Friday, January 9, 2009

Brutality of Fact: the assault on Gaza

“There is no such thing as Palestinians; they never existed” was the haughty proclamation of former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, the ‘Iron Lady’ of Israeli politics. From its founding days, the State of Israel has continued to display the same colonialist haughtiness towards the people of Palestine. For decades, this fundamental arrogant attitude of Israel has been duly approved and legitimized by the Western power houses. Israel has been bestowed with satiated military and diplomatic support by them, particularly by America, to secure political and economic objectives in the Middle East. Two vital aspects have blurred the true nature of the Palestine-Israel conflict. Firstly, the Zionist claim based on mythical and religious grounds for a Jewish State in Palestine land has received a longstanding moral support from the West. Secondly, the western world has sought to assuage its guilt over the Nazi genocide of Jews by supporting this ludicrous demand of the Zionists. The West always had great sympathies for Israel, for the ‘difficulties’ Israel is facing from the ‘violent and fanatic’ people of Palestine. If Israel gives up even an inch of the occupied territories, it is viewed as an enormous sacrifice by the Zionist lobbying groups in America and Western mainstream media. But the enormous sacrifices of the Palestinian people get far lesser attention and sympathy. The disparity between Israeli and Palestinian political, economic and military strength is also not considered in its proper context while evaluating the ongoing conflict between the two. By some trick of hypocritical logic, the international community has recognized Israel’s illegal confiscation of Palestinian land and the ethnic cleansing of indigenous Arabs. Since the creation of Israel, there has been no peace in the Middle East. Palestine stands out as the most persuasive symbol of human trauma today.

“Israel is the guard dog of America’s plans for Middle East.” This is how noted journalist and documentary maker John Pilger has described America-Israel relation. United States of America is the principal patron of Israel which continues to receive nearly 40 percent of all American foreign aid. Most of this aid has been granted since 1967 when Israel occupied the territories of Palestinians and other Arab nations. America is expected to provide Israel with $30 billion in military aid between 2008 and 2017. In fact this excessive level of absolute diplomatic, financial, military and moral support to Israeli occupation forces and their policies are not unconditional. American support comes from the recognition of how Israel supports their strategic interests in the Middle East and beyond. Therefore, when reputed human rights groups have observed that the majority of violent actions have come from Israeli occupation forces and settlers, America have always found only the Palestinians to blame. America does not really want peace in the region. Its absence of will is exposed by the dual role it is playing - as the chief mediator of the conflict as well as the chief supporter of Israel’s atrocious crimes in Palestine.

From the earliest days, the Israeli state had used its mighty war machine and shrewd calculations to dominate the region. To fulfill their insatiable appetite for Palestinian land and in order to dominate the Middle East, Israeli’s political establishment has tried to dump indigenous Palestinians from the course of history by either denying or suppressing their identities and has cunningly planned to drive the Arab states into frequent confrontation and wars. Decades of Israeli occupation has compelled the Palestinians to have total economic dependence on Israel. All aspects of Palestinian economy including its workforces are in complete control of Israel. This has enabled Israel to impose economic blockade at will whenever Israel considered squeezing Palestinians. Agriculture has also suffered enormously due to this blockade as the occupied territories largely depend on Israel to vend their products. In many areas farmers could not even work on the fields due to Israeli military seizure. As with everything else, Israel always describe the blockade as a ‘measure to defend itself’ from Palestinian violence.

The birth of the conflict and the subsequent ongoing events are unique, multi-layered and highly complicated in nature. With the disintegration and collapse of the Ottoman Empire during the end of the First World War, the League of Nations in a slapdash manner shared the former Ottoman Arab territories between the constituent ‘great power’ nations as pieces of cake. The rights of the indigenous people of the region received no attention at all during this distribution process. While all the other territories became fully independent states in due course, the British rulers who were allocated with the Palestine territory had a different scheme in their mind. Instead of supporting a sovereign Palestine state of the Arabs, the British Government discretely assured their support to Zionist Organization leaders for ‘the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people’ and to ‘use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object’. The Zionist leaders were fervently campaigning to ‘create for the Jewish people a home in Palestine secured by public law’, an idea originally formulated by Theodor Herzl, founder of the Zionist movement. From the beginning, the ultimate intention of the Zionist’s was to create a Jewish State in Palestine. Palestine was the chosen territory due to its ‘historical connection’ with the biblical Land of Israel (Eretz Yisrael) – the holy land where their ancestors had once lived two thousand years ago before dispersing into the ‘Diaspora’.

During the end of the nineteenth century, Jews were immigrating to Palestine in small groups for purely religious reasons. But from 1922 soon after the First World War ended, large-scale Jewish immigrants, mainly from Eastern Europe started to enter and settle in Palestine territories. From 1930, the numbers ascended extensively and brought an exodus of Jews from Germany and other European countries when the Nazis started hounding of the Jews. Quite naturally, the influx of immigrant Jews caused grave discontentment to the Arabs whose ancestors had been settled in this land for almost 2000 years. They viewed the invasion as a violation of their natural and absolute rights and reacted violently. Demands for independence and resistance against the Jewish influx led to a Palestinian rebellion in 1936. Anti-Jewish riots broke out in the region followed by enduring clashes between Palestinians and Jews. The Jews retaliated against the Palestinian assaults through Haganah, a covert paramilitary force that will later develop into the modern Israeli army. The British Government initiated large scale military action against the Palestinian nationalist guerrillas. When violence ravaged Palestinian situation became too intricate to manage, the British coolly handed over the ‘Palestinian problem’ to the United Nations in 1947.

While the United Nations did acknowledge the natural rights of the Palestinian people but at the same time, strangely, proposed for a partition of Palestine into two independent States – one for Palestinian Arabs and the other for the Jewish immigrants. The UN initiative could attain nothing as in 1948, the Jews abruptly declared independence with the foundation of the State of Israel. The Arab countries refused to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist and soon the Arab-Israeli war broke out. Israelis called this fierce conflict as War of Independence and the Palestinians call it the Nakba (catastrophe). In the rapacious urge to seize all of Palestine, Israeli army occupied 77 percent of the territory of Palestine including larger parts of Jerusalem and forced out more than half of the indigenous Palestinian population from their homeland by applying brutal force. Those who remained were deprived from their national identity, their rights of freedom and held as hostages by Israel’s systematic oppression and cruel occupation.

Since then, the Palestinian people are struggling to regain their lost rights. Most of the 5 million Palestinian ‘stateless’ refugees are now living in various neighboring Middle Eastern countries like Syria, Lebanon and Egypt; many are still living in refugee camps. Twenty-two percent of all Palestinian refugees are currently in Gaza Strip. Though the Resolution 194 of United Nation General Assembly had declared in December 1948 that the ‘refugees wishing to return to their homes…..should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date’, Israel has refused the return of displaced Palestinians to their homeland. Israel has an unmatched record of defying the maximum number of United Nations resolutions, even more than big brother America. The Palestine-Israel conflict cannot be fixed without resolving the Palestinian refugee question.

In 1967, following a comprehensive six-day war with three neighboring Arab countries; Israel conquered and occupied the West Bank from Jordan, the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt and the Golan Heights from Syria. Though later, the Sinai Peninsula was eventually returned to Egypt through a peace agreement between the two countries (Israel completed its withdrawal only in 1982), the rest of the two territories are still occupied by Israel. About three million Palestinians are living in these two areas, surrounded by Israeli settlements.

West Bank and Gaza Strip are the only two territories that Palestinians are demanding today as their future Palestine State. One must keep in mind that the two territories represent only 22 percent of the original, pre-Israel Palestine. Subsequent to the Oslo Accords signed between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel, a five years interim Palestinian National Authority (PNA) was formed in 1994. The organization was responsible to administer some rural areas and major cities in West Bank and Gaza Strip. Unfortunately the PNA rule was tainted by corruption charges. Its stalwart leader Yasser Arafat was losing his authority and control over the people of Palestine who started to sense him as ineffective. PNA was fast losing popularity to the Islamic hardliner group Hamas. Hamas’s victory in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections in Gaza Strip against Fatah – the largest faction of the former Palestine Liberation Organization has greatly undermined the significance of PNA. Though the PNA president and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas runs the Palestinian part of West Bank he has no influence or control on Gaza.

After the 1993 Oslo Accords, Israel started to withdraw its forces from the Palestine populated parts of West Bank (17 percent of total West Bank land) but soon started putting up a 703 kilometer long barrier encircling major Palestinian urban areas. On the pretext to ‘safeguard Jewish residents of the State of Israel’, the Israeli government developed a philosophy of forced separation between ‘us and them’. This multi-layered separation barrier comprises barbed fences, vehicle-barrier trenches, high concrete walls and 500 checkpoints. Palestinians residing in West Bank are restricted from free movement, access to water sources, medical aid, education and other essential services. Large areas of fertile agricultural land was seized from Palestinian peasants and eventually destroyed to build the barrier. A 2004 Amnesty International report describes the condition of the Palestinians in West Bank and the effects of the Israeli barrier:

The fence/wall is not being built between Israel and the Occupied Territories but mostly (close to 90%) inside the West Bank, turning Palestinian towns and villages into isolated enclaves, cutting off communities and families from each other, separating farmers from their land and Palestinians from their places of work, education and health care facilities and other essential services.

The condition of the Gaza Strip is even worse. Gaza is one of the most densely populated and poorest areas of the world with little water or natural resources. The territory was occupied and governed by Israel from 1967 to 2005. During this period six thousand Israeli settlers have occupied about one-third area (including the military bases and bypass roads) of Gaza and one million subjugated Palestinians are squeezed into the other two thirds. Like in West Bank, Israel also left Gaza for the Palestinian Authority following the Oslo Accords. On 2005, the Israeli cabinet formally declared to withdraw its military rule in Gaza but stationed military troops surrounding the territory. With electronic fences and military posts, Gaza is tightly sealed from the outside world and has been turned into a massive prison ghetto.

Gaza is currently ruled by Hamas (Islamic Resistance Movement) which came to power after winning a fair and democratic election in January 2006. After the victory Hamas opted for a confrontational policy by refusing to recognize Israel’s existence in the ‘historic homeland’ of Palestine. Explaining their standpoint on Israel, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal has stated that:

Our conflict with you is not religious but political. We have no problem with Jews who have not attacked us – our problem is with those who came to our land, imposed themselves on us by force, destroyed our society and banished our people. (Emphasis added)

Hamas was the creation of Israeli intelligence agency Mossad to damage the popularity of the Palestine Liberation Organization and Yasser Arafat. At that point, Israeli hawks including the former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sanctified the project but could not anticipate that this crafty strategy would eventually transform into a grave future threat for Israel. During 1990-2000, Hamas become infamous for its ferocious attacks on Israeli targets including large-scale suicide bombings that killed several Israeli civilians. The attacks were executed through Hamas’s military wing – the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. Soon Israel and the Western world labeled Hamas as a notorious Islamic terrorist group. Hamas has intensified its hard-line confrontations with Israel since their 2006 election victory.

The imposed restrictions and barriers have nearly destroyed every aspect of social cohesiveness in the occupied areas. This will give some idea why Hamas enjoys a considerable popularity among the Palestinians. With an aggressive anti-Israel posture, Hamas also carries out numerous social welfare activities in the occupied areas. This is a vital reason behind their immense popularity. Allegedly funded by Iran and private Arab donors, Hamas spends a major portion of its annual budget to run relief and education programs like schools, hospitals, orphanages, daycare clinics, blood banks, free or inexpensive medical treatments, financial aid and scholarships, community kitchens and sports leagues. The popularity of Hamas is the real threat to Israel and not the hundreds of homemade Qassam rockets that they regularly fires from Gaza into Israel. These rockets do trifling damage to the mighty Israeli establishment but instead provide ample excuse to clamor before the international community.

Israel still controls the Gaza airspace, territorial waters, offshore maritime access and the Gaza-Israel border. It also controls entry of foreigners, the collection and reimbursement of taxes and inflow and outflow of Gaza’s all essential resources. As it’s happening now, Israel has blocked the internal roads and divided the area into smaller penal complexes, each surrounded by Israeli tanks. Even during the June 2008 ceasefire was in place the people of Gaza were not exempted from their troubles. When Israeli airplanes are bombarding their home, school and hospitals, Gaza inhabitants miserably abide the terrible assault as they have nowhere to escape.

The events leading to the present catastrophe began on 18 June 2008 when a bilateral ceasefire was announced between Israel and Hamas through Egyptian mediators. It should be kept in mind that Egypt is a ‘key regional ally’ of America in the Middle East. By November the ceasefire began to break down when Israeli Defense Forces discovered Hamas tunnels in the outskirts of Gaza, intended to infiltrate Israeli territory and sneaking in weapons caches. After Israeli forces fired on the tunnels, Hamas retaliated by firing rockets into Israel. On 27 December, Israel unleashed Operation Cast Lead against Hamas. Israeli fighter planes started bombing the civilian localities of Gaza including police stations, government buildings, educational institutions, residential homes and apartment buildings, hospitals, mosques, busy market places, shops and bakeries, Though Israel has claimed that their systemic attacks are only targeting Hamas leaders and institutions and they are trying their best to avoid civilian causalities, the ground facts are just the opposite. Most of the 700 dead and 3000 injured in Gaza are innocent civilians including numerous women and children. Israeli military has blocked food and medicine supplies; electricity and fuel are cut off. Even humanitarian aid are not been allowed to enter Gaza.

The western mainstream media has deliberately picked up the Israeli version of the account. By undertaking a rigid pro-Israeli stand, the mainstream media has started their wordy propaganda for weakening and eventually eliminating Hamas at any cost. According to the New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman, weakening of Hamas is important because, “…nothing has damaged Palestinians more than the Hamas death-cult strategy of turning Palestinian youths into suicide bombers…..Hamas’s attacks on towns in southern Israel is destroying a two-state solution, even more than Israel’s disastrous West Bank settlements.” Mr. Friedman has made his apologist standpoint crystal clear when he writes, “Israel has proved that it can and will uproot settlements, as it did in Gaza. Hamas’s rocket attacks pose an irreversible threat.” Surprisingly, Mr. Friedman did not find it important to mention about the crippling Israeli blockade of Gaza that has left the inhabitants completely distressed with no food, fuel and medical supplies for days. Not a single word of condemnation came from him about the atrocious killing of more than 700 innocent civilians. Instead he has asserted that “…death and destruction in Gaza is painful to watch. But it’s all too familiar.”

India and Israel

In these circumstances where does India stand? During the freedom struggle, Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian National Congress were against the creation for a Jewish home in Palestine. After independence, India pompously voted in 1947 against the UN partition plan of Palestine. In 1949 India had also opposed the admission of Israel to the UN. India later recognized Israel but did not establish diplomatic relations with the country for a long time. It was much later in 1977-79 when the External Affairs Minister of Morarji Desai government, Atal Behari Vajpayee laid the foundation of a close relationship between the two countries. Subsequently, the Indian standpoint on Israel started to change.

India-Israel political and military relationship was elevated to heights by the centre-right Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) after it came to power. From January 1992 India became one of the closest allies of Israel after the two countries established full diplomatic relations. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was invited by Atal Behari Vajpayee, now the Prime Minister of India, for a two day state visit amid stern protests from the Indian Left parties. BJP had also strongly advocated for a US-Israel-India alliance to “… take on international terrorism in a holistic and focused manner... to ensure that the global campaign against terrorism is pursued to its logical conclusion.” BJP leaders have a special place in their hearts for Israel. BJP’s mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) also has an acute and age-old Israel obsession. RSS had hailed India-Israel bond and strongly criticized the Left because, “Both India and Israel are facing Muslim terrorism. Israel has faced the threat from Muslim terrorists boldly and effectively and we should appreciate it.”

In many respects, BJP’s Hindutva and Israel’s Zionism are blood brothers. Ideologically both are hyper-nationalists. Both claim to represent themselves as the sole and authentic spokespersons for the religion they represent. And, most importantly, both are anti Muslim to the core and share a common Islamophobia and hatred against Arabism. Also the RSS, BJP and its affiliates are fascinated with the gutsy nature of Israeli establishment and the adamant way it carries out systemic assaults against the Palestinian Muslims. These Hindutva hardliners passionately desire for a ‘strategic alliance’ between Hindus and Jews to avenge the Muslims. Narendra Modi, BJP’s poster boy and chief minister of the Indian state Gujarat has already tried his hand into an Israel like ethnic cleansing of Muslims in 2002.

Since then, India has continued with its close ties with Israel. Today, Israel is the second biggest supplier (after Russia) of defense equipments to India. The present UPA government led by the Congress party also did not consider changing the ‘friendly’ relation. Here, the India-America connection seems to have struck the right cord. According to the America obsessed Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, India’s relation with Israel is of an ‘enlightened self-interest’. After the Mumbai terror attacks, India-Israel relation has taken a new-fangled turn. India-Pakistan situation is now viewed as parallel to Israel’s situation with Syria, Lebanon and Iran. There are plenty of free advices available now on how India can learn from Israel’s experience to “consider cross-border raids against terrorist camps or retaliation to pressure the terrorist sponsor to desist”. From a peculiar perception of terrorism, hoards of lessons are delivered by the national and international experts on how India can possibly emulate Israel. At the same time, India is being continuously advised to ignore the dangerous ‘root cause’ argument and go for all an out offence against the dreaded global terrorists (read Muslims).

What will India do then? Will India consider emulating Israel to fight its own war on terror? Will India take lessons from Ariel Sharon’s guide book? Will India also become a cruel aggressor like Israel? Will India adopt Israel’s ideology of war and start bombarding the home, school and hospitals of terrorist affected regions situated in neighboring countries? Well, these are secret desires of scores of home-bred patriots and international friends. Only time can tell what India will ultimately do. But one thing is certain. India’s choice will determine whether the Indian subcontinent will turn into another Middle East in future or not.

Image Courtesy: Mohammed Omer, Rafah Today
Map Courtesy: