Stories of murder, genocide and mayhem recall the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people during the Nakba — the ‘Catastrophe’ of 1948. Hence, it should come as no surprise that Israel is one of the biggest suppliers of weapons to the Myanmarese military.
Despite an extended arms embargo on Myanmar by many countries, Israel’s Defence Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, insists that his country has no intentions of halting its weapons shipments to the despicable regime in Yangon, which is actively using these weapons against its own minorities, not only Muslims in Rakhine, but also Christians in the north.
One of the Israeli shipments was announced in August 2016 by the Israeli company TAR Ideal Concepts. The company proudly featured that its Corner Shot rifles are already in ‘operational use’ by the Myanmarese military.
Israel’s history is rife with examples of support for brutal juntas and authoritarian regimes, but why are those who have positioned themselves as the guardians of democracy still silent about the bloodbath in Myanmar?
These false humanitarians, who spent years criticising the Myanmarese junta are now turning a blind eye to the crimes against the Rohingya.
Leading among them is Aung San Suu Kyi. Glorified by the West for many years, she was made a ‘democracy icon’ because she opposed the same forces in her country, Myanmar, at the time that the US-led Western coalition isolated Yangon for its alliance with China.
Suu Kyi played her role as expected, winning the approval of the Right and the admiration of the Left. And for that, she won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1991; she joined the elevated group of ‘The Elders’ and was promoted by many in the media and various governments as an heroic figure to be emulated.
Hillary Clinton once described her as “this extraordinary woman”. The ‘Lady’ of Myanmar’s journey from being a political pariah in her own country, where she was placed under house arrest for 15 years, finally ended in triumph when she became the county’s leader, following a multi-party election in 2015. Her first task was rebranding the very brutal military that she had opposed throughout the years.
But the great ‘humanitarian’ seemed to have run out of integrity as her government, military and police began conducting a widespread ethnic cleansing operation that targeted the Rohingya. This so-called “Cleansing Operations” have killed hundreds, if not thousands of Rohingya in recent months, driving more than 250,000 crying, frightened, desperate and hungry people to escape for their lives in any way possible. Many more have perished at sea, or were hunted down and killed in jungles. Nearly a quarter of the Rohingya population has already been driven out of their homes since October last year. Yet, Aung San Suu Kyi lacked the most basic of moral courage, being unable to pronounce a few words of sympathy for the victims.
Instead, she could only express an uncommitted statement: “We have to take care of everybody who is in our country”. Meanwhile, her spokesperson and other mouthpieces launched a campaign of vilification against Rohingya, accusing them of burning their own villages, fabricating their own rape stories, while referring to Rohingya who dare to resist as ‘Jihadists’.
But well-documented reports give us more than a glimpse of the harrowing reality experienced by the Rohingya. A recent United Nations report details the account of one woman, whose husband had been killed by soldiers in what the UN described as “widespread as well as systematic” attacks that “very likely commission of crimes against humanity”.
“Five of them took off my clothes and raped me,” said the bereaved woman. “My eight-month-old son was crying of hunger when they were in my house because he wanted breast feed, so to silence him they killed him with a knife.”
Refugees who fled to Bangladesh, following a nightmarish journey, spoke of the murder of children, the rape of women and the burning of villages. Some of these accounts have been verified through satellite images provided by Human Rights Watch, showing wiped-out villages throughout the state.
Unfortunately, the horrible fate of the Rohingya is not entirely new. But what makes it particularity pressing is that the West is in full support of the very government that is carrying out these atrocious acts.
And there is a reason for that: Oil.
Massive deposits of oil that have remained untapped due to decades of western boycott of the junta government are now available to the highest bidder. It is a big oil bonanza, and all are invited. Shell, ENI, Total, Chevron and many others are investing large sums to exploit the country’s natural resources, while the Chinese — who dominated Myanmar’s economy for many years — are being slowly pushed out.
Indeed, the rivalry over Myanmar’s unexploited wealth is at its peak. It is this wealth — and the need to undermine China’s superpower status in Asia — that has brought the West back and installed Suu Kyi as a leader in a country that has never fundamentally changed, but only rebranded itself to pave the road for the return of ‘Big Oil’.
The Rohingya are paying the price.
One should not be misled by Myanmarese official propaganda. The Rohingya are not foreigners, intruders or immigrants in Burma [now Myanmar]. Their kingdom of Arakan dates back to the eighth Century. In the centuries that followed, the inhabitants of that kingdom learned about Islam from Arab traders and, with time, it became a Muslim-majority region. Arakan is Myanmar’s modern-day Rakhine state, where most of the country’s estimated 1.2 million Rohingya still live.
The false notion that the Rohingya are outsiders started in 1784 when the Myanmarese King conquered Arakan and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Many of those who were forced out of their homes to Bengal, eventually returned.
Attacks on Rohingya, and constant attempts at driving them out of Rakhine, have been renewed over several periods of history.
In 1982, the military government passed the Citizenship Law that stripped most Rohingya of their citizenship, declaring them illegal in their own country. The war on the Rohingya began again in 2012. Every single episode, since then, has followed a typical narrative: ‘Communal clashes’ between Buddhist nationals and Rohingya, often leading to tens of thousands of the latter group being chased out to the Bay of Bengal, to the jungles and, those who survive, to refugee camps.
Amid international silence, only a few respected figures like Pope Francis spoke out in support of the Rohingya in a deeply moving prayer last February. The Rohingya are “good people”, the Pope said. “They are peaceful people, and they are our brothers and sisters.” His call for justice was, however, never heeded.
The violence in Myanmar is likely to escalate and reach other member-states of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), simply because the two main ethnic and religious groups in these countries are dominated and almost evenly split between Buddhists and Muslims.
The triumphant return of the US-West to exploit Myanmar’s wealth and the US-Chinese rivalries are likely to complicate the situation even further, if Asean does not end its appalling silence and move with a determined strategy to pressure Burma to end its genocide of the Rohingya. Respected South African Bishop Desmond Tutu has strongly admonished Suu Kyi for turning a blind eye to the ongoing genocide.
It is the least we expect from the man who stood up to Apartheid in his own country, and penned the famous words: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
Dr Ramzy Baroud is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story.