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Beyond boundaries

West Asia’s multi-layered agonies can be tackled only when peace returns, writes Sitaram Yechury.

india Updated: Jul 16, 2007 01:15 IST

Tony Blair will now serve as the chief interlocutor to resolve the West Asia crisis. The irony is as colossal as the international fraud that continues to deny Palestinians their legitimate right to a homeland. The British have never left their colonies without sowing the seeds of vivisection. With the disintegration of the Ottoman empire at the end of world war I, the British, with no mandate whatsoever, promised the Jews a national home in Palestine following the infamous Balfour declaration. In 1937, a British Royal Commission under Lord Peel reported an “irrepressible conflict” between the Arabs and Jews of Palestine and suggested that the country needs to be partitioned. Sounds familiar to us in the Indian subcontinent. The British sowed the seeds of internecine conflict between communities, whose ideological foundations often rested on treating mythology as history.

The tallest historian of the 20th century, Eric Hobsbawm, writes: “There can be no doubt that the historical myth of expulsion from Palestine and the dream of the Jews’ return was not presented as a political programme until the end of the 19th century. Indeed, it established itself independently of the historical fortunes of the Jewish people.”

However, the spectacular six-Day war of 1967 when Israel occupied much of the Palestinian lands, appeared miraculously to suggest divine intervention, buttressing the belief that we are entering the period in which the Messiah would come. For, the Jews believed that they would not return Jerusalem until the Messiah came.

Hobsbawm further writes: “The only history that Israel can use to justify itself is history that is at least 2,000 years old. Everything else that has happened in the meantime is glossed over, as it does not justify the foundation of Israel and the wars which that state has fought. The fact that the Temple had been located in Jerusalem was transformed into a modern political fact, in order to argue that Jerusalem had always been the centre of the Jewish religion, and therefore the capital of the Jewish people (besides, it makes little sense to talk about capitals in a period previous to the Roman Empire, but that is another question). In any case, it has been used by the Jews to justify not only the foundation of their state, but the establishment of Jerusalem as their capital.”

No one can deny the persecution suffered by the Jews. The horrendous accounts of the Nazi concentration camps is both unforgivable and unforgettable. The need for a Jewish state was recognised by the international community. Instead, of a two-nation peaceful coexistence in the Palestinian lands, what we have today is probably the greatest human tragedy of the 20th century that continues to spill over. Historically, among all those who heaped persecution on the Jews, the Arabs stand out singularly as those who had the least animosity. Imperialism succeeded in pitting these two communities against each other to further its own geo-political strategies.

Forty years after the 1967 war, the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands continues and as the Economist comments, the six-day war today looks like, “one of history’s Pyrrhic victories”. It continues to note that Israel, “embarked on its hubristic folly of annexing the Arab half of Jerusalem and — in defiance of law, demography and common sense — planting Jewish settlements in all the occupied territories to secure a greater Israel”.

Travelling in these lands, in that very first week of June, marking the 40th anniversary of Israeli occupation, one cannot but notice the multi-layered ironies and agonies. The uprooting of the Palestinians is also symbolised in the uprooting of their olive trees. Scores of groves of olive trees are pulled out of Palestinian lands to be sub-planted in the Jewish settlement areas. Apart from all other advantages, these trees are also used as evidence to an ancient settlement. The lonely planet guide informs that on the mount of olives in Jerusalem, there are “three (olive trees) which have been scientifically dated as being over 2,000 years old, making them a witness to whatever biblical events may have occurred here”. If only they could communicate, then, maybe, the thin dividing line between mythology and history could be discerned.

It is clear that as long as occupation continues, the resistance shall also. Notwithstanding the current violent stand-off between the Hamas and the Fatah among the Palestinians reflected in respective control over the Gaza and West Bank, the fact remains that the Palestinian lands are not only separated from the Jewish settlements but are segregated from each other. Enclosed as they are, with eight-metre-long concrete walls, the innumerable checkposts and controls make it difficult for the Palestinians to access their own lands outside of the walls. One of the ironies is that towns of biblical significance such as Bethlehem, Hebron, Jericho etc. are all enclosed by such walls.

The plight of the Palestinians under occupation is well-documented. In what must be considered as a landmark work of ‘comics journalism’ of extraordinary originality, the work of Joe Sacco, Palestine, grippingly portrays the Palestinians plight. In his introduction, Edward Said notes the portrayal of the “anxious existence of uncertainty, collective unhappiness, and depravation... the life of aimless wandering and mostly waiting…”

What receives lesser attention, however, is the psychological evolution of Israeli society. Of the nearly 13 million Jewish population in the world, 5.4 million live in Israel. Of the rest of the 7.5 million, the US is home to 5.2. Internationally acclaimed Israeli author, Amos Oz, describes in his A Tale of Love and Darkness, the dilemma that the Jews faced in buying cheese; whether to patronise the Jewish kibbutz or buy Arab cheese, which was cheaper and tastier. Twenty per cent of Israel are Arab people. In a moving passage, he questions how one could buy, “one kind of cheese and not another simply because of a difference of religion, nationality or race! …shame! Shame and disgrace! Either way, shame and disgrace! The whole of life was full of such shame and disgrace”.

The internal agony of the agrarian society is reflected in Defeating Hitler by Avrum Burg who was once the confidant of Shimon Peres, then Speaker of the Parliament. He says, “of the three identities that form me — human, Jewish and Israeli — I feel that the Israeli element deprives the other two”. “The occupation (of Palestinian lands) is a very small part of it. Israel is a frightened society. To look for the source of the obsession with force and to uproot it, you have to deal with the fears.”

“Israel has reached the wall. Ask your friends if they are certain their children will live here. How many will say yes? At most 50 per cent. The Israeli elite has parted with this place. And without an elite there is no nation.” Burg taking leave of Zionism says: “I am going to the world and to Judaism. Because Jew is the first post-modernist, the Jew is the first globalist”. Such multi-layered agonies can be reflected upon and tackled only when peace and normalcy return to this once “promised land”. The UN resolutions form the only basis: peaceful coexistence of Israel and the universally protected Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Sitaram Yechury is a Rajya Sabha MP and member, CPI(M) Politburo.