Gaza and ‘the graveyard for children’: the moral decline of Western politics

Nov 15, 2023
Medics transport an injured Palestinian child into Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City Taken on 11 October 2023.

Weak Western leaders, certain of their own exceptionalism, have endangered world peace by peddling narratives that justify the unjustifiable. Abuse of the charge of antisemitism silences those calling for an end to the bloodshed, fomenting a callous response to the killing of Palestinians.

Irrespective of your political beliefs, the reality is that the worst wars of this century have a common thread: Western intervention, instigation, or historical entanglement.

Today’s two most significant wars – Ukraine and Israel-Gaza – are no different. The West, led by the United States, has not been involved in its self-proclaimed capacity as a global peacemaker. Instead, it has played a role that the majority of the world views as self-serving, instigating, enabling, and deepening these conflicts.

As the horrors of the month-long assault on Gaza’s civilian population stuns and numbs onlookers, people around the world are left wondering why and how Western powers have stood in the way of calls for a ceasefire that would put a stop to the daily vengeful killing and save the lives of innocent people – mainly children.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres has warned that the Gaza Strip is fast becoming “ a graveyard for children”. He, too, has called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. For his remarks, he was attacked by Israel and told to resign. More Palestinian children have been killed in Gaza over the last month – close to 4,500 at the last estimate – than the total number killed in the West Bank and Gaza combined between 1967 and this year.

The blocking of a ceasefire option by Western powers has brought to the fore a recurrent question: what are the reasons for the moral bankruptcy within Western societies, and especially their political leaders? This is being asked across the world, including by some of the West’s leading public intellectuals.

European and American friends of mine working at various institutions have posed the same question in social-media chat groups, but feel unable to publicly voice their concerns at home. Despite all the grandstanding about freedom of speech in the West, there is a clear obstacle presenting itself here: the fear of being accused of being an antisemite runs deep, even if one is simply asking for the bloodshed to stop.

Levelling the charge of antisemitism against anyone who questions Israel’s crimes against Palestinians is an abuse that needs to be challenged so that it does not become normalised across the world. This practice has silenced many in the West and allowed its politicians to lose their moral compass. It is not antisemitic to criticise war crimes by a government which has overseen the murder of thousands of children in the space of a few weeks. In a similar vein, condemnation of the actions of Hamas should not be seen as anti-Islam.

To label critics of Israel as antisemitic simply for opposing a brutal occupation and massacre is to dishonour the memory of the millions of Jews who paid the highest price in fascist Europe. The crimes committed against the Jewish people were inflicted by Europeans, not Arabs, Asians, or Africans. They have no historical or sociopolitical connection to the perverse hatred which is antisemitism.

The reality is that there is an accelerating decline in the quality of political discourse in the West due to a complex schizophrenia linked to its inability to confront its past, with chickens coming home to roost like the Palestinian issue; discomfort in its changing role in a rapidly shifting world order; and a post-industrial individualistic mindset that comes draped in its own sense of superiority. This has manifested in the shaping of a political class that is simultaneously at-odds and out-of-touch with a changing world, meaning it is incapable of taking on the coveted role of global leadership. This has been accompanied by a wider societal abdication of the responsibility that comes with this role, resulting in a dearth of leaders of any global stature.

The resulting void has endangered peace all around the world, not because the rest of the world is looking to the West for leadership, but because weak Western leaders – still steeped in the belief that the West is superior and must maintain its hegemony over others – have not hesitated to impose their will on the world through intervention and superior military strength. As with Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Ukraine and Israel-Gaza, the “responsibility to protect” is apparently a choice to enable atrocities that align with the Western need to maintain its position in the global pecking order.

Even if one ignores the collective amnesia of the West and Israel when it comes to the history of the Palestinian struggle, the monstrous scale of the retribution on a captive population – hostages for decades – is shocking the world. Maybe this is because the carnage is so easily recorded and that so many children are being killed – Palestinian doctors have even coined an acronym to describe survivors: WCNSF, meaning “wounded child no surviving family”.

Despite this, Western leaders have – from the deep recesses of an absurd geopolitical mental domain that they have created for themselves – developed narratives to justify the unjustifiable and the immoral. The world needs to reject this too.

Why do Western powers not stop their ally, Israel, from committing what many see as genocide and a breach of all international rules of war?

This might explain why for many in the non-Western world the following rationale explains a great deal: terrorism is war waged by the weak and oppressed against the might of the strong and powerful. War is the terror unleashed by the strong and powerful against the weak and oppressed. Both resort to terror in an asymmetrical fashion to further their goals.

It is worth remembering that in the early days of its creation, many in Israel waged a war of terror against the power of the day – the British government – and many of its former leaders were labelled as terrorists.

So how, then, does a civilised world sit back and watch a massacre taking place as planned and broadcast worldwide? Should it remain silent as terror is unleashed daily on civilians by state actors? Why do Western powers not stop their ally, Israel, from committing what many see as genocide and a breach of all international rules of war? The world wants to know and is not going to forget the decisions made by Western leaders to not call a halt to the slaughter.

True diplomacy requires de-escalating even the most fraught situations to prevent widespread suffering; not enabling it. In the face of such a catastrophic situation, taking sides is not an option.

Instead, duplicity and deception on international matters have become the norm, and in recent decades, the West has set new standards. Just look at the narratives surrounding the conflict, which Western leaders use to justify the killing while allowing them to retain the moral high ground.

For example: European leaders are seemingly willing to launder their collective guilt at the continent’s centuries of persecution of Jews with the lives of Palestinians – including children – and permit the massacre to continue, even refusing to call for a ceasefire. European media plays a key role by falling in line and trumpeting the message worldwide, in an effort that is increasingly seen by many outside the West as shameful and sheer propaganda.

In the case of the US, the Biden administration claims to denounce the continued violence, yet continues to pump billions in funding and weapons into Israel. Even the US’ own diplomats are enraged, as a recent leaked memo revealed. “When Israel supports settler violence and illegal land seizures or employs excessive use of force against Palestinians, we must communicate publicly that this goes against our American values so that Israel does not act with impunity,” it read.

There are hardly words to describe this behaviour in our lexicon. We perhaps need terms like “morality psychosis” or “bigotry psychosis” to correctly frame the Western response to the conflict – if holding captive an entire people can even be fairly termed a “conflict”.

It is the same psychosis that rabidly gripped the response to the war in Ukraine, reducing the conflict to a battle of good versus evil, accompanied by a collective amnesia of the two countries’ complex history and the years of goading by Nato.

In the case of Ukraine, widespread outrage led to the marshalling of resources to fight Russia and intensify the war, rather than suing for peace talks, on the grounds that an invasion had broken the all-sacred sovereignty rule. Yet when it comes to the Palestinians and Gaza, the support is for occupation, restriction of human rights, and a licence to kill, with racist undertones so clear they may as well be overtones.

The Western response to these two conflicts has fully revealed the West’s appreciation of its own exceptionalism, stemming from centuries of dominance over the world. Never before in the postcolonial era has the global majority been exposed to the true nature of this exceptionalism and the dangerous consequences it has for everyone.

The West’s inability to share power with a rising global majority in an emerging multipolar world order has made it deeply insecure and aggressive. It is regressing to what it has historically been very good at: the use of violence to maintain power. This has resulted in highly unqualified and undesirable people seeking power and influence, driven by the desire to retain hegemony and relive past glories.

To quote the late American political scientist, adviser, and academic Samuel P. Huntington: “The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion … but rather by its superiority in applying organised violence. Westerners often forget this fact; non-Westerners never do.”

To onlookers from the global majority, the callous response of Western powers to the killing of Palestinians is now inflicting a gaping wound on the credibility of Western international leadership, as well as to the vaunted values of Western liberal democracy. Its political leaders and morally paralysed citizens appear justified in committing horrors around the world, all under the banner of that same democracy.

The Palestinian people are having to pay the ultimate price. For the people of Israel, their friends in the West are letting them down by not speaking the truth and stopping them from committing more crimes that will make a long-lasting peace extremely difficult.


First published by the South China Morning Post November 10, 2023.


For more on this topic, P&I recommends:

The death of Al-Shifa Hospital, the last bastion of humanity in northern Gaza

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