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

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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 ż

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

“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.

ż’ 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, ż 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.”

Bangladesh eyes halal exports boost to Gulf countries with new policy 

Bangladesh eyes halal exports boost to Gulf countries with new policy 
Updated 05 December 2023

Bangladesh eyes halal exports boost to Gulf countries with new policy 

Bangladesh eyes halal exports boost to Gulf countries with new policy 
  • Government launched inaugural policy on halal certification in November  
  • New policy serves as formal guideline for companies to align with international halal standards  

DHAKA: Bangladesh is working on tapping into the global halal market and increasing exports to Gulf countries, the Bangladesh Islamic Foundation said on Tuesday following the government’s inaugural policy on halal certification.  

Bangladesh’s Ministry of Religious Affairs approved last month a halal certification policy, which serves as a formal guideline and incentive for companies to align with international halal standards, paving the way for the South Asian nation to harness the potential of the global halal market, which is worth over $2 trillion.  

“This halal certification is very important for us since we are a Muslim country and 92 percent of our consumers are Muslim … Now, we will be able to explore the export potential of our halal goods,” Abu Saleh Patwary, deputy director of the halal certification department at the Bangladesh Islamic Foundation, told ż on Tuesday.  

The BIF is a body under the Ministry of Religious Affairs, which has worked on halal certification matters since 2007 and is now in charge of issuing halal certificates in Bangladesh.  

“ż and the UAE can be the major destination for our halal goods … We will be aiming to increase exports to Muslim countries, especially in the Gulf region,” he said.  

“If we can grab 2 to 3 percent of global halal markets, it will boost our economy a lot … Now, a new horizon of halal goods has opened up for our local entrepreneurs.” 

The policy comes at a time when Bangladeshi businesses are also exploring new opportunities with Gulf nations, such as ż, which a delegation comprising the country’s top business leaders visited earlier in October.  

Jahangir Alam, director at the Dhaka School of Economics, said halal certification was imperative to enter the Middle Eastern market.  

“Most Muslim countries want halal certification to import consumer goods. It’s particularly hard to sell goods in Middle Eastern countries without halal certification. For this reason, we need the halal certification very much,” Alam told ż, adding that it will help boost the presence of Bangladeshi products internationally.  

The process to obtain those certifications should be “easy and hassle-free,” Alam added, to ensure that Bangladeshis can reap the benefits of such a policy.  

“The introduction of halal certification will boost sales of goods both locally and globally. Eventually, it will increase the earnings of our foreign currency. It’s a great initiative.”  

ż to open new visa centers, introduce flights for Indian pilgrims

Arab News to open new visa centers, introduce flights for Indian pilgrims
Updated 05 December 2023

ż to open new visa centers, introduce flights for Indian pilgrims

Arab News to open new visa centers, introduce flights for Indian pilgrims
  • More than 1.2m Indian pilgrims visited ż for Umrah in 2023
  • Hajj ‘important aspect’ of Saudi-India bilateral relations: Indian minister

NEW DELHI: ż will open new visa centers in India and introduce budget flights to facilitate the increasing number of Indian pilgrims in their Umrah journeys, Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah Tawfiq Al-Rabiah said on Tuesday.

Al-Rabiah is in New Delhi as part of an official trip aimed at strengthening collaboration with Indian officials and partners and streamlining Umrah pilgrimage for international pilgrims.

As part of its Vision 2030 reform plan, the Kingdom has utilized technological advancements, enhanced measures, and upgraded infrastructure to “transform Umrah into a rewarding religious expedition” for Muslims worldwide, Al-Rabiah pointed out during a joint press conference in the Indian capital.

With more than 200 million people professing Islam in India, the Hindu-majority country has the world’s largest Muslim-minority population.

In 2023, the number of Umrah pilgrims from India increased by around 74 percent compared to last year, surpassing 1.2 million people.

That increase was the result of Saudi-India collaborative efforts, Al-Rabiah noted, adding that the two countries had initiated discussions to increase direct flights between them “to accommodate an increasing number of Indians looking to perform Umrah.”

“We’re also focused on enhancing capacity to meet the anticipated increase by introducing new scheduled flights through Saudi low-cost airlines, flynas and flyadeal,” he said.

“These efforts are complemented by initiatives to streamline visa issuance procedures and establish three new visa centers in India.”

Indian minority affairs minister, Smriti Irani, who held talks with Al-Rabiah on Tuesday, said they had “productive discussions on how to further deepen engagements,” particularly on their cooperation for Hajj pilgrimage.

“Both nations have agreed to continue to work together to make the Hajj process as convenient and as seamless as possible with best provision of services for all Hajj pilgrims,” Irani told reporters at the press conference.

Under the 2023 Hajj quota, around 175,000 Indians – nearly 47 percent of whom were women – traveled to ż for the spiritual journey that is one of the five pillars of Islam.

India’s Minister of State for External Affairs Vellamvelly Muraleedharan, said Al-Rabiah’s visit would “bolster the overall bilateral partnership” between the two countries, adding that Hajj was an “important aspect” of that relationship.

“There is a mutual recognition that our partnership will not only be beneficial to our countries and communities … but will be valuable to the region and the world,” Muraleedharan added.

US returns $1 million in stolen antiquities to Nepal

US returns $1 million in stolen antiquities to Nepal
Updated 05 December 2023

US returns $1 million in stolen antiquities to Nepal

US returns $1 million in stolen antiquities to Nepal
  • One of the items was seized as part of a probe into Subhash Kapoor who helped traffic items from Asian countries
  • In recent years, New York museums have returned over 1,000 pieces worth $190mln to 19 states, including Pakistan

NEW YORK: The United States has returned four antiquities worth $1 million to Nepal, including a pair of gilt copper masks representing a Hindu deity, following anti-trafficking operations, New York authorities said on Monday. 

One of the items was seized as part of a probe into Subhash Kapoor, whom Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg described as an “allegedly prolific looter who helped traffic items” from several Asian countries. 

Between 2011 and 2023, officials claim to have recovered more than 2,500 items trafficked by Kapoor and his network, Bragg’s office said in a statement. 

“The total value of the pieces recovered exceeds $143 million,” it added. 

“We will continue to target antiquities trafficking networks no matter how complex. I thank our outstanding team of analysts and attorneys... for recovering and returning these beautiful pieces,” Bragg said. 

The four items given back to Nepalese authorities were handed over at a ceremony in New York. 

“The return of these illegally exported four masterpieces is a significant step in reclaiming Nepal’s cultural heritage and preserving its historical treasures,” said Nepal’s acting consul general in New York Bishnu Prasad Gautam. 

The masks, from the 16th century and collectively valued at $900,000, depict Shiva, part of the Hindu trinity. 

“Both masks were stolen in the mid-1990s as part of a series of break-in robberies from the home of the family” whose relatives made them, Bragg’s office said. 

In recent years, the New York’s Met and other prestigious museums have agreed to return trafficked works, in particular pieces from countries riddled by conflict from 1970 to 1990. 

Under Bragg, who has been in office since 2022, more than 1,000 pieces worth $190 million have been returned to 19 countries, including Cambodia, China, India and Pakistan.

China says Afghan Taliban must reform before full diplomatic ties

China says Afghan Taliban must reform before full diplomatic ties
Updated 05 December 2023

China says Afghan Taliban must reform before full diplomatic ties

China says Afghan Taliban must reform before full diplomatic ties
  • Beijing does not formally recognize Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers, although both countries host ambassadors
  • Taliban government has not been officially recognized by any country since seizing power in August 2021

Beijing: China said on Tuesday Afghanistan’s Taliban government will need to introduce political reforms, improve security and mend relations with its neighbors before receiving full diplomatic recognition.

Beijing does not formally recognize Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers, although both countries host each others’ ambassadors and have maintained diplomatic engagement.

“China has always believed that Afghanistan should not be excluded from the international community,” foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said on Tuesday when asked if China would now recognize the Taliban government.

“We hope that Afghanistan will further respond to the expectations of the international community, build an open and inclusive political structure (and) implement moderate and stable domestic and foreign policies,” he said.

Wang also said China urged Kabul to “resolutely combat all types of terrorist forces, live in harmony with all countries around the world, especially neighboring countries, and integrate with the international community at an early date.”

“As the concerns of all parties receive stronger responses, diplomatic recognition of the Afghan government will naturally follow,” he said.

The Taliban government has not been officially recognized by any country since seizing power after the chaotic withdrawal of US troops in August 2021.

However, Kabul and Beijing have maintained some ties.

Afghanistan’s new rulers have promised the country would not be used as a base for militants and, in exchange, China has offered economic support and investment for reconstruction.

China’s foreign ministry said in a position paper on Afghanistan released this year that it “respects the independent choices made by the Afghan people, and respects the religious beliefs and national customs.”

Zelensky, top US officials to make case for Ukraine funding

Zelensky, top US officials to make case for Ukraine funding
Updated 05 December 2023

Zelensky, top US officials to make case for Ukraine funding

Zelensky, top US officials to make case for Ukraine funding
  • President Joe Biden has sought a nearly $106 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and other needs, but it has faced a difficult reception on Capitol Hill

WASHINGTON: Ukraine President Volodomyr Zelensky and top aides to US President Joe Biden will make their case to US senators on Tuesday about why a fresh infusion of military assistance is needed to help Ukraine repel Russian invaders.

US officials say the United States will spend all it has available for Ukraine by the end of the year, a dire prediction that comes as Kyiv has struggled to make major advances in its 2023 counteroffensive against Russia.

Biden’s administration in October asked Congress for nearly $106 billion to pay for ambitious plans for Ukraine, Israel and US border security, but Republicans who control the House with a slim majority rejected the package.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a close Biden ally, announced on Monday night that the administration has invited Zelensky to address senators via secure video as part of a classified briefing on Tuesday “so we can hear directly from him precisely what’s at stake in this vote.”

In addition, a variety of top Biden officials, including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, are expected to brief the senators on Tuesday.

Schumer also started the process of advancing a Ukraine-Israel emergency aid bill on the Senate floor.

“America’s national security is on the line around the world” with the fate of Ukraine aid hanging in the balance, Schumer said in a Senate speech. “Autocrats, dictators waging war against democracy, against our values, against our way of life. That’s why passing this supplemental is so important. It could determine the trajectory of democracy for years to come.”

Zelensky said in a November interview that despite the slow going, Ukraine would try to deliver battlefield results by the end of the year and that he remained sure Kyiv would eventually have success in the war despite difficulties at the front.

But the stalled drive to get US assistance has alarmed the Biden White House, which fears a failure to help Ukraine further would increase the likelihood of Russian victories.