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If I can just give to the world more than I take from it, I will be a very happy man. For there is no greater joy in life than to give. Motto : Live, Laugh and Love. You can follow me on Twitter too . My handle is @Raja_Sw.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Israel-Palestine war : Two weeks...and counting

In my previous post, I had talked about my not getting “involved” in the Palestine situation. For my own sake. And in the belief that my views do not make a difference anyway.

Now, over a week later, I find that this was not right on my part. For many reasons.

Firstly, I am unable not to get “involved”. By nature, I am very much interested in politics and current affairs. Have always been. Especially in stories that involve the human side of things. So I just cannot shut myself off from all that is happening in the world. And I do see the pictures of this war on TV, I see pictures of the wounded and the dead, the hospitals, the statements made by various leaders, reporters and members of the public. So how can I not get "involved" ?

Secondly, the war is still raging on. It is now two weeks since Israel first launched its offensive into Gaza – and, despite a UN resolution passed last week, there seems to be no let-up in the intensity of the fighting.

Lastly, and most importantly (and very honestly), I am somewhat ashamed at myself.

For even suggesting that I did not want to get “involved”.

Let’s get things in perspective.

I am sitting in the comfort of my home, with the heating switched on (it is way below minus) and blogging.

Those out there in Palestine have no heating, no lighting, no food, they have lost loved ones, have others injured but have no medical facilities to treat them, they do not know how their next hour or day will look, if at all they live to survive that day.

And these are the ones I do not want to discuss about because I want to be in a “positive frame of mind” ? What if everybody thought the same way ? These people, who already have close to nothing, would then really have nothing to hope for.

My writing may not make the slightest difference. I have no illusions about it. But I have decided that, whether anybody reads what I write or not, I will continue to write. I will continue to talk about the war and Israel-Palestine – from my personal perspective. This is MY blog, so I am entitled to express my opinion, whether others agree with me or not.

In the last week, we just saw the fighting go to a different level altogether. After the initial air-strikes, Israel decided to launch ground operations. These were always going to be higher-risk, at least from Israel’s point of view. But, if they wanted to weed out “militants” from civilian locations, air-strikes were not going to help, without causing considerable civilian damage. So it was a combined air-strike and ground operations offensive that we saw in the last week.

While Israel has claimed considerable success in attacking rocket-launching sites, weapon-storage facilities, smuggling tunnels, it has not come without considerable civilian cost. Although Israel claims to have made tremendous effort to minimize loss of civilian lives (including pre-announcements of attacks and requests to evacuate target areas), in a densely populated war zone as Palestine, it was always going to be unrealistic to expect civilians to escape unscathed.

One incident earlier in the week, where an attack on a school saw children casualties, saw the whole world horrified although Israel claimed that the facility was being used as a cover to protect “militants”.

Every format of news from aid agencies and humanitarian work groups in the Gaza has just one message – that it is a humanitarian crisis, that the numbers of dead and injured are mounting, that the number of civilians affected is increasing, that medical and food supplies are not enough and are not reaching in time, that doctors, working 24/7 are not able to cope with the number of cases flooding in, that aid agencies are being hampered in their aim to distribute food and medicine due to the fighting on the streets.

So, if anybody ever had to see the ugly face of war – and its consequences for the common man - he or she could not have a better illustration of all that war results in. It is not just the loss of lives – which is horrible in itself – it is also the numbing casualties in terms of injuries and destruction of infrastructure. It takes years to rebuild something that it takes seconds to destroy.

The UN Security Council, after considerable debate about the “wording” of its resolution, finally managed to come up with one on Thursday. Not that either side in the fighting cared. Israel, never one to allow anybody or anything to come in the way of its military objectives, just continued on its mission to go after Hamas. Which, inspite of the concerted Israeli offensive, continues to manage to launch rockets into Israeli territory, more as a show of defiance than anything else.

In the meantime, in fact before the UN finally managed to come up with a resolution, a joint proposal to end the fighting was formulated by Egypt and France. This proposal of an immediate ceasefire was accepted by Hamas but Israel, wary of a ceasefire that it fears would only allow Hamas to regroup, seems to show no interest in this proposal.

All in all, the war continues - and, while the world can keep screaming, Israel is on a mission here and does not appear to want to entertain any discussions that may derail its mission. And that mission would seem to be to, once and for all, disarm Hamas.

And herein lies one of the fallacies of this whole story and one that convinces me that this was just an election-winning ploy by the current party in power in Israel.

Let’s say, for one moment, that Israel succeeds.
That Hamas is disarmed.
Will this really solve the problem once and for all ?
Surely Israel itself does not believe this.
All it will get is that, temporarily, just temporarily, there may not be any attacks on Israeli soil – at least not through rockets fired from Palestine.
But then, for how long will Israel enjoy this “peace” ?
How long before Hamas, or another outfit, regroup and launch their revenge attack on Israel ? Even forgetting about the fact that Hamas was the popular choice of the people, surely it has even got more ground support now after these recent offensives by Israel ?
So, if Hamas or another outfit attacks Israel, what then ?
I expect Israel then to retaliate with full force – and for another war to be kicked off as a result.
With more casualties, more destruction.
And the saga will go on.
As it has been going on for as long as I can remember.

All this because none of the powers-that-be makes enough effort to address the root cause of the conflict.

For once, the holier-than-thou West should see things from a Palestinian perspective. The Palestinians live in their own country like second or third-class citizens. They have restrictions on their movement, they have scarcity of supplies, of jobs, of basic amenities like electricity and water. And, to add to all this, they also have to contend with their land taken away from them.

In the wake of this, they have elected a party which they believe will espouse their cause, will win them back some of their rights. That such a party adopts violence in its methods to make its case may make it a “terrorist” organization in many eyes but it is more a reflection of the hopelessness and helplessness felt by the Palestinian community than anything else.

Had the world listened and cared, had the world been fairer in allocation of resources and treatment of Palestine, I doubt if we would have seen all this fighting in all these years. Like I have said in an earlier post, the seeds of this conflict were sown decades ago. What we are seeing now is only the effect.

I know Israel believes that they will always be insecure, surrounded as they are by Arab neighbours and Islamic countries. That is one of their basic premises for having a strong military, for always being “ready to go to war”.

But if you don’t give peace a chance, you will never know whether it will work or not. And every such war as the one we are seeing now only further distances neighbours, it certainly does not bring them closer. And therefore gives peace even less of a chance. And, as a result, only increases mistrust and tension. Sort of a catch-22.

No, the solution is to address the structural issues of land and emphasise the equality of rights of all living in that region. Whether Jew or Muslim.

The UN, after sowing the initial seeds of discontent, has been hopeless so far in extinguishing the flames of hatred and violence. Like I said in an earlier post, the best solution is probably one from the region itself. These are the countries closest to the situation, they are the ones most affected. They will also be the most direct beneficiaries of any peace talks and attempts to improve understanding between the countries.

But for that, the parties involved should be open to discussion with each other. They should be interested in peace. They should be willing to compromise on some of their demands, in the interests of peace.

We are a long way from this. And, by the looks of it, not getting any closer with all that is happening.

Having said that, and despite not having much of history to give me any assurances to back my optimism, I am hopeful that the times are a-changing.

Relationships are changing. There is or will soon be new leadership at the helm of affairs in some countries. This will hopefully herald a new, more compassionate view on matters Middle-Eastern.

One can only hope. For there is nothing else for most in Palestine to live for.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

On Israel-Palestine again..and need for "pyar bant-te chalo"

It has only been a couple of days since my last entry on this blog about Israel-Palestine. But since then, a lot has happened.

Israel has dropped a one tonne bomb on a Hamas leader’s home, killing not only him but 20 persons in all, including three of his wives and 11 of his children.

No prizes for guessing the Hamas response. I quote :
"The Palestinian resistance will not forget and will not forgive," said Hamas lawmaker Mushir Masri. "The resistance's response will be very painful."

No prizes either for guessing the US response. President Bush called the Hamas attacks “acts of terror”. Both he and Condoleeza Rice have their position that it was Hamas that instigated the attacks by first launching rockets into Israeli territory.

Sorry, but no prizes either for guessing the UN response. I know I am not being very generous here but I need to see some sign of effort :-). For the UN response, I quote :

Maxwell Gaylard, U.N. humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinians Territories, said some 2,000 people have been wounded in the past week and a "significant number" of the dead were women and children. "There is a critical emergency right now in the Gaza Strip," he said.

Oh, really ? A critical emergency ? Thank you for informing us. We did not know that.

President Bush’s weekly radio address – included the following excerpt "The United States is leading diplomatic efforts to achieve a meaningful cease-fire that is fully respected," Bush said. "Another one-way cease-fire that leads to rocket attacks on Israel is not acceptable. And promises from Hamas will not suffice — there must be monitoring mechanisms in place to help ensure that smuggling of weapons to terrorist groups in Gaza comes to an end."

Brilliant. And, I will be optimistic here. There is every chance that this will work – in the short-run. But what thereafter ?

For how long can this be sustained ? Till a peace deal is struck ?

And when will that happen, if at all it does ? You think with the events of the last week, it will happen anytime soon ?

Not unless the deal is obtained at diplomatic gunpoint (but this time US or Israeli gunpoint, so that’s Ok).

And don’t worry, the peace deal will definitely be respected. That part of the world is not yet used to toilet paper out of recyled material.

And oh, I forgot ! My congratulations to Israel for killing one Hamas leader. Don’t worry about the other 19 (including women and children) who died in the process. We will just put that down to collateral damage, shall we ? Those lives were not worth living anyway.

And btw, I would just like to inform Israel that another couple of hundred jihadis have just enlisted, in Syria, to join Hamas today. Sorry, it is not “GAME OVER” time yet. Not by a long way.

In case anybody thinks I am swaying towards Hamas, he or she would have me completely wrong.

I am not swaying towards either side. I am just disgusted with the déjà vu aspect of this entire saga. Because I know it is only a matter of time before it will erupt again.

Anyway, I have decided not to work myself up into a frenzy on this subject. So this will be my last piece on this.

In fact, in my agitated state of mind when I wrote the last piece, I even joined a Facebook group to support Palestine. Which I did entirely because I believe in it – in supporting the people who are living under oppression.

What I discovered in the group however was vitriol, in huge quantities and of the highest quality. It should not have surprised me. The anger in the streets of Gaza has naturally spilled over, very effectively, onto the discussion forums on the net.

As for me, I don’t need this. It is the start of a new year – and I would like to be in a positive frame of mind. So while the subject will still be close to my heart – and I will be following developments like I have been all these years – I will not get “involved” in it. I am not able to make a difference anyway so there is no point getting worked up about it.

At such times, I tend to take recourse in music or reading. I have found Everyday Gyaan, a blog on my blogroll, to be an excellent stop for an inspirational read and feed.

Or else, I play for myself some songs that transport me into a different frame of mind. The one below is one of my favourites – it is certainly my favourite song on unity and brotherhood of man.

I am sure there are similar songs in their own languages, otherwise somebody needs to translate this for the Jews and Arabs in Israel and Palestine.

Pyar baant-te chalo (Spread love)…

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Israel-Palestine...shame on the world !!!

Strange though it may seem, the saddest thing to me about the recent Israeli offensive in Palestine is not the bombing itself.

It is, yet again, proof to me that this world is shameless. And selfish to the core. I use strong language here but I cannot help it.

But at least the world is consistent.

Consistently indecisive – and entirely predictable. And I might add, consistently ineffective (assuming there is at least an iota of interest in resolving the conflict).

Oh, how much longer do I have to see this charade ?

I have been following this for over 30 years. From the time that I was just into my teens and beginning to understand a bit about world affairs.

Through the mid-late 70s, the Khmer Rouge (with Pol Pot as its leader) created front-page news. By the late 70s, the news began dying down.

As if on cue, the Iran-Iraq war, started in September 1980, took over the front pages. Then there was the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, followed by the first Iraq war as a result of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.

More recently, in events following 9/11, war and terror have almost always been a regular front-page feature in some part of the world or the other.

All this while, the war in Palestine has been going on. And, unlike other wars, since this was such a long-running war, it had its dedicated space on front-pages.

I remember, as a boy in India, I would actually be surprised if there was no mention of Gaza or West Bank on any given day’s news. Everytime there would be some escalation or some other big news (like the Sadat-Begin deal in Camp David in 1978), it would be headline news. Then, after a few days, the Israel-Arab conflict would again become side-column news.

At that time I was too young to understand the details, the background. All I knew was that Israel and the rest of the Middle East, primarily Arabs, were fighting a war. And that Israel was one of two countries that were explicitly “blacklisted’’ for Indians (the other was South Africa, due to apartheid). This gave me the impression then that India, without being involved as such, was sympathetic to the Arab cause.

As I grew older, I tried to understand more about the conflict. Maybe it was the daily dose of human suffering that I had been following for years in Indian newspapers – I just wanted to know more. So I began reading up on it. Read articles, news items, even watched TV programs on the subject. In those pre-Internet days, it was not all that easy to get information, especially if you wanted different points of view. These days of course there is so much information (some would say mis-information) out there, one can sift and analyse to one’s heart’s content.

But that is not the point here. The point I am trying to highlight is that this conflict has been going on and on. I still would not claim to know very much about it but it does seem to me to be at the root of many flashpoints of tension around the world in at least the last 30-40 years. (I am sure this was the case even before this but I can definitely speak for the last 30 years).

So what has the United Nations done ?

Effectively nothing.

Yes, there are some resolutions that have been passed. And which have had absolutely no effect.

The United States has made an effort. The closest I have seen a peace deal was when Clinton got Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak together at Camp David in 2000. It looked then that there might, just might, be a deal. Barak went far, farther than any other Israeli leader I can remember.

But the deal fell through on that thorniest of issues - Jerusalem. So, in a huge anti-climax, the discussions ended – and it was back to the familiar square one.

Since then, there has only been mistrust and further tensions. The players have changed but the animosity seems to remain just as strong as ever.

Arafat is dead, his Fatah Party has not been able to win elections in Palestine. Instead Hamas, much-dreaded by the Western world and hated by Israel is in charge in Palestine.

In Israel, Ehud Olmert and his Kadima party have toughened their stance in the light of elections coming up in February next year. But if they appear a bit hawkish now, this is nothing in comparison to the opposition Likud party, whose rightist leader Benjamin Netanyahu seems to me to be the last person to be willing to negotiate anything with any Arab party.

So the situation, purely from a bilateral negotiating standpoint, looks very grim. A ceasefire, even if it is agreed upon, is hardly likely to address anything structurally.

For any structural solution, the best option, in my opinion, is for the UN to step in.

I know it sounds laughable – given the UN’s track record in resolving any conflict around the world.

But while the UN may have credibility question-marks on its leadership ability, the United States, Europe and the Arab states have all got credibility question-marks on their integrity.

And that is a far more difficult bridge to cross.

Maybe, just maybe, with the new leadership in the US things change, but, at the moment, the US is still seen as too biased towards the Israelis to have much support from the Arab community. Besides, the US has enough problems of its own and may want to focus on them rather than engage in international conflict resolution at this point in time.

Europe has always had a wishy-washy standing in the Middle-East, though personally I believe Europe has probably a better integrity rating in the region than the US. But Europe has shown itself poor on taking a leadership role in past conflict resolution, conveniently leaving that role to the US and happy to play a support role.

The Arab states, closest to the heat, could bring both parties to the negotiating table – and if Israel is comfortable with this, this could actually be the best thing to happen for the conflict.

And, it would appear that Egypt, which often plays the lead role in mobilizing actions in the region on this matter, is beginning to establish some sort of rapport, however tenuous, with Israel.

But then, there is the other issue of the Arab world itself. It is too simplistic to talk of ONE Arab world, given the power struggles and constantly changing equations in the region.

Let’s look at this a bit.

Egypt, no doubt, has its influence - but Syria, the other neighbour in the conflict region, has its own issues with Israel. And though there are signs that the new Syrian leadership may even be willing to engage with Israel, there is the other big influence in the region, Iran, that cannot be under-estimated.

Iran sees itself as THE power in the region, especially after the Iraq war. It is very unlikely to allow any deal to be brokered in the region without its own stamp on it. And that stamp will ensure that Israel is left as much out in the cold as possible – which will be a non-starter for the deal itself. For a meaningful, and importantly sustainable deal, it has to have elements for both parties.

No, much as I would like the deal to be brokered from within - and this would be my first preference - I have doubts about this working out.

So I go back to the United Nations.

If, the UN, doing, for once in its 60+ years of existence, something that it was set up for in the first place, if it brings the parties together and works out a “bottoms-up” structural solution, it would appear to be a non-partisan solution and hopefully seen as fair by both parties.

But for this, the UN has to really go back to the basics and understand the root issues of the conflict. Which, in my opinion, are to do with land allocation, economic deprivation, human rights violations and oppression in general. Yes, religion too to some extent, but I believe that is used as a cover for these bigger day-to-day issues. When people are dying of hunger and have no water to drink, that is where the focus of the UN effort needs to be - in finding a political solution to the conflict.

After all, Arabs and Jews did live side-by-side for years (and still do). And there is every reason to believe that they can and will continue to do so.

But for this to happen, the world has to do more than just “condemn” violence.
Those perpetrating the violence – on both sides of the conflict - do not really care anymore about words – they are way beyond all that. They have real issues to deal with at ground-level. Since the world has chosen not to do anything for them, they have taken it upon themselves to fight their own battles.

No, the UN has to step in now and do something to address this once and for all.

After all it was the UN that threw the first stone, symbolically speaking, all of 61 years ago.

In November of 1947, a decision to separate the land of Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state was taken through UN Resolution 181. Details can be found in
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations_General_Assembly_Resolution_181 .

Reading through it again today, I found it interesting to note that the names of the countries that were involved in the voting process.

When countries like Bolivia, Costa Rica and Dominican Republic can have a say in influencing geographic boundaries and decisions of the Middle-East, one has to wonder about the quality of the decision.

To me there is no doubt that it was a decision forced upon the Arab community (the Arab league obviously voted against it) – and, to this day, we are seeing the fall-out of that decision. And the parties suffering are not Bolivia or Costa Rica or Dominican Republic. Or even Liberia, Haiti and Philippines, who, pressured by the US, voted for the decision.

No, it is the people of Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan and, consequently, Israel itself.

So much for group decision-making and for a neutral, objective body. The extent of my disgust cannot be quantified.

Anyway that was November 1947.

Sixty-one years on, and we have only seen wars and casualties since (and counting). Not unexpected, when you have such a sham of a deal. Arabs have not rested since – and Israel has not been quiet either. Rather, the six-day war in 1967 was just Israel flexing its muscle and taking the conflict to a different level. Whether it was pre-emptive or a reaction to Arab offensives, the fact is that it was a slap on the face of the United Nations.

I am not taking sides here. I can see very much why the Arabs feel so aggrieved. At the same time I can see why Israel feels threatened. If anything, I am more disgusted with the way the seeds of this conflict were sown than anything else.

If the UN could make that magnificent “leadership” move then, how about another one now ? But this time, involving maybe the parties directly affected a little bit more ? Guatemala may not be the best country to ask for its opinion on this subject.

It is a different world now compared to 1947. The UN needs to recognize this – and be bold enough to engage the region directly in a dialogue and not by proxy. It needs to show that it cares and genuinely wants to help. If it means re-drawing some lines, then so be it. If it means excluding some big names from the dialogue, so be it. Those affected directly are the ones who need to be actively engaged.

I know it is not going to happen.

There are too many vested interests today. Even more so than in 1947. Today’s politics is played in a much more subtle style than in 1947.

So we cannot realistically expect the UN to do anything.

Other than of course "condemning violence".

And in the meantime, people will continue to die and live a dog’s life. Children (what have they done wrong to be born in that region ?) will be deprived of their childhood. Instead of learning about life and how to enjoy it, they will be learning about death and how to escape it every day.

And the world will continue to see these pictures on TV, express their outrage, debate on websites.

And I will continue to write on my blog.

Like I have written before in
http://rajaswaminathan.blogspot.com/2007/07/children-of-lesser-god.html and in my piece about war in general here http://rajaswaminathan.blogspot.com/2007/07/genesis-of-war_14.html .

Like I said, I do not claim to know much about the conflict. About who is right, who is wrong. Whether anybody is right or anybody is wrong. Sometimes these things are not about right or wrong, they are about compromise and making things work for all.

What I do know is that, by the UN doing nothing meaningful in the thirty years that I have been following this conflict, something is very wrong.

And oh yes, Happy New Year to all readers. Hope at least your lives are safe and peaceful.