Israel-Palestine conflict

[OPINION] How should overseas Filipinos connect with the Gaza situation?

Francisco Bautista

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[OPINION] How should overseas Filipinos connect with the Gaza situation?

Guia Abogado/Rappler

'Do we really have a role in contributing meaningfully to the ongoing discourse?'

The events in the Israeli-Hamas conflict have propelled the Palestinian cause into the global spotlight. As of writing, the ongoing hostilities have given rise to widespread destruction and civilian deaths in Gaza. Over 1.9 million Palestinians – constituting more than 85% of Gaza’s population – were forced into internal displacement.

While there is a cause for sorrow over this massive crisis, a significant outcome has emerged. The extensive discussion among scholars, leaders, and advocates around the world has spurred a broader uprising and greater efforts aimed at solidarity with Palestinians. Ultimately, these actions have drawn attention to the issue of dispossession in the region.

For overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), it prompts a very important question: how can we engage with this issue? Or perhaps, do we really have a role in contributing meaningfully to the ongoing discourse?

We must recognize our unique vantage point that offers us the opportunity to actively engage in discussions and potentially shape positive change. This is particularly true for OFWs residing in the Global North. Our positionality compels us to reflect on our own experiences of marginalization and establish connections with the working class around the world.

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It is worth noting that the most powerful Western countries have expressed their unwavering support for Israel. The United States has utilized its permanent membership in the UN Security Council to consistently reject a number of resolutions calling for a humanitarian ceasefire. Such ceasefire would have been crucial to provide a respite from conflict and allow for a smoother delivery of aid. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom has also articulated his unqualified support to Israel leader Benjamin Netanyahu. 

Even Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labour Party in the UK, has stuck to this position of rejecting an early ceasefire. While this had sparked internal dissent within Labour, the party has not fundamentally changed its support for Netanyahu’s military actions despite the growing death toll and devastation.

OFWs are widely acknowledged as crucial to the labor force in the Global North, making a significant economic contribution to these countries. Nevertheless, the working class in the most developed nations is experiencing the impact of noticeable shifts in public policy, including poor wages, adverse working conditions, and homelessness, which are further compounded by disparities in social status, race, and other indicators.

But these problems are also the result of changing policy priorities, with the most powerful states funding militarism abroad rather than tackling the underlying causes of poverty within their own borders.

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A striking illustration of this lies in the stark comparison between the US and Russia’s military budgets, where the former surpasses the latter by more than tenfold. Yet, foreign intervention through militarism has failed to resolve the Ukraine conflict. Beyond the realization that effective conflict resolution may not necessarily arise from military spending, allocating significant resources to wars may divert funds away from essential components of the welfare state. For instance, austerity measures have put a strain on the already underfunded National Health Service in the UK. Funding cuts have also hit schools, libraries, community centers, and have propelled the privatization of public housing.

Indeed, it is reasonable to assert that militarism may not align with the desires and aspirations of citizens. As per an IPSOS survey, 7 out of 10 of Britons express their concern regarding the welfare of civilians on both sides. Furthermore, the same survey says that over four in 10 participants (44%) believe that Israel does not make sufficient efforts to minimize harm to civilians in its strikes on Gaza. In the United States, public support for Israel’s conflict with Hamas is dwindling as the majority is now backing a ceasefire, with only 32% of respondents endorsing U.S. support for Israel. This is a decline from the 41% recorded in October 2023.

With the general aim of persuading our host governments to reconsider their support for Israel, our role as global citizens extends to the improvement of living conditions and safeguarding the rights of those affected by man-made conflicts wherever they are in the world. This entails advocating for the working class in Gaza who endure daily hardship from violent attacks, starvation, and lack of clean water.

Joining in a broad movement to fight for the rights of Palestinians means that we acknowledge that the challenges we face are interconnected. And by taking part in a collective endeavor that cuts across national boundaries, we help amplify the political voice of our counterparts, whether they are in the Philippines, in Europe, in the Middle East, or elsewhere. –

Francisco “Kiko” Bautista is an OFW, writer, and activist based in Glasgow, Scotland, UK.

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