Israel does not have the right to kill Palestinian civilians without any limit, Malaysia’s former PM Mahathir bin Mohamad tells Arab News

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Updated 16 November 2023

Israel does not have the right to kill Palestinian civilians without any limit, Malaysia’s former PM Mahathir bin Mohamad tells Arab News

  • Veteran statesman condemns Israel’s “humanitarian oppression” of the Palestinian people in Gaza
  • Says Israel can only stave off a repeat of Oct. 7 by negotiating with Hamas, giving back Palestinian land

RIYADH: Israel’s military assault on Gaza is a disproportionate response, and the conflict can only be halted through negotiation with Hamas and by pursuing a two-state solution, according to Mahathir bin Mohamad, the former prime minister of Malaysia.

The veteran statesman, who held office from 1981 to 2003 and from 2018 to 2020, making him the country’s longest-serving prime minister, has long been a staunch supporter of Palestinian national rights.

Compared with the 1948 Nakba, or “catastrophe,” that resulted in the creation of the state of Israel and the dispossession of millions of Palestinians, Mahathir believes the current conflict in Gaza presents an even greater threat and is more akin to an extermination.

“This is worse than the previous Nakba because this is not war. This is, simply, a humanitarian oppression,” he told Arab News.

“We don’t see soldiers fighting each other. We see, simply, Israeli soldiers killing civilians. That is not war. It is a humanitarian disaster.”

Israel launched its military assault on Gaza with the intention of eliminating Hamas after the Palestinian militant group mounted its unprecedented attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7, which resulted in the death of 1,200 people, Israelis and foreigners, and the taking of more than 200 hostages.

The US and many other Western governments have repeatedly voiced their support for Israel’s right to defend itself and broadly backed the aim of eliminating Hamas, which Washington and many European governments consider a terrorist organization.

“It may have the right to defend itself but not to the extent of proposing to kill Palestinian civilians without any limit,” said Mahathir.

“Already, they have killed 12,000. They claim they have lost 1,400, but now they have killed more than 12,000 Palestinians. That is not the way to secure the well-being of Israel.”

The steadfast Western support for Israel has started to wane, however, as the civilian body count in Gaza continues to rise, prompting growing calls for an immediate ceasefire, the establishment of humanitarian aid corridors, and a negotiated settlement of the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Mahathir, who was in office during the 1993-1999 peace process, when the Palestine Liberation Organization, led by Yasser Arafat, came close to its goal of establishing an independent Palestinian state, said the violence of Oct. 7 was all but inevitable after Israel failed to keep up its end of successive agreements.

“For 70 years, the Israelis have been oppressing the Palestinians, have taken their land and built settlements on their land,” said Mahathir.

“And they (the Palestinians) have tried many ways, including negotiation by Arafat. But every time they tried to solve the problem, the Israelis reneged on their promises. For example, when Arafat finally agreed that the state of Israel should exist, that there should be a two-state solution, the Israelis (did) not implement the promise they made that there should be a two-state solution.

Arab News’ Noor Nugali interviews Mahathir bin Mohamad, Malaysia’s longest-serving prime minister. (AN Photo)

“So, what can the Palestinians do? They had to eventually resort to violence. They have no other way. The world is not helping them. There is no justice. So the attack on Oct. 7 is because there is no other way for them to regain their land. It’s not terrorism, it’s to fight to liberate your own country.”

Mahathir doubts whether Israel ever truly countenanced the possibility of an independent Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines and with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Instead, he believes Israel wants to dispossess the Palestinians of all their remaining lands west of the Jordan river, and goes so far as to accuse the current government of orchestrating a campaign of attempted extermination.

“What they want is actually, if what they are doing in Gaza is any evidence, what they want is to rid the world of all Palestinians. That is their final solution,” said Mahathir.

“They learned this from the Nazis of Germany. The Nazi solution to the Jewish problem was to kill all Jews. Now, it seems that Israel is adopting that approach to the problem, wanting to kill all Palestinians so that the Middle East will not have any Palestinians left.”

The “final solution” refers to the killing of 6 million Jews by the Nazis, primarily in purpose-built death camps, between 1941 and 1945.

Last weekend, Saudi Arabia hosted an extraordinary joint summit of the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Riyadh, during which leaders demanded an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and rejected Israel’s justification of its actions as being self-defense.

They urged the International Criminal Court to investigate the “war crimes and crimes against humanity that Israel is committing” in the Palestinian territories, according to the summit’s final communique.

They also demanded an end to the siege of Gaza, access for the delivery of humanitarian aid, and a halt to the sale of arms to Israel, and called on the UN Security Council to take action.

“Just asking the Israelis to stop the war is not doing very much, because everybody is saying that,” said Mahathir. “But the Islamic countries can demand from the UN all peacekeepers to be sent to Gaza so that they can look after the welfare, the well-being, the security of the Gazan people.

“Today, the Gazan people have no defense. They are being killed almost as if they are not human. And this is what Israel is doing. Merely asking Israel just to stop killing is not enough. Israel will not stop killing.

“But I think at least they should send peacekeepers. They should supply food, medicine, water and all that, all the needs of the people in Gaza. And they should be there, represented as peacekeepers, to stop this unfair killing of innocent people by the Israeli military.

“And it’s not only killing that Israel is doing. They’ve cut off water, electricity, food supplies, humanitarian aid for close to a month now. And they’re saying that they want to eliminate Hamas, that they want to eradicate the terrorist group, Hamas.”

Mahathir does not believe that Hamas can be defeated by force of arms alone. Instead, he said that Israel and its allies will have to negotiate with the group if they hope to end the cycle of violence that led to the Oct. 7 attacks.

“If you want to eliminate Hamas, sit down and negotiate with Hamas,” he said. “Give back the land belonging to the Palestinians; the Palestinians who are ready to acknowledge there is Israel. That was not (the case) before but now they accept that there is Israel.

“Israel must give back the land belonging to the Palestinians and that should be done through negotiation, not through killing. Killing is uncivilized. Yes, we’ve heard so many officials say that dialogue should be open. There should be more conversation. There should be a conversation also taking place. But Israel says they needed a proportionate response to what happened to them.”

In the meantime, Mahathir believes Arab and Islamic countries in the region should offer sanctuary to Palestinian women and children, while the men should remain behind to prevent a permanent Israeli occupation.

“If the Israelis keep on killing the Palestinians, we should provide asylum for at least the women and the children,” he said. “The men should stay back in Gaza, because if you don’t, then the Israelis will occupy Gaza. So, the men will stay back, and they should be given some way of defending themselves.

“At the moment, they cannot defend themselves. They have no weapons, and they are being killed. Whether they are Hamas or not has not been ascertained. They (Israel) are killing people, saying they want to get rid of Hamas. But the people, the babies, who were killed, are they Hamas? How can you justify killing people?”

Mahathir established the Kuala Lumpur Initiative to Criminalize War in 2015, as well as the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission to investigate the activities of the US, Israel and their allies in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

He has also accused the West of increasing the likelihood of a third world war as a result of its intervention in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Part of the problem, in his view, is the dearth of moral values among the current crop of world leaders.

“We are getting world leaders who have no conscience,” Mahathir said. “We have very poor qualities of world leaders. To find the president of the US actually approving the killing of the Palestinians, that shows the quality of leadership.

“A leader should always move toward doing good things and correct things — just use the rule of law. But now the US president and the prime minister of the UK and many other European leaders, the quality of leadership is very bad. They have no conscience, no moral values. They like to see wars being fought and they don’t mind if there is no justice, if the laws are broken.”

At a time when islamophobic and antisemitic hate crimes appear to be on the rise worldwide in response to the ongoing crisis in the Middle East, Malaysia has managed to maintain a degree of harmony among its diverse population, which is made up of a majority of Malay Muslims along with Buddhists, Christian Chinese and mainly Hindu Tamils.

“Malaysia is a multiracial, multireligious country,” said Mahathir. “We have different beliefs, different cultures, but each one of us accepts that we have to tolerate each other.

“Of course, we are different. We cannot be the same. If God wants us to be the same, we will all be Muslim. But there are people who are not Muslims, and Muslims must tolerate the non-Muslims. That is part of the teachings of Islam.

“So, we adhere to the teachings of Islam and we live together. They have their own way, we have our own way and we tolerate that, for instance.”

Mahathir said this has been achieved through widespread recognition of the fact that resorting to violence can only harm the nation and its people. It is a lesson he believes other countries ought to take on board.

“If we have confrontation, (if) we have violence, (then) we will destroy the country. In the end, nobody gets anything,” he said. “Everybody in Malaysia understands that if you fight, the whole country is going to be destroyed. Everybody is going to suffer.

“Yes, we have our differences. We can settle our differences around a table, not by fighting each other. When you fight each other, you kill people and you destroy the country. In the end, even if you win, the country is destroyed. Of course, if you lose, you will also face a country that is no longer, well, stable.”

Former UK leader Boris Johnson apologizes to COVID-19 victims families

Updated 2 sec ago

Former UK leader Boris Johnson apologizes to COVID-19 victims families

  • Former PM begins giving evidence at a public inquiry into his government’s handling of the health crisis
LONDON: Boris Johnson on Wednesday apologized for “the pain and the loss and the suffering” caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, as he began giving evidence at a public inquiry into his government’s handling of the health crisis.
The former prime minister, who has faced a barrage of criticism from former aides for alleged indecisiveness and a lack of scientific understanding during the pandemic, is facing two days in the witness box.
Johnson, who was forced from office last year over lockdown-breaching parties held in Downing Street during the pandemic, accepted that “mistakes” had “unquestionably” been made.
“I understand the feeling of the victims and their families and I’m deeply sorry for the pain and the loss and the suffering to those victims and their families,” Johnson said.
Johnson, 59, was briefly interrupted as a protester was ordered from the inquiry room after refusing to sit down during the apology.
“Inevitably we got some things wrong,” Johnson continued, before adding “we did our level best” and that he took personal responsibility for decisions made.
The former premier had arrived around three hours early for the proceedings, with some suggesting he was eager to avoid relatives of the COVID-19 bereaved who gathered outside later in the morning.
Nearly 130,000 people died with COVID-19 in the UK by mid-July 2021, one of the worst official per capita tolls among Western nations.
Johnson will insist the decisions he took ultimately saved hundreds of thousands of lives, the Times newspaper reported, citing a lengthy written statement set to be published later Wednesday.
The Times said he would argue he had a “basic confidence that things would turn out alright” on the “fallacious logic” that previous health threats had not proven as catastrophic as feared.
But he is expected to say that overall, the government succeeded in its main goal of preventing the state-run health service from being overwhelmed by making the “right decisions at the right times.”
He will also say that while the country’s death toll was high, it defied most of the gloomiest predictions and “ended the pandemic well down the global league table of excess mortality.”
According to The Times, Johnson, who quit in part because of revelations about lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street, has reviewed 6,000 pages of evidence and spent hours in talks with lawyers.
He can expect to be questioned on whether he thought the government was initially complacent about the pandemic, despite evidence suggesting a more proactive approach was needed.
He will also need to justify his timing of the first UK lockdown on March 23, 2020, which some senior ministers, officials and scientific advisers now believe was too late.
Johnson, who was treated in hospital intensive care for COVID-19 early on in the pandemic, is expected to say that shutting down the country went against all his personal and political instincts.
But he had no choice because “ancient and hallowed freedoms were in conflict with the health of the community.”
Johnson’s understanding of specialist advice is likely to come under scrutiny after his former chief scientific officer, Patrick Vallance, said the former premier was frequently “bamboozled” by data.
Comments about lockdowns and the death toll, including a claim that Johnson suggested the elderly might be allowed to die because they had “had a good innings,” could also be raised.
Johnson has denied claims he said he would rather “let the bodies pile high” than impose another lockdown.
Johnson’s former top aide Dominic Cummings and communications chief Lee Cain both criticized their ex-boss when they gave evidence at the inquiry.
Cummings said a “low point” was when Johnson circulated a video to his scientific advisers of “a guy blowing a special hairdryer up his nose ‘to kill Covid’.”
Cain said COVID-19 was the “wrong crisis” for Johnson’s skill set, adding that he became “exhausted” by his alleged indecision and oscillation in dealing with the crisis.
“He’s somebody who would often delay making decisions, would often seek counsel from multiple sources and change his mind on issues,” Cain said.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who was Johnson’s finance minister during the pandemic, is due to be questioned at the inquiry in the coming weeks.

Death toll in Philippine ‘killer curve’ bus accident rises

Updated 06 December 2023

Death toll in Philippine ‘killer curve’ bus accident rises

  • Bus carrying dozens of people when its brakes failed in the central province of Antique on Tuesday afternoon
  • The Philippines is notorious for its lax regulation on public transportation and poorly maintained roads

MANILA: A passenger severely injured when a bus plunged into a ravine in the central Philippines has died, taking the death toll from the accident to 17, authorities said on Wednesday.
The bus was carrying dozens of people when its brakes failed in the central province of Antique on Tuesday afternoon, the local governor, Rhodora Cadiao, told a press conference.
Seven people were in critical condition while four were stable and recovering, she said.
Local media had reported earlier than 28 died in the crash.
Cadiao said the bus was traveling to Culasi in Antique from the neighboring province of Iloilo when its brakes malfunctioned on a winding road and it plunged 30 meters (98.5 feet) into the ravine.
“We call that area the killer curve. It was already the second bus that fell off there,” Cadiao told DZRH radio station.
Rescue operations at the site have stopped after all visible bodies were retrieved, the Antique government said on Facebook.
“The engineering design of this road is very faulty,” Cadiao said. “I want to condemn that road already.”
The Philippines is notorious for its lax regulation on public transportation and poorly maintained roads.

US Navy patrol plane flies over sensitive Taiwan Strait

Updated 06 December 2023

US Navy patrol plane flies over sensitive Taiwan Strait

  • China claims sovereignty over democratically governed Taiwan, and says it has jurisdiction over the strait

BEIJING: A US Navy patrol aircraft flew through the sensitive Taiwan Strait on Wednesday, the US military said, describing the mission as a demonstration of the country’s commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.
China claims sovereignty over democratically governed Taiwan, and says it has jurisdiction over the strait. Taiwan and the United States dispute that, saying the Taiwan Strait is an international waterway.
The US Navy’s 7th Fleet said the P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol and reconnaissance plane, which is also used for anti-submarine missions, flew over the strait in international airspace.
“The aircraft’s transit of the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the United States’ commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. The United States military flies, sails and operates anywhere international law allows,” it said in a statement.
There was no immediate comment from China.
The last time the US Navy announced a Poseidon had flown through the strait, in October, China said it had sent fighter jets to monitor and warn the aircraft.
Taiwan is gearing up for presidential and parliamentary elections on Jan. 13, which China has cast as a choice between war and peace.
China has stepped up its military activity around Taiwan in the past four years, including staging two rounds of major war games over the last year and a half.

Joe Biden tells campaign donors: I am running for reelection to prevent Donald Trump’s return

Updated 06 December 2023

Joe Biden tells campaign donors: I am running for reelection to prevent Donald Trump’s return

  • President using a trio of fundraisers to caution against what might happen should his predecessor again claim control of the White House

BOSTON: President Joe Biden told campaign donors Tuesday that he wasn’t sure he’d be running for reelection if Donald Trump wasn’t also in the race, warning that democracy is “more at risk in 2024” and that the former president and his allies are out to “destroy” democratic institutions.
The president was using a trio of fundraisers to caution against what might happen should his predecessor again claim control of the White House, noting that Trump has described himself as his supporters’ “retribution” and has vowed to root out “vermin” in the country.
“We’ve got to get it done, not because of me. ... If Trump wasn’t running I’m not sure I’d be running. We cannot let him win,” Biden said, hitting the last words slowly for emphasis.
Biden’s forceful rhetoric came as Trump, the current GOP front-runner, who tried to overturn the 2020 election he lost and is facing criminal charges connected to those efforts, attempted over the weekend to turn the tables by calling Biden the “destroyer of American democracy.”
Trump on Tuesday was asked by Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity to promise he “would never abuse power as retribution against anybody.”
“Except for day one,” Trump responded. “I want to close the border and I want to drill, drill, drill.”
“After that I’m not a dictator,” Trump added.
Biden’s campaign quickly seized on the comments with an email that read, “Donald Trump: Day One Dictator.” Later, Biden was asked by reporters whether he would be running if Trump wasn’t and gave a slightly different comment, saying, “I expect so, but look, he is running and I have to run.”
He was asked if he would drop out if Trump did and said, “No, not now.”
Biden, who said he is not alone in sounding the alarm over Trump, noted that Trump is the “only losing candidate” in US history to not accept the results. Biden also said that on Jan. 6, 2021, as Trump supporters violently stormed the US Capitol in a failed attempt to stop the certification of the election results, Trump sat in his dining room just off the Oval Office, “watching them threaten his own vice president.”
Biden also highlighted recent warnings about Trump from former Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, calling her a “powerful voice.”
“American democracy, I give you my word as a Biden, is at stake,” the president said at the first of three campaign fundraisers in the Boston area. Drawing some laughter from donors, Biden also mused: “He didn’t even show up at my inauguration. I can’t say I was disappointed, but he didn’t even show up.”
The warnings by Biden are increasingly part of his pitch to donors: that democracy is at stake if Trump were to win again and he must be defeated. The president is pushing to raise money for his reelection effort before the end of the year, appearing at seven events through Monday — with more to come. The events in Boston on Tuesday benefit his campaign and the broader Democratic Party.
They included an evening event in the city’s theater district featuring a concert by singer-songwriter James Taylor, who helped kick off a White House event in 2022 celebrating the Inflation Reduction Act, a climate and health care bill that Biden signed into law.
Onstage, Biden joked to the packed theater audience that he wouldn’t be long because he knew he was “the only thing standing” between the audience and the performance by Taylor.
“We’re always going to defend protect and fight for democracy,” he said. “That’s why I’m running.”
November was the campaign’s strongest grassroots fundraising month since Biden formally announced last April that he was seeking a second term, according to a campaign official who insisted on anonymity to discuss campaign finances before details are made public. The numbers will be released in January.
In October, Biden and the Democratic National Committee reported raising more than $71 million for his reelection in the three months ending Sept. 30, a sign that donors remained behind him going into the 2024 presidential race.
Biden had only political events on his public schedule for Tuesday, which is rare. Presidents who are running for reelection typically include an official event, like a policy speech, on the schedule to help defray costs for their campaign.
Biden will also attend a fundraiser Wednesday near the White House and another one Monday in Philadelphia. He’ll headline fundraisers in Washington, D.C., and in Maryland later in December.
On Friday, Biden will head to Los Angeles for a big-dollar event that will be his first since strikes by writers and actors effectively ground his fundraising to a halt in the heart of the entertainment industry, which has long served as a major source of campaign money for Democrats.

In rare Israel rebuke, US restricts visas on extremist settlers

Updated 06 December 2023

In rare Israel rebuke, US restricts visas on extremist settlers

  • US would refuse entry to anyone involved in ‘undermining peace, security or stability in the West Bank’

LONDON: In a rare punitive move against Israel, the US State Department said Tuesday it will impose travel bans on extremist Jewish settlers implicated in a rash of recent attacks on Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

"Today, the State Department is implementing a new visa restriction policy targeting individuals believed to have been involved in undermining peace, security, or stability in the West Bank, including through committing acts of violence or taking other actions that unduly restrict civilians’ access to essential services and basic necessities," it said in a statement by Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Blinken announced the step after repeatedly warning Israel last week that President Joe Biden's administration would be taking action over the attacks. Blinken did not announce individual visa bans, but officials said those would be coming this week and could affect dozens of settlers and their families.

"Immediate family members of such persons also may be subject to these restrictions," Blinken said, however, the statement did not identify any individuals facing visa bans, or say how many would be targeted.

The decision comes at a sensitive moment in U.S.-Israeli relations. The Biden administration has firmly backed Israel since an attack by Hamas on Oct. 7, even as international criticism of Israel has mounted.

But in recent weeks, the administration has stepped up calls on Israel to do more to limit civilian casualties as the Israelis expand their offensive and target densely populated southern Gaza.

Daily settler attacks have more than doubled, U.N. figures show, since Hamas, which controls the separate Palestinian enclave of Gaza, killed 1,200 Israelis and took about 240 hostage. Israel has since bombed and invaded Gaza, killing more than 16,000 people.

"The United States has consistently opposed actions that undermine stability in the West Bank, including attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinians, and Palestinian attacks against Israelis," Blinken said. 

"We have underscored to the Israeli government the need to do more to hold accountable extremist settlers who have committed violent attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank," he added. "As President Biden has repeatedly said, those attacks are unacceptable. Last week in Israel, I made clear that the United States is ready to take action using our own authorities."

During meetings in Israel last week, Blinken told officials Washington was "ready to take action using our own authorities," he said.

Blinken said Washington would "continue to seek accountability for all acts of violence against civilians in the West Bank, regardless of the perpetrator or the victim," and would "continue to engage with the Israeli leadership to make clear that Israel must take additional measures to protect Palestinian civilians from extremist attacks." 

He also called on the "Palestinian Authority to make clear it must do more to curb Palestinian attacks against Israelis.

"Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority have the responsibility to uphold stability in the West Bank," Blinken said, adding: "Instability in the West Bank both harms the Israeli and Palestinian people and threatens Israel’s national security interests. Those responsible for it must be held accountable."

Tuesday's move comes just a month after Israel was granted entry into the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, which allows its citizens visa-free entry into the U.S. Those targeted by the action will not be eligible for the program, and those who hold current U.S. visas will have them revoked.

(With AP and Reuters)