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Palestine, Israel and the Definition of Rights

It might seem like a ridiculous truism to say that you don’t have a right unless you have it, and yet, at the heart of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a patent absurdity.

Article 1.  All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.

No they’re not.  It simply isn’t true.  Human beings the world over are born neither free nor equal, no matter what the United Nations might have wanted to believe in the wake of the Holocaust, when the declaration was drafted.  Anyone who thinks otherwise is a fool.

human rights

Human beings are born into a world full of inequality, where freedom is a rare thing and getting rarer by the day, and where dignity is the first thing to be traded for a crust of bread.

Try being gay in Nigeria, Kenya or Russia and see how free and equal you feel.

Try being a woman in Afghanistan.  For that matter, try being  a woman anywhere governed by extreme religionists, whether they happen to be Christian, Jewish or Muslim.

Let’s not labour our way through the pious list of aspirations set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document universally ignored by governments everywhere, but just for a bit of diversion, let’s alight here and there for a closer sniff.

Article 3. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Really?  Let’s see the very short list of countries where people have that right.  And let’s see the longer list where they have no such right, even though the Declaration claims they do.

Article 5. No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Unless they happened to be the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four, prisoners in Abu Ghraib, or locked up  in any Middle Eastern jail.

 Article 9.  No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Tell that to the prisoners in Gitmo.

Article 15.  (1) Everyone has the right to a nationality.

Tell that to the Palestinians.

  • Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.
  •  Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
  • Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
  • Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.
  • Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
  • Everyone has the right to education.

No they don’t, no they don’t , no they don’t.  We might want everyone to have those rights, but wanting it doesn’t make it so.  Across most of the world, nobody has such rights, and that’s for a very simple reason:  nobody is born with rights.

We either take them or we are given them.  That’s the reality of any society, ancient or modern.  There is no such thing as a universal right, except in the broad, aspirational, entirely commendable but ultimately meaningless sense exemplified by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It would be wonderful if we had a world based on the UDHR, but we do not, we never had and we never will, as long as the human race continues to produce greedy, tyrannical, intolerant, dishonest power-grabbers.  In other words, as long as the human race continues to produce humans.

The word “rights” is meaningless unless we understand that it implies a greater force guaranteeing such rights, and by the same token, limiting them.   The notion of human rights for women in Europe means something very different than it does in Saudi Arabia, even if Ireland has some way to go in protecting rape victims against unwanted pregnancies, and that’s because rights are handed out by the State.   It doesn’t matter how much we complain about having rights if the reality is that we simply do not have them.

Our rights in Ireland have been hard won, sometimes by constitutional means and sometimes by force of arms, just as is the case in every other country, because that is the nature of a right.

It isn’t some touchy-feelgood sparkledust sprinkled on your organic kaftan by a Vegan fairy.

It’s a right that you fought for, and maybe even died for.

There are no universal rights, only freedoms won by hard effort.

How apt that the Declaration of Human Rights — a thoroughly decent document, in my opinion — should have been created as an expression of the world’s revulsion at the treatment of Jews in Europe, while we witness Israel depriving the Palestinians of almost every right enunciated in it.

And how doubly ludicrous that they should justify their barbaric treatment of the Palestinians by quoting a dubious element of the Hamas charter, namely its denial of the Israeli state’s right to exist.

What is this right?  Was it conferred by force majeure, or did it exist ab initio?

To put it another way, was the right given to them or was it always there?

If the former, we can all agree that the international community never gave Israel the right to extend its borders to their present limits, nor to ethnically cleanse the Palestinians in order to achieve that position.  If the latter, then we’re talking about a Biblical claim to dominance of Palestinian lands based on magical belief in a mythical deity.

Either way, Hamas seem to have a point for discussion at the very least, unless you happen to believe that they’re not entitled to hold a point of view.  But of course, that would be contrary to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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Universal Declaration of Human Rights