07 June 2018

Another Ramadan with Turkey struggling to resolve crises

At a time when the world is being dragged into an unmanageable process drifting toward instability due to terrorism, internal conflict and wars, we entered Ramadan, the month of mercy and forgiveness, with news of martyrs again from Gaza, the bleeding wound of the world.

On the anniversary of the Israeli Declaration of Independence and the forced expulsion of some 750,000 Palestinians from their homeland, who had become refugees in their own land, those who try to impose peace through their oppression were at work once again.

The status of Jerusalem

It's not without reason that Jerusalem, which is considered holy by all Abrahamic religions, was granted a special status. There is a reason why a great majority of the countries in the world refrain from recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of any state and having an embassy in the city. Indeed, under United Nations Resolution 181 in 1947, Jerusalem was to be administered by the U.N. under a special international regime.

Following its establishment in 1948, Israel occupied west Jerusalem first and then east Jerusalem in 1967 after the Six-Day War. In its Resolution 242, the U.N. Security Council set out the necessary conditions for a just and lasting peace and called for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the territories occupied during the 1967 war. But Israel regards Jerusalem, which also hosts its parliament and ministries, as its de facto capital from that time onward.

Israel adopted the "Jerusalem Law" in 1980 and declared that "Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel." However, this law was declared null by U.N. Resolution 478, which called on countries that had maintained embassies in Jerusalem to move them to Tel Aviv. During the vote on this resolution, the U.S. abstained – though, importantly, the U.S. did not use its veto power as a permanent member of the Security Council.

Following the resolution, thirteen countries that maintained embassies in Jerusalem (Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, the Netherlands, Panama, Uruguay, and Venezuela) moved them to Tel Aviv.

What is the U.S. trying to do?

In 1995, the U.S. Congress adopted the Jerusalem Embassy Act, against U.N. Resolution 478, urging the federal government to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Though the law called for the embassy to be relocated from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem no later than May 1999, for the past two decades successive U.S. administrations have repeatedly invoked the Act's waiver provision every six months, citing the sensitivity of the issue and possible negative consequences for the Middle East.

On Dec. 6, 2017, one hundred years after the 1917 Balfour Declaration which promised to establish a Jewish homeland in the former Ottoman territory of Palestine, 45th U.S. President Donald Trump, announced that the U.S. would recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. It was a historic yet unfortunate statement due to the possible negative impacts on peace and stability in the Middle East which is the part of an effort to garner international legitimacy for occupation.

Though it knew very well that its decision would increase the tension and cause conflict across the region, the U.S. said "yes" to what the whole international community rejected and moved its embassy to Jerusalem, with a decision that is openly against international law.

For Palestinians, that decision was no different than the Apartheid Wall or the Gaza blockade. This move by the U.S., which has not stepped back despite strong reaction from international community, caused outrage and resentment among Palestinians. Consequently, thousands of civilians calling for justice and rights through civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance have faced disproportionate force, oppression, blood and tears.

Palestinians were martyred, or hunted down, so to speak, in front of the international community and media, by the Israeli police while thousands more were wounded. It became blatantly obvious once again that on its 70th anniversary, the Nakba, or "The Great Catastrophe" as referred to by Palestinians who were massacred, displaced from their homes and lands forcibly or by trickery, ending up as refugees and even stateless people on their own land following the creation of Israel, continues with all its severity.

Ankara trying to extinguish the fire in the Middle East

The extraordinary Jerusalem summit in Istanbul on May 18, 2018, which convened at the invitation of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as the rotating term president of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), was very important in terms of putting a stop to these irrational and illegal activities.

Achieving what many regional and international organizations failed to do, the summit, thanks to Turkey's sensitivity and leadership, emphasized once again that the status of Jerusalem cannot be changed through irrational and unlawful practices.

Turkey has expressed, as it always did, that the steps taken would harm Israel itself in the first place, that they would not contribute to the solution of the Palestine issue, which has remained unsolved since the founding of the U.N. It was Turkey that has made sacrifice and put in the greatest effort to ensure a lasting peace within the region and.

Sadly, these efforts have gone mostly unappreciated by the related parties and hopes of peace were recklessly wasted. When the ship Mavi Marmara sailed for Gaza to ease the sufferings of the oppressed, the innocent and unarmed people aboard it were killed. Though the pain was still intense, Turkey gave Israel a chance to solve the ensuing crisis with an apology and compensation just to relieve the heavy pressure on Palestinians.

This time, however, there was an effort to block the aid through black propaganda and slanders. As Turkey was trying to distribute hot meal to the victims of war while bombs kept falling, slanders like "Foodstuffs are going not to the needy but terrorists" were hurled. Though it tried to establish peace, security and order by helping the creation of an orderly society with functional families in which people do not get radicalized and helped 4,000 young people to build their own family, Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TİKA) was nearly accused of assisting terrorists.

A careful analysis would reveal that Turkey's aid actually reduces tension and mitigates the negative effects of crises. Despite all the challenges, Turkey has continued and continues to work without losing its motivation.

This Ramadan also, war wounded people in Gaza will be provided with health rehabilitation services at home, medicine and medical supplies will be delivered, hot meals will be delivered to 1,000 families daily and to a total of more than 100,000 Palestinians during the Ramadan, and 12,000 needy families will be given foodstuffs.

While this emergency aid aims to alleviate the worsening humanitarian situation to some extent, particularly in Gaza, the long-term development aid will help improve the welfare of Palestinians.

These efforts by Turkey support a two-state solution based on justice and Israel should acknowledge now that it cannot gain legitimacy through separation barriers, extrajudicial killings, weapons and bombs, but by governing the state with justice and compassion.

Struggling to end crises for a long time

Embracing the defense of the values of justice and compassion as its historical mission and a state tradition, Turkey has always stood by the oppressed in the face of persecution, regardless of the faith, language or race of victims. For instance, in 1492 around 200,000 Jews fleeing persecution and oppression in Spain took refuge in the Ottoman Empire and found peace and safety in this country.

Similar examples can be seen also during the Republican period. Turkey has done its utmost to save Jews from Nazi persecution during the Second World War. Necdet Kent, Turkish Consul General to Marseilles at the time, saved at the risk of his own life a lot of Turkish Jews living in Nazi-occupied France from being sent to German concentration camps by issuing Turkish identity documents to them. Again in the same period, Selahattin Ülkümen, Turkish Consul General on the island of Rhodes, also known as "Turkish Schindler," saved 42 Jewish families from being sent to a Nazi death camp by risking a diplomatic crisis with Germany as he protested to the German commander in charge.

Looking at these examples throughout history, Turkey's current efforts will be better understood. Turkey would surely make significant contributions for the stability in the region today, as the heir to Ottoman Empire which ruled the region through justice and peace for 400 years.

Turkey has never aimed to dominate over and exploit other countries in pursuit of its selfish interests, but on the contrary it has tried to make the world a more livable place also for people living beyond its borders. So, Turkey pursues a global target involving not only its 80 million citizens but the 7.5 billion world population. It has shown its sincerity recently in Myanmar and Bangladesh. Turkey has come from thousands of kilometers away to help hundreds of thousands of Muslim Arakan refugees, who fled massacres in Myanmar and took refuge in Bangladesh. Erdoğan has carried out an intense diplomatic traffic from the outset of the crisis trying to draw the attention of the world to the ongoing humanitarian crisis and sent his family to the region along with Turkey's aid to mitigate the effects of the crisis. TİKA delivers hot meals every day to hundreds of thousands of refugees who have taken shelter in Bangladesh and live in camps. Who can claim that Turkey is seeking its own interests by extending these aids from 5,500 kilometers away? What Turkey is trying to do is to put a stop to efforts by the global establishment for making the world more ungovernable for its own interest.

Turkish-Israeli relations

The Republic of Turkey sees its diplomatic relations with Israel as an important part of its efforts towards strengthening peace and stability in the region. Considering Israel's wars and tensions with countries in the region, maintaining healthy relations would prevent it from being isolated.

Relations between Turkey and Israel deteriorate after each crisis in Palestine. Turkey's sensitivity and humane approach displeases Israel from time to time and this situation affects the diplomatic relations between them. The recalling of ambassadors for a while following the latest crisis in Gaza is a correct step but severing diplomatic ties for a long period would amount to implicit sanctions against Palestinians, the real victims of the incident. The tension that continued for six years following the Israeli attack on the Mavi Marmara has waned after the two countries agreed to mutually appoint ambassadors. Despite everything, the resumed diplomatic relations have facilitated Turkey's contributions to the Palestinians issue and delivery of aid to those in need.

Indeed, Jerusalem is under occupation, Gaza is under blockade and the West Bank is under siege and all access routes to Palestine are controlled by Israel, even if unlawfully. At this point, we should avoid sentimentality and behave sensibly, refraining from steps that can deepen problems. And our institutions should act in coordination and plan their activities after consulting with our diplomatic missions and related TİKA offices that carry out active operations on the ground.

Though it has never done so, the Israeli government should listen to the international community and stop its oppression of Palestinians. Representatives of a nation that had been subjected to many exiles throughout history should not make others have the same pains that it had in the past. On the other hand, it should be acknowledged now that a country, which deepens the crisis, provokes people and drags the region into instability cannot act as a "mediator." Like in the past, people from different faiths must live in peace and harmony in Jerusalem, which has longed for peace for a century.



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