Not a ‘captain’s call’ | Palestine, Israel and Fiji

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Supporters march through the streets of Melbourne. Picture: SUPPLLIED

A few days ago, I was painfully jolted out of my retirement by a The Fiji Times (February 21, 2024) headline by journalist Anish Chand “Fiji stands with Israel”. The article noted that the International Criminal Court in The Hague had reported that the Sitiveni Rabuka-led Government will issue a written statement supporting Israel, alongside the only other country in the world, United States. This apparent foreign policy position of the Government is horrifyingly at odds with the rest of the civilised world, including Australia who has supported the UN call for ceasefire, even painfully breaking ranks with its strategic ally United States. I say “horrifying” because television news viewers throughout the world have for months been seeing truly horrific images of innocent (men, women and children) being knowingly and deliberately slaughtered, all for political reasons. On October 7, 2023, a few hundred Israelis were slaughtered by the Hamas in a puzzling attack. Since then, there have been more than 30,000 Palestinians slaughtered, hundreds of thousands injured, their homes reduced to rubble and more than a million made refugees (more than Fiji’s population) with nowhere to go. While world opinion may have been with the Israelis on October 7, that has completely changed today with Israel ruthlessly refusing to heed the UN calls for ceasefire. But why would Mr Rabuka support Israel? Does he have the full backing of his PAP board and supporters? Was there a “collective” Coalition Government decision, given that the NFP has clearly stated a position contrary to that of Mr Rabuka? Did Mr Rabuka even consider the possible increased risks for RFMF peacekeepers in the Middle East surely of concern to Defence Minister Pio Tikoduadua? Given that the FijiFirst party has more seats (25) than the People’s Alliance (21), I seriously doubt that the Fiji Parliament would support Mr Rabuka with enough numbers for him to claim internationally that “Fiji stands with Israel”. Surely Mr Rabuka needs to consult far more widely in Fiji on the Israel-Palestine issue if he genuinely wants to be a “democratic” leader representing the views of “Fiji”.

Why the conflict?

There is little point to trying to establish who were the original settlers of the disputed lands such as Palestine: How far back do you go? Hundreds of years? Thousands of years? What is not disputed is that after World War II, generations of Palestinians were driven off their lands to make way for Jewish settlers from around the world, themselves traumatised by Germany’s Holocaust that killed five million innocent Jews. But the worldwide sympathy for the Jewish cause has been dissipated by the continued brutality of Israel towards the legitimate calls by the Palestinians for their own homeland, supported by their political arms like the Palestine Liberation Organisation and Hamas. The latest escalation came when Hamas launched an October 7 attack on Israel killing hundreds of innocent civilians and taking hostage more than a hundred, most still not released. In revenge, Israel has engaged in vicious indiscriminate bombardment of Palestinian settlements in Gaza and elsewhere, anywhere they suspect Hamas activists and supporters to be living. Is Israel justified in what it is doing today? Let me draw a simple Fijian analogy which may help the reader understand what is happening in Palestine.

Killing drug traffickers in Suva, and everyone else?

Suppose that the RFMF suspect that there are a few dozen illegal drug traffickers living in Suva. They drop leaflets on Suva advising all Suva residents to leave their homes, even if they have lived there peacefully for generations. The RFMF then proceeds to bomb Suva and all the houses out of existence whether they are occupied or not. They kill more than twenty thousand innocent men, women and children, injure hundreds of thousands, and reduce Suva to ruins. They might kill a few drug traffickers who remained. All Fiji (and the whole civilised world), whether Christians, Hindus, Muslims or Sikhs would be outraged at this senseless immoral slaughter, totally out of all proportion to the need to apprehend and punish a few drug traffickers. This is exactly how the rest of the civilised world (excluding the US and Mr Rabuka’s Fiji Government) currently feel about the Israeli slaughter of innocent Palestinians in their hunt for Hamas, which has now displaced a population larger than Fiji’s.

Does the “Coalition” support Rabuka?

There may be a strong ultra-Christian wing of the People’s Alliance Party (21 seats) in favour of Rabuka’s support of Israel, but did the PAP board support Rabuka on the Israel-Palestine crisis? There may be a wing of SODELPA (three seats) supporting Rabuka. But the National Federation Party (5 seats) and its leader (Professor Biman Prasad) has publicly opposed Mr Rabuka’s stance and supported the UN Motion for ceasefire (The Fiji Times 30 October 2023). As the NGO Coalition on Human Rights has asked how was the Fiji Government decision taken to blindly support Israel against the UN motion? Does the Fiji Parliament support Rabuka? Given that the People’s Coalition without the 5 NFP seats only total 24 seats, this would still be a minority in Parliament. Were
the Opposition FFP (25 MPs) consulted by Mr Rabuka? Certainly there was no parliamentary discussion or vote to decide whether to support Israel or the UN call for ceasefire. It is totally wrong of Mr Rabuka to claim that “Fiji supports Israel”. Mr Rabuka is not entitled to make a “captain’s call” on such a huge moral issue in which Australia and the civilised western world have backed the United Nations.

Where is the public consultation?

In the run-up to the 2022 Elections, I had extolled the virtues of the Rabuka-Prasad partnership through a number of The Fiji Times articles and spoken extensively on the influential Talking Points show of Sydney-based lawyer Sashi Singh. I had suggested that Mr Rabuka and Mr Prasad would be far more democratic and consultative with the people of Fiji than had been Voqere Bainimarama and Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum in their 16-year dictatorship. I had argued that the Rabuka/Prasad partnership would be guided by sound moral values and be good for workers, women and the poor, and even USP. Sadly today, Mr Rabuka, whatever may be his contributions on these other matters of public policy, is proving me horribly wrong on the Israel-Palestine foreign policy issue. His blind and immoral support for Israel despite its UN-documented slaughter of innocent Palestinians, is ignoring the serious opposition expressed by his Coalition partner the National Federation Party and also many NGOs who previously backed him. It is also surprising that Mr Rabuka is willing to risk the lives and wellbeing of the RFMF peacekeepers in the Middle East, given that the entire Arab world is against the Israeli slaughter of the Palestinians. Mr Rabuka’s initial response (“why stir a hornets’ nest”) to the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel clearly illustrated that this was the response of a “military man” for whom moral issues were not the priority, but military strategy. We cannot forget that Mr Rabuka once carried out the 1987 military coup and even in his current Government there are many at the top who have supported not just the 1987 coup, but also the coups of 2000 and 2006.

Christian leaders please advise

It is a puzzle to me that not just Mr Rabuka, but so many of Fiji’s Christians blindly support Israel despite its gross abuse of basic human rights of Palestinians for decades. Some of this support may be driven (I believe) by misinterpretations of what is in the Bible, especially the Old Testament, about the Jews being the “chosen people” on earth. The New Testament has other messages. But throughout the world and even in Israel there is widespread Christian and even Jewish opposition to the Israeli slaughter of Palestinians and senseless destruction of their homes and homeland. The deep pain and anguish of ordinary people was so obvious to me from the faces of the men, women and children, I personally happened to witness in a protest march in the middle of Melbourne last
week. It would be extremely useful if the religious leaders of Fiji (the Methodists, Catholics, Hindus and Muslims) perhaps led by the Pacific Conference of Churches, urgently organised dialogue and provide moral guidance to the public on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Can they also call on the Rabuka Government to reconsider its stance, as has the NGO Coalition on Human Rights so that Fiji is not forever morally stigmatised internationally? After all, there are so many more critical development issues facing Fiji which the Coalition Government needs to focus on, and not be derailed by a foreign policy issue in the Middle East, of little consequence to the everyday lives of Fiji people (except our RFMF peacekeepers in the Middle East).
PROF WADAN NARSEY is one of the region’s senior economists and a regular commentator on political and economic issues in Fiji. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily the views of this newspaper.

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