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OP-ED: Israel, where to now?

  • Published at 07:01 am June 8th, 2021
Israel Palestine Gaza
How much longer will this continue? REUTERS

Shall the people of Palestine continue to remain forgotten?

A series of smaller explosions, attached to each other in the manner of a string of firecrackers, each igniting in quick succession, led inexorably to the conflagration of May 10, 2021, when the might of the Israeli defense forces was once again pitted against a hapless people in a land that time has forgotten. 

The violence and anger desecrated the sanctity of the month of Ramadan. And, in what may signify a tectonic shift in the attitude and sentiment of the public, the latest rash of violence in a region familiar with little else seems to demonstrate that the community of the impacted, both privileged and marginalized, who cluster on this tiny sliver of land to which the vagaries of history has awarded an importance magnified vastly out of proportion, cease to dream any longer about an amenable conclusion to a conflict endured day after excruciating day.

A sequence of events

The sequence of callously stupid events leading up to the all-out offensive can be briefly recounted. On the night of April 13, on the first day of Ramadan, Israeli police stormed the spacious and elevated courtyard of the Haram al-Sharif and severed the electric cables attached to the loudspeakers that amplified the ritual call to prayer by the muezzin. The ostensible reason for this act was that the volume of the call to the faithful would otherwise have drowned out the Memorial Day speech to be delivered at the same time by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin at the base of the Western Wall just over the parapet and below. 

The Temple Mount is home to structures holy to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and the use of loudspeakers on the minarets to remind the devoted of their daily obligation to divinity has become a necessary and accepted component of an ancient mode facilitated by modern technology. Anger and indignation at this arbitrary act were confined to the immediate community and that of co-religionists just across the borders of contiguous nations. It did not yet provoke international outrage.

On April 15, the consequences of the use of a frivolous instrument of social media were brought to bear, as a TikTok video featuring a Palestinian youth slapping an ultra-orthodox Jewish man circulated at the speed and velocity of a lethal virus. That such a thoughtless recording, no doubt borne aloft on the wings of mocking laughter and stupidly chauvinistic pride, would go viral was a foregone conclusion. Worse, it apparently inspired identical incidents in different parts of the region.

On April 16, retribution was swift. Multitudes of worshippers with intent to congregate on the sacred platform at the fabled Al-Aqsa Mosque on the occasion of the first Friday of Ramadan, were summarily ejected or prohibited ingress as the authorities imposed a limit, again seemingly arbitrary, of just 10,000 persons who could crowd the complex. To exacerbate matters, no doubt again an outcome of misplaced chauvinism and pride, a rabbi was beaten on the same day at Jaffa, unleashing days of protest.

On April 22, in the most recent manifestation of vocal and public Jewish supremacism, the Lehava, occupying the space reserved for the lunatic fringe of the orthodoxy, jackbooted their way through Jerusalem chanting “death to Arabs.”

On April 23, 36 rockets were fired into Southern Israel. The Israeli Defense Forces retaliated by launching missiles into the Gaza Strip on a day when hundreds of Palestinians went head to head in violent clashes with Israeli police in East Jerusalem. 

On April 25, the UN Special Envoy condemned the causes and escalation of violence on both sides, although it was chaff in the wind of the accumulating violence with a mounting death toll in which, shockingly, the names of several youth figured in the grim muster. 

Reasons aplenty for dispute and conflict

It should be a cause for concern to the world that the sense of injustice suffered by a people is so deep-rooted as to compel their school-going children to forsake the classroom and take up the cause of violence in a desperate attempt to redress the injustice and inequity of generations. Eye-witness accounts would have it that gun-toting Israeli settlers had been spoiling for a fight for some time now, and that this naked demonstration of firepower led to the further anticipated rise in tension.

The law of property, proprietary rights, and inheritance collectively constitute a science universally considered as murky and dubious at best. For if the earth could speak, every square foot of land that humankind occupies would tell a tale of blood, injustice, and crime. And this is vividly illustrated by the Sheikh Jarrah property dispute, the flashpoint underpinning the burgeoning conflict. 

Representative of the crisis of more than 1,000 Palestinian families facing the threat of eviction across East Jerusalem, and pending the now-deferred decision of the Supreme Court of Israel with regard to the immediate plight of six Palestinian families resident in this ill-fated neighbourhood, the dispute finds its origin in a law passed in 1970 which permits Israeli citizens to file claims over land in East Jerusalem which they owned prior to 1948, except where expropriated by the Jordanian government, but rejects the reciprocal rights of Palestinians to claim land owned by them in Israel before their own eviction. 

On May 6, in anticipation of the ruling of the Supreme Court, the Palestinian community in East Jerusalem rose in protest. In a paramilitary action a day later, Israeli police stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque with the aid of tear gas, rubber bullets, and stun grenades. The holy complex was reduced to a battleground, and the ire of the international community was finally heard.

The violence of the Night of Decree (May 8), that same night aeons ago when the Qur’an was bestowed upon the world and the Prophet of God received his first tantalizing glimpse into the depths of the Message, and Jerusalem Day (May 9-10), a muscular commemoration of the reunification of Jerusalem in the wake of the Six Day War, proved the last straw. 

On the afternoon of May 10, Hamas, of militant outlook and elected representative of a significant portion of the Palestinian people, issued the State of Israel the ultimatum to withdraw security forces from the Temple Mount by 6 PM, failing which there would be consequences.

It was the “consequences” that the world had a ring-side seat to over the next 12 days.

The statistics of blood and the statistics of ordnance have it that at least 254 Palestinians, including 66 children, and 13 Israelis, including one child, were killed. More than 1,900 Palestinians were injured, and Israel reported at least 200 of their citizens injured. Around 4,360 rockets were fired towards Israel from Gaza.  

Israel conducted a massive 1,500 air, land, and sea strikes on the Gaza Strip, somehow chillingly reminiscent of, and perhaps technologically the modern equivalent to, the unprecedented carpet-bombing of the Ho Chi Minh Trail during the Vietnam War. How much can a people, so densely packed and honeycombed, lacking space and amenities, endure? Ample, it would seem.

After 11 days of targeted mayhem, and pursuant to the filing of a UN Security Council Resolution for a ceasefire, hostilities ceased between Israel and Hamas on May 21, 2021, with both sides claiming victory for their respective constituencies and jockeying for continued relevance. A pyrrhic victory, and a brief respite to recoup losses and reaffirm hate seemingly unbridgeable.

Endorse or suffer

Israel is reviled variously as a “terrorist state,” a “rogue state,” a country which operates in open and flagrant violation of the nuances of international law, the favourite object of censure of global ethical bodies and human rights watchdogs. What, then, accounts for its confidence and guarantees apparent immunity from prosecution and isolation? 

The benevolent hand of the United States permanently on its shoulder, a recognized venue for a deluge of global investment, the purveyor of a variety of cutting-edge civil and military technology generations ahead of its times, a market for sophisticated defense products, and a systematic and successful diplomatic campaign which has resulted in recognition of the State of Israel by more than 160 countries. 

The international pariah of a generation ago is today the toast of the Comity of Nations. Effectively, those who do not endorse Israel today are considered to be against them, at their peril politically and economically to boot.

The vision of the Israeli leadership is manifest in the recognition that it is the thought economy based on the internet that will prevail in the years to come. Digital tools, machine learning, and artificial intelligence are all par for the course for an Israeli industry which has sprung up overnight to snatch global market-share valued at hundreds of billions of dollars. 

Today, Israel is the undisputed leader in combining the old economy with cutting-edge technology. Precision agriculture, cyber-security, armaments, robotics, automation, are just some of the areas where they display their mastery. Relevance, especially economic relevance, is the key. What else matters today?

No option?

The common belief held by the reading public is that the United States has no option but to support and prop up Israel because of a by-all-accounts formidable Jewish lobby at home which controls a telling portion of the intellectual and financial capital of the country and holds the government in a gentle but permanent head-lock. 

There is some truth in such belief, but it fails to explain the policy of blind and near-unconditional support for Israel demonstrated by administration after administration in the White House. It is possible that the concentration of financial capital in the Jewish community is significant, bordering on the spectacular. 

But the notion of a monolithic Jewish nation within a nation united in their fervour for the State of Israel is farfetched. Rather, it is of concern to Jewish intellectuals and academia in the United States that their co-religionists are scattered, sprinkled, over the vastness of the United States, and possess relatively little, even if a now-steadily growing awareness, of their Jewish heritage.

The “community” that each American government panders to is more a collection of business and political interests, constituted for the most part of the elite of American society, who come together to confront and resolve the latest crisis in economy and/or geopolitics. The reality is that Americans are and always shall be American first, and so it is that the average Jew has intentionally subsumed himself and his unique heritage in the great plains of mainstream American life and culture. 

The real success story of American intervention in the Middle East is that of creating a client state occupying a strategic position in the most explosive region on earth at a fraction of the cost that it would otherwise have taken Big Brother had it been compelled to station troops and invest in the enormous infrastructure year after year, an option physically dangerous and potentially politically suicidal. 

Israel must be preserved at all costs, and what better way than to leave no stone unturned in this endeavour from the safe and distant shores of the Land of the Free?

Who are Israel’s enemies in the Middle East? Does Israel have any real enemies? Probably not in the way that propaganda and a compliant media would have its citizens believe. But the logic of geopolitics and one-upmanship dictates that strife must exist in order for one to be perceived as relevant. 

Thus, in keeping with the age-old game, enemies must be manufactured where there are none, to be demonized and eventually overcome. The fear psychosis created of being overrun and destroyed if one were to let one’s guard down, systematically perpetrated on a populace to compel them to remain alert and watchful from cradle to grave, is what is played on and preyed on. 

Manufacturing enemies is not a unilateral game. How have Hamas and other militant elements of the Palestinian community been able to stockpile armaments under the nose of Israel who monopolizes the “eye in the sky?” In an era of sophisticated satellite imagery, how can one explain the painstaking construction of mile after mile of a tunnel system christened the “Metro” without Tel Aviv having even an inkling of the undertaking? Everyone partakes of their version of the Great Game, everyone is complicit, and everyone remains relevant.

Is coexistence possible?

Civil society has been advocating the two-state theory for decades. Why can’t two communities, Arab and Jewish, live peacefully side by side, beneficiaries of a great shared heritage? Is an equitable solution based on democratic principles not possible, not feasible? 

Probably not, if the history of the Jewish people over 2,000 years in the diaspora and the modern movement of Zionism culminating in the creation of Israel in 1948 is anything to go by. The founding fathers of modern Israel spent their formative years in the ghettos of Eastern Europe and Russia, members of cowering communities subjected generation after generation to the arbitrary administrative, legal, and physical cruelty doled out by absolutist empires, principalities and duchies whose every whim was law in the remit of their domains. 

Where was the scope to foster and nurture notions of popular representation and participation in an inclusive nation? The legacy of subjugation of their forefathers and the iniquities of life is what the pioneers of the Israeli nation carried over to the Promised Land. It is this legacy that, tragically, comes most naturally to the Israeli establishment as the logical outcome of the collective heritage and the politics and society of the last 100 years.

The State of Israel and the concept of Israel are in danger of losing the moral force that they had enjoyed on behalf of the Jewish people through over 2,000 years of displacement and persecution. It has taken less than two generations, a space of a mere 50 years, to unravel the myths and expose the modern State of Israel as being the epitome of all the ills that the forgotten people had to suffer at the hands of the rest of the world. 

Fascism, mass-murder, bigotry, supremacy, eviction, ethnic cleansing, these are but some of the key words and phrases from the lexicon of historical Jewish suffering of a people forced to suffer at the hands of nations where they were little more than temporary guests, but which can now just as easily be used to describe the State of Israel and its policies and actions on the ground.

However, all is not lost, for the reports from the ground inform us that it is the civil society of little Israel, valiant and discerning, a complex mesh of nations drawn together by adversity and the need for survival, that propounds a peaceful and meaningful solution to the plight of the two nations. 

They are slowly, methodically, moving towards this objective. Their cause received support from surprising and unexpected quarters when several Democratic members of the House of Representatives spoke out against American military support for Israel and called for the protection of the rights of the Palestinian people.

There is a certain momentum growing, of that there is no doubt. Perhaps, just maybe, the people of Palestine shall not remain forgotten.

Sumit Basu is a corporate lawyer based in India, and is a freelance contributor.

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