Ceasefire is just that: a temporary end to active hostilities, with the prospect of renewed violence a certainty, the only question being when. After 11 days of attacks on one another by Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Palestinian territory of Gaza, and the vastly superior Israeli army, both the principal combatants have reason to be happy about the outcome.
The Hamas has discredited the Palestinian National Authority, which sits self-righteously impotent in the face of Israeli aggression against Palestinians, and reinscribed itself, in Palestinian consciousness, as the sole champion of Palestinian rights. And Binyamin Netanyahu has transformed himself from a beleaguered prime minister at risk of being replaced by a new leader of a coalition that would have included, for the first time, a party of Arab Israelis, into the sole viable leader of his country. He is guaranteed to remain in office as caretaker prime minister until yet another election, the fifth in the last two years, is called to form a stable government.
What of the death toll of 260, all but a dozen Palestinians, and the wounded numbering close to 2,000? There is a reason why Clausewitz said war is continuation of politics by other means and why there is a term such as collateral damage. If anyone thought politics is so cynical as to engineer riots and kill people only in India, think again.
Indian social media has been full of ‘Stand with Israel’ messages, as a not-so-covert gesture of Islamophobia, a fundamental tenet of the Indian right wing. However, the Palestinian problem is more a national problem than a religious one. The Palestinian Liberation Organisation, which was the representative body of the Palestinian people displaced when Israel was founded on Palestinian land, comprised multiple outfits, most of which were social-democratic or Marxist-inspired. The Hamas, the Islamist outfit, rose to prominence in the 1990s, and is at odds with Fatah, which controls the West Bank.
While Hindutva formations have been tiring themselves out Standing with Israel, the government of India has, at the United Nations, called for a ceasefire and extended support for Palestinian rights. While recognising the reality of Israel is one thing, to welcome a state based on one religion is a self-contradicting something else: it would run counter to India’s own commitment to its multicultural identity and non-denominational citizenship and also, implicitly, drop opposition to the concept of Muslims of South Asia needing a separate homeland of their own, the founding rationale for Pakistan. India has always supported the rights of the Palestinian people and stand for a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, in accordance with the majority of the United Nations.
This, of course, does not reflect any animosity towards Jews or Judaism. India is one of the few countries of the world, said a visiting Israeli president, where Jews have never been persecuted. There have been several Jewish communities in Kochi since before the beginning of the Common Era.
While Muslims generally support Palestine against Israel, there is no generalised history of Muslim animosity towards Jews. Anti-Jewish pogroms were a regular feature of Christian Eastern Europe and Tsarist Russia, not of Islamic regions. Jews have been a part of Middle Eastern nations and their numbers dwindled only after the Israeli wars of 1948, 1967 and 1973 with Arab states. Jews migrated from these Arab lands to Israel after each war.
Jews were an integral part of Iran right till after the Islamic revolution, and even today, some 9,000 Jews thrive in Iran. Immediately after the Islamic Revolution of 1979, some 20,000 Jews, a fifth of their number, left Iran. Ayatollah Khomeini is reported to have issued a fatwa distinguishing Persian Jews from the Zionists of Israel and prohibiting any harm to the Jews.
Anti-Semitism is a recurrent theme in Christian Europe, with the German army having had to disband an elite commando division recently, on discovering a culture of anti-Semitism among its members. America’s white supremacists are more likely than not to be anti-Semites.
The Arab states resented a Jewish state being created in their midst, on land they considered theirs, not to speak of having lost wars repeatedly to the young Israeli state. But they have been even more scared of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation’s democratic model, most of the Arab states being monarchies or dictatorships that have reason to fear people power. They pay lip service to the Palestinian cause, but are quite comfortable with building relations with Israel.
No Islamic country, it may be noted, has taken any strong stand against China, although that is the one country that has a systematic programme going right now to oppress Muslims, based on their faith, in the province of Xingjiang. America has labelled Chinese treatment of the Uighurs, the people of Xingjiang, genocide, given the official Chinese attempt to smother the native language and culture, including their religion. People are jailed for growing beards that are too long, for public displays of piety and the like. People are herded into re-education camps, where they are trained in skills useful to Chinese industry. There are charges of forced labour, because of which western governments have imposed sanctions on Chinese officials, and there are formal and informal bans on goods produced in Xinjiang using forced labour, including cotton.
The Han Chinese are encouraged to settle in Xinjiang, Mandarin is gaining ground at the expense of the Uighur language, there is talk of forcible birth control.
But we find Europe and America leading the charge against practices that together qualify for the term genocide, as defined in the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. You do not find Islamic countries that protest loudly at French laws seeking to defend French democratic practice against Islamist radicalism directing similar ire at the Chinese. It is not surprising that expedient Islamic solidarity of the kind that burns in the hearts of Arab regimes finds it easier to do business with Israel while doing tangible little to work for a separate state of Palestine, which is the only sensible solution to the oppression of Palestinian people within the territory controlled by Israel, which includes Gaza and the West Bank.
West Bank includes East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed in 1980 without global recognition. The area had been in its control since the six-day war of 1967, whose anniversary is celebrated by Jerusalem’s Jewish citizens and mourned by Palestinians.
The Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem are residents, while Jewish residents alone are citizens of Israel. This matters this year because of a court case over the eviction of Palestinians from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood. These homes sit on land that the Jews had purchased before Jordan’s occupation of East Jerusalem in 1948. Israeli law recognises the rights of citizens to these lands, privileging them over the rights of residents. A court ruling on the matter is due soon and has been building up tension in the area.
The police put barricades around the Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem at the beginning of the month of Ramadan, denying Muslim residents their habitual place of gathering in the evening. Combined with the cutting off of electric supply to loudspeakers at the al Aqsa mosque, the third holiest for Muslims after those at Mecca and Medina, this led to clashes between Palestinians and Jewish residents of East Jerusalem. The Hamas sensed an opportunity to upstage the Palestinian Authority in West Bank and fired rockets at Israel, inflicting minimal damage but giving Netanyahu a chance to begin a war of his own, to punish the Hamas. In the process, it scuttled any chance of the fractured Knesset forming a majority with the help of any Arab faction, leaving Netanyahu as caretaker prime minister and in charge while the nation heads for yet another national election.
In any decent murder mystery, the culprit is identified by motivation, presence and the means of crime. Netanyahu had all three, with the Hamas serving as a convenient foil.
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