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Bahbah: Ukraine and Palestine: How the West Reacted to their Plights

posted on: Mar 16, 2022

Bahbah: Ukraine and Palestine: How the West Reacted to their Plights
Photo: Courtesy Shuttershock

By: Bishara A. Bahbah / Arab America Featured Columnist

What is the most important factor that has defined the West’s reaction to the war in both Ukraine
and Palestine?


In my view, what has mattered the most about the invasion of Ukraine and the dispossession of Palestine is not whether their plights are just or not. It is who their adversaries are. In Ukraine’s case is Russia. In Palestine’s case, it is Israel. In both cases, the identity of the attackers mattered more than fairness and justice and how the West reacted.


If Ukraine was attacked by a country other than Russia, the West might have condemned the attackers, but they would not have allocated $14 billion within weeks to help Ukraine. Of critical importance has been the United States’ decision to support Ukraine militarily by providing it with highly sophisticated and effective weapons such as the Javelin anti-tank missiles and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles. All in all, some 17,000 missiles.


Russia has been attacking Ukraine with thousands of tanks and extensive air raids including missile attacks on cities and military bases. The weapons provided by the United States are of utmost importance to help Ukraine significantly slow down the Russian assault which has been conducted primarily using tanks, aerial bombardment, and missile attacks.


Of course, it is one thing to provide Ukraine with humanitarian aid and completely another thing to slow down or halt the Russian invasion by providing Ukraine with highly efficient and battle-tested weapons such as the West’s anti-tank and surface-to-air missiles.


Following Russia’s attack on Ukraine, the Western European countries, mostly Poland and Romania welcomed with open arms some 2.5 million Ukrainian refugees in a matter of weeks. The United States donated billions of dollars to European host countries to house, feed, and medically care for the refugees.


Now compare this open-arm reception of Ukraine refugees with the often-severe opposition to admitting Syrian refugees into some of the same European countries. A mass exodus of Syrian civilians followed the 2011 uprising in Syria. The only major Western European country that welcomed Syrian refugees with open arms was Germany. It did so primarily because Germany needed the young manpower that the Syrian refugees provided.

To punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, major companies such Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, and Disney, among others suspended their operations in Russia. More importantly, Western countries have locked Russia out of the SWIFT financial messaging and payments system, effectively excluding Russian banks from international transactions. Additionally, Visa and Mastercard stopped their transaction in Russia thus forcing Russian banks to use Russia’s UnionPay which offers payment options in 180 countries provided that the transactions are not in U.S. dollars.

Ironically, Europe is heavily dependent on Russian oil and gas exports. However, Western European countries that import Russia’s oil and gas have no legal mechanism to transfer the payments to Russia. Furthermore, even social media has played a role in supporting Ukraine. Facebook and Instagram, for example, altered their long-standing policies and allowed Ukraine to post messages urging violence against Russia as well as posts calling for the death of the Russian and Belarusian presidents.


Would Europe and the United States have taken all these measures if Ukraine was invaded by another neighboring country that was not Russia? I don’t think so. The West took all these measures because it was Russia that invaded Ukraine.

By comparison, if we look at the Israel-Palestine conflict, and the dispossession of the Palestinian people from their lands in 1948 and later in 1967, did the West intervene to punish Israel and force it to give up land it took and/or occupied by military force? It did not.

As a result of those two wars, over 800,000 Palestinians sought refuge in neighboring Arab states or were displaced within Palestine. Yes, the UN Security Council passed a resolution calling upon Israel to relinquish territories it occupied during the 1967 War. But, has anyone lifted a finger to enforce this resolution and make Israel relinquish the lands it occupied in 1967? No.


Did the British, as the mandatory power over Palestine following the end of World War One, have the right to facilitate and allow the emigration of Jews to Palestine thus enabling them to establish a Jewish state in Palestine? Absolutely not.


Did the UN General Assembly have the right in 1947 to partition Palestine into a Jewish and a Palestinian state? Of course, not. To give away land you must own it. The UN General Assembly did not own Palestine to have the right to partition it and give away to the Jewish side 51 percent of the land of Palestine.


Upon Israel’s establishment, the United States and many European countries supported Israel. As time passed, the United States became Israel’s major ally and protector. The United States provided Israel, over the years, with hundreds of billions of dollars in economic and extensive military assistance. The United States provided a diplomatic blanket in support of Israel at the UN and other major international organizations.


Concurrently, the United States became, over the years, the largest funder of the United Nations Refugees and Works Agency for Palestine (UNRWA). Aid to the Palestinians, including UNRWA was cut off completely in 2018 by former President Donald Trump and then resumed under President Joe Biden.

UNRWA was established in 1949 by the UN General Assembly to provide humanitarian, education, and protection for Palestinian refugees. UNRWA operates 700 schools educating over half a million children. It operates 140 health clinics providing 8.5 million patient consultations a year. It operates in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, the West Bank including East Jerusalem, and Gaza.


UNRWA’s mandate is to help Palestine refugees achieve their full human developmental potential pending “a just and lasting solution to their plight.”


Given the huge amount of aid given to Ukraine following Russia’s attack, I decided to add up the U.S. contributions to UNRWA since its establishment and until 2021. Based on a study by the U.S. Congressional Research Service updated on 26 October 2021, the United States contributed a total of $6.6 billion dollars over a 71-year period of assistance given to UNRWA.


The amount of aid given to help the Palestinian refugees over a 71-year period pales in comparison to the $13.6 billion approved, in less than three weeks, to help Ukraine in less than three weeks after Russia’s attack on Ukraine.


This disparity in aid makes one wonder if the value of a human being from Palestine is so much less than the value of a human being from Ukraine.


Hence, by comparing Russia’s attack on Ukraine, and Israel’s gobbling of Palestinian lands, we can conclude that the West would not have had much interest in Ukraine had it not been attacked by Russia, as opposed to any other neighboring country. Similarly, if the Palestinians’ enemy was not Israel, the West would have little interest in the plight and well-being of the
people of Palestine.

Prof. Bishara A Bahbah taught at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.  He was the editor in chief of the Jerusalem-based Al-Fajr Palestinian newspaper and served, with self-admitted failure, as a member of the Palestinian delegation on “Arms Control and Regional Security.”  He currently contributes on a regular basis to 15 newspapers and media outlets.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Arab America.

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