Campaign of Genocide in Palestine: Why Belizeans Should Care

By Dylan Vernon, Time Come (special) #3, 25 October 2023.

“Well, you better listen my sisters and brothers
‘Cause’ if you do you can hear
They’re voices calling across the years
And they’re ‘cryin’ across the ocean…
…And they will – till we all come to understand
None of Us are free, if one of us is chained…”
(Lyrics written in 1993 by a blues trio, and made popular in 2002 by the soulful blues vocalist, Solomon Burke).

Cries Across the Ocean

As I write this, 2.3 million Palestinians are running from bombs and also running out of everything. This is the place called Gaza – a tiny strip of land surrounded by a 40-mile barrier on one side and the ocean on the next. From across that ocean, the cries of resistance and pain of Palestinians demand that I deviate this week from a planned TIME COME post on ‘the Preamble’. This is not as significant a deviation from Belize’s reality as it may superficially appear. Think of sovereignty, think of self-determination, think of territorial integrity. These universal principles are as Palestinian as they are Belizean.

We know how Guatemala’s claim to Belize’s territory and the failure of the British to resolve it, in a manner acceptable to Belizeans, delayed Belize’s Independence for almost two decades. It was only after successful international advocacy for self-determination with territory intact, that Belize became an independent sovereign democracy in 1981. While a resolution to ‘the claim’ by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is within arm’s reach, the costly struggle to eliminate this existential threat and so better secure Belize’s territorial integrity goes on.

For Palestinians in occupied Palestine and for those displaced by Israel, the struggle for sovereignty, self-determination, territorial integrity is way beyond existential threat – it is existence. Literally life and death. And it has been so for over 70 years! In Belize we can hear and ‘see’ their cries from across the ocean. What should we think? What can we do?

Selective Humanity

Now again in war mode, the Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation, is fraught with divisive history, fragile emotions and dangerous misinformation. The raw sensitivities and competing narratives often cause some to self-censor or tune out. Since the 7 October 2023 Hamas incursion and the on-going retaliation by Israel, it has been even more infuriating than normal to observe selective positions by most Western governments and the biased coverage of most of their press – CNN and BBC included. Of course, not much should really surprise us about this. The examples are many of states of the West painting incomplete or false pictures of world events and/or engaging in discriminatory policies in the pursuit of neo-liberal and strategic interests. Think of Grenada, Panama, Venezuela and Iraq. Think of discriminatory immigration policies, hogging up covid vaccines and the blockade of Cuba. In some Western countries, demonstrations in support of Palestinian have been banned and freedom of expression is under attack.

So, what are we to think about these new and brutal images of thousands of citizens being killed and maimed indiscriminately? Who do we condemn? Which side does one take?  Responses to these questions are ‘personally formed’ but, whatever these are, they should be informed and based on a basic understanding of the historical and current context of the Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation.

For me, some combination of my family upbringing, societal formation, life experiences and worldview, makes my humanity equally appalled and disgusted when I see either Palestinians or Israelis die or suffer. Both the 7 October incursion by Hamas and the Israeli retaliatory attacks on Palestinians in Gaza contain elements that horrify and disgust. Any celebration of the killing, maiming, hostage taking or illegal imprisonment of Palestinian or of Israeli citizens is a sign of some loss of humanity – no matter what side you are on. That said, ‘sides’ are important in this conflict.

My position is clear: In the on-going resistance and struggle for a free Palestine, there is conflict and lack of peace with Israel only because Israel, with the support of some powerful states in the West, has long occupied Palestinian territory – illegally and violently. In doing so, Israel has blocked the rightful achievement of Palestinian sovereignty and self-determination. Whether Palestinians choose to achieve these in a state separate from Israel (the so-called two state solution) or a in a single state, with totally equal footing with Israelis, is their independent decision as a people. While I prefer peaceful resistance, I contextually understand how resistance to Israel’s violence can sometimes not be peaceful. Colonised people, including Palestinians, have the right under international law to resist, including by armed struggle.

I will try to explain my position by sharing some basic information on the occupation of Palestine by Israel, as well as on the recent historical relationships between Belize and Israel on the one hand, and between Belize and Palestine on the other.

Be Informed on Palestine

There is an abundance of credible facts and information available on the Palestinian struggle, and I will only select a few keys bits to outline here – while also suggesting some sources one can further explore.

  • Over 700,000 Palestinians were expelled from or fled their ancestral lands between 1947 and 1948 during the creation, from scratch, of the State of Israel. This violent displacement through settler colonialism is called the ‘Nakba’ (catastrophe) by Palestinians.
  • Israel used the opportunity of the July war in 1967 to occupy Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. (Click here to see larger map, does not show Israeli settlements in the West Bank). These areas are referred to by some as Occupied Palestine or Occupied Palestinian Territory. This occupation by Israel is illegal under international law.
  • Gaza (also called Gaza Strip) is just 25 miles long and just 7.5 miles at its widest point: 141 square miles or just 1.6% of Belize’s small territory. The larger West Bank is only 2,183 square miles.
  • Gaza’s population is 2.3 million and most of its population are refugees, or their descendants, from Palestine prior to the creation of the State of Israel or from after the 1967 war. The West Bank has 2.6 million people for a total of 4.9 million in occupied Palestine.
  • Since Israel’s military occupation 56 years ago, Palestinians in these areas have suffered multiple injustices, including discrimination, restricted movement, more illegal settlement of their land and communities by Israelis in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, violent displacement by Israeli security forces and armed settlers, harsh socio-economic hardships and poverty.
  • In 2000, Israel began building a wall separating the West Bank from Israel. The completed wall is 439 miles long. In 2004, the ICJ found that this wall was contrary to international law. Israel also completed a wall surrounding and separating the entire of Gaza. It is essentially a 40-mile-long prison wall.
  • The two-tiered legal and political system operated by Israel for Palestinians in the West Bank compared to the one for Israeli settlers, who occupy Palestinian land, is apartheid. See Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
  • For the past 16 years and since 2007, Israel has enforced a comprehensive and punishing blockade against Gaza.
  • Since 2008 and before the recent events of October 2023, Israel has carried out major military incursions against Gaza five times. The International Committee of the Red Cross estimated that 6,400 Palestinians and 308 Israelis died in these previous incursions.
  • Established in 1987, Hamas is just one of several distinct Palestinian groups that oppose and resist the occupation by Israel, and it has a militant wing. It is based in Gaza and its political wing won the last legislative elections there in 2006 and administers the Gazan government. It has been unilaterally declared a terrorist organisation by several Western states.
  • It is estimated that the attack launched by Hamas on occupied Palestinian territory on 7 October 2023 resulted in the death of more than 1,400 Israelis and foreign nationals, injuries to over 4,000, the taking of some Israeli security forces prisons of war and of several dozen civilian hostages. (Medical Aid for Palestinians – MAP).
  • As of 25 October 2023, MAP reported that Israel’s retaliation has resulted in 5,791 killed in Gaza (including 2,360 children), 16,756 injured (including 4,604 children), 1.4 million displaced from homes, 62 military attacks on healthcare facilities.
  • Israel has imposed a total siege on Gaza halting the entry of all supplies. Gaza remains without fuel, electricity, and negligible water, little food and rapidly dwindling healthcare.
  • On 13 October 2023, 1.1 million Palestinians in northern Gaza were ordered by Israel to evacuate their homes despite on-going bombardment and lack of safe destinations.
  • The West Bank and East Jerusalem are also seeing deaths and injuries from Israeli bombing, and there are fears that things could escalate into a regional war.
  • The State of Israel, which has a population of almost 10 million today, also has one of the largest and best equipped militaries in the world. Apart from the daily aerial bombardments, its army is now positioned to launch another ground offensive into Gaza. This has prompted fears of more genocide. (See Center for Constitutional Rights).
  • As we have seen this month with President Joe Biden, the United States of America has long been Israel’s most powerful economic and military supporter. This is why US governments have been accused of being complicit in some of the atrocities that continue to be committed by the State of Israel against Palestinians. To date, the US has still not joined almost every nation in the world calling for a ceasefire.
  • Twenty truckloads of humanitarian supplies are a drop in the ocean of what is needed by Palestinians in Gaza.
  • Not all Israelis support their government’s policies in relation to Palestine, but we hardily get news of their voices. See, for example, the perspectives of the Israeli human rights organisation, B’Tselem. It reminds us that when we oppose the policies of the State of Israel, it does not equal being against the people of Israel.
  • To date four of the Israeli and foreign hostages held by Hamas since 7 October have been released. Since that time, none of the thousands of Palestinian political prisoners detained and held by Israel have been released.

Belize and Israel – & Guatemala

On 11 November 1980, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted the pivotal and final pre-independence resolution in support of Belize’s self-determination. It called for independence by the end of 1981 with the guarantee of territorial integrity. One hundred and thirty-nine states (139) states supported the resolution, seven countries abstained and two did not vote (Guatemala and Spain). As it had done in all the UN votes on Belize before 1980, Israel abstained, standing out as the only non-Latin America state to do so. The fact that Israel did not support Belize at the UN should not, by itself, determine Belize’s position on the Palestinian issue. Yet, it is timely to remember why Israel abstained.

In short, Guatemala and Israel have had extremely close bi-lateral relations since the mid-1940s, even before the creation of Israel. In 1947, Guatemala played a key role in persuading several Latin American countries to support the now infamous resolution (UNGA Resolution 181) that recommended the partition of Palestine into independent Arab and Jewish states. That all went very wrong very quickly. In any case, Guatemala was one of the first states in the world to recognise the state of Israel in 1948.

As Assad Shoman illustrated in his Belize’s Independence and Decolonization in Latin America: Guatemala, Britain, and the UN, Israel has been a long-time supplier of military equipment to Guatemala. It appears that the sale of weapons, via bi-lateral agreement, began in 1974, well before Belize’s independence. British intelligence reports in the decade before independence regularly noted the sourcing of planes and weapons by Guatemala from Israel. In 1978 when the Jimmy Carter government of the United States banned arms sales to Guatemala during its civil war, Israel helped to fill the void.

In 2018, then President of Guatemala, Jimmy Morales, moved Guatemala’s Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, following the polarising lead of then US President Donald Trump – which went against international law. One year later in 2019, current President of Guatemala, Alejandro Giammattei, went to Israel on his president-elect tour and stated: “Israel’s friends are our friends, Israel’s enemies are our enemies.” So yes, Guatemala and Israel have long been bosom buddies.

Of current interest to the issue at hand, is that the current President-elect of Guatemala, Bernardo Arévalo, studied in Israel and served as a diplomat of Guatemala there. It was his father who was president of Guatemala in 1948 when Guatemala recognised Israel’s independence and he later served as an ambassador of Guatemala to Israel. But let us not read too much into this yet. Arévalo, a progressive by Guatemalan standards, who is now under heavy attack from the right, met with the Palestinian Ambassador in Guatemala in 2022. He has stated that he does not support all positions of Israel in relation to Palestine and that he believes the movement of the Guatemalan Embassy to Jerusalem violated international law and does not help to resolve the conflict.

It was only two years after independence in 1983 when Belize established diplomatic relations with Israel under the then People’s United Party (PUP) government. (Someone should tell the story behind that sometime). Under the United Democratic Party (UDP) government of 2008 – 2012, closer ties with Israel were forged, and over the years there have been ‘friendly’ exchanges between Belize and Israel. Israel maintains a diplomatic presence in Belize with a non-resident ambassador based in Mexico City and Belize maintains an Honorary Consulate in Israel.

Belize & Palestine

Belize’s links with Palestine are more than meets the casual eye. At the people level, some of Belize’s citizens are descendants of Palestinians displaced by Israel’s occupation. Prominent among them are surnames like Shoman and Musa. Thousands of other Belizeans have Arab ancestry and grew up more aware of the plight of Palestine. Beyond this important people link, Palestine’s support for Belize’s independence and Belize’s on-going record of contributions to the goal of a free Palestine are worth knowing.

As Assad Shoman has related, during the critical period of the internationalisation of Belize’s struggle for independence with territorial integrity, the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) provided critical logistical and political support to the Belize Delegation leading the efforts in New York. Importantly, it helped to push for a special meeting with the Arab Group at the UN and lobbied Arab states to vote for the Belize UNGA resolutions. Belize received their support. As such, Palestinians supported Belize before Belize supported Palestine.

The first time Belize participated in a case at the International Court of Justice in 2004 it was, in effect, in support of Palestine. In 2003, the UNGA had adopted a resolution calling for an advisory opinion from the ICJ on the wall that Israel was constructing around the West Bank and around East Jerusalem. Belize used its right, as a party to the ICJ, to enter a written statement and also made an oral submission, arguing that Israel’s wall was illegal. As noted, the ICJ’s 2004 advisory opinion stated that the wall was contrary to international law.

Yet it was not until 2011 that Belize recognised the State of Palestine – at a time when there was intense activity within the UN to upgrade the status of Palestine from ‘observer entity’ to ‘non-member observer state.’ Belize recognised Palestine’s border as those in existence prior to the 1967 war – when Israel defeated a coalition of Arab states and began its control of the occupied territories. Since that time, Belize’s relationship with and support for free Palestine have been relatively strong under both UDP and PUP governments.

In every recent annual speech to the UNGA, prime ministers or foreign ministers of Belize have pledged Belize’s support for the State of Palestine; however, the language has been more or less strong. Most recently in September this year, Foreign Minister Eamon Courtenay, noting that “the people of Palestine continue to suffer the indignities of illegal occupation and Israeli apartheid”, reiterated “Belize’s full support for the realisation of an independent Palestinian state within its 1967 borders, with all attendant rights, including the recognition of East Jerusalem as its capital and the right of return.”

Also of significance, in 2021 the National Assembly of Belize adopted one of the strongest resolutions in support of Palestine by a legislature seen in our region. Among other things, the motion accused Israel of settler colonialism and apartheid, and called for an end to the Gaza blockade. It also called on government to stop any trade or security exchanges with Israel and for the adoption of measures to ensure that no business in Belize profits from “Israel’s violations of human rights.” It is time for the government to report how Belize is doing on these bold calls made by the National Assembly.

Belize’s support for Palestine is even further reflected in its recent 2023 decision to file a written statement to the ICJ, which was asked by the UNGA to give an advisory opinion on Legal Consequences Arising from the Policies and Practices of Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem. Belize will also soon be making oral submissions in this case. Belize’s participation in this case, as well as in the 2004 wall case and the 2019 Mauritius (Chagos) case, provides Belize valuable ICJ court experience.

There have also been isolated moments in our recent history when Belizeans themselves have stood up publicly for a free Palestine and against Israeli actions.  For example, in 2018 the Government of Belize had puzzlingly accepted an offer from Israel to train Belizean security personnel. A group of Belizean artists advocated for the government to halt this agreement and held a public protest against it outside the Police Academy in the capital, Belmopan City. The protesters likened the acceptance of the training as support for Israel’s brutal treatment of Palestinians. The National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB) also put out a release “raising strong objections to this abhorrent act.” While the government went ahead with the planned training, the protest actions helped to set the stage for the 2021 resolution of the National Assembly.

No Peace without Justice

In reaction to the current horror of this October’s hostilities, the Government of Belize seems to be treading carefully while repeating its known positions in support of the State of Palestine – along the lines stated by Minister Courtenay in his September 2023 speech to the UNGA. Being a former diplomat, I am sure that a lot is happening behind the scenes in terms of both pressure from world powers on Belize and Belize’s advocacy in regional and international forums. Minister Courtenay has rightfully called (through Twitter/X) for an immediate de-escalation and has urged Israel to reconsider its evacuation order. Do Belizeans want stronger positions and actions than these from their government? I do! And I believe many Belizeans do.

In 1989, when the Society for the Promotion of Education and Research (SPEAR) brought Kwame Touré (formerly Stokely Carmichael) to Belize for a country-wide speaking tour, I had the honour of travelling with him, in the back of a pickup truck, to every presentation. One of his messages, repeated forcefully several times everywhere we went, was that ‘without justice, there is no peace’. And among his examples was always Palestine. It goes without saying that Palestinians and Israelis want to live without conflict and without war. It is also what most of the world says it wants. It is what Belize wants.

Palestinians have for too long lived under the injustices of the illegal occupation of their territory by Israel, of the blocking by Israel of their rights to self-determination and full sovereignty in a state of their choosing. Without the lifting of these injustices, by Israel there can be no peace acceptable to Palestinians. For now, the struggle, resistance and suffering of the Palestinian people seem destined to continue, even grow. International support and solidarity must keep pace – especially as a genocide unfolds.

For us in Belize we welcome that our recent governments have come down on the side of justice for Palestinians in their own state – while calling for peace. When faced with the facts on Palestinian resistance, the comparisons to our own independence struggle, and with our own existential case at the ICJ, I sense that many Belizeans instinctively support the cause for a free Palestine. What (more) can we do to show solidarity?

As with every difficult problem of injustice that requires bold policy changes, the first challenge is to be well informed, to know the basic history. With the internet and social media, the amount of available and accessible information on the Palestinian resistance is huge. But remember that there are competing narratives and misinformation, so don’t get all your information and news from one source. Know, for example, that news outlets like CNN mostly tow the biased US government’s line and so are part of the problem, not the solution. Check out more independent and alternative media. See, for example, the informative explainer from Al Jazeera.

If the information compels you to act, there are some options for actions: Share information with others, write to your area representatives, donate to humanitarian support for Palestinians (See for example the MAP site), sign national and international petitions in support of Palestine, lobby for a group you are a part of to issue positions, or participate in related protests if they happen in your area.  Sites of solidarity campaigns in other countries such as the Palestine Solidarity Campaign can provide other ideas for action that can be adapted for Belize.

As SPEAR used to say, ‘there may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but we should never fail to protest’. Remember the Solomon Burke song: ‘None of us are free, if one of us is chained.’ Palestinians, especially, need our solidarity now

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