Last Updated: Tue Nov 02, 2010 18:00 pm (KSA) 15:00 pm (GMT)

Turkey feels Palestine's pain

Khalaf Al Habtoor

Few heroes have emerged on the diplomatic level during the Gaza conflict and, sadly, the Arab world hasn't managed to produce even one. An Arab League emergency summit of foreign ministers predictably came up with nothing. Displays of genuine emotion by representatives of Arab governments have been rarities.

Turkey's position on Gaza has been clear and crisp, in sharp contrast to our own regretful diplomatic paralysis. Since the start of Israel's aggression, Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has shuttled between Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Syria in a proactive attempt to achieve a ceasefire. He has also ended Turkey's mediation in Israel-Syrian peace talks.

Most of all, I salute Mr. Erdogan for his unequivocal message to Israel, his country's long-time ally. Speaking on January 4, he said, "God will sooner or later punish those who transgress the rights of innocents."

Accusing Israel of creating a humanitarian tragedy by the use of excessive force, he said, "Israel will be cursed for the children and the defenseless women who died under bombs. Israel will be cursed for tears shed by mothers."

When Israel characterized his verbal attack as overly emotional, Erdogan responded with "No, I am not emotional. I am acting on the basis of knowledge and experience. I advise Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to leave aside upcoming elections in February. History will accuse them of putting a stain on humanity. What reason can justify such savagery?"

"It is unforgivable that people who suffered profound pains in their history could do such a thing," he railed. "In fact, they should have displayed more respect for human life than anyone else in the world."

I suspect these courageous words have reverberated in the minds and hearts of all Arabs as they did within my own. And I applaud his references to Turkey's Ottoman past, when he said we are the grandsons of Turkey's Ottoman Empire, who gave refuge and safe heaven for the prosecuted Jew from France, Spain, Italy and Hungary who sought and found that safe refuge. The difference is the residents of Gaza have nowhere to flee and no nation is offering even a temporary safe harbor.

Unlike Turkey, at the start of Israel's campaign some Arab governments contented themselves with blaming Hamas for Israel's bombs. Instead of standing together against a country that occupies, oppresses and murders our fellow Arabs, our leaders chose either to discredit the victims or virtually ignore them.

It's as though they haven't heard the heart-wrenching wails of the man who lost his mother, father, wife and all his children during one attack or seen the footage of another surrounded by the shrouded bodies of his three young sons and daughter.

It's as though they've no knowledge of the targeted ambulances and the bombed UN school that had been turned into a shelter for civilians fleeing their homes. When ambulances are clearly marked and, according to the UN, Israel had been provided with the school's GPS coordinates, these attacks do constitute war crimes.

Mads Gilbert, one of two Norwegian doctors who volunteered to help the people of Gaza and is now working with dedicated Palestinian colleagues wrote this SMS message: "We are wading in death, blood and amputees; many children, a pregnant woman. I have never experienced anything so terrible ... Do something! Do more!"

Confronted with video evidence of understaffed and unequipped hospitals overflowing with wounded, dead and dying no efforts must be spared to provide humanitarian relief.

Now that the carnage is such that Israel's propaganda machine can no longer provide effective cover, the diplomatic process has gone into overdrive. Israel has been embarrassed into providing a three-hour daily humanitarian corridor.

By the time you read this column a ceasefire that involves international monitoring may be in place. This is my hope but, in truth, the United Nations has rarely taken any binding Chapter 7 decision to protect Palestinians and, therefore, it is likely that any resolution passed will be heavily weighted in Israel's favor. Such resolution should not offer Israel an undeserved victory to compensate for its military failures during the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict or to bolster Israel's ruling Kadima Party in upcoming elections.

I heartily agree with the sentiments of the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud Al-Faisal, who said the council's "deafening silence" placed a large question mark over its credibility as well as "the entire system of international security."

Therefore, if the UN continues with its failure to live up to the principles enshrined in its charter, the Arab League needs to be entirely independent and fortified to look after its members' interests through dialogue and negotiation. It should also be enabled to use the ultimate option of military force as a last resort. If we can no longer rely on the impartiality of the UN then we must look to a strengthened Arab League as our regional parent.

There are no winners here. Israel's ugly mask has been lifted and the only beneficiaries are extremists on both sides as well as anti-Semites around the world. In the final analysis violence can never resolve disputes and only breeds more hatred. As history has shown time and time again, dialogue is the only way forward if a just and lasting peace in our region is ever to prevail. When will we ever learn?

*Published in Lebanon's DAILY STAR on Jan.13.

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