“The religious and ethnic power of perseverance rather than the political power of expansion and conquest became the corner stone of Jewish belief and practice.”
Paul Johnson, a celebrated historian known for his seminal work ‘A History of the Jews’ had said this while trying to understand why the Jews were probably the only religious community in history that had remained stateless for centuries and had still survived. They were the community without borders, who were both envied and reviled in equal measure. Despite being in a very small minority in Europe, America and Middle East Asia, they remained powerful because of their enterprise and industriousness. Why the Jews did not fight for a state of their own until the late 19th century is an enigma. Why didn’t they have the political ambition to claim a land of their own, where they could regulate their lives, at their own sweet will? The character of the present Israeli government seems to be at odds with their own history.
As Israel continues its efforts to respond to the October 7 massacre by Hamas, Jews are now more political than ever in their history.
Since the days of Moses, when they escaped the wrath of the Egyptian kingdom in popular imagination, to Hitler’s Holocaust, Jews have faced many a catastrophe, and have bounced back each time. Today, Jews are a very strong community, and they have a state to call their own. It is ironic that a community, stateless and without geographical boundaries for centuries, is now refusing to understand the plight of Palestinians and is determined to render them stateless. There is no doubt that Israel is the ‘promised land’, which is at the core of their belief system. But their unwillingness to coexist with Palestinians is another great mystery of modern times. Is it because Jews now believe they are the ‘chosen ones’ with the ‘promised land’, and that they should keep it, preserve it and pay any price? That they should not lose it, and punish anyone who, by any stretch of imagination, is trying to leave them stateless again?
The present crisis in the Middle East has to be seen in civilisational terms. This is the land that gave birth to three religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – and all three were inspired by Abraham. As Johnson says, “the Bible presents him as the immediate ancestor of the Hebrew people and the founder of the nation; he is also the supreme example of the good and just man.”
Jews and Palestinians were rivals even then. It is no accident of history that even in modern times, before the Second World War, there was debate on where Jews would settle, and out of all the options, the land of Palestine was chosen to create a Jewish state that is Israel. This was the land where the Jews had started migrating to since the beginning of the 20th century. With the promise of the Balfour declaration in 1917, the pace of immigration magnified many times. Finally, in May 1948, they were given 56 per cent of the land and the Palestinians, who were the original inhabitants, got only 44 per cent. Thus started the new history. The oppressed of history became the new oppressors. The victims are the new rulers. Unless we understand this paradox, it will be difficult to understand the crisis.
There is no doubt that no community has suffered more than the Jews. If the Holocaust is so deeply identified with Hitler, then Jews are inseparable from this darkest chapter in history. But now, the same Jews are allegedly out to homeless those who were the real owners of the land on which they have set up their state. There is no doubt that the Hamas’ attack was unpardonable, a terrorist act, barbaric. However, if Israel and its leadership believe they are justified in avenging the attack by acting like Hamas, they are grossly mistaken. Israel is a modern state and as a state, it can’t behave the way Hamas did.
A state cannot behave like a terrorist organisation. It is bound by rules and laws. It has to differentiate between terrorists and people. Just because Hamas was chosen by the local Palestinians in Gaza Strip does not make them accessories to the barbaric act. The Benjamin Netanyahu government cannot punish people for the acts of Hamas.
Asking 1.1 million people of North Gaza to evacuate in 24 hours and move to south Gaza is equally unpardonable; shutting off their water and electricity is no less barbaric, and if the international community fails to convince the Israeli government, they are failing in their duty too.
Israel is a tiny state with a world class intelligence network and military, and is very robustly supported by the most powerful state in the world, the US. It shares its geographical boundaries with hostile neighbours. Since the day it declared its independence, it has faced three full-fledged wars and relentless terrorist acts. Because of civilisational reasons, it is perpetually in a heightened state of anxiety. This anxiety will not ebb if there are leaders like Netanyahu and ultra nationalist coalition partners in his cabinet. I know that one has to distinguish between common Jews and Zionists; no Jew in Israel and outside is a Palestine hater. Many want to live in harmony with Arabs within Israel and outside. Since the state is controlled by Zionists, however, it is the responsibility of the leaders to understand that a state can’t live in fear and uncertainty. If Israel has to live in peace, then it has to first recognise the fact that Palestinian also have a right to exist and that they can’t be punished for demanding their legitimate right to a state of their own, where they are the masters of their lives.
The Oslo accord was the first step in that direction. It devised the two-state theory, which meant that Israel and Palestine are two different nations and should live contiguously as two states. Unfortunately, Israel is not willing to implement the accord. The PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organisation), led by Left-leaning Yasser Arafat, who had grudgingly accepted the formula, was marginalised by the rise of Hamas. Israel was its creator. Paradoxically, Hamas, an Islamist organisation that never accepted the existence of Israel, is its new scourge. The Israeli leadership has to admit that sooner than later this game has to end. As a state it has to accept the reality on the ground, it has to accept the legitimate right of Palestinians. It has to realise that war has failed to yield any solution in last 75 years.
Today, it has the option to enter Gaza, annex the land and leave Palestinians homeless, or turn this catastrophe into an opportunity, show magnanimity, and make an offer that is acceptable to them and live in peace.
In the end, I will quote what Paul Johnson said about Jews, “No people have been more fertile in enriching poverty or humanising wealth, or in turning misfortune to creative account.” Will they turn the present misfortune into a creative account once again?
(Ashutosh is author of ‘Hindu Rashtra’ and Editor, satyahindi.com.)
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.