A proactive MFAT amid a Middle East conflict

By The Editorial Board 11 October 2023, 10:00AM

With the death toll from the Hamas–Israel conflict getting to the 2,000 mark on both sides, there are no signs of the war abating, three days after the militant group pulled off a surprising multipronged sea, land and air assault on the Jewish state last Saturday (Sunday Apia Time).

Latest reports from Jerusalem via the Associated Press report Israel authorities increasing airstrikes targetting the Gaza Strip and cutting it off from food, fuel and other essential supplies (including electricity and fuel) as retaliation for last weekend’s incursion by Hamas militants. In return, Hamas warned that it would kill captured Israelis if its attacks target civilians without prior warning.

While global powers such as Russia, China and the United Nations have called for a ceasefire and an end to hostilities and negotiations between Israel and Hamas, others led by the United States and its allies such as Australia have condemned the attacks targeting the Israelis with the U.S. reportedly dispatching a carrier strike group to the Mediterranean Sea.

The United Nations humanitarian relief agency has reportedly said close to 200,000 Palestinians have fled their homes with the number expected to increase as Israel continues its bombardment of the Gaza strip.

Amid the fighting different countries are urging their citizens in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories to leave the country with the mounting death toll and missing including foreign nationals. Indonesia and Mexico have urged their citizens to leave while Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, Kosovo and Greece have reportedly evacuated their citizens from Israel.

The different foreign states’ evacuation of their citizens brings us to an article (Samoans trapped) in yesterday’s edition of the Samoa Observer, which reported on how 22 Samoans are currently trapped in Jerusalem. They flew to Israel on a Pacific Airways charter flight on 29 September 2023 as part of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem Feast of Tabernacles 2023 delegation. According to the story, out of the total number, 11 are Samoa nationals with 9 from New Zealand, and the rest Samoan diaspora who reside in Australia and the United States.

The group for now appear to be in high spirits, despite living in a warzone, with their team leader Shivani Sharma saying they are safe and the hotel is taking care of them.

"For us, everything is just as it was, there's no difference, we are in a hotel, the hotel is providing all our meals, everything is running as normal with the 48 hours of lockdown," she said. "Most of the shops were closed but for us, there's no issues at all and we're all catered well and safe.

"It's only when the rockets are attacking, with recent sirens going off from 6 am to 12 pm but no sirens when there's no rockets.”

Hearing that they are safe would be a relief for families and relatives back home here in Samoa. But how long can their status quo be maintained and do they have access to emergency funding while in Jerusalem to make their way out should all services including international air services cease altogether?

Reports from Fiji indicate that the Air Pacific charter flight, which flew the Christian group to Israel late last month, has suspended its return flight. Major American, European and Asian airlines have also suspended their services to Israel while they monitor the situation. These include Air France, Air Canada, Cathay Pacific, Easy Jet, Hainan, India Air, Korean Air, Lufthansa, and Virgin Atlantic.

Can Samoa’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) advise the public on what their plans are for the Samoan nationals who are now trapped in Jerusalem despite their best intentions to portray an “all is well” image back home to their families?

Surely, MFAT officials have formulated or are formulating a contingency plan for their evacuation, based on the advice that they are receiving from Samoa’s diplomatic missions in Europe?

If nations that are geographically closer to Israel already evacuating their citizens, it makes sense for Samoan diplomats to begin consultations with our bigger Pacific neighbours, such as Australia and New Zealand. This would be to confirm if they have similar plans in the next few days and whether Samoan nationals currently stranded in Israel can be assisted and allocated seats on any evacuation aircraft.

For Samoa’s MFAT to not release a statement, immediately after reports emerged online of the group of Samoans who are currently stranded in Jerusalem amid a worsening days-old conflict, is tantamount to incompetence on the Ministry’s part.

Also, can someone at MFAT advise the public where Samoa stands on this three-day-old conflict? Does the country condemn or support or call for a cease-fire and an end to the hostilities from both sides? Surely, there is a position paper sitting somewhere in the archives of the Ministry, stating this country’s position on the Israel-Palestinian conflict which is over a century old. Time waits for nobody, let’s get to work before a life is put in danger.

By The Editorial Board 11 October 2023, 10:00AM
Samoa Observer

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