On the night of 9-10 November 1938, the Nazis killed dozens of Jews in Germany, sent thousands to concentration camps and destroyed Jewish properties and synagogues in an orgy of violence which removed all doubts about the nature of persecution Jews faced under the Nazi regime and was a precursor of what was to come. Writing 10 days after this Nazi pogrom, which is known today as the Kristallnacht, Mohandas Gandhi said, “…the German persecution of the Jews seems to have no parallel in history.” But, he went on to add, “…my sympathy does not blind me to the requirements of justice. The cry for the national home for the Jews does not make much appeal to me”, because, he argued, “Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs. What is going on in Palestine today cannot be justified by any moral code of conduct.” What was going on in Palestine on the eve of the second world war was the forcible settlement of Europeans of the Jewish faith in lands where Arabs of Muslim, Christian and Jewish faiths had lived for centuries, if not millennia. For Gandhi, “Surely it would be a crime against humanity to reduce the proud Arabs so that Palestine can be restored to the Jews partly or wholly as their national home”.
Today, we are witness to yet another brutal Israeli assault on the defenceless and hungry Palestinians in Gaza. Unfortunately, this has become something of an annual ritual. Last year, Israeli air strikes in January and February killed a few score, six months before that, Lebanon was devastated by Israeli air strikes and artillery which killed more than a 1,000 civilians and displaced more than a million. This list is endless and the periodic eruption of violence predictable.
Ever since the sham withdrawal by Ariel Sharon’s government in Israel of 8,000 settlers in Gaza in 2005, Israel has turned that small, overcrowded 40 km-long coastal strip into an open air prison. Surrounded by Israeli barbed wire and sniffer dogs, the 1.4 million residents of Gaza have been deprived of food, medicine, fuel, books, and every other commodity needed for daily life. A full half of the population of Gaza is unemployed because of the economic blockade that has been going on for years.
Despite this, there was an open election in 2006 in which the people of Gaza overwhelmingly voted for the Hamas party. Naturally, Israel and its subservient ally, the United States (US), have refused to deal with Hamas. The economic blockade has only got tighter. In May last year, the United Nations (UN) was already warning of a food crisis and reporting that some people have been reduced to eating animal feed. Satellite images show how Israel has deliberately bulldozed hundreds of Palestinian houses inside the Gaza border. The situation is so bad that UN General Assembly President Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann said that Israel’s actions in Palestine were similar to those of apartheid South Africa. It is no wonder that leading anti-apartheid activists from South Africa had, in a statement some months ago, condemned Israel for following the apartheid policies of “Bantustan” in occupying, segregating and persecuting the Palestinians.
The invocation of apartheid South Africa is important since Israel needs to be understood for what it is. It is a state run by white Europeans who have occupied Arab lands with the force of arms and are trying to disenfranchise the indigenous population and reduce them to servitude and statelessness. And, crucially, like apartheid South Africa, Israel is a state promoted and protected by imperialism.
Over the last seven decades since Gandhi wrote those words on Jews, Arabs and Palestine, Israel has successfully occupied Palestinian lands well beyond the “mandated” border of 1948, it has managed to brazen out global condemnation (429 UN resolutions have been passed against it and Israel has been condemned 321 times) and it has out-gunned its opponents. Ably assisted by the mainstream global media, it has even successfully managed to portray itself as a victim of Islamic and/or Palestinian terrorism while killing thousands of Palestinians, Lebanese and other Arabs. But Israel’s real success can be measured by the fact that it has managed to establish a moral equivalence between its actions and those of the Palestinians.
When Gandhi was writing in 1938 or even in 1946 (when the full horrors of the Holocaust were exposed), the establishment of the Zionist state of Israel was clearly seen as an imposition “…on Palestine with the aid of American money and British arms and now with the aid of naked terrorism.” Seven decades ago Gandhi had proposed that, “The nobler course would be to insist on a just treatment of the Jews wherever they are born and bred”.
Given that the much touted two-state formula has only led to the Bantustanisation of Palestine and continuing Israeli aggression, perhaps the better solution to work towards would be for a single, secular, democratic state whose institutions are emptied of their racist principles which foreground Jews and Zionism. Remove the lie of an independent Palestine, which has never been allowed to exist and will perhaps never be and demand the secularisation and democratisation of the state of Israel.
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This is the text of an editorial I drafted on the recent Israeli attacks on Gaza, which was published in the Economic and Political Weekly in its 10, January, 2009 edition.