news Thursday, January 29, 2015 - 05:30

Dr. Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has taken yet another nasty turn. One would have to be completely devoid of human feelings if he/she does not have to battle inner revulsion just looking at the images of slain innocent babies,rubbled hospitals and derelicted schools. The Netanyahu government owes the world an urgent explanation. I doubt however whether it would be forthcoming.The two protagonists in this conflict are so deeply entrenched in their respective positions that it becomes almost impossible for them to countenance that there can still be some room for modification in their respective stances to bring about the only sensible goal-a lasting peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

I think it would be important for me to declare my personal position clear. I have long been a supporter of the Palestinian people's right to a homeland and my columns over several years have reflected that. The Palestinians along with the Kurds and the Diego Garcians have been victims of expedient international diplomacy and it is about time the world ,which is at least on paper, committed to fundamental principles of justice ,took notice of such flagrant injustices that are being shamelessly perpetrated.

But in evaluation of this conflict,it is also important to remember the real culprit in its genesis viz. the British. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 was an egregious example of political expediency which has perhaps few parallels in international history. The truth of the matter is while the Jewish diaspora was made to feel unwelcome globally, none of the countries were prepared to extend a helping hand. This is what prompted Lord Balfour to declare the State of Palestine,a British colony, a homeland for all the Jewish people without any consultation with the people who were already residing there. This single action on part of the British government sowed the seeds of a bloody conflict which continues to devour innocent civilians and frustrate all those who genuinely desire peace. The sad scenario has resulted in both the sides demonizing each other in a manner which totally ignores the historical realities.

There is a tendency amongst a section of Israeli population to believe that the West owes them unequivocal support as a measure of atonement for the historical oppression that the Jews had to endure.This viewpoint,valid to a certain extent ignores the incontestable fact that one part of the world where anti-Semitism was at its lowest was the state of Palestine. Equally the Palestinians tend to overlook that not every Jew is a Zionist who had agitated for Jewish state in Palestine and the Israeli state was the direct outcome of the Balfour declaration, a handiwork of the British.

I unequivocally deplore the actions of the Israeli state in this conflict. Even if it is a reaction to the Hamas firing,it is totally disproportionate. Israel with all its might is more than capable of a measured response which would not involve such a heavy human toll .

One of my problems though is that much as I would like to, I cannot absolve the Palestinians of indulging in provocative actions -even if they are understandable. Any assault on a civilian population would be unacceptable not just to Israel but to any state.I recall my own revulsion way back during my medical student days when a bunch of Palestinians ended up killing Israeli athletes at Munich Olympics.Issam Awad,my Palestinian classmate who used to travel on a Jordanian passport and whose family had been living in Kuwait for over 20 years was equally upset and had actually written a letter which was published in the Illustrated Weekly of India.

Years later, when there was a siege of Beirut, I recall more than 100 prominent Jewish people (which included the Immanuel Jacobowicz,the Chief Rabbi of UK, Max Hamilton,one of the leading psychiatrists ,and Naom Chomsky ) publicly condemned the Israeli state.

And that is where I do not feel sufficient effort has been made . There is a large peace constituency on both sides which for some reason has never been allowed to develop !

The main responsibility of course should rest on the Israeli state. For that reason alone ,I am most concerned about its overreaction. On the other hand the Palestinians have not done themselves any favours by injecting some totally extraneous dimensions which are inimical to a swift resolution.Abba Eban,one of the most loved Israeli statesman ,a committed peace campaigner and a fierce critic of the present Likud coalition ,which has presented inhuman hardliners like Menachem Begin, Ariel Sharan,Rafael Eitan and now Benjamin Netanyahu, once made a remark-"The Palestinians never lose an opportunity to lose an opportunity" after 3 schoolchildren were killed in a school when Arafat was himself involved in peace talks in Europe.

The Palestinian cause stands on its own merit. It does not have to rely upon seeking religious/regional solidarity for an issue which has only marginal religious components. I was quite upset to note the 'Eliminate Al Jews From The Planet' campaign that is taking place on the social media. The unashamedly anti-Semitic comments by some of the most erudite scholars do not do them credit not do they help resolve the situation.I was particularly upset to note a comments coming from a known liberal Bollywood screenwriter herself married to a Hindu in which she condemned the Jewish religion in the most intemperate language completely overlooking the number of Jews who have expressed undiluted condemnation of this move by Israel. Surely we have moved on from the days when Krishna Menon in an incendiary speech exhorted the Arabs to throw all the Jews in the sea as soon as there were better means to deal with sea pollution.

Palestinians are not being victimized because they belong to any particular religion. While it is true that majority of the Palestinians are Muslims , let us also remember that some of the most formidable voices speaking up for them eg. Bishop Elia Khoury, Hannan Ashrawi and my erstwhile colleague from Columbia University, Edward Said happened to be committed Christians-in fact Khoury and Ashrawi's father were the founders of the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

To present this conflict as a Muslim/Jewish problem is not just to oversimplify a very complex issue but also an affront on committed Christian Palestinians like Hannan Ashrawi whom I have had the good fortune to meet on several occasions.Unless it is seen as a battle between right and wrong,which it undoubtedly is, the Palestinian cause would probably not get all the support it richly deserves.

And it is here that the Palestinians owe it not just to the world but mostly to themselves to be careful about the people they not just associate with but identify with. They have the might of the right on their side and as Arun Gandhi,Mahatma's grandson accurately pointed out,they must desist from the temptation to be provoked by the Netanyahu government.They did themselves enormous harm when Arafat sided with the Iraqis in their annexation of Kuwait. I could not but imagine the fate of my classmate Issam's family which had resided in Kuwait city since the early 50's!

There is another dimension to this conflict which newspapermen and other find difficult to discuss-it hardly finds any mention in the Fourth Estate. I am for an independent Palestinian state as I have mentioned. My visits to the regions specially Jerusalem have convinced me that there is a large section of Israeli population which has all but accepted the inevitability of a Palestinian state provided Israeli's security can be effectively guaranteed and status of Jerusalem worked out.But my own assessment is that some of those most wary about having an independent Palestinian homeland are those who are most vocal about the need for it viz some Arab states themselves. Reliable sources point out that King Hussein and Haffez-el-Assad have more blood of the Palestinians on their hands than the Israelis. The Palestinians I have spoken to are well aware of this but this international hypocrisy on part of those states is hardly ever spoken about let alone discussed. The main reason for this perhaps is that among the Arab people ,Palestinians are the most educated and enterprising and generally perceived as threats. There was no love lost for the Palestinians among the people of Egypt that I spoke to during my visit.

My own feeling is that unless we factor in the covert Arab hostility to a Palestinian homeland,a lasting solution would not be attained.And that would be not just unfortunate ,but a catastrophe. Palestinians have suffered enough. Right now they need a statesman to guide them and friends who would be prepared to stand by them !

Dr.Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad is an author.

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