"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…. any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.” (John Donne)
Once more the Levant, once a beautiful sanctuary of peace, with rolling hills and swaying olive trees, is the site of a bitter conflict between the regional power, Israel, and a recalcitrant Hamas, a Palestinian militant group that controls the tiny Gaza strip in west of Israel. The conflict has seen the deaths of 528 people and the wounding of another 3,130 to date – and this, by only conservative estimates. The dead include 508 Palestinians, 18 Israeli military personnel and two Israeli citizens.
The dead were clubbed together under a more universal label of “people” to underscore a very simple point, which seems to have evaded its own integration into much of the public (and, indeed, media) discourse surrounding the freshly re-ignited conflict: that the site of conflict is a site of profound human tragedy, and enduring human suffering; that it is a site which rings with human loss and loss of humans; that it is a site where humans oppress humanity, and where humanity meets villainy, injustice and the worst sort of tyranny humans can perpetrate against each other; and that, finally, it is a site where the greatest test of humans such as you and us, shall be taken, and one of the greatest battles of human resilience and endurance, and for human freedom and liberty, and, indeed, eventually, redemption will be fought.
Here is a conflict before us, which is a conflict of the abstract: it is variously cast as a battle between the “good” and the “evil”, between “right” and “wrong”, between “forces of light, of freedom and liberty, of progress” against “forces of darkness, of oppression and tyranny, and of conservative retreat”, between one historical narrative and another, and one set of historical “truths” against another, and between tales of woe,
subjugation, indeed extermination, dispossession and statelessness of one people against those of another. Both sides lay claim to “goodness”, and “rightness”, and victim-hood, and inveigh against the other as being the “evil”, and “wrong”, and the oppressor. Which side to invest one’s belief and faith in is determined often by the accident of birth – what part of globe one was born in, or what religion one professes, and so on. The only real judgement on the virtue or falsehood of either side is the one that history passes, and history takes its time in sitting in its judgement. We must remember too, that all tales of hunt have forever glorified the hunters, because the hunted are the stuff of bone-dust which is blown away by the winds of Time: and therefore, whom history exonerates, and whom it indicts and condemns, we cannot, at present, correctly judge, and so, to continue to waste one’s breath in debating which side is right and which is wrong is futile, and, indeed, serves to belittle the real issue at hand, which is one of human suffering and tragedy, shared by both the Israeli people and the Palestinian.
It might be well to point out towards the state of apartheid that Israel has erected as an eulogizing edifice to supreme tyranny, in the lands that one would call “Palestine”. It is true that Palestinians are locked in a tiny, blockaded, even walled-in, open-air prison; that they are made to bear different number plates on their cars and ply separate roads; that they are not allowed to ride in the same buses as Israeli citizens; and so on. It is also true that Palestinians have been dispossessed of their lands, cast into a void of statelessness, refused proper legal recourse and fundamental human rights, and even have access to basic healthcare or sanitation, et al, curtailed on account of a seven-year-long, stifling blockade imposed by Israel. However, if one is to speak with an Israeli citizen one would realize the state of paranoia and fear he or she lives in. Israeli citizens have been terrorized through gun-and-bomb attacks,
kidnappings, and, often, unending barrages of rocket fire coming from Gaza in Israel’s south-west, or from Lebanon in its north. One would well point towards the Iron Dome anti-missile air-defence system, but then it was developed in response to the relentless rocket fire, and has been installed only recently. The rocket fire predicates it by decades. Israel has been attacked several times in the past by a string of Arab states acting in unison, often as part of temporarily assembled coalitions oriented towards putting out the very flame of the idea of Israel. Israeli citizens are Jews who have suffered death, destruction and misery through the centuries, often at hands of Christians extremists in their countless pogroms, and at the hands of national socialists in the shape of Hitler-led Nazi regime in Germany (Jews are said to have adopted a policy of quiet acquiescence and acceptance in the face of such tyranny being wrought against them. They are, thus, now, believed to be attempting to violently assert themselves as a strong people, capable of defending themselves, and finally, unwilling to suffer any longer. That is, in any case, one way of looking at this). Jews have remained the original tillers of the land that is today Israel and Palestine, and have either been driven out, or have had themselves to migrate first to Europe, and then, after Nazi oppression, to modern-day Israel, often to escape local versions of pogroms, in the case of Middle East, being run by local Muslims, who are today Jews’ victims, in a stark reversal of fortune. One can, of course, debate these things but to what end?
The real conflict is far more complicated than a simple question of ownership, possession, and dispossession. Hamas, for instance, is an Iran-backed militant organization which is, often, deliberately violent. Indeed, Israel is no better. The scale of violence that it perpetrates against Hamas is disproportionate (use of relentless air strikes, some 74,000 ground troops, backed with armour and artillery, to combat a few thousand untrained, poorly-armed shoulder-fired-rocket-launchers touting Hamas militiamen). However, the proportion of violence being perpetrated by either side against the other is not the real question here: use of violence to respond violence, indeed violence itself, is. All use of violence by all sides is wrong, and worthy of condemnation. Anyhow, Hamas is disliked by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, U.A.E and other Sunni Arab players in the region. Indeed, when Egypt was asked recently to help broker a peace agreement, it completely circumvented the Hamas leadership, and announced its proposals to the media, which is where Hamas leadership says it found out about such proposals. Naturally, Hamas rejected the offer. Recently, political commentators from across the globe have begun to comment upon a possible Saudi hand in the conflict. Saudi Arabia is decidedly against Hamas, wants to sideline and eventually dismantle it, and then move into Gaza itself, using its petrodollars to forge local influence.
Israel, for its part, is being led by a scare-mongering, conservative, and highly belligerent prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. It had earlier refused to recognize a popularly elected Hamas political leadership, later refused to talk to Hamas, and has since been consistently sabotaging all efforts at formation of a unity government (between Hamas and Fatah). This is naturally oriented towards forestalling the creation, and so, an international recognition of a Palestinian state. It wants to push ahead with its illegal settlements in the West Bank, so that any question on which side gets what parts of the West Bank in a future resolution of the decades-old conflict, can deliver pre-decided results, so that a greater Israel can be achieved. At the same time, Israel would be unwilling to relinquish control of essentially Palestinian water resources which are, at present, being diverted towards Israel. There has also been some talk of Gaza being a repository of vast gas reserves, which Israel could exploit.
All this goes well beyond the abstracts that the conflict is hostage to. It is time, perhaps, to finally batter through the abstracts which have defined this conflict for decades, and take into account, and then, address the real issues, causes, motivations, beliefs, values, and very importantly, the many competing regional and international interests which together make this conflict the issue that it is. Since Israel is the larger, far more powerful belligerent of the two, and is the party that inflicted the greater amount of harm on the other – strictly in terms of proportion – perhaps the onus of responsibility of beginning a process of de-escalation, and to begin to move towards negotiated settlement, falls on its shoulders. However, this is not to suggest in any way that Hamas does not have any responsibility. It does too. Its rocket attacks must end, and its belief in the employment of violence to further the cause of Palestine that it professes to champion (over 70% of the 508 dead Palestinians have been civilians according to U.N. estimates, deaths which Hamas’s actions have helped cause). One would suggest complete demilitarization of the Palestinian lands, institution of a UN mandate to administer Palestinian territory, holding of free, fair, open and transparent trial of any and all involved in perpetrating violence on both sides by the International Court of Justice, and finally, holding of free, fair and transparent general elections in the Palestinian lands to determine the local population’s political leadership, which can then sit on the table with Israel.
At the end, it is important to remember that t is for the liberation and redemption of humanity that one must struggle, because strife afflicts wounds, both mentally and physically, and kills people on both sides, and that it is humanity itself which suffers, and weeps, through the dark nights of such loss, cruelty and tyranny.