TODAY -

Feisty Davids and Genteel Goliaths: The Israeli-Palestinian Story

Biplob Kongkham *



Imagine the erstwhile British Raj showing pictures of a fully armed Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose alongside his INA fighters and asking the world "Does this man look like someone who wants peace?" Better yet, imagine former US presidents John F Kennedy or Richard Nixon questioning Ho Chi Minh's humanism for violently fighting American troops.

Something arguably akin happened when on 16th May this year, an Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) Tweet showed Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar at a Gaza City rally, holding aloft a gun-carrying child, vowing to fight Israel till his martyrdom. The child's father was killed in the recent 11-day Hamas-Israel conflict. Referring to Hamas, the IDF's Tweet asked, "Does this look like an organization that wants peace?"

At first glance, the Hamas, a Palestinian nationalist outfit with hot-tempered leaders and belligerent anti-Israel rhetoric bear no semblance of a peaceful organization. Its military wing, the Al-Qassam Brigade, is designated as a terrorist group by some nations including the US and the EU. It employs guerrilla tactics, indiscriminate rocket attacks, suicide missions and is often accused of using human shields to fend off Israeli reprisals.

Apart from the trademark Israeli-Palestinian hostility, Palestinian political stakeholders and their envisioned statehood paradigms are often marred by uneasy rivalries inter se. This includes apart from Hamas, the famed Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and its relatively liberal faction 'Fatah'. Accordingly, the current Israeli narrative is to portray the genuine Palestinian cause as being irredeemably hijacked by terrorist groups like the Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ).

Having said this, Palestinians continue to be one of the most unfortunate and oppressed people in postwar history. Any rigorously neutral analysis of the historicity of Israeli-Palestinian conflict will only establish this distressing truth. Palestinian Arabs bear the historical brunt of the infamous 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement which effectually redeemed the 'Promised Land' for the Jews in the form of Israel since 1948.

Rendered stateless, homeless and dispersed as refugees by the millions, nothing does more justice to describe the Palestinian resistance than the cliché - "one man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter". The ghastliness of terror as a compelling ideology acquires an uncanny but existential genesis from a Palestinian perspective. In their own eyes and minds, Israel is a terrorist state and IDF soldiers are state-sponsored terrorists.

The average Palestinian life is a life under constant restriction, deprivation, ignominy and, most significantly – limited hope and suspended optimism. A role-reversed David and Goliath duel exceeding Biblical proportions is replayed as defiant, stone-pelting Palestinians challenge an invincible Israel. With an insanely disproportionate imbalance of power in its favour, war is a perfect misnomer to describe Israel's past or present conflicts with Palestine. Since its precarious infancy, Israel has fought several wars and single-handedly defeated scores of clueless Arab nations including Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

Dismissive of the Palestinians as perennially playing the victim card, pro-Israel media now focus on intersectionality or chronological culpability to blame them for often instigating and perpetuating conflict. After several failed peace attempts including the Oslo Accords and the abortive Camp David talks, the Palestinian inclination for conflict resolution and their bargaining pattern is now overtly depicted as being inimical to enduring peace.

Are they a restive, warlike people predisposed to a culture of violence like, for instance, the fiery Afghan tribes described as "the most turbulent race under the stars" by the colonial apologist and allegedly anti-Semitic author Rudyard Kipling? Of course not!

Talking of culpability, Israel now legitimizes the 'you struck first' rationale to overwhelmingly punish Palestinians in a true tradition of war, just or unjust. Ordinary Palestinians do often strike first - with stones and slingshots - with angst and wretchedness born of pure helplessness. Apartheid conditions, settler colonialism, disproportionate force and forced evictions do not encourage peaceful coexistence.

Pushed to the brink, Palestinians pelt stones as Israelis retaliate with mock bombs and skunk cannons. With further escalation, more rocks fly and are retaliated in kind with live ammunition. An enraged Hamas then starts firing its haywire Qassam rockets with suspect accuracy, only to be easily intercepted by the Iron Dome. A handful of these rag-tag rockets do land in Israel and cause some damage and destruction. This infuriates the IDF enough to launch precision airstrikes and bomb the living lights out of Hamas or any Palestinian adversary.

Craftily swaying the media tone, Israelis present themselves as enlightened adversaries exercising exemplary restraint and avoiding collateral damage; even aborting combat missions for fear of harming children. But with nearly half of Gaza's two million people under the age of 14 years and with a population density of almost 13,700 per square mile, precision strikes without collateral damage is a practical impossibility.

In its 2014 operation 'Protective Edge', Israel used bone-churning white phosphorus and flechette shells containing thousands of metal darts on Gazans, wounding mostly children. This time, as it brags about waging the first artificial intelligence war, Palestinian children continue to be indelibly scarred for life with post-traumatic stress disorders. Fatalities on the Palestinian side exceed twenty times the Israeli fatalities even within the last 12 years, from 2008 to 2020. Gaza Strip has been a testing ground for Israel's smart munitions which are branded "battle-proven" and whose takers in the global arms market are many.

The de jure state of Palestine has no standing army, navy, or air force except the Palestinian Security Services (PSS) which performs mostly police and intelligence functions. It is an out-and-out mismatch for a nuclear-capable Israel whose 20 billion dollar annual military budget and state-of-the-art war hardware rank among the world's best. Emboldened by near unconditional US support and an internal politics drifting further rightward, pursuing the classic 'two-state solution' is increasingly off the Israeli radar.

An unenthusiastic Arab solidarity and Palestinian infighting only serve to make it more elusive and utopian, for at least the foreseeable future. Championing the ethics of self-determination and freedom is always emotive and contentious. Quite intriguingly, the psyche of radicalism among many West Asian minds is rooted in shared compassion for Palestinian sufferings. However, an unresolved Palestinian issue is the perfect hallmark of our collective indifference to enduring injustice in world politics.

Empathy for Palestine should never be construed as malice for Israel, just as anti-Semitism must be irreconcilably divorced from anti-Zionism. As for now, the essence of Palestinian resistance is best described in a viral requote by Noam Chomsky, a pro-Palestine Jewish intellectual - "You take my water, burn my olive trees, destroy my house, take my job, steal my land, imprison my father, kill my mother, bombard my country, starve us all, humiliate us all, but I am to blame: I shot a rocket back."


* Biplob Kongkham wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer teaches Political Science at Oriental College, Imphal and can be reached at kbsingha(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on June 10 2021.



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