Both crises are rooted in long-standing ethnic and religious discrimination
The Rohingya crisis is an issue rooted in long-standing ethnic and religious discrimination that has become a festering problem. But these tensions are dwarfed by current geopolitical dynamics.
The Rohingya have been persecuted in Myanmar for the past 70 years, and nearly 1 million people have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh.
There are parallels with the Israel-Palestine crisis, where Palestinian Arabs have faced land-grabbing by Israeli settlers for many years. As a result, Palestinians have lost their territory and faced bloodshed.
The Rohingya crisis and the current situation of Palestine can be considered as two examples of the same geopolitical conundrum. As a Rohingya refugee, I have found that our people have much in common with Palestinians. Both populations have been persecuted, repeatedly displaced, denied citizenship, and now subjected to genocide and ethnic cleansing. Both Israelis and Myanmar Buddhists have the same goal -- to drive them out of these countries. All too often, killing and torture have occurred in addition to land grabs.
First in 1948, then in 1978, and several times since, the Rohingya have been forcibly displaced into neighbouring countries due to racist campaigns by successive Buddhist-majority Myanmar government administrations. But, thus far, no neighbouring ASEAN country has stood tall for the restoration of Rohingya people’s rights and our need for justice.
Similarly, in 1948, over 700,000 Palestinians fled their homeland due to the Nakba War, also known as the Palestinian Catastrophe. Yet, no Middle Eastern countries have stood up to Israel. As a result, most displaced Palestinians have not been able to go back to their lands. Enabling them to do so would promote peace and stability in the region, benefitting all nations, but this fact is to no avail.
In both crises, the Rohingya the and Palestinians have endured similar experiences, subjected to persecution based on their race and ethnicity. But the Muslim world only watches our desperation, dire circumstances, and prolonged displacement. We are without a destination and without hope.
Meanwhile, the UN Security Council has been called upon numerous times to intervene and help solve these crises. But due to veto power in the hands of powerful countries on the Council and their persistent refusal to address the respective situations of the Rohingya and Palestinian people, no action has been taken. This is little more than a deceitful game. At this point, we would be stupid to believe in them.
Both the Myanmar and Israeli governments use the same policies to annihilate the Rohingya and the Palestinians from their home territories. Citing a racist trope, the Myanmar government has said that, if they were to recognize the Rohingya as citizens, they would lose control of the country’s sovereignty to the Rohingya within 10 years since they breed many children. But In Myanmar, only persons from the Buddhist majority population stand a chance of becoming president.
Likewise, Israel says that Palestinians would soon become a majority if they were to accept back the estimated 750,000 refugees that have been forced to take shelter in other countries.
Another discriminatory policy is that all Jewish people can become citizens of Israel regardless of their place of birth. We see a similar dynamic in Myanmar, albeit one that is less enshrined in policy, but practiced nonetheless.
Prior to Bangladesh’s independence in 1971, there were many Rakhine and Chakma ethnic minorities living in Bangladesh. But their population has since declined.
According to my own personal observations, and those of many other people from my home region in the north of Rakhine State, many Rakhine and Chakma people illegally and informally entered Rakhine state and took permanent settlement on Rohingya lands. They have since been recognized as citizens of Myanmar.
During the reign of dictator General Ne Win, who took power in a 1962 military coup, the Myanmar military seized Rohingya lands and handed them over to Rakhine people who had entered Myanmar illegally. My own grandfather owned 45 acres of farm lands. But it was all seized by the Myanmar government and redistributed to Rakhine migrants who had recently arrived from Bangladesh.
Some of these migrants are even alleged to have split their time between Bangladesh and Myanmar, moving easily across the border. The Rohingya have no such access, and our mobility is tightly curbed by the authorities on both sides of the border. Thus, the reality of the situation observed by locals is indeed a far cry from the false belief that has spread widely in Myanmar -- that the Rohingya, not Rakhine, are illegal Bangali interlopers.
When Buddhist nationalists spread dangerous propaganda against Muslims and the Rohingya, the Myanmar government says nothing against it. They allow and even encourage the propaganda to spread. Likewise, Israel empowers Jewish people to slander Palestinians.
In Myanmar, some people from the majority Burmese Buddhist population have changed their views since the recent military coup. They have realized the brutality of the military. Some have apologized to the Rohingya and, recently, have even expressed solidarity with us. But it seems that nothing has changed in Israel.
Recently, Palestinians were attacked during worship. The Rohingya fear that relations with Burmese Buddhists could deteriorate again, and some believe that the positive expressions are a manipulation used to garner the support of the international community.
In short, in some ways, both these two crises are the same: Sectarian conflicts in which both the governments hold an ulterior motive of demolishing minoritized Muslim groups.
Ahtaram Shine is a Rohingya refugee.