Our refusal as a country to learn from history is common knowledge, but it appears the Israelis are no better off. They’ve been caught, literally with their pants down, for the second time during the Yom Kippur holidays. They seem to have been just as surprised and unprepared this time as they were when the Egyptians and Syrians crossed the Suez and Golan Heights in 1973. Some have even gone so far as to call it their 9/11 moment!
The truth is it shouldn’t really have come as a surprise. While much of the world may have forgotten the plight of the Palestinians and come to terms with their shoddy treatment by the Israelis, the Palestinians themselves have not and have shown that they have no intention of fading away into the waste bin of history without a fight. It goes without saying that their reasons for launching the assault at this time and in their manner are still shrouded in the ‘fog of war’ and remain a matter of speculation. What is indisputable, however, is that it has brought the spotlight back on the Palestinian question while simultaneously putting West Asian leaders attempting to improve relations with Israel in a tough spot.
The genesis of the Palestinian problem lies in the unfair and arbitrary division of territory carried out under the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine of 1947. It established an Israeli State occupying 55% of Palestinian territory despite the Jewish population representing only about 30% of the total population and owning under 7% of the land. The ensuing Arab- Israeli War of 1948 resulted in 78% of all Palestinian territory being occupied by Israel, leading to 750,000 Palestinians being displaced. Interestingly, in the 19th Century, the Jewish population in Palestine was just 4% before the Zionist declaration demanding a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Clearly, the West has much to answer for, which is self-evident. It is hardly in a position to play honest broker in the circumstances.
While reasons for violence in the region are varied and complicated, one of the most severe and abrasive has been how the Israeli Government has, for decades, illegally occupied thousands of acres of private Palestinian land in the West Bank. The far-reaching consequences of such actions have been the focus of an Israeli journalist for the English language paper “Haaretz”, Gideon Levy. His revelations on the atrocities committed by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and the settlers on the local Palestinian population, with investigative reports of specific instances of murder, torture and theft, show Israeli society and the State in an extremely poor light.
Another extreme aspect Mr. Levy has highlighted over the years is the degradation that has overtaken an army that has not fought a conventional war for nearly four decades. Instead, it has found itself beset in unending low-intensity conflicts in Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza. Religious bigotry, racial prejudice, an overwhelming sense of entitlement and a complete lack of unbiased judicial oversight have reduced this force to a caricature of what it once was. It has been exposed for all to see, and given our focus on counter-insurgency, there is probably a lesson here for us as well.
One cannot lose sight of the fact that, for all intents and purposes, Gaza and the West Bank are occupied territories where Israel does as it pleases. Therefore, Israel’s declaration of war following the Hamas attacks is truly inexplicable and nonsensical. All it suggests is that the Israeli leadership is suffering from a bankruptcy of ideas and intends to respond in the only way it knows, with unrestrained brutality and maximum force. This brings back memories of 2014 when, following the tragic killings of three Israeli teenagers, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) retaliated by unleashing forces ruthlessly and indiscriminately that resulted in the death and injury of thousands of non-combatants, including women and children. It was then touted as the “final solution” to destroy Hamas, once and for all.
Like most “final solutions”, this too was spectacularly unsuccessful, as events now unfolding on the ground show. Not only has Hamas survived and become stronger and more organised. Far worse, by launching indiscriminate attacks, the IDF made the cardinal error of creating another generation of ardent and motivated Hamas supporters bent on revenge. One fears that the present cycle of violence will only result in a repetition of 2014. As long as the Israelis fail to confront their own moral bankruptcy and absence of humanity, a just and equitable solution that would lead to lasting peace remains a mirage.
Finally, over the years, our approach to the Israeli-Palestinian issue has been rather circumspect and even-handed. Governments here have to be not only cognisant of the sentiments of our sizeable Muslim population but also keep in mind that in some quarters, determined efforts have been made to equate our ongoing problems in Jammu and Kashmir with the situation in Palestine, even though this has no basis in fact. Surprisingly, while most nations, apart from the United States and its close allies, have adopted a wait-and-watch policy, the Modi Government has uncharacteristically gone ahead and made its support for Israel unequivocally clear. With the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC Corridor) going up in smoke, one cannot help but speculate: is national interest at play here or something else?