Geopolitics

War In Gaza: Will You Hate Each Other Forever?

It is becoming harder and harder to even imagine an end to the cycle of anger and vengeance.

Palestinian protesters burning tires in Ramallah, West Bank, in solidarity with Gaza
Palestinian protesters burning tires in Ramallah, West Bank, in solidarity with Gaza

—OpEd—

To justify the ground offensive against Gaza launched during the night of July 17 and 18, Israel put forth a precise goal: destroy Hamas's network of tunnels. These galleries enable the Palestinian Islamist movement to hide its arsenal of rockets and organize attacks on Israeli soil.

Israel has good arguments on its side. With the help of Iran, Syria, and the money from certain Gulf emirates, Hamas equipped itself over recent years with an ever more sophisticated arsenal of rockets. As we have seen these last few days, some of these missiles can reach large Israeli cities.

Hamas fires these projectiles completely indiscriminately, looking to strike in the heart of urban areas. The aim is to kill as many as possible — civilians, in particular.

Human shield

Israeli civilians have so far been spared from the some 1,000 rockets fired from Gaza since July 7 — the beginning of this umpteenth confrontation between both parties — for two reasons: a remarkable civil defense organization and a more and more efficient anti-missile system.

Israel also has credible arguments when accusing Hamas of installing its launch pads in underground shelters right in the middle of the Palestinian population — and of using the latter as a “human shield.” As recently as Thursday, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) discovered more than 20 rockets concealed in one of its schools.

But despite this range of very serious justifications, Israel is wrong to think that its security will be ensured by further military operations in Gaza. It will not — or at best only for a short period of time: The last ground operation carried out by the army in this territory, “Cast Lead,” dates back to 2008-2009.

In light of this reality, it is important to assess the risks taken by Benjamin Netanyahu’s government with the operation launched on July 17. The risks are great — and they weigh, first and foremost, on the Palestinian civilian population.

Where to hide?

In only ten days, the people of Gaza have already paid a huge price: 257 dead — including many children — and some 1,700 wounded. Israel says the army warns the civilian population before striking. But where can people go? Where can entire families take shelter when a whole, overpopulated territory of almost 2 million people is under the fire of one of the best-equipped armies in the world?

We know the result. We have seen it this week, with the “mistake” of a repeated strike — three shells — on a group of children playing on a Gaza beach.

The former president of the Israeli parliament, Avraham Burg — an isolated voice — said it in Le Monde: Military force is not a solution. Burg is not naïve. He knows that after Hamas, it will be jihadists who, fueled by violence, will keep feeding the desire for vengeance.

In such a complete political vacuum between Israelis and Palestinians, hatred gains new ground every day. What comes to mind is a verse, fittingly from a tragedy, Andromaque, by French playwright Jean Racine: “Has your anger not yet run its course? Will you hate forever, with eternal force?"

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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