Israel is routinely touted as the only democracy in the Middle East. Yet a falsehood doesn’t become true just because it is repeated ad infinitum.
This week has seen up to 1,500 Palestinians — political prisoners held in Israeli jails — continue with a mass hunger strike now entering its fourth week. And the world is quietly taking notice. Even here in Pakistan there has been an event at the National Press Club, organised by the Palestinian diplomatic mission, to protest Israel’s treatment of those it chooses to incarcerate. This is to be welcomed. Especially given that when it comes to the Middle East, Islamabad doesn’t always quite seem able to look beyond our role in the Saudi-led regional alliance.
Yet the time for raising awareness has long gone. Civil society from the Muslim world needs to take the lead in dismantling this false nexus between Israel and democracy that has been artificially constructed over more than half a century. This is not to abdicate the political leaders of their responsibility towards this end. But it is an acknowledgment that for much of the neo-colonial western media — there is nothing more it likes than a bit of visual click bait in terms of Muslim Third Worlders demanding their rights. Casual tokenism at its very best, some might say.
The Palestinians are demanding improved prison conditions, including the doing away with administrative detention, which flies in the face of any kind of procedural transparency. The situation is different from anywhere else in the world. Israel is an occupying nation and its responsibility for Palestinian security is meant to extend to those whom it locks up. Yet instead, the Israelis are force-feeding many of the hunger strikers, despite the fact that international legal norms recognise this from of prolonged fasting as legitimate form of non-violent resistance as well as a form of freedom that is both a political and a civil right. Back in 2015, Israel’s parliament passed a law sanctioning the force-feeding of prisoners. The move drew retribution from the UN, most notably its Committee Against Torture. The Israeli Medical Association also condemned the move, also citing torture.
Less than a year ago, Fareed Zakaria took to his flagship show to bemoan the plight of the Middle East. His verdict was that most of the region’s nations were characterised by fragile regimes presiding over weakened institutions complete with weakened civil society and no sense of statehood. He said this during the very broadcast on which he had invited a former British prime minister who has never yet been tried for war crimes over his decimation of Iraqi society. The unthinking man’s political pundit should not have the last word on Middle Eastern democracy. *