Wednesday 28 February 2024

Why Palestine, Why Not Sudan? The Racism of Low Expectations

 A while ago I heard a Sudanese immigrant on the CBC asking why there was so much Canadian support for the Palestinians, and so little for Sudan.

There’s a civil war in Sudan between the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a paramilitary group, and the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF). As a consequence, according to a recent report from the World Health Organization, about 6 million people are internally displaced in Sudan and another 1.8 million people are displaced externally in bordering African countries that can ill afford to help them. As in Gaza, these displaced people suffer from insufficient food, drinking water, and health services, with many people at high risk of diseases such as cholera.

Israel is subject to a quadruple set of expectations. First, like all other states, it is bound by international laws forbidding genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Second, expectations are high because it is a democratic state. Third, many critics consider it a colonial state. Finally, it is a Jewish state. Anti-Semites leap with glee onto any evidence of Israeli wrongdoing. Others—including hundreds of thousands if not millions of Jews within Israel and elsewhere—are horrified by Israel’s current assault on Gaza.

One reason for the difference between Gaza and Sudan may simply be that information on the Gaza crisis is much more immediate and available than information on Sudan. News media are full of day-to-day counts of those killed. Despite the terrible death rate among journalists, many are still reporting from Gaza. Gazans still have sporadic access to cell-phones and the ability to tell their stories to relatives and  journalists. By contrast, news media do not deliver day-to-day accounts of the suffering in Sudan.


Many Canadian doctors have served in Gaza in the last few months, and returned with horrific accounts. If Canadian doctors are also serving in Sudan, their stories are not being reported at the same rate by the media. 


Perhaps there is so little concern with Sudan because Canadians simply don’t know enough about the intricacies of Sudanese politics. We don’t understand why the two sides are fighting each other. We also don’t know which other countries are intervening in Sudan, on which side, and why.

And it doesn’t seem as if Canada has a stake in this civil war, so there’s no reason to protest our own government’s actions in it, whereas many Canadians want our government to call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. .    

Another reason may be that we don’t think there is any way we can influence the competing factions in Sudan. We know that Israel wants to cultivate an international image of a democratic country fighting a legal war of self-defense, but it doesn’t seem to matter to either of the current factions in Sudan what Canadians or other Westerners think.

Israel fits the narrative of evil colonialism, of special concern to Canadians today given our own colonial past (and present). Sudan, by contrast, is a post-colonial state. No matter how long a country has been independent, anti-colonialists assume that their leaders have no independent capacity to make decisions. Any war crimes or crimes against humanity committed by either side can be attributed to the legacy of their former colonial rulers. So the leaders of the warring sides are not to blame.

And while Israel is a Jewish state, Sudan is Muslim. Many Canadians who are unafraid to criticize Israel are afraid to criticize any authorities if they are Muslim, even the most brutal and cruel.  

But perhaps part of this is just the racism of lower expectations. There’s a long Western history of assuming that Black people are naturally barbarous. So, it’s not fair to hold Black elites in Black countries to the same standards we hold “white” Israelis to. In this view, we can’t expect any better from Black people. When Black babies die, that’s just the way it is.     

Wednesday 21 February 2024

A Day in the Life of Abed Salama, by Nathan Thrall: Book Note


A terrible accident occurred in the West Bank (Palestine) in 2012.  An ill-maintained truck driven at very high speed in very dangerous weather crashed with a busload of pre-schoolers on their way to a park for an outing. One of those pre-schoolers was Milad, the son of Abed Salama.  This book explores the accident and everyone involved in it, including parents, other relatives, the truck driver, the bus driver, rescuers, and doctors. The author, Nathan Thrall, interviewed all these individuals.

Thrall details Abed’s search for his son, once he learns of the crash. Abed searches in hospitals all over the West Bank as well as in Jerusalem. He is constantly delayed in his search by road-blocks, questioning by Israeli soldiers, and the circuitous routes that Palestinians have to take in order to get around the West Bank without wandering into any settler, military, or otherwise reserved (for Israel) territories. All the other parents and relatives experience the same problems, although those with Blue ID cards, indicating they are Israeli citizens, are somewhat better off.

The men in this book have terrible patriarchal attitudes. Abed himself is self-destructively impulsive. He does not marry Ghazl, his first love, after a jealous sister-in-law tells him Ghazl’s father disapproves. Instead of confronting the father and finding out he actually favours the marriage, Abed calls off negotiations. He impulsively marries someone else he doesn’t love, then some years later, after they’ve had four daughters, he decides to take a second wife without telling the first. The third wife is Milad’s mother. Another father of a child who dies in the crash blames his wife for letting the child go on the trip. When she asks for a divorce, the father demands, and receives, full custody of their remaining children as well as the entirety of the $200,000 compensation the Israeli government pays because the dead child was an Israeli citizen (no such compensation was offered to non-citizen Palestinian residents of the West Bank). The husband of one of the doctors involved, a high Fatah official, gives her no help at all raising their children while she learns both Russian and Romanian so that she can complete her studies as an endocrinologist.

Although the proximate cause of this tragic accident was the truck driver’s unsafe driving, the ensuing deaths were also caused by what can only be called apartheid in the West Bank. The 27-year-old truck itself would have been in better condition if the Palestinian owner had had more resources to repair his truck. More importantly, it took ages for either Israeli or Palestinian emergency vehicles to arrive at the scene of the crash. If the Palestinians had been throwing stones, several parents remarked, Israeli soldiers would have arrived at the site immediately. As it was, Israeli fire and medical vehicles took over an hour to reach it.  Meantime, Palestinian emergency vehicles were blocked by segregated roads and checkpoints.  Even getting ambulances through checkpoints to access hospitals within Israel itself was difficult.

Recently I also read Daniel Sokatch’s “Israel for dummies” book, Can we Talk About Israel? A Guide for the Curious, Confused, and Conflicted  Sokatch is the CEO of the New Israel Fund, which tries to help all citizens of Israel and promote peace among them. I am

proud to say I am a regular donor to the NIF, which Netanyahu has denounced as a foreign organization that endangers “the security and future of Israel as the national home of the Jewish people.”  Sokatch argues that “Israel proper does not resemble an apartheid state: the Israeli-occupied West Bank does.” (chapter 20). Abed Salama’s search for his son Milad shows us in excruciating detail how vindictive and harmful Israel’s apartheid policy in the West Bank was, long before the current war.