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by Michael Posner


And it came to pass that the venerable leaders of the world's most important human rights organizations assembled for their annual conclave in Geneva.

As they sat down to their evening repast of Scottish smoked salmon and duck confit, their faces were drawn and troubled — and understandably so.

Their diligent teams of researchers and investigators had catalogued a long list of grievous human rights abuses, evidence of the persistent cruelty of man to man.

This high-minded gathering, men and women of unquestioned probity and integrity, had received disturbing reports on the atrocities committed in recent years by Russian forces in Chechnya, and later in Georgia, murdering scores of innocent civilians.

They had read the shocking accounts of genocide in Darfur, perpetrated by Janjaweed militias, agents of the Sudanese government — hundreds of thousands slaughtered indiscriminately. They had seen the disturbing film footage of Chinese army soldiers killing Muslim Uighur protesters in Xinjiang and in Tibet.

They were aware that the military junta in Myanmar had deployed troops to assault thousands of protesting monks and students. They knew that tribal warfare was being conducted in Somalia, an anarchic wasteland of gratuitous mayhem, where the death toll, again, climbed into the hundreds of thousands.

They bemoaned the tales of child soldiers — kidnapped, trained and coerced into warfare in Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka and several other countries. By some accounts, there were as many as 300,000 child soldiers fighting in various parts of the world, most of them under the age of 15.

Yet that was not all. These sober humanitarians, veritably the ethical and moral voice of the human race, knew only too well the heart-breaking stories of Pakistan villagers forced to flee — 1.7 million, according to the United Nations — the violence in Swat province, innocents caught up in the country's deadly war against Al Qaeda militants.

They had closely monitored the continuing struggle in neighbouring Afghanistan between Taliban insurgents and a coalition of Western forces trying to stabilize the Afghan president's tenuous hold on power.

They had followed the accounts of Iranian bloggers and Twitterers, as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's special forces launched a brutal crackdown on those who dared to protest his landslide win in the 2009 national elections, and the intolerable constraints of a rigid theocratic state.

And they were scrupulous in gathering statistics on the daily toll of dead from suicide bombings, roadside ordinances and other acts of insurgency in strife-torn Iraq. The swelling archive of dossiers filled these pillars of the international community with concern.

But as they sipped their goblets of vintage French and German wines in Geneva, these brave men and women of conscience knew something else: that the aggregate suffering of all of these terrible wars, revolts, uprisings and protests paled in comparison to the single most pressing human rights issue of the day — indeed, of the century.

"Ladies and gentlemen," began the distinguished chairman of the proceedings, as he took the dais. "We cannot hope to deal with all the abuses that have been documented. Therefore, we must prioritize, must we not, and direct our energies to confronting the most egregious, the most flagrant encroachments: those carried out by the Jews — or rather by the Israelis, though it amounts to the same thing — against their peace-loving neighbours, the peace loving Palestinians.

"All other infringements of fundamental human rights, pale beside that now being inflicted upon the peace-loving Palestinians.

"Please raise your hands if you agree that we humanitarians would be derelict in our duties as sentinels of civil liberty if we failed to speak the disturbing truth about the heinous acts perpetrated against the peace-loving Palestinians."

And lo, like an obedient army saluting its commander, the delegates promptly raised their hands in unanimous agreement. "Yes, we know that a handful of peasants have complained about Russian fighter jets raining down missiles on towns and villages in Chechnya and Georgia," the distinguished chairman continued.

"But can we turn a blind eye to the plight of peace-loving Palestinians, forced to undergo hours of humiliating inspection at Israeli army checkpoints, simply because one or two of them might want to visit a pizza parlour in Jerusalem or a discotheque in Tel Aviv with an unfashionable belt tied around their waist?

"I think we all know the answer.

"Yes, the Sudanese government has armed and trained gangs of mercenaries, which have raped, pillaged and murdered tens of thousands.

I therefore urgently call for a formal commission of inquiry under the auspices of the United Nations to hold hearings that will probe these grievous charges. We must get to the bottom of it.

"I don't care if it takes years.

"But what are the killing fields of Darfur when measured against the injustice of the vast, impersonal separation wall that has been erected along the border between what was once Palestine and the West Bank, and with which peace-loving Palestinians must now sadly contend?

"I think we all know the answer.

"Yes, it is said that the Sri Lankan government used disproportionate force in ruthlessly suppressing the Tamil uprising in the north. This claim, too, should be thoroughly investigated, as soon as time and resources permit.

"But what is this compared to the hardships peace-loving Palestinians must endure, watching a few Israeli settlers on the West Bank turn the arid desert into productive farms and communities, while incessantly singing Hebrew songs in praise of God?

"I think we all know the answer.

"Surely the world recognizes the menace — no, let us have the courage to call it by its proper name — the evil that these handfuls of settlers and their wives and small children pose to peace-loving Palestinians.

"Does anyone doubt that, but for these vexatious settlers — who believe that some hoary deity in a book of transparent fiction, the Old Testament, promised them the land — does anyone doubt that but for their obstinacy and intransigence, peace-loving Palestinians would immediately renounce terrorism, and teach their children to love the Jews?

"I think we all know the answer.

"It is not our role as humanitarians to pass judgment on the merits of this political position or that. We must always remain neutral and weigh our words carefully, until all the facts are in.

"But can there be any doubt that if only Israel would dismantle the settlements, tear down the apartheid wall, remove the checkpoints, return to its original borders, and allow peace-loving Palestinians everywhere to reclaim their ancestral homes that this festering conflict would finally be resolved?

"I think we all know the answer.

"If Israel did not unreasonably insist that peace-loving Palestinians finally come to terms with its existence, and grant it formal recognition — clearly an unreasonable demand — can anyone doubt that the elected representatives of Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad and other peace-loving organizations would no longer be forced to take the billions of dollars in aid given to them over the past decade by American and European governments to buy guns, set up bomb-making factories, and open Swiss bank accounts for their families?

"I think we all know the answer to that, as well.

"And so my friends, I urge you today not to let your focus be diverted as another Shiite suicide bomber blows up a Sunni vegetable market or police training academy in Baghdad.

"Don't be distracted when elite forces of the Iranian government charge through the streets of Tehran shooting young Iranians at random.

"Don't take your eye off the ball when guns and water cannons are used on protestors in the streets of China and Myanmar.

"Because what is that compared to having to be searched and verbally assaulted by an Israeli soldier at a checkpoint near Ramallah?

"Surely we all know the answer.

"Yes, there are women being genitally mutilated every day in Africa, women prevented from going to school, leaving the matrimonial home without a male escort, forbidden to drive cars, wear sleeveless dresses and vote in elections.

"Yes, there are newly dead corpses lying in the streets of Somalia and elsewhere.

"Indeed, as I speak, there are men, women and children dying in unthinkable numbers all over the world, testimony to the rapacious, murderous instinct that seems to reside in all mankind. It is too horrible to even contemplate.

"So let us maintain our reason and perspective. Let us be strong and vigilant. Let us be mindful of the greater tragedy, the greater sin, the one that occurs when — on a mere pretext, because a young Arab may have killed a few dozen Jews in a suicide attack — another Israeli settler takes another sharpened axe to another peace-loving Palestinian olive tree and cuts it down, depriving him of his peace-loving livelihood. Think of the consequences of that.

"Isn't that, fundamentally the heart of the matter — the settlers, the Israelis, the Jews, if you will? Isn't that, in fact, the core of all our problems?

"I think we all know the answer to that."

And with that, the distinguished chairman stepped back from the lectern, while the sea of delegates rose as one to give him a sustained standing ovation.

Michael Posner is an author and arts reporter and feature writer for the Globe and Mail. He is NOT Michael H. Posner who is President of Human Rights First, a human rights group.

This article appeared October 2009. Thanks are due Doris Wise Montrose of Children of Holocaust Servivors -- the website -- for sending this to Think-Israel..


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