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Islam and Politics ( 10 Sept 2014, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Israel, a Gift of the Arabs



By Shail Mayaram

September 11, 2014

A tenuous truce has interrupted the most recent and devastating round of violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories. I was in Israel on May 31, 2010 when the Gaza Freedom Flotilla had been attacked by Israeli commandos. This was the culmination of Operation Cast Lead (2008) during which Gaza had been subject to phosphorus bombing, killing an estimated 1,400 persons, one third of them children, and even targeting educational institutions for harbouring refugees. Gaza is a slum, a person working with an NGO had told me then. This time it has been rendered a desolate graveyard with over 2,000 dead and a third of the population having fled.

Source of Terror

Islamic terror has become the popular topic of drawing room conversations in the last decade. The doings of Hamas and Hezbollah, the Taliban and most recently of the Islamic State have provided much fuel to the fire. There is little reference, however, to the state as the source of terror of which Israel is currently the prime example.

Anti-Semitism has plagued the Jews for two millennia and is often invoked to justify Israeli impunity. Ironically, the Arabs have historically not been participants in this history of racial hatred. On the contrary, it was in Arabia that the Jews sought refuge after they fled Jerusalem following the destruction of Second Temple.

 “The solution to Hamas lies in a sustainable Palestine and not in death in Gaza”

In his story of a small Moroccan town Dammate in the High Atlas Mountains, anthropologist Abdellah Hammoudi describes a ritual exchange of yeast between Jews and Muslims staged each year in a celebration called Mimouna held during the last day of the Jewish Passoves (Pessah). The exchange shows how despite there being hierarchy and inequality for Jews in Muslim dominated polities, there was civility, hospitality and even friendship. There is substantial historical evidence available to show how Jews were thriving in the Abbasid and Ottoman Empires. The present state of Jewish-Muslim relations, therefore, is an inversion of the friendly relations that had lasted through the last 20 centuries.

The Palestinians, through sales of their land to migrant Jews actually made the state of Israel possible on the ground. Israel is, quite literally, as I have argued in a forthcoming book, a “gift” of the Arabs even as the land transfers occurred without Palestinians realising that a “Jewish State” was in the making.

Tragically, the state of Israel seems to have learnt more from its persecutors than its benefactors in the calculated precision of its targeting and killing. But the problem is not just the most recent round of the war in Gaza. The deeper problem is that Israel has made impossible any viable statehood for the Palestinians.

There is little doubt that both the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Hamas have contributed to the Palestinian predicament. The PLO wrote off East Jerusalem in the Oslo Agreement in 1993 and compromised on the right to return of Palestinians in return for its recognition as the official Palestinian authority. The Oslo peace process itself enabled the rise of Hamas, since the PLO had lost legitimacy with many Palestinians. For the West, Hamas was an effective counterbalance to the PLO. Since then Hamas’ own violent politics has gone hand in hand with Israel’s metamorphosis into an expansionist, settler state.

The old secular left that had dominated Israeli politics has been marginalised. A new wave of religious nationalism holds sway, some sections of which advocate a Greater Israel and would like to annex the West Bank as the Biblical Judea and Samaria. There are suggestions that paying Palestinians to emigrate would be less expensive than the costs of maintaining the two-state solution.

Stand in India

What then should be our stand in India? Though India has become hugely dependent on Israel for small arms and India-Israel relations have strengthened, it must stand for peace and justice in Palestine if it aspires for leadership in global politics. Fortunately the official Indian statement at a special session of the UN Human Rights Council criticised the heavy airstrikes in Gaza, the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestine Territory including East Jerusalem and emphasised the need for a sovereign, independent, viable and united State of Palestine. Citizens all over the world must press for stronger action in favour of Palestinian statehood including the resort to economic boycott of Israel if required. The solution to Hamas lies in a sustainable Palestine and not in death in Gaza.

Shail Mayaram is author of Israel as the gift of the Arabs: A Tel Aviv Diary, Yoda, in press.