Sectarianism, what?

If you’d have asked me 5 years ago what sectarianism is, I wouldn’t have been able to give you an answer. I don’t think it really mattered to me and I don’t think it was so widely discussed. Yet now, you cannot escape the term and the consequences. Sectarianism has, in my eyes, never been so prominent or eminent – not just in the Middle East – but also in the West. And it ain’t pretty. We – as humanity – have built up this desire and necessity to occupy ‘our’ countries and be of only one predominant, majority race/ethnicity/religion.

Israel-Palestine is a perfect example of this desire for a sectarian divide. It’s deemed impossible (not just by Israelis, but by Palestinians too), that they can co-inhabit the same ‘country’/area of land because one group are Jewish and the others are Muslim and Christian. Then there’s Iraq. Iraqi Shia’s suffered intense abuse under the rule of Saddam Hussein yet Sunnis and Shia’s appeared to live peacefully together. Yet now, those days seem to be long gone. Moreover, Syria – you have the Alaawite Shias ruling over the Sunnis for years and years and now – boom, explosion and no one can get along. Iran too, oppressing Bahai and Sunnis alike. Saudi Arabia, oppressing Shia. Regional ‘friendships’ built on who is Sunni and who is Shia. Lebanon – Sunnis, Shias, Christians… all in a melting pot.

Africa – Sudan – Ethnic Arabs and Blacks slaughtering leading to the potential genocide in Darfur. Then there’s Rwanda in 1994 – the Tutsis and the Hutus where almost 1 million people were brutally murdered in less than 1 month. Theres the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar who are constantly killed and oppressed for their religion.

So can these different religions/ethnicities and races ever get along? Are the ‘quiet’ stable nations all simply waiting to explode into some kind of hatred or is this just a ‘phase’ where different individuals will have to eventually learn to get along with each other and all will be fine and dandy like in the West? But is the West even fine and dandy? I mean, we have the rise of nationalism, of fascism, racism, hate crimes. We want to leave the EU ‘make Britain British again’ (whatever that means). We’ve got Donald Trump who hates immigrants and refugees and wants to make ‘America great again’. WHAT DOES THIS EVEN MEAN?!

It all boils down to one thing right now. Apparently, we all hate each other and can’t live together peacefully if we have different religions, cultures and skin colours. We feel the need to ‘dominate’ others, we have to have power and oppress people who could have power just because they’re different from us. We LOVE power too much and we’re happy to resort to the worst kind of violence to maintain that power. I mean REALLY? Is that the sort of world we live in? Where we can’t integrate, we can’t just respect each other and be kind? We can’t live peacefully and harmoniously because we can’t possibly have someone who’s slightly different having power and control.

There are so many states in this world that are oppressing people for being different. For the fear of them having power. There is a lack of knowledge, respect and understanding of different communities across the world which is causing conflict and severe sectarianism issues. The attack on Kurdish Iranian teenager Reker Ahmed in Croydon shows our inability to respect difference.

When the power of love is greater than the love of power, the world will know peace. 

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The newest state & constant struggle 

South Sudan gained independence in July 2011 becoming the 197th recognised state in the world and making it the newest state too, ending the longest African civil war which killed an estimated 1.5 million people. Yet the separation from Sudan has not made anything any better or any easier. The country has been in the midst of a civil war and the people of South Sudan are now suffering from severe droughts.

Conflict began in 2003 in Darfur in which two ‘liberation movements’, the Sudan Liberation Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement began fighting the Sudanese government, accusing them of severe mistreatment of the non-Arab population. This resulted in the government led by Omar al-Bashir carrying out ethnic cleansing against the non-Arab population. The conflict in Sudan split between the Sudanese military, police and Janjaweed (translating as man on a horse with a gun). Janjaweed was made up of certain Arab groups. on the other side were the rebel groups who were made up of non-Arab Muslim groups such as Zaghawa. It is estimated that around 70% of the Sudanese population were Arab with the remaining 30% (approx.) being Nubians (who follow Islam), Zaghawa (Beri, who also follow Islam and are semi nomadic) and Copts (Christians). In South Sudan, the majority groups are the Dinka and Nuer followed by other groups such as the Shiluk, the Toposa and Otuho. Along with conflict, disease and starvation were also large causes of death in the conflict.

An agreement was reached in 2005 which finally came into force in July 2011 giving South Sudan independence following the vote which resulted in 98.83% in favour of succession. This made the majority states in South Sudan the Dinka and Nuer followed by other groups such as the Shiluk, the Toposa and Otuho and capital declared as Juba. Due to the conflict with Arab Sudan, it is not surprising that South Sudan is made up predominantly of Christianity and Traditional Religions. South Sudan was supported by numerous local states, but more importantly, became a recognised member state of the UN and the African Union. However, the citizens of South Sudan did not receive the happy ending that they had hoped for.

To begin with, conflict broke out with Sudan again in 2012 in dispute over the oil rich Abyei region. This was quickly resolved in 2012 with the introduction of a 10km militarised zone. Abyei still remains unresolved meaning the region is effectively its ‘own entity’ without any government or structures.

Civil war broke out in South Sudan in 2013 and lasted until 2015 although the country still remains rather unstable. The civil war displaced over 2 million citizens of the new nation and has left a long lasting, damaging effect on the nation. The conflict broke out due to the President, Salva Kiir Mayardit accusing his Vice President Riek Machar (and others) of trying to carry out a coup d’état. Despite Marchar denying this, he fled to join and lead the  Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – in – position (SPLM-IO). So this left Salva Kiir Mayardit from the SPLM vs. Riek Machar from the SPLM-IO. The conflict proved to be deadly with numerous massacres and atrocities occurring with both sides being guilty of taking areas and then killing all those they believed opposed them. There has also been repots of widespread abuse towards women and children including rape and burning villages to the ground and the use of child soldiers. It is estimated that over 50,00 people were killed and over 1.5 million internally displaced.

Eventually, in August 2015, Salva Kiir Mayardit signed a peace agreement due to the threat of international sanctions. Riek Machar was re-sworn in as Vice President in Juba in 2016 as a sign to enforce the peace agreement. However, this caused conflict to ignite again in July 2016 and led to Machar leaving the country and being replaced by General Taban Deng Gai.

South Sudan separated from Sudan due to ethnic conflicts and massacre by Arabs towards groups such as the Dinkas who then formed South Sudan. However, the civil war in South Sudan has also been characterised by ethnic tensions. The Dinka group aligned themselves with President Salva Kiir and the SPLM whilst those from the Nuer ethnic group aligned with the SPLM-IO and Machar. It seems that the main reason for the creation of South Sudan – to prevent conflict based on ethnic divisions – has failed and left many in the same, if not worse situations than before.

Conflict has also had a huge impact on causing mass food shortages. The civil war prevented farmers from working as many were either directly caught up in the fighting, or, were unfortunate civilians caught in the middle. In 2014, the United Nations Security Council categorised South Sudan as a humanitarian emergency and warned that a third of South Sudan’s population was affected by the food shortages. Despite the fact that over 7,000 UN peacekeepers and 6,000 security forces were deployed to the country, little seems to have changed. The UN was given the mandate of civilian protection, allowing UN troops to use force yet this too seems to have done little good. Only last month, it was reported that 100,000 people were suffering from serious famine due to the ongoing conflict and inability of farmers to maintain the agricultural economy (due to conflict). It was also reported by the UN that over 1 million people were on the verge of famine. The main state that is said to be affected is Unity – on the border with Sudan where some of the worst fighting has occurred.

So what now? South Sudan, an oil rich state, was once deemed as having a successful, prosperous future. The ethnic conflict that led to the states creation has only diversified into different ethnicities fighting each other and has not provided the stability and prosperous future that many hoped it would. Many civilians are now suffering one of the worst famines known in the world for a long time and it seems unlikely that anything will change in the near future. Millions of civilians were failed by their former state, Sudan and are continuing to be failed by their new state, South Sudan – whether it be through fighting or starvation. With limited food supplies coming in and violence threatening the transport of food goods along with the collapse of the agricultural industry, many civilians South Sudan is in desperate need of help to survive. But will the international community step up to the plate to help an African nation that is not in their national interest?

 

 

 

The struggle for statehood: through the eyes of children

Israel-Palestine has been on and off the Western agenda for years. After the Brits (quite frankly) collosal screw up, no one has ever been quite sure what to do. It started off with some half hearted attempts by the international arena and often ended in Palestinians taking things into their own hands and losing trust not only in the west, but also in their Arab neighbours. It can therefore be no surprise that the likes of Fatah and Hamas exist and, in response, the likes of Benjamin Netanyahu. Yet things have changed since the founding of Hamas and Fatah. Things have undoubtedly got worse. One of my favourite quotes is something Amira Hass said “If Hamas grew out of the generation of the first intifada, when the young people who threw stones were met with bullets, who will grow out of the generation that experienced the repeated massacres of the last seven years?”

Life under occupation is, in my opinion, only getting worse which means resistance will only become more futile. We’ve seen two intifadas (some argue more) and the unforgettable campaigns of Operation Summer Rains and Operation Autumn Clouds in 2006,  Operation Hot Winter in 2008, the Gaza War 2008-2009, Operation Returning Echo and Operation Pillar of Defence in 2012  and  then Operation Protective Edge in summer of 2011. Most of these operations/conflicts have been  in retaliation to Hamas’s actions and their infamous rocket firing. The latest violence seeing fleets of so called stabbings in the West Bank.

The biggest change: children. I have no doubt some children have always been active in movements – I know Hamas prides itself on having a junior wing. Yet many of these so called stabbings have been primarily children and young people. Why? There is little doubt that they’re getting fed up. Their childhoods are stripped from them – whether it be in the form of having their house knocked down, living without electricity or basic sanitation/infrastructure as well as many commodities in Gaza due to the blockade or the general oppression Israel imposes on them.

Children in conflict is interesting. In the west, we tend to see children as sweet and innocent who don’t know any better and who are simply just caught up in horrible situations. However, children can be used as useful tools in conflict or, can actually formulate their own opinions and anger from a young enough age if put in that sort of environment.

A combination of factors can explain the reaction of children in Palestine: education, life experiences/repression and the lack of international support. Palestine is divided geographically into two smaller entities; the Gaza Strip to West and the West Bank to the East. Experiences of Palestinians in both ‘entities’ are very different yet generally, still very negative. Life in Gaza is undoubtedly worse in many ways due to the blockade yet the West Bank sees settlement building. I’m going to attempt to talk about reasons why young people are losing hope and taking actions into their own hands in both areas.

Lets start with Gaza; a cut off Palestinian entity. Settlements were removed from Gaza in 2005 with complete disengagement being the policy of Ariel Sharon. This meant Gaza became the Palestinian only entity of Palestine. In 2007, Israel and Egypt initiated the blockade of Gaza (by land, sea and air). This blockade occurred when Hamas took power over the Gaza Strip following the formation of the Palestinian Authority by Hamas and Fatah. Fatah took control of the West Bank. Now Israel and Egypt believed that the blockade was necessary as they didn’t think that Hamas would provide adequate security. This can be seen as the beginning of the ‘matrix of control’. This blockade has meant that for the last 10 years, there has been a serious shortage of medical supplies, building supplies and fuel.

The main electricity station in Gaza was bombed by the IDF in 2014 during the 51 day war meaning that power supplies in Gaza are often limited. Its argued that Hamas was storing tanks/weapons etc. at the power plant and that is why the IDF bombed it. Over the past few months, there has been widespread protests in Gaza due to many suffering 12 hour blackouts due to limited supplies of electricity. Gaza has had to rely on donation from Qatar and Turkey in order to get their power plant up and running again.

Furthermore, there is a serious lack of clean water. It is estimated by Oxfam that around 90% of the water in Palestine is not safe to drink. Due to the blockade, there is limited ways to make this water safe and sewage/sanitation has also become a large issue. As you can see, one thing leads into another. Its a vicious cycle – you probably then get sick but of course, the medical supplies needed are also banned in the blockade. Gaza’s economy has also fallen apart – it exports flowers and dates yet is allowed to do little else. Again, the blockade prevents a decent, self sufficient economy from flourishing. Is this matrix of control starting to seem real now?

So then maybe education is the way out? Of course, its incredibly hard to get out of Gaza full stop. The free movement of people is just as much blockaded as goods. You can’t really get in or out. The education system probably won’t allow that anyway. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine provides a significant amount of the schooling in Gaza. There are over 250 schools yet they serve almost a quarter of a million students. Often, schools have to run double shift – one in the morning for one lot of students and another in the afternoon for another lot. The lack of materials for education is very much evident and there is significant issues with propaganda in Palestinian school books – especially those provided by the Palestinian Authority (PA).  There simply isn’t enough classrooms or materials to educate the children of Gaza.

This is no surprise considering there are an estimated 2 million people in Gaza of which half of them are children. Gaza is only 12km in width at its widest point and is becoming one of the most densely populated areas in the world. The UN have declared that by 2020, its going to be unliveable.

So, you have poor access to water, electricity, food, materials and education and the economy is almost non existent. You’re stuck in a densely populated area that you can’t get out of. What could make it worse? Conflict, of course. Israel and Hamas do not exactly have a good relationship – Hamas fires rockets or kidnaps someone or Israel drops some bombs or demolishes some houses – whatever it is, something bad always happens. So these children grow up with pretty much nothing, in an area that is quickly becoming unliveable with absolutely no way out and then every few years they get bombed. And people wonder where the anger comes from?

Now, lets switch over to the West Bank. The biggest problem for Palestinians here is a) Jerusalem, b) Settlements and C) the wall/fence/barrier. Jerusalem is highly contested – both Israel and Palestine lay claim to the city due to the location of the Al Aqsa mosque and the Temple Mount compound. Neither Israel or Palestine will give up control of the area yet Israel keeps pushing the boundaries with building settlements and laying claims of Jerusalem as their capital (it currently sits as Tel Aviv).

Israel’s power and global support (mainly from the USA) means that they are in a stronger position than Palestine (Fatah in the West Bank) and can therefore, get away with more things. This is also linked to settlement building. It has been estimated that there are over 700,000 Israeli settlements of which 400,000 of those are in the West Bank (exc. Jerusalem). This is further allowing Israel to create a matrix of control as they are building settlements in places which isolate Palestinian villages and towns and building Israeli only infrastructure to connect them, cutting off Palestinians and Palestine. This has had a dramatic effect on Palestinians and especially children. Many children now have to walk through Israeli settlements to get to school or to go out and there have been numerous stories of these children being attacked by settlers. At one point, it was event reported that the IDF were having to escort Palestinian children to school.

There’s also demolitions. These are often linked to the building of settlements. At the end of 2016, it was reported that the demolition of Palestinian houses in the West Bank had risen by 25%. Imagine that – one day, you come home from school and your house is gone. It’s been bulldozed by the Israeli government.

Then theres the wall/fence/barrier. Its always been known as the wall yet it’s not always a wall. At some parts its a wall, at others its a fence and again at others its just a barrier. Israel claimed they built it for security – to prevent suicide bombings. Regardless, the aim is to create a separation between Israel and Palestine. Yet the wall actually crosses Palestinian land at points and is over 700km long. This has cut many Palestinians off from society. Again, it has cut some children off from accessing their schools. The UN reported that it limited some peoples access to water. Charities such as the Palestinian Red Crescent Society have said that it has also impacted many children and women’s access to medical supplies. The barrier has been declared illegal by the UN – as have the settlements – yet no one seems to really care. The Palestinians yet again, let down.

Although there is no blockade in the West Bank, the education system still suffers in the same way. The settlements and wall/fence/barrier has made it incredibly difficult for many to access education and there is a shortage of teachers. The lack of support for infrastructure has also made it incredibly hard for young people to have the access to a good education.

2016 was the deadliest year for the past decade to be a child living in the West Bank. The IDF killed over 30 children in various towns and villages in raids, protests and attacks.

So why are young people in Palestine and especially in the West Bank so angry? Really? I mean, as if everything above isn’t enough. I will never condone violence – a lot of the time its innocent civilians caught in the middle (especially in this conflict). But I understand why they are angry. I understand why young people are sadly feeling the need to take things into their own hands. The international community has failed the children of Palestine and the international community continues to do so. These are children who are left without a good education system, without basic supplies to live, with constant (physical) barriers in their life and almost no hope of escaping it.

This statement will never leave me. And we should never allow children to resort to the desperation of this thinking.

“I hope God kills the Israelis when we grow up. We are going to kill them. May God kill all of them. Every last one.” – Summer, age 12, Gaza