For more than a decade, the Syrian regime bombed hospitals, schools and markets, reduced towns to ashes and used chemical weapons against its own people, without provoking any major demonstrations or even a feeling of collective indignation in the Arab world.
For years, the Syrian regime besieged and shelled the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp, emptying it of its 150,000 inhabitants, also without provoking major demonstrations or even a feeling of collective indignation in the Arab world.
We are absolutely right to criticize Westerners for their unconditional support for Israel. This leads them to betray the very values they claim to uphold. But we must start by searching our own conscience: We are the world champions of double standards. We rightly decry massacres when Israel bombs civilian infrastructure in Gaza, but we too often turn a blind eye to all the other atrocities committed in the region. What legitimacy would we have in criticizing Israel when we remain silent in the face of the Saudi intervention in Yemen, in the face of the atrocities committed by the Houthis, in the face of Marshal [Khalifa] Haftar’s bloody offensives in Libya, in the face of the ethnic cleansing that the Turkish army and its Syrian auxiliaries committed against the Kurds, in the face of the “actions” of the Iraqi and Lebanese militias? Don’t the Yemenis, Syrians, Libyans, Iraqis, Kurds and many others also deserve our indignation and mobilization?
We sometimes give the impression that not all our deaths are equal, that when an Israeli kills an Arab, it is a despicable crime, but that when an Arab kills another Arab, it is a matter of war, or worse, of geopolitics. We are at best one-eyed, at worst hypocritical. We love Palestine more than we love the Palestinians, as shown by the way we treat them in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. And we are far more obsessed with Israel, with the unlimited support it receives from the West, with what its military superiority says about our decadence, than with the fate of the Palestinians, whom we have exploited for decades.
But once we have said all that, once we have confessed all our sins, can we be taken seriously on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea when we denounce the double standards of the West? Can they recognize that our blindness does not make their blindness any more legitimate?
Westerners do not have a monopoly on double standards. But they have a responsibility in this area that is incomparable to that of all the other players. It was not the Arabs who built the contemporary international system. And it is not the Arabs who claim to be the heralds of the promotion of human rights and universal values. Westerners are the guardians of the temple. The moment they deny it, they undermine all of its foundations. They legitimize the unbridled use of force and give grist to the mill of all those who believe that the rule of the strongest is the only applicable rule.
Israel is not the only country to commit war crimes in the region. But it is the only one to do so with the explicit green light of Western powers. It can imprison, kill, colonize and bomb with impunity, on the sole pretext that it has “the right to defend itself.” Not only is this right granted to it without limit, but it is denied to the Palestinians, from whom absolutely everything has been taken for decades. Should we expect them to disappear silently in order to relieve the Western conscience of a history that is not our own? Does it have to come to this before Westerners finally see Israel as it is and not as they would like it to be?
We understand that Westerners stand by their Israeli ally after the worst crime committed against Jews since the Holocaust. We understand that they do not have words harsh enough to describe the atrocities committed by Hamas against civilians. But that must not give Israel the right to cut off water and electricity to an enclave where two million people survive, or to bomb hospitals and churches, or to fulfill its fantasy of wiping out any Palestinian presence from the Mediterranean to Jordan. The rules of international law apply to everyone, including Israel. The West would be well advised to remind it of that, in a much more hawkish stance, if it wants to retain a semblance of credibility in the region. They would also be well advised to call for an immediate ceasefire and to put all their weight behind reviving political negotiations, without which this spiral of violence will never end.
Listening to all their statements over the last two weeks, one would think that the West has forgotten what is essential. The West needs to be reminded that the Palestinians have accepted that another people occupy their land, after having driven them out, and made it their own. It needs to be reminded that these same Palestinians went 90 percent of the way towards recognizing the existence of Israel within its 1967 borders, without even seeking reparations for the trauma they experienced in 1948. But Israel has never done the other 10 percent in return. On the contrary, it has accelerated the pace of settlement so as to make any two-state solution illusory. Finally, the West needs to be reminded that it has an important share of the responsibility for this whole story from day one: It would be a crime for it to wash its hands of that at a time when it is needed the most.
This analysis was also published in French.