Ethnic cleansing may seem like an archaic term, but its traces are still evident in the 21st century. All across the world we find various groups of people that have been oppressed and targeted with the sole aim of annihilating their existence. We have come to the point in our society where particular groups of people can be obliterated and not a word of criticism is mentioned.
Yulia Dernovsky wrote a viewpoint yesterday as a Russian Jew, speaking of terrorism in Russia and Israel (Moscow hostage crisis: a shock that isn’t shocking, 10/30/02). Let me write, not from the perspective of an Arab Muslim, but rather as an individual human being. Chechnya is a region in which the civilian population has been dominated by the brutal force of the occupying Russian troops. Out of fear of the ruling Kremlin, the Russian press rarely reports on the savagery of the Russian troops. Few bold journalists, risking imprisonment, have reported on the plight of the Chechen civilians. These journalists have written of the decade-long oppression of the innocent regarding the summary executions, rape and looting that take place under the auspices of the Kremlin force.
In the Western press, we rarely hear these harrowing tales and instead hear of the “Islamic fundamentalist terrorists.” Any human rights organization will tell the plague that the Chechens have suffered. The human rights situation is deteriorating as more and more abuses are committed by the Kremlin forces. Hundreds of Chechens are detained without charges and many of them suspiciously disappear. President Vladimir Putin has not held the Russian forces accountable for their delinquency.
We can also parallel this to the brutal occupation of the Israeli army in Palestine. Rarely does the media report on the daily lives of Palestinians and the effects of living under occupation. We rarely hear in the West about the Palestinian child shot, the family’s home that was bulldozed or of the lack of basic sustenance. For over 35 years, the occupation has continued in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Millions of people, women and children included, have suffered the repercussions of this. The statistics regarding the disease and famine that are a direct result of the occupation are sadly mounting.
Since 1987, Israeli authorities have demolished and bulldozed over 3,250 homes, with over an estimated 16,000 Palestinians left homeless as a result. Since the current uprising in 2000, the checkpoints have severely restricted access for Palestinians to move from village to village, not only severely destabilizing any sense of economic infrastructure, but also leading to the death and humiliation of many. The Palestinians are forced to stop at checkpoints, arbitrarily pushed around and then denied access to the roads. The excessive use of force upon the Palestinians goes unreprimanded by the Israeli government. I implore you all to read the harrowing testimonials from B’tselem, an Israeli Human Rights Organization. The daily inhumane treatment of Palestinians is the reality of occupation.
Neither Yulia nor myself can ever understand the realities of living under the occupation of an army. The Palestinians are treated the way that are simply because they are Arab; whether or not they are Christian or Muslim makes no difference. The Chechens are treated the way that they are solely because they are Chechen or Muslim. The Palestinians are denied access to roads because they are Palestinian, while their Israeli neighbors boastfully drive on their own roads. The Chechens are raped and their cases are never brought to justice because they are Chechen.
Last week, I came across an ad from the Michigan Committee for a Safe Israel. The heading stated, “What Palestinians? What Rights?” What kind of society do we live in which human beings can be humiliated in such a degrading manner? How can this sort of malevolence print freely? The complete denial of the existence of an entire population of people with a heritage, society and history is ludicrous.
We cannot let the entire population of Palestinians suffer any longer, nor can we let the entire population of Chechens suffer either. Let us not turn our backs on the innocent people of the world. The Palestinians and Chechens are terrorized on a daily basis by the occupying forces and have been for decades. Terrorism from both sides must stop, as it has left many innocent dead and a stalemate towards any positive solutions. What happened in Russia shouldn’t have happened; the loss of innocent life anywhere is tragic.
It is clear that the occupation of these lands has resulted in the deaths of thousands. Ethnic cleansing was attempted in Bosnia by the Serbians and is occurring in a different form in Chechnya and Palestine. It is not OK for our society to continue their apathy and to diminish the horrors of their suffering. People of conscious must continue to speak up for the innocent civilians killed on both sides of these conflicts and hopefully the occupations will end, resulting in just and viable solutions.
Brenda Abdelall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.