A RESPONSE BY BRIG AJIT NAIR (RETIRED) TO MARY RIDELL’S ARTICLE IN DAILY TELEGRAPH (REPRINTED IN THE NEW INDIAN EXPRESS 11 OCT 2011)
“GAZA IS THE SCANDAL THE WORLD FORGOT”
The tragedy of Abdullah Wahdem’s home is a poignant and sad story. But, putting aside the deep and heartrending emotions the story evokes, can we just look at the issue dispassionately? Why does Wahdem’s Village receive Israeli shelling ? Because the Israelis are retaliating. Why ? Because the Hamas fires rockets randomly at Israeli villages – in this case, at Sderot. Why does the Hamas fire rockets randomly and without provocation ? Because they know that Israel WILL retaliate and cause innocent casualties. Then why do they do continue this seemingly senseless shelling against a much more powerful neighbour ? Because they want international outrage. Are they succeeding ? To some extent, but their own shelling causes equal if not more outrage. Then, will they stop, to end the suffering to their own people and to try and usher in peace ? Unlikely. Why not ? Because, if there is peace, they will become IRRELEVANT.
And this is the same story with every quasi-political, militant organisation. They know how to fight, they know how to gain the support of people who are impatient with long-drawn out peace processes. But once they achieve a position of numerical strength or political authority, they haven’t a clue of how to govern or to bring peace or stability. They consist of rabble rousers and religious fundamentalists, whose raison-de-etre is fighting, terrorising and spreading canards to maintain dis-harmony. And they are voted into power by the Abdullah Wahdems – the common people who do not know how to differentiate between a militant group and a political party. This is the real tragedy in the Middle East, especially for the Palestinians.
Its easy to blame the Israelis, but spare a thought for their predicament. Surrounded by hostile neighbours, sworn to destroy them – their fight for survival started with their Independence – in 1948. And who were they before they became Israelis ? Jews, persecuted in Europe and survivors of the Holocaust. In their short history, they’ve fought three Wars, faced terrorism, rocket attacks and implacable enmity from all around – except for the Camp David enforced peace accord with Egypt. With the slow but sure rise of the Islamists in Egypt (witness the recent persecution of the Copts (Christians) by the ultra conservative elements, supported by the Army), this Peace Accord too is faltering. It is only the unstinted US support, coupled with their own tenaciousness, which has kept this fragile Country surviving and even thriving in the little oasis they have created in this harsh and desolate land. This is a Country in which every man and woman serves in the Army and the whole country, especially their border kibbutzes remain in a permanent state of readiness for offensive defence (remember Entebbe ?) This is a Country, which has never seen Peace. In this context, Binyamin Netanyahu’s words ring true “ If the Arabs put down their weapons, there will be no War, if the Israelis put down their weapons, there will be no Israel”.
While the whole World, especially India, has heartfelt sympathy for the tragic plight of the Palestinians, displaced from their Homeland and refugees in it – the solution cannot be at the cost of the destruction of Israel, which is the preferred option of the Arabs. Whether the 1947 United Nations decision to partition Palestine and settle displaced Jews and create the State of Israel was right or not can be argued ad nauseam, but that’s History and a fail accompli. The fact of the matter is that Israel declared independence on 14 May 1948, a day before the British Mandate was to end and is today, well entrenched. The only Democracy in the region, the most powerful militarily and technologically well ahead of all its neighbours – what Israel wants , it will get (courtesy staunch US support). The Arabs and the Palestinians will be well advised to keep this reality in mind, while formulating a plan for the State of Palestine.
On 24 Sept 2011, in a speech in the UN General Assembly, interrupted by regular applause, the Palestinian President, Mahmud Abbas vowed that Palestinians were ready to return to peace talks if Israel stopped building settlements. There was loud applause when he held aloft the official request for statehood that he'd presented earlier to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Abbas said “ I do not believe that anyone with a shred of conscience can reject our application.” He was right, but of course the US will veto it, once it comes up for a vote. At any rate, this was a bold and positive move and the Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu agreed immediately and said that “lets stop negotiating about the negotiations. Let's just get on with it. Let's negotiate peace”. The condition that Abbas placed – that of stopping the construction of settlements by Israel, is probably acceptable to them. It suits both men to have peace in the region. There is a new air of hope in the Middle East. Now it only remains for Abbas to make the Hamas see some sense, to convince them that peace could actually suit them too.
There is too much at stake for the entire world, to lose this golden opportunity to negotiate a peaceful settlement of one of the root causes of animosity between Islam and the West. All Countries, including India, who have a stake must pitch in.