Gaza Conflict (9-01-2009)

Seething anger over the killing of Palestinian children and women by the brutal Israeli forces has entered the living rooms of all Pakistanis. For the time being FATA, Bajaur and Swat have taken secondary position.

People are disgusted with the Islamic countries for not doing enough to stop the massacre. People are dismayed at the world leaders’ slow reaction against Israel’s killing spree. People are angry with the US administration for not keeping its spoilt brat leashed. People are upset that the international press is biased and is not projecting Palestinians plight adequately. People are mostly contemptuous against the Jews and cannot draw the line between Zionists and Jewish.

Then there are some intellectuals who blame Israeli government and the Hamas leadership in the same breath for the miseries of the Gaza people.

Let’s look at all these aspects dispassionately. While we are angry on the Israeli forces massacre of the Palestinians, the Western press, some western and Gulf governments feel that Hamas has provoked this fresh attack. Their plea is that Hamas had broken the peace accord by firing over 300 rockets on Israel. But the fact is that Hamas was frustrated by the continuous economic blockade of Gaza by Israel. Even the UN trucks with humanitarian aid were not allowed by Israel into Gaza for many days. It is also a fact that Hamas was not accepted as the legitimate government after they secured a majority in the Legislative Council elections in 2006.

This was the major mistake of Israel and its masters. Any student of political history knows that in most of the cases an extremist leadership acts responsibly once they are in power. The coalition government they formed with Al Fatah collapsed because of the “aggressive American neoconservatives participated in the sinister plot to instigate a Palestinian civil war. Their meddling was a major factor in the collapse of the national unity government and in driving Hamas to seize power in Gaza in June 2007 to pre-empt a Fatah coup,” blames Avi Shlaim, a professors at Oxford University in a scathing article against Israel in Guardian. (Note: Avi Shlaim is a Jew but that does not distort his views).

The chronological trail of Gaza conflict should be kept in mind while analysing this issue. The Gaza issue is directly linked with the universally accepted demand that Israel should withdraw from the areas occupied by it in 1967.

Israel captured the Egyptian-controlled Gaza Strip during the six-day Middle East war. An Israeli census had put the Gaza population at 380,000, at least half of whom were refugees from Israel. Today the population stands at about 1.5 million. According to U.N. over 1 million are refugees and their descendants.

In 1987 a clash in the Jebaliya refugee camp started a Palestinian uprising, which lasted until 1993 and claimed the lives of more than 2,000 Palestinians and 192 Israelis. The militant Islamic Hamas was formed early in the uprising.

In September 2005 Israel agreed to a truce and withdrew its troops and its 8,500 Jewish settlers, but retained control of Gaza‘s airspace, coastal waters and border crossings. But this was just a cover-up because Israel’s Sharon established a settlement of 12000 hardliner Jews (who are aptly labeled by Christina Amanpour as ‘Gods warriors’) in the West Bank.

In June 2007 Hamas violently seized control of Gaza after routing forces loyal to the rival Fatah faction of President Mahmoud Abbas, which was the major mistake and only helped the Israeli hawks. In June 2008 Hamas and Israel reached a truce to halt the cross-border rocket attacks and end Israeli offensives in Gaza.

But this truce did not last long as Israel tightened the economic blockade of Gaza. Now this is where the situation gets murky. Israel says it has tightened the economic siege because Hamas resumed rocket and mortar fire into Israel and was smuggling arms from Egypt. The Israeli army says clashes erupted late on 4th November after its forces uncovered a tunnel in central Gaza that militants planned to use to abduct Israeli soldiers.

On December 19, 2008 Hamas formally declared that the truce was over and started firing rockets on Israel. This move was a miscalculation and without taking into account that it would bring death and misery to the Gaza inhabitants. In response Israel launched a fierce air offensive, killing more than 200 Palestinians in the first day. By the time UN woke up, the casualty figure had risen to 700. And the ceasefire demanded by UN is still not in sight as Israel and its masters are defying the world with impunity.

The slow reaction of the US and its allies on this seems to be deliberate, as they think that this might weaken the Hamas popularity. Hamas leaders appear callous when they talk about not stopping the rocket fire, as the Israeli response is disproportionate. Idealist position is that this is against the international norms of war. But Israel has never cared about the international law or any ethics because of unequivocal support of the US. By the way Israel and the US are only the two countries that have not signed the convention which is against disproportionate killings in war. That is the reason that the US administration does not even blink over the killings of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As far as the issue of Islamic countries is concerned the Muslims of the world expect too much from them. They are not expected to do much more than any other nation, which reacts in proportion to the public reaction. They are all nation states, where majority of the population is Muslim, and that is all. They have their own interests. Both Israel and its guardian US have never challenged the autocratic rulers of these states, so why would they upset the apple cart. So the support for the wretched Palestinians is not going to go beyond rhetoric.

The supporters should keep in mind that it’s a pure and simple secular struggle for the Palestinian rights and not a conflict between Islam and Judaism. There are a number of Jews in the world who condemn the Israeli atrocities like we do. There are more processions against Israel’s aggressive policies in the west where people from all religions participate.

Similarly, while blaming the media we should keep in mind that most of the heart-rending footage of Gaza which is being brought to us is by the media. All have condemned Israel for its disproportionate response. And this has forced the leaders of all the western powers to criticise the Israeli government. Different media groups have different policies. Even some of the Middle Eastern newspapers have been criticising Hamas for its hardline policies. So let’s not be carried away in the heat of things.

Palestine issue has been agitating our mind for the last six decades. A workable solution has to be found. Realistically speaking it has to be based on the acceptance of the fact that the two nations would have to learn co-existence. A Palestinian refugee in Nobel Laureate Le Clezio’s novel ‘Wandering Star’ wonders “Does the sun not shine for us all?”

This accord has to come from a negotiated peace accord between the two states – Israel and Palestine. But some Middle Eastern experts believe that non-state actors like Hamas and Hezbollah have so far spoilt such moves. Instead they should strengthen the hands of the Palestine state, which is at present represented by Palestine Authority. They are at present being used by some other nations, which hold extremist views.

Easier said than done. But this would only be possible if the US and European countries pressurize Israel’s leadership to abide by the previous truce terms and withdraw to the post 1967 position. And the leadership on both sides of the divide is truly secular. This is important because the extremist Jews believe that God has given them this land and till they don’t have total control over it the Messiah would not come. This is also supported by some US evangelists. Rabin tried to overrule this element and he was shot.

The problem with the states created in the name of religion is that they are held hostage by the Rabbis and Mullahs. The genesis of these states gives these extremists enough political space. Such religious extremists take their inspiration and guidance from their respective theology and not from today’s value system that provides for equal rights to all without any discrimination.

(ayazbabar@gmail.com Blog: babarayaz.wordpress.com)

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