Israel-Palestine conflict: Is it clash of religions of nationalities vying for a piece of land?

Story by  ATV | Posted by  Aasha Khosa | Date 15-10-2023
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu


Abdullah Mansoor

On Saturday, October 07, 2023, Hamas launched the 'Al-Aqsa Storm' campaign against Israel. This action of Hamas didn’t benefit the cause of Palestine in any way. Hamas already knew that they were waging a war in which they would lose and innocent Palestinians would pay the price. Why did they attack? Before understanding this, one has to understand the history of this area.

Birth of the nation of Israel

The dispute over Palestine is as old as the history of Semitic religions. To understand this controversy briefly, we start from the 19th century, when anti-Semitic ideas were leading to the genocide of Jews. At the same time the idea that Jews were "A land without a people for a people without a land" also arose. Theodor Herzl, an Austro-Hungarian Jewish journalist, promoted the idea of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. This idea came to be known as Zionism. However, historically this was not true because Jews were already living in Palestine. In the 19th century, the Palestinian territory had a population of approximately 87% Muslim, 10% Christian and 3% Jewish.

What should be understood here is that Zionism is a political and nationalist ideology that emerged in the late 19th century. This ideology incorporates ideologies ranging from secular to religious and from leftist to rightist.

Before World War II, Britain expressed support for the establishment of a 'state for the Jewish people' in Palestine in the Balfour Declaration of 1917.  At that time Palestine was a colony of Britain. The horror of the Holocaust during World War II led to increased international sympathy for Jewish survivors. The demand for a homeland led to a large influx of Jews into the region. This event is called 'Aliyah', a Hebrew term for Jewish immigration to Israel. The term is often used to describe Jews moving from other countries to Israel to settle permanently.

India workers and students returning from Israel due to the ongoing war

When tensions increased due to the arrival of large numbers of Jews, the British handed the problem over to the newly established United Nations. In 1947 the UN voted to partition of Palestine into separate Palestinian and Jewish states. Arabs rejected this plan.

Now people will not even remember that a terrorist organization named Irgun existed before the formation of Israel. Known as Irgun Zvai Leumi, it was active from 1931 to 1948. Its goal was to establish a Jewish state in Palestine. It was known for its involvement in armed resistance against British rule and for its controversial actions, including bombings and other attacks and also evacuating Palestinian settlements, and creating Jewish settlements.

In 1946, the King David Hotel in Jerusalem was bombed, killing 91 Palestinians and British civilians. This incident was similar to the 9/11 incidents of that time. Irgun members saw themselves as freedom fighters but were considered terrorists by British officials and others. Irgun carried out another major terrorist incident on April 9, 1948. On this day the Palestinian Arab village 'Deir Yassin' was attacked. The attack aimed to establish Jewish settlements in this area. This attack was so horrific that Palestinians locked their houses and ran away to save their lives. This forced displacement and eviction is called "Nakba", which means "catastrophe" in Arabic.

Inhumane conditions in Gaza have gone on for a long time. This is not just the result of today's war. Gaza has been under blockade since 2007, primarily by Israel and Egypt. This blockade restricts the movement of people, goods, and services in and out of Gaza; at checkpoints, there is a long list of what will go into Gaza and what will not! For example, cement will not go; many medicines are banned. So if a patient has to be treated then a permit is needed from Israel for permission to transport medicine for him at the checkpoint. This blockade limits people's access to essential resources.

Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas in the world, with more than 2 million people living in a small area. This congestion puts immense pressure on infrastructure, housing, and basic services. Frequent power outages are a daily reality in Gaza. Years of conflict, instability, and restrictive living conditions have had a significant impact on the mental health of the population, especially children. The Gaza Strip faces unemployment and poverty due to the blockade; it is well known that where human rights are violated, violence is born.

Hamas locations in Gaza being attacked by Israeli Air Force

In 2014, India supported the UNHRC resolution to investigate Israel's human rights violations in Gaza. Despite supporting this investigation, India abstained from voting against Israel in the UNHRC in 2015.

Palestinians argue that they have the right to self-defense under international law. This right is enshrined in Article 51 of the UN Charter. It allows the use of force in response to an armed attack. However the use of violence by some Palestinian groups like Hamas, such as suicide bombings or rocket attacks targeting Israeli civilians, has been widely condemned as terrorism by many countries and international organizations. What is called terrorism does not fall within the scope of 'sanctioned violence'. But the interesting thing is that the dividing line between this 'unaccepted violence' which is categorized as terrorism and 'accepted violence' (in which the government of a country can do any kind of repression if it wants) is very thin. The killing of one person can be called terrorism and the killing of millions of people can be called war.

​As for Hamas, it was founded in the late 1980s during the First Intifada, which began in December 1987 and continued for several years. It was largely a grassroots movement that involved protests, civil disobedience, and sometimes violent confrontations with Israeli forces. The intifada was an expression of resistance by the Palestinian people against Israeli control, to achieve independence and self-determination. Fatah, led by Yasser Arafat, was the dominant Palestinian political movement for decades and played a central role in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The real enemy of Hamas was the PLO. Fatah is generally seen as more secular and nationalist, while Hamas is Islamist and has religious leanings. Its roots can be traced to the Muslim Brotherhood and other Palestinian Islamic movements. Hamas initially focused on providing social services and gained support through its grassroots efforts in the Palestinian communities.

In 2006, Hamas won a majority in the Palestinian Legislative Council elections, establishing its rule over the Gaza Strip. This led to a split between Hamas, which controls Gaza, and the Palestinian Authority (Fatah), which maintains control in the West Bank. Hamas defeated Fatah (the political group controlling the PLO) in 2007 in a war that began in 2006. Hamas (which many consider a terrorist group) is at war with Israel, with particularly significant battles in 2008, 2012, and 2014.

The important reason behind this recent attack is that Hamas wants to prove its importance. This attack by Hamas may be influenced by the growing trend of Arab countries seeking a peace agreement with Israel, exemplified by the 2020 Abraham Accords, in which Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco are included. There is also speculation that Saudi Arabia is considering a peace deal with Israel. In such a situation, the closeness of Arab countries to Israel will decrease and sympathy towards Hamas and Palestinians will increase.

Government of India's stand

India did not maintain any diplomatic relations with Israel for a long time as India was in favour of Palestine. However, India formally established relations with Israel in 1992 and these relations are now strategically important. India is sympathetic to the problems of Palestine and has maintained a friendship with the Palestinians. India has supported several resolutions including the installation of the Palestinian flag on the UN campus. India has also supported Israel and has maintained its balanced policy with both countries. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had expressed solidarity with Israel after the attack on Israel by Hamas and strongly condemned the 'terrorist attack'.

PM Modi had said, "Deeply shocked by the news of terrorist attacks in Israel. Our thoughts and prayers are with the innocent victims and their families. We stand in solidarity with Israel in this difficult time."

India's unwavering support for Tel Aviv is based on India's security interests. The most significant change that has occurred in India's Middle East policy under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi is the separation of regional diplomacy from religion. Historically India was divided based on religion. From the very beginning, Pakistan has been cornering India based on Islamic solidarity with Arab countries. Congress' bias towards some Muslim votes and some Hindu right-wing approaches had made it accustomed to seeing every problem in the region in religious terms. In contrast, India has now benefited from practical cooperation with Arab countries. The Government of India understands that the Palestine-Israel conflict is not a Jewish-Muslim conflict.

Impact on Indian Muslims

The Israel-Palestine conflict is a regional dispute which is projected as a religious war. While Israel's actions are seen as an attack by Jews against Muslims, the attack by Hamas is also seen as an attack by Muslims against Jews. No one is ready to understand that both Israelis and Palestinians have developed national identities that go beyond religion. The desire for self-determination and statehood is a key aspect of this. The Palestinian national movement, represented by groups such as the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), has been largely secular and focused on achieving self-determination and statehood rather than religious objectives.

Life in Gaza

Israel similarly has a diverse political landscape with a variety of ideologies, including secular, left-wing, and right-wing viewpoints. The conflict holds religious significance for Muslims due to the presence of Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem. There is no doubt that this will affect Indian Muslims emotionally. The images of violence and pain evoke strong emotions in audiences, including Indian Muslims, creating deep feelings of anger mixed with sympathy. Any extremist organization giving the slogan of Muslim Ummah can take advantage of this. Hamas spreads its ideas through social media and propaganda. The video of the recent terrorist attack was made by Hamas itself. Such publicity is aimed at roping in fresh recruits. It is important to differentiate between support for Palestine and terrorist attacks by Hamas.

The way forward

One solution that many countries, including India, consider is the formation of two separate and independent states, Israel and Palestine. Israel has been formed, so now steps will have to be taken towards making Palestine an independent state. This is not possible unless Arab countries accept the existence of Israel. International leaders like India, the United Nations, the United States, the European Union, and Russia can facilitate talks and help mediate disputes. The talks will aim to define the geographical boundaries of the two states. The issue of Palestinian refugees displaced by the conflict is complex and emotive. Solutions could include financial compensation, resettlement in a new Palestinian state, or allowing refugees to return to their ancestral homes, subject to mutual agreement.

One solution would include halting the construction of new Jewish settlements and potentially even removing some existing settlements so that a Palestinian state can be established. Investments in infrastructure, education, and job opportunities can contribute to the economic stability of both Israel and Palestine and build trust between the two sides. Ensuring the security of both states is of paramount importance. Israel is concerned about stopping terrorism while Palestine is concerned about its sovereignty and security. Security measures could include demilitarization of the Palestinian state, the presence of international peacekeeping forces, and joint security arrangements. Establishing and maintaining peace once an agreement is reached requires long-term efforts.

Whatever may be the source of terror, which party has started the war or how much support any country or organization has received, all these things seem baseless when humanity is sobbing. It is very easy for the media to take a country's side, to draw a line between right and wrong by enumerating historical events, but in reality, children orphaned by bombs and shelling and atrocities committed in retaliation cannot be separated from right and wrong. It doesn't matter. Their lives are now a daily test and no one wants to answer their questions. Putting aside the question of in whose favor the land should go, will we ever be able to talk about the hunger and suffering of the people living on that piece of land? On the global stage, we should not take these incidents as news but as a lesson and as a solution, we should give priority to human values, and at the same time we should reject both types of terrorism.

The author is a Pasmanda Muslim activist a teacher by profession and operates the YouTube channel Democracy.