by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: AFP
IMAGES OF the killing of Palestinians on the Israel-Gaza border during protests against the American Embassy relocation to Jerusalem have been shocking for many in Taiwan. The deaths were concurrent with the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, when more than 700,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes as part of Israeli settlement efforts. Sixty were killed on Tuesday, many of which were children, leading to protests across the world. However, instead of looking at this tragic set of events merely as a tragedy in a distant, faraway land, perhaps there are lessons from this to be drawn for Taiwan.
First, it is significant that many in Taiwan—particularly elders of the Taiwanese independence movement—has sometimes cited Israel as a model to aspire to. Israel is seen as a small, militarily powerful country which is able to ward of its neighbors, much as Taiwan might hope to ward off the threat of China. Likewise, despite being small, Israel is globally influential in the same way that Taiwan hopes for members of the Taiwanese diaspora to be influential. More broadly, Taiwan shares the same status as Israel in being more or less propped up regionally by the United States.
However, what is noteworthy in such comparisons it that Taiwanese see themselves as aspiring to the aim of becoming like Israel, instead of finding common cause between themselves and Palestinians. Palestine, after all, is also an unrecognized territory which strives for recognition, while facing violent threats and continued settler colonialism from Israel.
Yet it needs to be remembered that Palestine’s struggle for self-determination is probably far better known internationally than that of Taiwan, as observed in the international BDS campaign. Taiwanese independence activists have in many cases failed situate Taiwan’s struggle for self-determination alongside other, similar struggles, despite that BDS is an example of how to raise the international profile of a self-determination struggle.
But apart from the atrocities direct committed by the Israeli government, it has to be remembered in Taiwan that much of the blame for the deaths can be laid at the feet of the Trump administration. It was the Trump administration that unilaterally decided to move the American Embassy to the contested city of Jerusalem, in spite of the fact that this would likely lead to protests, and with the full knowledge that subsequent protests would probably be violently repressed by the Israeli government.
This fact only goes show the fundamental disregard for life of the Trump administration, then, irrespective of its political context. In the meantime, Trump administration officials in Israel at the time such as Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law, have said little about the killings and instead praised the embassy move in the most effusive of terms. The US has also blocked a UN motion calling for an investigation into the killings.
This fact about the Trump administration proves not only cause for moral critique, but something which raises concrete, rational dilemmas for Taiwan. Should Taiwan really puts its faith in America as the guarantor of its democratic freedoms from China, with the full knowledge that America, knowing that while America may claim to have the aim of preserving democratic freedoms globally, it is wholly capable of shrugging off such atrocities? That is, should Taiwanese place their faith in such a country to defend it?
Indeed, the fact that the Trump administration was willing to go ahead with the embassy move in spite of that diplomatic blowback on the scale as with the killings was very likely to happen should also throw water onto illusions in Taiwan that the Trump administration knows what it is doing diplomatically.
This is true whether in the Middle East or in East Asia, seeing as the Trump administration has to date relied on a small set of individuals to make sweeping decisions pertaining to American foreign policy globally instead of the the traditional diplomatic corps. Even if he has currently fallen out of favor with his father-in-law, Kushner himself, whom Trump depended on for both his MIddle East and East Asian policy early in his administration, proves a good example of this phenomenon. Nonetheless, idealization of the Trump administration continues for many, with Taiwanese remembering only those actions of the Trump administration which have benefited Taiwan, and forgetting the many more occurrences in which the Trump administration seemed to have little idea of what it was doing, or carrying out actions detrimental to Taiwan.
More generally, it remains likely that many in Taiwan will fail to connect the dots and see how events in Israel and Palestine are, in fact, crucial for Taiwan to note. All of this would return to Taiwan’s longstanding idealization of America and Israel perhaps, as well Taiwan’s diplomatic isolation having contributed to a failure to situate itself in context of events that seem to take place in faraway regions of the world.