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War is a calamity and is generally considered to be the last resort of any conflict. But when a nation is indulged in continuous war to prove and protect its existence, the war becomes a necessity and a tool for survival. Yet the victims of war are always greater than the glory of its victory, and after a point war is a test of your endurance and ego, rather than the necessity of the nation. In light of the ongoing tussle between Israel and Palestine, all this appears to be quite true. The recent incidents in Israel have escalated into a full-blown struggle between the two nations, which will definitely have long-term implications on the global geopolitical scenarios. The Hamas-led militant force shot multiple Rockets at Israel, which has led to an estimated loss of more than a thousand fatalities on both sides of the border. The bone of contention between the two nation-states is the Gaza Strip, which has been occupied by Israel since the 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict. Over 5,000 rockets were launched by HAMAS on Saturday morning. Hamas has taken full responsibility for the act, claiming that they are trying to “put an end to all the crimes of the occupation”. The act of military intervention by Hamas has been named Operation Al-Aqsa Flood and Israel has named their military intervention as Sword of Iron. The Israeli army has since then retaliated, causing harm to the Palestinian forces. But the most significant victims of this crisis have to be the civilians living in the war zone as both armies have taken arms against each other, notwithstanding the consequences of the struggle. It then becomes imperative for us to understand the past, present and the future of this conflict.
History of the Conflict
Jews have long been one of the most vulnerable social groups who have historically faced oppression and purging for many centuries and have remained a microscopic minority in most of the regions. One of this region was Palestine, with an overwhelming Arabic population and a Jewish minority. After the Ottoman Empire was defeated in World War I, Britain gained control of Palestine, which was inhabited by a Jewish minority and Arab majority. The early 20th century was marked by two distinct yet interrelated events – the beginning of the Zionist movement under the leadership of Theodor Herzl, and the beginning of the First World War. In order to win the support of the rich Jewish community for the war, Britain supported the claim of Israel for creating a Jewish homeland in Palestine, duly manifested in the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which helped in mobilising International support for Israel’s quest for a homeland. In the Hebrew Bible, the word Israel means “the chosen one”, and thus the Jewish community consider themselves as the chosen people of Yahweh, the God residing in Mount Zion, which is the centre point of the Jewish homeland and also the inspiration for the Zionist movement. After the First World War, the Ottoman Empire was broken into many independent nation-states, and Britain was given the responsibility of providing safe passage to the Jews. The Jewish problem was further compounded by the rising anti-Semitism in parts of Europe, and after the onslaught of the Holocaust in the 1940s, with an estimated purging of 6 million Jews in German-controlled territories, there was a widespread flight of people to Palestine, disrupting the proportion of Arabs and Jews in the region. And with the organized killing of Jews, the resolve for a Jewish homeland as a safe haven became even stronger. Obviously, this resolve was not shared by the Arabs residing in the region. According to Joel Bebin and Lisa Hajjar, the Jewish claims to the region were based on the biblical idea that the land was promised to the descendants of Abraham and Israel (whose actual name was Jacob), and their identification of Jerusalem and Zion mountain as the remnants of the erstwhile homeland of the Jews, which was destroyed by the Roman Empire. On the other hand, Arabs believed that they had been living in the region for the past hundreds of years and therefore Jewish claim to the region was nothing more than unlawful encroachment on their territory, where they are the demographic and ethnic majority. Arabs also refuse to concede the region to the Jews based on a biblical myth and further assert that Israel is a common forefather of Jews, Christians as well and Arabs, therefore they cannot be excluded from the region that was also promised to them. Arabs contest the fact that it is ethically correct to forfeit their land to compensate Jews for the crimes committed by the Europeans in Europe against the Jews.
After the Second World War, most of the European colonies became independent one after another and the issue of Israel and Palestine required immediate resolution. And therefore the newly constituted United Nations decided to intervene in the issue. Eventually, it was decided to divide Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, with the control over Jerusalem given to international jurisdiction. This decision was and is still contested by the Arabs, which meant that the issue was never resolved properly. Eventually, under the guidance of Britain, the new state of Israel was proclaimed in 1948, leading to a military strife led by opposing forces of Palestine and their Arabic neighbouring allies. The struggle between Israel and Palestine, which continued from 1947-49, led to a long struggle between the Israeli army and the Arab militias including the armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Palestine, and occasional interventions by Britain. The result of the war was a decisive victory of the Israeli forces, who consider the war as their “War of Independence” while for the Palestinian Arabs, it was a catastrophic event wherein hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were driven from their homes in what they call Al Nakba, or “The Catastrophe”. Palestinians claimed that the Israeli forces used biological warfare to contaminate the water sources of the villages inhabiting the Arabs, which contributed to the death of thousands of civilians and displacement of many more Arabs, who struggled to be incorporated into the territories taken up by Israel. Israel claimed that around 7-8 lakh Jews were forced to leave the regions inhabited by Arabs in Egypt, Syria and Jordan and had to flee to Israel. Israel had to sign separate armistices with all these countries causing about 7000 casualties among the Israelis. The political instability created due to this war continues to cast it’s impact on the Israel-Palestine conflict, who have continued to engage in full blown military conflict in atleast 5 different times, and many more big and small skirmishes throughout these 75 years. The Resolution 181 adopted by the United Nations, also known as the Partition Plan, has not succeeded in resolving the territorial issue between Israel and Palestine and the territory has been divided into 3 parts: the State of Israel, the West Bank (of the Jordan River), and the Gaza Strip. The Gaza strip in particular has been a territory of contention, not just for Israel and Palestine, but also the neighbouring territories of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria particularly after the 1956 Suez Crisis and Israel’s invasion of the Sinai Peninsula after which the above-mentioned countries had to sign defence pacts to counter Israeli aggression. In 1956, Israel along with Britain and France attacked Egypt to stop the nationalization of the Suez Canal, and Israel also used this opportunity to capture Gaza. The 1967 war between Israel and Palestine was fuelled by a struggle between Israel and Syria. Israel believed that Palestine was using Syrian land to carry out the attack on Israel. Syria was supported by Egypt who entered the Sinai Peninsula. This perpetuated the Six-Day War with Israel initiating air attacks on Egypt and Syria. After the war, Israel gained territorial control over the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip from Egypt; the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan; and the Golan Heights from Syria. Six years later, in 1973 the struggle was reignited with the Yom Kippur War or the October War, where Egypt and Syria launched an attack on Israel in order to recover their list of territories. Even though the war was inconclusive, it led to the peace treaty called the Camp David Accords signed in 1979, which ended the thirty-year conflict between Egypt and Israel.
It was assumed that the Accord would bring tranquillity in the region, and mend the relations between the neighbours, it proved to be a temporary deviation from the actual crisis, that is, the Palestinian question. Palestine’s grievances were sidelined because of the multi-lateral conflicts that were going on for the past 3 decades. All this perpetuated a nationwide agitation by the Palestinians against the state of Israel, particularly the ones living in the West Bank and Gaza strip. This agitation is popularly known as the First Intifada. This was also the year when HAMAS came into force. HAMAS is the acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya (Islamic Resistance Movement) which is a militaristic organization formed under the aegis of Palestinian cleric Sheikh Ahmed Yassin as a political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, a transnational Sunni Islamist organisation. Between 1987-90, HAMAS led two Intifadas, which ushered in a new era of political conflict in the region.
A precursor to the militant nationalist organization in Palestine was the PLO or the Palestine Liberation Organization, which was set up in 1964 by the Arabs, but after the defeat of Arabs in the 1967 war, the organization was taken over by Young militant Palestinians in order to facilitate Palestinian nationalism. Throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s, PLO had to work in hiding first in Lebanon and then in Tunisia. Israel refused to acknowledge Palestine’s national rights and refused to negotiate with any organization dealing with Palestine. They also derided the PLO as a terrorist organization. However, due to the increasing military conflicts in the 1990s, The Gulf War and increasing American intervention in the Middle East forced Israel to negotiate with PLO. This negotiation is known as the 1993 Oslo Accords. According to this negotiation, PLO got access to the regions around the West Bank and Gaza, and for the first time, in theory, Israel recognized the right to self-determination and self-governance of Palestine, even though the Accord was highly flawed and unsatisfactory as Israel refused to accept the pre-1967 borders as their legitimate boundary, and most of the territorial negotiations made in this Accord were either delayed or not fulfilled at all. In 1995, the Oslo II Accords expanded on the first agreement, and Israel was asked to withdraw from 6 cities and 450 towns in the West Bank. In 1996, Yasser Arafat came to power in Palestine but since Israel didn’t really put their words to action, the crisis continued to mount until US President Bill Clinton decided to call a summit called the Camp David Summit on July 11, 2000, where both Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat were brought to the table for negotiations, but these negotiations failed and the crisis worsened. This led to the second Intifada, which would last until 2005. On the part of Israel, In response, the Israeli government approved the construction of a barrier wall around the West Bank in 2002, despite opposition from the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court.
Even though the negotiations between the two countries were revived again courtesy US in 2013, but these negotiations failed when the Palestinian ruling party Fatah formed an alliance with HAMAS in 2014, which the US disapproved of as they had designated HAMAS as a foreign terrorist organization in 1997.
With the HAMAS in power, there were series of military infiltrations and rockets launched on the soil of Israel, disrupting the peace for the nth time. HAMAS fired about 3000 rockets at Israel, which was met by military retaliation by Israel in Gaza. This conflict ended with the intervention of Egypt, but only after 73 Israelis and 2,251 Palestinians had lost their lives. The series of attacks also led to a nullification of the Oslo Accords in 2015. In 2018, a violent demonstration was organized by Palestine as a remembrance of the 70th anniversary of their Nakba. After incidents of stone pelting by the demonstrators, the event became violent, which eventually culminated with the death of 183 demonstrators and more than 6,000 were wounded by live ammunition. 2018 also saw a skirmish between Israel and Palestine with repeated rocket attacks by Palestine and it’s retaliation by Israel.
A new point of conflict arose in 2018 with Palestine claiming control over East Jerusalem while Israel claimed leadership over the whole unified Jerusalem. Because of this Palestine refused to accept the “Peace to Prosperity” plan of the US in 2020 because of their support to the Israeli control over West Bank and Jerusalem. Similarly, Palestine and HAMAS refused to acknowledge the Abraham accords in 2020, which was signed between UAE, Bahrain and Israel to normalise their relations after their ministerial talks with the US in Warsaw in 2019. At the same time, the Israeli court ruled in favour of the eviction of Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah in Jerusalem. This action was met by widespread protest by Palestinian in Jerusalem and violent subjugation by the Israeli police. Using this opportunity, HAMAS once again launched rocket attacks on Israel, and this violence and counter-violence led to the destruction of a large number of civic bodies as well as military camps. By the time the fighting ended in 2021, around 250 Palestinians and 13 Israelis died and around 72,000 Palestinians were displaced from their homes.
At this conjuncture, HAMAS has decided to fight a prolonged armed battle against Israel, which is continued since then till the present, to take out Gaza from the clutches of Israel and Egypt. This ensuing struggle has hundreds and thousands of direct and indirect victims and the impact of the conflict goes way beyond the territorial loss or loss of lives of people living in these regions. The civilians residing in the Gaza Strip are going through a massive struggle for their own existence with a lack of basic amenities available to them. The continuous warfare has stripped the citizens of access to water and food. According to Muthana Samara and Chris Askew, around 54% children of different age groups in Palestine have been found to be suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) because of the constant exposure to war and demolition. According to Palestine, Israel’s blockade of Gaza the destruction of resources in Palestine by Israel and the construction of barriers on the West Bank has isolated them from having any meaningful economic and diplomatic relation necessary for the development of the region, making them one of the worst suffered countries in the World. Israel has similarly claimed that Palestine is the real instigator of the war and violence and Israel is committed to protecting its territorial integrity leading to retaliation from their side. As we have seen in the recent case as well, it was HAMAS who first fired rockets into Israeli territory disrupting the stalemate between the two countries. The emergence of Palestinian militant groups and their vicious attacks on the Israeli civilian population has led to thousands of casualties in the war and significant instances of physical and psychological trauma. According to Zahava Solomon, 27% of the war veterans of the Israel-Palestine wars have been found to be suffering from Combat Stress Reaction (CSR) and scholars have found instances of reactivation of the war trauma and PTSD with every new instance of armed struggle in the region. The people who have been found to be most vulnerable to war trauma include widowed women who lost their husbands and sometimes also children in the war, women who were raped during the war, and children who were orphaned and at times sold off. The war has resulted in many such casualties from both sides, and thus the question that needs to be pondered upon is – What is the cost of victory in the war? Can war crimes be justified if it is sanctioned by the state? Will these states remain in a perpetual state of war, bringing doom upon each other and upon themselves? There is no definite answers to these questions.
There are multiple concerns arising out of this ongoing conflict about the future of these nations. There is concern that this struggle may perpetuate a third Intifada, which can lead to large-scale violence. The current government in Israel under the leadership of Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu and his Likud party, who came to power in December 2022, comprises two ultra-Orthodox parties and three far-right parties, including the Religious Zionism party, an ultranationalist faction affiliated with the West Bank settler movement. The current coalition government comprises of leaders who have a history of racial incitement like Bezalel Smotrich. The openly discriminatory attitude of these leaders towards Arabs and religious communities can prove to be a further problem in reaching a peaceful resolution to the problem. Furthermore, the violence perpetuated in recent times could be seen from far off because of Israel’s bid to settle 5,000 new settlers in the contested zone in June 2023. The Israeli military has further deteriorated the issue by hampering the religious sentiments of the Arabs when they invaded the Al-Aqsa mosque twice in a single day. Palestine and Israel have been involved in continuous military struggles, drone attacks, and bombings throughout the last few months, and the recent military activity could be seen as the starting point of a new wave of violence in this territory. Benjamin Netanyahu said the incursion was “not a one-off” incident and Israel would prevent any attempt to create a safe haven for the militant groups.
India’s Stance over the Years
The stance of India on the Israel-Palestine conflict is in itself worthy of discussion as it represents the changing perspective of the state and how the shift in the political structure of a state determines their willingness to be involved in a conflict. Here, the problem also lie in the changing ideology of the state as well, which shifts the balance of power in favour or against any other nation. In the context of Palestine, India had a more sympathetic outlook for a very long time. When British state decided to vouch for Israeli homeland, it received criticism from the Indian National Congress. In 1938, Mahatma Gandhi pointed out that even though he is very much sympathetic towards the Jews, the proposed homeland for Jews is an imposition of Jewish aspirations on the Arabs. Similarly, India voted against the partition of Palestine into Israeli and Palestinian territory, in the United Nations General Assembly, being the only non-Muslim and non-Arab nation to do so. In 1974, the Indian state recognized the PLO as the representative of Palestine and it’s people. Going further they also recognized the state of Palestine in 1988. India voted in favour of UN Resolution against the construction of the West Bank wall by Israel in 2003. Similarly, India advocated for Palestine to be made a full member of UNESCO in 2011. Finally, we see that India voted in favour of Palestine so that its status could be upgraded to a ‘non-member state ‘ in the United Nations in 2012. India also supported a UNHRC resolution in 2014 to initiate an investigation against Israel on their human rights violations. However India has not had adequate support from the Arab countries in lieu of their support to the cause of Palestine. India was not considered a member of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) since 1969, and after 1991 India slowly away from the erstwhile USSR to the US, which also put them in close contact with Israel, with open diplomatic relations initiated between India and Israel since 1992.
Despite the fact that India opposed the formation of Israel, India chose to recognise Israel as a sovereign state. Israel has also shown support to India during the Kargil War in 1999. But these relations have heightened more with the change in power in 2014, the Indian state has become closer to the state of Israel and has on multiple occasions shown solidarity with Israel. India abstained from voting in the 2015 UNHRC convention regarding the report on the investigation of Israel. Even though Indian leaders have shown open solidarity with Israel recently, Israel still wants India to leave its strong association with Palestine, which India is not able to do fully because of the need for oil and fuels from the Arab countries. Thus India is in a state of conundrum where it is difficult for them to openly align with any one group considering what is at stake for India. India has shown a proclivity towards Israel recently, but only time will tell as to what extent they are able to fulfil their obligations of mutual support.
Thus we can say from our analysis that the conflict between Israel and Palestine is deeply rooted in the history of these two countries, and the sense of victimhood and justification of war has made these armed struggles a perpetual entity in the history of these nations. Multiple respites, alternatives and negotiations were offered to resolve the problem, but an effective solution which can be agreed upon by both countries is still wanted. The future of these countries marred by such scale of conflict appears to be bleak, and the human misery caused by this war is unprecedented. India itself is not in a dominating position to provide one clear-cut strategy regarding this conflict and thus there is a lot of uneasiness regarding the nature and extent of support to be provided by India to these countries. Thus, the nations need to come to the table to come up with a resolution considering the pathetic condition of their citizen and external interventions should be sought with caution, as it can add new conflicts and vested interests of nations, that are not directly related to the conflict.
- Beinin, Joel, and Lisa Hajjar. “Palestine, Israel and the Arab-Israeli Conflict.” Middle east research and information project (2014).
- Pappe, Ilan. The ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Simon and Schuster, 2007.
- El-Khodary, Basel, Muthanna Samara, and Chris Askew. “Traumatic events and PTSD among Palestinian children and adolescents: the effect of demographic and socioeconomic factors.” Frontiers in Psychiatry 11 (2020)
- Solomon, Zahava. “From the frontline to the Homefront: the experience of Israeli veterans.” Frontiers in Psychiatry 11 (2020): 589391.
- The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Historical and Prospective Intervention Analyses, Carter Centre, Atlanta, 2002.
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