By: Dipak Kurmi
The saying goes, “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” Defining terrorism is a complex task, as it blurs the line between a fight for freedom and acts deemed as violent. The legitimacy of using violence to resist occupation is a contentious issue, raising questions about where the boundaries lie. Advocates often invoke “root causes” to justify their actions, but it sparks debates on whether such reasoning justifies the indiscriminate harm inflicted on innocent individuals and the taking of hostages.
Is a significantly lopsided conventional retaliation to an atrocity carried out by semi-state actors justified? The classification of the Hamas militia as terrorists or freedom fighters remains a contentious issue. The application of the “collective punishment” doctrine by Israel in Gaza raises questions about its compatibility with modern warfare jurisprudence. Some argue it as a legitimate response, while others view it as an unjust use of superior military power against vulnerable civilians, potentially qualifying as a war crime under Article Eight of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
The ongoing situation between Israel and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip has reignited numerous definitional challenges, sparking debates on various complex issues.
The Hamas’s decision on October 7th 2023, raises questions about who precisely conducted the cold, hard cost-benefit analysis. Despite the awareness of an expected overwhelmingly disproportionate Israeli response, someone within the Hamas leadership determined that the potential benefits outweighed the costs. The calculation considered the aftermath, including the anticipated repercussions from Israel and its principal ally, the United States. Despite the devastating toll the people of the Gaza Strip would inevitably bear, someone deemed the perceived benefits worth the staggering cost.
The resolution to this conundrum is disclosed by none other than Prince Mohammed Bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. In an interview with Fox News on September 20, 2023, he acknowledged that Saudi Arabia and Israel were actively exploring a modus Vivendi, facilitated by the United States. The aim is to pave the way for a more extensive reconciliation in the Middle East. Prince Mohammed Bin Salman expressed the hope that these efforts would lead to a situation that eases the lives of Palestinians and establishes Israel as a significant player in the Middle East.
The Palestinians, who harbor limited trust in their fellow Arabs and the internal conflicts spanning over seven decades, must have perceived this as the proverbial red rag. The failure to realize a two-state solution after seven decades is not solely attributed to Israel’s intransigence but also to the hesitancy of the Arab neighbors toward the envisioned Palestinian state.
The keeper of the holiest shrines of Islam, Saudi Arabia, demonstrated a willingness to engage in a deal with the Zionists amid the formalized reconciliation efforts in the Greater Middle East. These efforts, initiated by the Abraham Accords involving Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan, alongside the parallel process brokered by China between Saudi Arabia and Iran, cast a shadow over the aspirations for a Palestinian homeland. Effectively, the prospect of a Palestinian homeland would be rendered as good as dead.
The dispute between Israel and Palestine is a conflict rooted in two differing ideas of nationalism: Zionism and Arab nationalism. The expression of national identity and culture through nationhood underlies this ongoing struggle.
The inaugural Zionist Congress in 1897, designating Palestine as the Jewish national home, and simultaneously, in the Levant, the establishment of Al-Fatat (the Young Arab Society) by Arab intellectuals inspired by Western technological progress and disillusioned by the crumbling Ottoman Empire, were shaped by these dynamics. They aimed to promote a new Arab nation.
The First World War, marked by the British disaster at Gallipoli, intensified British desperation. This desperation led to the Balfour Declaration on November 2nd, 1917, pledging “the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish People.”
The declaration contradicted the May 16, 1916, Sykes-Picot Agreement, which allocated Arab territories between Britain and France, designating Palestine to Britain. Ironically, this agreement went against the 1915 McMahon-Hussein Correspondence, where the British pledged the Arab peninsula, including Palestine, to Sharif Hussein bin Ali of Mecca in exchange for his rebellion against the Ottomans. In a perplexing display of chicanery, the British made promises regarding the land of a third country to three different entities.
The First World War concluded with the British and French partitioning the Middle East, and the British took charge of administering Palestine. This post-war division of institutions for Christians, Muslims, and Jews polarized society, providing the British with the opportunity to employ their notorious divide-and-rule tactics.
The polarisation ignited Palestinian national identity after the First World War, leading to resistance against British rule, which the British suppressed with the aid of Jewish militias. Simultaneously, millions of Jews, having survived the horrors of the Holocaust, migrated to Israel. The persecution they endured fueled increased support for Zionism and the establishment of a separate Jewish state. Recognizing the complexity of the Palestine-Zionist conundrum, Britain handed the issue to the United Nations. On November 29, 1947, the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 181(II), advocating a two-state solution for Palestine. This proposition faced strong opposition from Arab states, ultimately culminating in the First Arab-Israeli War of 1948.
The Six-Day War of 1967 and the Yom Kippur War of 1973 not only expanded Israeli territory but also deepened Palestinian displacement. In the 1990s, the Oslo Accords aimed at achieving a two-state solution, but setbacks occurred with the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the death of President Yasser Arafat. The outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000 brought violence and suffering to both sides. Although Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005, the election of Hamas by the Palestinians prompted a paranoid Israel to construct settlements in the West Bank.
Hyper-nationalism often paves the way for unnecessary conflicts. The current Israeli government epitomizes an extreme form of Zionism, while Hamas embodies a radical perspective of Palestinian nationalism and anti-Semitism.
The Hamas, therefore, begs a question: Can there be any equivalence between Hamas depredations and Israel’s retaliation? The answer is an unqualified no. The Israelis are acting out of anger at themselves over their colossal intelligence failure and making the hapless men, women, and children the cannon fodder of their wrath. This challenges the basic percepts of humanity and its civilizational ethos.
If the conflict widens, it will engulf the entire Middle East and make the United States’ position in the Islamic world untenable. The US has military bases or a military presence in Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, UAE, and security arrangements with many other countries in GCC and the wider Middle East. All of them, without exception, currently stand with the Hamas, despite possibly being discontent with the situation. The Hamas has successfully brought the Palestinian Question to the forefront of the Middle Eastern Table.
Where does it go from here? The preponderance of probabilities remains omnipresent. However, first and foremost, the Israeli depredations in Gaza must cease. (The writer can be reached at email@example.com)