Pain of West Asia needs salve of humanitarianism

Let us talk about a region that links three prophets and as many religions, but is cursed to suffer—Israel and its neighbourhood. The latest flashpoint in the continual conflict here was an attack on 7 October by Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement based in Gaza Strip. Israel saw this as a war imposed on it and put all its military might behind destroying Hamas. In the first six days of its offensive, Israel dropped about 6,000 bombs on Gaza. Tel Aviv also ordered the evacuation of about 1.1 million Palestinians in northern Gaza in just 24 hours so that its ground forces could take “decisive action”. Its tanks were raring to go at the border, raising the heartbeat of peace activists globally. That deadline had passed at the time this piece was being written and roads to the south were jam-packed with frightened north Gazans.

The Israeli government knew how meaningless its deadline and six hours of safe passage were. According to UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres, even 72 hours were inadequate to complete such a task. Hamas, in turn, was trying to prevent people from exiting north Gaza. Its leaders were aware that the world would not allow Israel to shell Gaza if people were still there. They were using their own people as human shields. Also, Hamas continues to hold 120 Israelis as hostages. They will go to great lengths to use them as a shield for as long as possible.

Hamas had threatened to kill some hostages on Jumma (Friday), but decided against it as a result of some “back door diplomacy”. By killing innocent hostages, Hamas could risk losing support in the Islamic world. Millions had taken to the streets in Jordan’s capital Amman after Friday prayers to protest against the bombardment of Gaza. Similar protests also took place around the world, including in New York. If Israel’s rage lasts a few more days, support for the people of Gaza may grow.

The UN secretary-general has urged Israel against retaliatory action and said: “Even war has rules.” US president Joe Biden has also asked his old ally to follow the “law of war”. It is the same Biden, though, who authorized the Pentagon to deliver lethal weaponry to Israel immediately after the attack. The first shipment of weapons has already arrived.

In the last three decades, the two-faced American diplomacy and hollowness of the UN have inflicted unspeakable harm on the world. Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan are living examples of this.

Consider the plight of the Gazans. Despite the rain of bullets, Hamas warned them to stay back in their houses, while Israel pressured them to evacuate. Water, electricity and other supplies have been blocked continuously for the past week. Hospitals are crowded with the injured and diseased. Medicines and doctors are in scarce supply. Israeli bombs and missiles have hit 23 ambulances and more than 50 medical facilities so far. The 2.2 million humans who live in zone—this world’s most densely populated —are already known as people imprisoned for life.

The timing of this war is notable. Ahead of it, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas both had been rapidly losing support. Their popularity scores had dropped by more than half. “Mr. Security”, as Netanyahu is known, had failed. The Hamas attack damaged his reputation even further. Can he improve his image by taking the most severe action against Gaza?

Was the 7 October attack masterminded by a single terrorist organization or was it a collective plan, including the likes of Hezbollah? The way Israel’s security system was breached suggests that several senior military minds may have aided the execution of the plot. The procurement of essential equipment and machinery also needs investigation. The way borders of Lebanon and Syria with Israel have begun to blaze since the attack has raised angst in Israel. More than 5,000 people have lost their lives so far, and many more have been injured or displaced.

But with Israel’s counter-attack, the world appears to be divided into two camps. Iran says that if Israel was not stopped, the conflict will escalate. Once again, the East-West, North-South discord is evident. We’ve grown accustomed to seeing such diplomatic acrobatics after every major destruction. Instead of making statements, it would be useful if these people took a humanitarian approach to the pain, suffering, and agony that has spread both inside and outside Israel. This is the only way to avoid further tragedies.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. Views are personal.

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Updated: 15 Oct 2023, 10:08 PM IST