It all depends on how you interpret the “Right to Live.” The Israelis believe that they can live only if their state, Israel, is not challenged by any power or people in the Middle East. Others, particularly the Palestinians, who were once strongly opposed to the existence of Israel, believe that they, however weak militarily, too have the right to live.
Over the years, the countries in the region have come round to extending recognition to Israel, provided it withdrew to its original borders, mandated by the UN in 1984 when the state was founded. Israel has neither vacated the territories it has forcibly occupied nor has it stopped new Jewish settlements that have come up on the territories won during the wars.
Tel Aviv reluctantly agreed last year to vacate the Gaza strip—a small piece of land wedged between Egypt and Israel—but kept it under its close supervision and blocked the outside contact. Although most of the 1.5 million populations in Gaza are sustained by the UN’s Relief and Works Agency (UNRAWA), the Islamist movement Hamas believes that it is the custodian of the Gaza citizens. To some extent it is true because the Hamas guards the coastline. But it is seen as a gun-crazy force which has often fired missiles inside Israel—a constant provocation to Tel Aviv.
Because of Israel’s blockade, the Gaza population generally lives on less than one US dollar a day and 60 per cent of them have no access to water. Luxury goods are banned. A UN survey last year said that it took 68 days to deliver health and pediatric hygiene kits.
The nine-ship aid flotilla, attacked by Israeli troops this week, was carrying food, medicine and such other necessities, collected by volunteers from Britain, Ireland, Algeria, Kuwait, Greece and Turkey. There was nothing hush-hush about the mission. It was a humanistic effort which was well publicized and well supported. But Israel did not approve of it because it believed that the people in Gaza had gotten enough of food from the UNRAWA which did not agree with the contention.
That Tel Aviv behaves in brutish, inhuman way is too well known. The very election of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, known for his dictatorial methods, showed that Israel had opted for a ruler who knew no conciliation, no compromise and did not believe in any gesture of peace. The world is naturally aghast over the Israeli attack or, for that matter, its policy to live by the dint of force.
Yet Tel Aviv’s attitude should not come as a surprise because it has always lived in this manner and has unambiguously told the world that it will treat the Palestinians and their woes in its own way. After the death of Yaseer Arafat, the Palestine leader, there has been none of his stature to visit the different countries and draw their attention to the sufferings of Palestinians, some of whom have taken refuge in the Gaza strip. International opinion reacts to a particular incident, like the attack on flotilla, but not to the demands of Palestinians.
The West, particularly America, is most to blame for lessening of attention to Palestine. The non-aligned world too has grown cool. And there has been no condemnation from NAM. India’s neglect is painful because it is one of the very few countries which spoke against Israel’s policy of annexation. True, New Delhi is dependent on certain type of arms on Tel Aviv. Yet people in the world expect a more strident attitude from India. Its foreign office’s expression of condemnation is neither adequate nor unequivocal.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should have himself issued a sterner statement. True, he cannot take Tel Aviv to task as Jawaharlal Nehru would do, openly siding with the oppressed Palestinians. He did not give recognition to Israel as long as he lived. Even his daughter, Indira Gandhi, followed his path. But the soft policy was initiated by the subsequent Congress government.
The world should realize that its scant attention, paid to the attack on the flotilla, had no effect on Israel which troops operated outside its own waters. Already the result of Israel’s strong handed methods is that fundamentalism in Gaza is growing. There is every danger that the population may go the Taliban way.
The UN is doing a good job by opening beach camps to wean children away from the mosques where the Islamists impart instructions on Quran and guerilla warfare at the same time. Yet the fact remains that Israel has devised a policy of overawing the countries in the region and suppressing the anti-Jewish opinion. So long as Tel Aviv believes that it is surrounded by “hostile” states and that it has to maintain its superiority, it would continue to acquire more weapons and sabotage any effort at conciliation.
America is the only nation which can put pressure on Israel. But every US President weighs how much he can do without annoying powerful Jewish lobby in America. President Barrack Obama appears to be a fish of different kettle but his reaction is lukewarm. He may not be a Clinton who brought the Israeli Prime Minister and Yaseer Arafat together to shake hands and arrive on an understanding which had the making of a settlement. Obama has to start all over again and emphasise on Israel that peace or security in the region can be achieved through conciliation, not by force. The Security Council’s resolution was too tepid to be taken seriously.
The attack on a flotilla indicates how power has become the arbiter in the world. Countries in a region have to come together to withstand pressure from outside. This is yet another reminder to South Asia that unless it puts its act together, it may expose itself to the outside interference. The manner in which the US is enhancing its presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan is ominous. The region must wake up to the danger.
Israel has reintroduced gun-boat diplomacy. Colonization is something of the days when there was no UN, no forum to discuss aggression and no lobby to seek peace. What has happened at Gaza cannot be taken lightly. The entire international community has to sit up and take notice of it. Israel cannot get away with it as it has by squeezing out resistance from Palestine where people have been reduced to a commodity that Tel Aviv can peddle in the manner it likes.
Israel is not the face of Jews who are known as a peace-loving community all over the world. Israel may have corrupted the society but it has not replaced its value system. Let us not allow Israel blacken or brutalize the face of Jews. They have proud traditions.