Is there a link between Ukraine and Palestine?

Sari Nusseibeh once wrote in his autobiography: “We prevailed by not being defeated”, regarding the Palestinian engagement in the Yom-Kippur-War from 1973. The longer the Russian invasion of Ukraine takes, the more this phrase is echoing through the generations and displays Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyys ethos of an unbreakable Ukrainian spirit.

Since the beginning of the invasion and the display of Ukrainian soliders and civilians as surprisingly resilient, applauded and supported by the gros of the global population, critical voices slammed this support as hypocritical and biased regarding the identification of Palestinian resistance as “terrorist” while Ukrainians are hailed as “freedom fighters” (not to mention the blatant racism of CBS reporter Charlie D’Agata and the racist double standards in the treatment of refugees on the Polish-Ukrainian border and in Germany):

“When Ukrainians do it against the Russian occupier, it is heroism. When Palestinians do it against the Israeli occupier, it is only terror” stated Mohammed Rafik Mhawesh in an Al-Jazeera opinion piece. Several voices around the world plead for this condemnation in favor of the Palestinan struggle, not just Palestinian ones. And to certain extent, at least in the transported images, there are visible parallels, for example this video, showing a demonstration of Ukrainians marching towards a visibly overwhelmed small group of Russian soldiers. There are already tons of videos displaying Ukrainian volunteers preparing Molotov cocktails, protesting Russian occupiers or fleeing the scene and shots from Russian guns. Also scenes from bombed areas are potential reminders of Israel’s full scale wars in Gaza and in the West Bank during the Second Intifada btween 2000 and 2005. The imagery is repetitive, yet horrible and mobilizing, also in the Palestinian case:

By retaliating against aggression, the threatened community gains credibility and recognition, both from external parties and from other members of their own community who might thereby become more confident, more hopeful, and more committed to joining a resistance whose likelihood of success is increased with greater participation and unity.” [Stephen Law, 2008]

This applies for Palestinians, also internationally, as it applies for Israelis likewise, at least in the war and conflict aspects of its history. And also, one should be aware, that the Israeli society, before establishing a state, was in an oppositional modus operandi, too, with ambushes, guerilla commandos and street violence (Lechi, Irgun Zwa Leumi). Yet, Israel succeeded in becoming a solid state, as Palestine did not, forcing them into an oppositional mode until today, with all its negative outcomes but also broad international solidarity (approximately 30% of the annual PA budget comes from international aid plus solidarity groups around the globe). Also, what we see happening in Ukraine is full scale war between two sovereign nations, but also between two ideologies, democracy and autocracy. The latter does not apply to Israel, even though, the political performance of Benjamin Netanyahu was definitely inspired by Russia’s dictator Vladimir Putin. Otherwise, the Palestinian Authority definitely reveals more characteristics of a dictatorship (corruption, repressive security system, lacking freedom of speech and so on).And this dictatorship makes the difference: while the entire political system in Russia is built around Vladimir Putin’s will, the Israeli system allows legal attempts, a civil society and politics to oppose imperial plans, which is definitely not the case in Russia. Also, Putin has the ability to provoke a Third World War with forseeable and horrible consequences. But also, in regard of internalization of racism (of which most of us fall for), there is definitely a north-south-divide in the observation of conflicts and that is definitely to criticized strongly and to removed.

Nevertheless, the system forced on Palestinian is that of an unjust legal system based on military law, causing trauma, loss and more opposition. A study from 2020 revealed, that nearly 90 % of Gaza’s children witnessed personal trauma while 53% were diagnosed PTSD. And despite every scientific approach to the topic, the decisive element is the sphere of everyday experience and psychological results. In other words, the everyday life in Palestine is marked by foreign soldiers, settler violence and a dynamic adjustment of everyday life to the measures applied by the Israeli administration. Thus, the confrontation is steady, violent and asymmetric, with means of an emancipatory fight against an oppressor, scenes we can observe in Ukraine as well. Or as the Palestinian writer Mahmoud Darwish stated famously:

“Exile is more than a geographical concept. You can be an exile in your homeland, in your own house, in a room.”

Further, and besides Ukraine and Russia and Palestine and Israel, there are many peoples and nations around the world with an intertwined, yet asymmetrical history (China, Uyghurs and Tibetans, Kurds and Turkish and many others) that are observed ambivalently. Especially the situation of Kurdish political action in Germany is seen as critical due to a close German tie to Turkey. Nevertheless, the vast majority of left-winged people in Germany supports the Kurdish independence and thus, would not label Kurdish action as “terrorist”. And that is the point: Palestinian independent pushes are only labeled “terrorists” by those strongly and exclusively supporting Israel in juxtaposition to the global solidarity movement for an independent Palestine.

One of the worst results imaginable of the current Russian invasion in Ukraine would be a second West Bank: a foreign power imposing martial law, administered by a military with police duties and controlled by an obedient puppet regime that enforces a national ethos unto a disobedient population. At this point, it is impossible to see the end of this war and its outcomes, especially due to the circumstance, that Putin plays a Win or Lose game, without any compromise. And as the Palestinians do not accept a foreign administration, so won’t the Ukrainians.

In the end, there are parallels, but also grave differences, and criticism is important and reasonable. But also, we should not forget, that we live in a world full of conflicts, each with different histories, preconditions and participants. Thus, differentiation is necessary and decisive. Also, one cannot forsee the impact on the international observation of asymmetrical conflicts and a slight chance for a sensitization for the needs of the oppressed worldwide.

About the Author
Tobias Griessbach has a M.A. in Anthropology and is a freelance journalist.
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