia or any other country to be destroyed, as routinely happens in the case of Israel.

This is especially odd because the vast majority of anti-Israel protestors in Australia do not understand the strategic importance of the war against Hamas, which is merely one front in a regional war against Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), itself a key part of an axis with Russia, China and other rogue states trying to overturn the entire international order. Opposing Israel’s effort to defeat Hamas means effectively siding with the axis backing the perpetrators of the terrible atrocities in Ukraine, Sudan and Myanmar.

In the faulty understanding of these protestors, the war in Gaza is merely another remote ethno-sectarian conflict. Why does it resonate so much more deeply than any of the other cases listed above?

It is one thing to feel the plight of Palestinian civilians deeply and even to call for an end to the war, however naïve and wrong-headed this may be given the nature, goals and actions of Hamas and its fellow terrorist organisations as well as their overseer, the IRGC.

It is quite another to fabricate charges of genocide against Israel and to express alleged humanitarian outrage solely in the case of Israel’s war while doing and saying little or nothing about Ukraine, Sudan, Myanmar or Haiti; the Chinese Communist Party’s arguably genocidal policies in Xinjiang; the continuing Houthi siege of Taiz in Yemen; and countless other conflicts and atrocities across the world.

Where are the protestors and politicians of principle? All of these situations require mass protests and much more attention in the media and in parliament. Instead, there is a general state of Israelomania monopolising both government and media attention. There are lamentably few who are just as active against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine or the barbarity in Sudan, Myanmar, Haiti and elsewhere, as they are against Israel.

Whatever is driving this uniquely powerful passion and animosity, it certainly isn’t primarily humanitarian concern.

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