Manitoba·CBC Opinion

Palestinian Winnipegger grateful for world's response to Ukraine, though it's been painful to witness

The Western world's response showed that when it could muster the will, it could take decisive positions and actions in the face of wrong. But this response was painful to witness, because so many times before, this decisiveness was not there when other people were subjected to invasion and occupation, writes Idris Elbakri.

Western world's response shows decisive action in face of occupation is possible

Palestinian Manitoban Idris Elbakri says the vocabulary used to refer to Ukraine and its people’s heroic efforts to defend it is all familiar to his family. (Submitted by Idris Elbakri)

This column is an opinion by Idris Elbakri, a Canadian Palestinian who calls Winnipeg his home. For more information about CBC's Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

When war broke out in Ukraine, our family sat mesmerized and shocked in front of the TV. I think like many, we had hoped or naively assumed that the military buildup was a form of brinkmanship and would not end up in war. Here we are, more than a month later, and the war rages on.

My kids immediately identified with Ukraine. One of them changed her profile picture online to the Ukrainian flag. They immediately drew similarities with what they had seen and what they had learned about our struggle as Palestinians under occupation.

The vocabulary used to refer to Ukraine and its people's heroic efforts to defend it – resistance, sanctions, Molotov cocktails, sacrificing oneself for country — were all familiar to us. They form part of the vocabulary of a people long steeped in resistance and protest.

Deep down we are still very tribal, and all our talk about universal rights has not overcome that.- Idris Elbakri

In these reflections, I want to keep Ukrainians front and centre. They deserve all the attention and solidarity action that we can muster. Siding with them in this war is a matter of taking a clear moral position. One country invading the other, destroying its culture and infrastructure and turning its people into refugees is just wrong and we should stand against it.

I ask God to be with the people of Ukraine in their hour of need and to guide us to find ways to alleviate their suffering and help reverse their misfortune.

The Western world's response showed that when it could muster the will, it could take decisive positions and actions in the face of wrong.

But this response was painful to witness, because so many times before, this decisiveness was not there when other people were subjected to invasion and occupation. For example, the Americans seem to have completely forgotten that they, a superpower, invaded Iraq in 2003 under false pretexts and completely decimated that country.

When Israel shelled Gaza last year, and many times before, Canada affirmed Israel's right to defend itself, not the right of the Palestinians to resist their occupation and colonization, or even to defend themselves.

One could expect duplicity and double standards from politicians. However, the double standard goes much deeper.

Sports associations penalized expressions of political solidarity in the past (for example, Palestine). Some are now all for expressing solidarity with Ukraine. In the initial shock of the invasion, some media commentators drew distinction between the "civilized" Christian and European refugees and other kinds of refugees.

This goes beyond the natural empathy one feels to people who are like us. These comments and positions smack of racism. It shows that deep down we are still very tribal, and all our talk about universal rights has not overcome that.

To the Ukrainians I say God be with you, and we will stand with you.- Idris Elbakri

This tribalism is not exclusive to the West or those of us sympathetic to Ukraine.

In my own community, I have come across those who have responded to discussions on Ukraine with whataboutism, lamenting the lack of attention to other legitimate causes. Others applaud Russia for challenging the Western hegemony that has wreaked havoc on their peoples and countries.

These are responses shaped by suffering and collective trauma. Tribalism, however, is more damaging when it comes from those who dominate global politics and claim to uphold universal human rights.

So, to the Ukrainians I say God be with you, and we will stand with you. I hope that your struggle is not a long one, for with longevity of struggle comes the risk of us all becoming desensitized to it, as we have been to many other struggles.

I also thank you. We will remember the vocabulary and concepts you have invigorated for us: resistance, welcoming refugees, sacrifice, sanctions against transgressors, and we will use this vocabulary, to support you, and to stand up for others who need a voice, regardless of their tribe. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Idris Elbakri is a Canadian Palestinian who was born in Jerusalem and has called Winnipeg home for over 15 years.

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