Herald View: War games in Palestine
What explains PM Modi's lopsided solidarity with 'the people of Israel' in this war
Maybe we are naïve to expect that world leaders of stature, a self-styled Vishwaguru included, and all those summiteering great powers of the G7/ G20/ Quint/ Quad et al, and sundry global adjudicators will treat this moment in the history of the Israel–Palestine conflict as a time to look away from the geopolitical chessboard and focus instead on the unfolding human tragedy in the Middle East.
It beggars our scant imagination that those cynical calculations can take precedence, at this moment, over the innocent lives that are becoming cannon fodder. If that is not the case, and our great world leaders do care, what are they waiting for?
How many more innocent civilian deaths, what worse consequences will it take for them to weigh in with all their might and first stop this violent confrontation? Instead of rushing, as the US has, to Israel’s ‘defence’ as it seeks to exact disproportionate revenge.
Directed, on the face of it, at the militant Hamas, which admittedly struck first, but Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s threat (“Every Hamas member is a dead man,” he reportedly said) is, in effect, directed at a densely packed population of 2.3 million Palestinians, half of them children, on the 25 mile long, 6 mile wide enclave known as the Gaza Strip.
They are not collateral damage; they are the targets—the photos you’ve all seen are telling. But who speaks for these innocents is a billion-dollar question. If not the Hamas—which governs the Gaza Strip—or the sclerotic Palestinian National Authority of Mahmoud Abbas—which controls some parts of the West Bank—then who?
Abbas has been in the saddle for 18 long years, no doubt with the blessings of the West, at the head of an autocratic interim government that was set up in 1993 via the Oslo Accords.
The Accords had set in motion a UN-brokered ‘Oslo process’, whereby Israel and the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) were to recognise each other and the ‘right of the Palestinian people to self-determination’.
That was evidently not to be. For context, before the ‘British mandate’ for Palestine, Jews made up roughly 6 per cent of the population in these territories. Between 1947 and 1950, during the ‘Nakba’ (or ‘Catastrophe’), Zionist military forces expelled an estimated 750,000 Palestinians and captured 78 per cent of erstwhile Palestine.
The West Bank and Gaza Strip account for the remaining 22 per cent. During the Six-Day War of 1967, between Israel and a coalition of Arab states (mainly Egypt, Syria and Jordan), Israeli forces occupied all of pre-‘British Mandate’ Palestine and expelled another 300,000 Palestinians from their homes.
Also Read: Gaza's dire humanitarian situation
Today, Gaza Strip is the only remaining sliver of land in the erstwhile Palestinian territories where Palestinians outnumber Israelis. It is this strip of besieged territory, a.k.a. ‘the world’s largest open-air prison’, that is currently being pummelled by Israel, which has ordered a “complete blockade” of the area, saying that “no electricity, food or fuel” will be allowed into the enclave.
At the time of writing, the bombardment of Gaza was in its fifth day and the enclave had reportedly been plunged into darkness as its only power plant ran out of fuel. Gazan hospitals have issued an international SOS.
What of India’s stand on the conflict? India has, in the past, unambiguously backed the Palestinian right to self-determination and an independent Palestinian state.
It has done so even while slowly granting legitimacy to Israel, in a delicate exercise to explore a constructive relationship with an expansionist power. As early as 1938, Gandhi wrote in the weekly Harijan: ‘German persecution of the Jews seems to have no parallel in history…[but] it is wrong and inhumane to impose the Jews on the Arabs’.
Over the years, not counting the last decade, the arc of Indian diplomacy vis-à-vis the Israel–Palestine question has more or less mirrored this world view.
In the Modi years, however, India has swung sharply towards Israel—manifest in the defence deals, in all the intelligence sharing (remember the Pegasus spyware story?) and even the surface-level camaraderie between Messrs Modi and Netanyahu.
So, when the Indian prime minister decided to shoot from the hip, in condemning the Hamas strike as a “terrorist attack” and expressed his “solidarity with the people of Israel” (emphasis added), it didn’t take anyone by surprise.
But it does have damaging consequences for the country in whose name he makes these overtures. Besides, to quote Gandhi again: “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.”