AFTER the recent Gaza tragedy Israel may feel a sense of victory but going deeper it amounts to a blunder and a moral failure. The Jewish state has gone one more notch deeper into the quagmire it has created for itself by focusing on military might as the deliverer of its security and success. Israel is too intoxicated with power and ambition to see the writings on the wall.
The truth is even after applying excessive force causing enormous death and destruction during the last 66 years Israel could not drive the Palestinians away nor force them into submission or extinguish their yearning and determination for dignity and self-determination.
Over three decades ago none other than the Founder of the World Jewish Congress and the then President of the World Zionist Organization, Nahum Goldmann, a dedicated Zionist leader, warned Israel that focusing on militarism, excessive use of force and military victories would do disservice to Zionism and Israel and would not make Israel secure. The humiliated and infuriated Arabs [Palestinians] would become resolute to fight back. The bloodshed and turmoil that would ensue would degrade Jewish values and character. In his book The Jewish Paradox and in other writings he urged Israel to build friendly relationship with the Arabs, negotiate and make concessions, offer the expertise and experiences of Jews to help build prosperous societies for the Arabs, approach them with humility and understanding, stop going for settlements and expansion of Israel, hand over the areas acquired in 1967 war, accept the border as per the UN Resolution 181 of 1947, earn the trust and confidence of the Arabs and the neighbouring countries and establish peace in the region. He urged Israel to rely more on the good relationship with the Arabs than on the West.
His words fell on deaf ears. Had Israelis listened to this wise patriarch they could avoid extremely costly engagements for 66 years and prevented bloodshed and destruction in that land. The recipe of a win-win outcome was gone with the wind.
Instead, Israel has taken the completely opposite path: relying on its military might and the enormous influence it has created through its extensive network of lobbies and vested interests in the West. Israel demonstrates no interest for peace. Every time a peace process is undertaken either by Arabs or non-Arabs Israel either stalls, or demands impossible pre-conditions or does something objectionable, such as building more settlements, that renders the peace process futile. The message is clear: peace means negotiations and compromise. Why should Israel settle for less when it can get more using its power and influence?
In an article published in Foreign Affairs (Fall 1978) Nahum lamented even 30 years ago that too many opportunities of peace had already been missed and again warned Israel and others that it would amount to be a 'historical crime' to let go of the Sadat peace initiatives and the reconciliatory gestures from many Arab counties if either Israel or the Arabs “by their intransigence on nonessential details, were to destroy the possibility of beginning an era of good neighbourliness, friendship and real cooperation.”
Another golden opportunity to turn things around was lost in Gaza in 2006 when Hamas was elected to power. If Israel and America had stepped up to the plate to recognise Hamas government and take full advantage of the situation a new paradigm could be set in place. In history, many rebels of liberation or resistance movements in many places in the world transformed into polished politicians once they had engaged in governance. If wisdom prevailed, that was the time to work with adversaries to turn them into partners of peace and stability. Hamas would be dependent on Israel in running Gaza. If a hand of cooperation was extended to help build Gaza and to become prosperous the resentment and distrust accumulated over the years among the Palestinians could have largely been dissolved.
Instead of that heart-lifting beautiful scenario what Israel brought about has been heart-rending mindboggling disasters: Three Israeli military incursions within 8 years into this small strip of land where 1.8 million people live caused massive death and destruction, and aroused upheaval of emotion and support for the Gazans and revulsion for Israel around the world.
In history, many formidable rulers and regimes could have survived and even succeeded had they known when to quit applying force and when to pursue diplomacy and reconciliation. However, they were too intoxicated with power and ambition and brought their own downfall by oppressing people. Israel has long crossed the threshold.
For about 22 years -- between 1978 and 2000 -- after the achievement of the Camp David Accord when Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt there grew a rising optimism among the Arab countries in general and the Palestinians in particular that deals can be made with Israel. The Palestinians remained relatively passive -- not much resistance activities and violence -- hoping for the international community to bring about an end to their long ordeal. Instead of acting on that optimism Israel demolished about 28,000 Palestinian homes during that time. At last, the Palestinians were driven to embark on the First Intifada in September 2000.
Israel occupies 78% of the Palestinian land by force, violating UN Resolutions 242 and 338 and disregarding world opinion. After World War II, when the entire world was sympathetic to the Jewish sufferings, America and Europe persuaded the UN to create Israel by dividing Palestine in 1948 against the will of Palestinians. The UN granted the Jewish state 55% of the land even though the Jews constituted only 30% of the population. Palestinians realised then that they had also become victims of Holocaust. The world made them pay for something that they did not do, persecute Jews. In the 1930s and 40s, even before Israel was created, Zionist militia organisations like 'Hagana,' 'Irgun,' 'Stern Gang,' etc. conducted terrorist campaigns -- perpetrating 33 massacres and wiping many villages out -- against the native Palestinians to drive more than 700,000 to the refugee camps of the neighbouring countries. This is the unbearably painful backdrop of this conflict.
Concessions and generosity cannot be expected from the people who lost it all: their land, their dignity, their freedom and decent livelihood. It is the occupier, the one that is immensely powerful, who should approach its victims with concessions and proposals of justice. This is the only way peace can be achieved.
The two-state solution that received overwhelming international support and the acceptance of the Palestinians is becoming increasingly difficult now, if not impossible. The two-state is not possible without dismantling the extensive network of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. However, during the last decade or so, the settlers and the orthodox religious parties in Israel that are fierce supporters of expansion of settlements are becoming increasingly influential in the Israeli politics. There is no leadership strong enough now in Israel to attempt to dismantle the settlements without creating turmoil or even a civil war. Israel has, many times in the past, blown up chances to establish a Jewish state in Palestine with the approval of all the stakeholders. As Nahum Goldmann asserted that this is the only way Israel can survive in the long run.
In the recent episode of Gaza the demonstration of arrogance of power, the barbarism, the degree of disproportionate response have all surpassed the threshold of tolerance of the civilised world. The home-made rockets thrown from Gaza that killed a handful of people since 2006 that Israel has so outrageously been complaining as unacceptable and intolerable are in reality desperate moves by Hamas and others to lift the blockade Israel has placed on Gaza since 2006. Henry Siegman, the former head of the American Jewish Congress, vehemently condemns Israeli persecution of Palestinians. He laments: “No country and no people would live the way Gazans have been made to live.”
These atrocities are alarming indeed but most alarming is the fact that 80% of Israelis supported these heinous acts of their government. This is where the real danger and the real nature of this conflict lie! This reflects a complete moral decay of a nation that does not care about inflicting enormous injustice and misery on others. Albert Einstein warned the Jews in Israel long ago about this moral failure if they fail to live in peace with the Arabs.
It is proclaimed that the essence of Judaism is “Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.” And history is a testament to the fact that peace cannot be achieved without establishing justice.
The ball still is in Israel's court. The hope is wisdom is learned from these self-evident truths.
The writer is Executive Director, US-based Muslims for Peace, Justice and Progress.