November 05, 2023

An Unprecedented Human Tragedy is Playing Out in Palestine

Nilotpal Basu

AS we are witnessing a tragedy of gigantic proportions unfolding before the world, the news of dozens of people have been killed in an Israeli air raid on the Jabalia refugee camp in Northern Gaza. “More than 50 people have been killed”, the director of the Indonesian hospital informed the media. He further stated, that the hospital was yet to provide the number of causalities as the victims were still being counted.

When material for this piece was being collected, the data was posing a horrific story. People killed: 8,525 of which children were 3,595 and women 2,187. The total injuries were 21,048 and numbers were going up by the hour. 18 million kilograms of explosives have been aimed at the 2.2 million residents of Gaza, which is universally accepted as the biggest open-air prison and has the highest population density in the world. The people displaced from their homes is a stupendous 1.4 million and till 24 hours back Gaza has suffered 600 hours of continuous bombardments.

This may appear to be cold statistics, but the grotesque nature of the Israeli military operations is justified in the most sinister manner by an Israeli minister who stated without a blink, ‘those in Gaza are like animals and potential terrorists’, leaving it unstated that Palestinian lives, children and women count for nothing!

The impunity of Israel is mind-blowing. Israel’s permanent representative to the UN accused UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres of ‘justifying terrorism’ and directly charging that he ‘once again distort and twist reality’ and openly challenging that his government would not permit UN humanitarian aid chief Martin Griffith from crossing the Rafah border into Gaza for overseeing distribution of relief.

The UN secretary general’s only ‘fault’ was that he informed the Security Council that ‘it is important to also recognise the attack by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum. The Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation. They have seen their land steadily devoured by settlements and plagued by violence; their economy stifled; their people displaced, and their homes demolished. Their hopes for a political solution to their plights have been vanishing.’ Guterres was articulating the institutional memory of the world body based on thousands of pages of records meticulously put together by its agencies based on the experience of last seven decades.
Even the aid workers of UNRWA, established in 1949 to support the Gaza civilians who have been relying on UN assistance for years, have been killed. The heart-wrenching plea of the UN secretary-general could continue endlessly. However, the appeal that there is a dire situation in Gaza hospitals and the meagre aid is just a drop in the ocean, has failed to garner any response from the supporters of the brutal occupation-settler State, let alone Israel itself.


While these unbelievable levels of monstrosity are unfolding before our eyes, I could not but go back deep down in my memory lane. We had quite a few Palestinian friends in our campus in Kolkata and an encounter with a Palestinian freedom fighter had etched a deep imprint in one of the dark and dingy apartments in central Calcutta. He was speaking to some of us about his peoples’ struggle for freedom. His insight ‘history is the principal site of our freedom struggle’ rings loud to this very day.

The present aggression cannot be understood without a proper comprehension of history – particularly of imperialism and Zionism. 

Palestine is the holy land for three major world religions – Christianity, Islam and Judaism – because of their belief about Jerusalem as the birthplace for their respective religions. Archeological signs have ‘learned from their excavations in the land of Israel that  Israelis were never in Egypt. Neither did they wander in the deserts, did not conquer their land in a military campaign handing it on to the 12 tribes of Israel.’ More recent findings point that the first Jewish settlement was built in the second half of the 19th Century and the Jews constituted less than 3 per cent of the population while the Palestinian Arabs were 97 per cent. These lands as the homeland for the Jews gained traction through the influential Jews who started persuading the British colonial powers to this affect. The Ottoman Empire was defeated in the First World War following the redivision of territories between the British and French colonial powers. In the Sykes-Picot agreement, the respective imperialist considerations in the expectation of Jewish sympathy led to the commitment made in the infamous Balfour declaration ‘his Majesty’s government views with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this objective.’

Buoyed by the sympathies across Europe for the Jews persecuted by the Nazis, the newly constituted United Nations proceeded with the vivisection of Palestine into two States, Palestine and Israel on November 29, 1947, the General Assembly of the newly formed UN adopted a resolution recommending the implementation of a plan to partition into an Arab State, a Jewish State and the city of Jerusalem. Understandable, the Jews led by David Ben Gurion welcomed the plan while the Palestinians resented. In complete distortion of the relative proportion of Jewish and the Arab populations and corresponding rights to land, Israel was allotted 58 per cent of the land with Gurion declaring the formation of Israeli State on May 15, 1948.

But the present conflict is not merely an outcome of the imperialist depredation. Without grasping the essence of the sinister Zionist ideology with its principle of occupation and expansion, the genesis of the current crisis cannot be fully understood. The most well read internationally acclaimed historian of Israel, Ilan Pape has chronicled this in his seminal work The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine from the earliest days of modern political Zionism, its  advocates have advanced the project of an expansionist State to overcome the challenge of creating a Jewish majority State in a territory where Palestinian Arabs were the overwhelming majority of the population. As early as 1895 the pioneer of modern political Zionism, Theodore Herzl stated ‘we shall try to spirit the penniless population across the border by procuring employment for it in a transit country while denying it any employment in our own country. Expropriation and removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly. In June 1938 Ben Gurion called a meeting of the Jewish agency, ‘I support compulsory transfer. I don’t see anything immoral in it.’ And it goes on from the leaders of the Zionist Israeli State. It was not a mere ideological blueprint, but formally adopted as Plan Dalet on March 10. The operational military orders were specified to target which Palestinian population centres should be targeted and laid out in detail a blueprint for their possible depopulation and destruction.

To the present day, history stands witness to this sinister project of occupation and expansion and forcible capture of land in Gaza, West Bank and elsewhere in Palestine. This includes the first Nakba in 1948, the forced displacements during the 1967 war and ongoing displacements. The process has flown seamlessly and relentlessly leading to the current aggression. But, the Zionist project could not have achieved the success that it had without the imperialist nexus – first the British and subsequently, since the 1960s with the unstinting support of US imperialism.

The language which Israeli envoy used in UN to demand the resignation of UN secretary general smacks of impunity born out of this unfailing US support. Since 1970, US has repeatedly exercised its veto power to block UN Security Council resolutions for a two State solution for territorial division to pre-1967 status quo ante, with East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian State. President Trump went to the extent of relocating the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. 


After several attempts to arrive at binding UN Security Council resolutions to stop the genocide, due to US and British veto, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly voted for a UN resolution which called for an  ‘immediate  humanitarian ceasefire’. Not just the US secretary of state Antony Blinken, but President Biden himself visited Tel Aviv and desired to meet the leaders of key Arab nations. It was unprecedented that the Arab nations refused to meet the president.

What is evident is that the political and diplomatic ground in West Asia is shifting. Whatsoever certificate the US and the NATO powers may give in favour of Israel for its civilised behaviour, deep within somewhere the Arab mood is not to condone Israel’s grotesque behaviour. Earlier, even if the wish of the ruling circles of other Arab countries to be in business with Israel was visible, this time around there is a clear change in the mood. Both the Arab streets and the people have been vociferously protesting Israeli actions and on the other, the signs of carving out an independent course for the region in defiance of US wishes, are clearly discernible. The China brokered Iran-Saudi rapprochement has also played a significant role in the new emerging perception.  Therefore, the process of US brokered Israel-Saudi normalisation is all but dead.  The joint Arab resolution in the UN General Assembly sharply differing with the last-ditch backstage effort by the US to push the Canadian amendment went to the dustbin.

The attempt to find fault with Hamas and its methods will not produce results. As Guterres has put in such firm and dignified words, what happenned on October 7 cannot be treated divorced from decades of systematic violence, occupations, apartheid that Palestinians have suffered. Israel and its backers would do well to recall the 1943 Jewish uprising in Warsaw ghetto.  Unable to bear the torture of the anti-semitic Nazi holocaust, the Jews of Warsaw revolted in an expression of unprecedented valour and defiance. Without considering human endurance, it is foolish to think of one’s own invincibility.


What the Modi government and RSS-BJP’s cyber thugs have been indulging in since the BJP government has come to power and particularly post October 7, is alrming. Much before India became independent, leaders of the Indian national movement had advocated the legitimate right of the Palestinian people to independence and homeland. However, Israeli Zionists have always found resonance with the pioneers of Hindutva. As much as RSS and Savarkar’s Hindu Mahasabha parted company with the Indian freedom struggle, they had nothing but uninhibited appreciation for Zionists to the extent they propounded their vile theory of defining the Israeli State on the basis of religious supremacy.

By deciding to abstain, India has opted for the justification of genocide as an antidote to the defiance of the besieged Palestinian people in Gaza and elsewhere in Palestine. The people of the world who aspire for freedom, justice and peace are speaking out and marching the streets across the world against the US-Israel policy of genocide. That option was available to India in opposing Israeli genocide while flagging their concerns for demarcating from ‘terrorism’. France has amply demonstrated that.

But, India’s chosen course was ideologically driven with complete apathy towards the emerging global reality and the imperatives of diplomacy. By acting as subordinate allies of US imperialism and ideological soulmates of Zionist Netanyahu for whom the genocide is the course for political survival, India has completely alienated itself from the West Asian region. The results are already evident. The decision in Qatar to condemn eight former Indian naval officers to death on charges of acting as spies for Israel is an ominous forewarning. The first day after October 7, Modi jumped into the fray by tweeting in favour of Israel. Having realised the pitfall, the MEA officially reiterated the traditional Indian position in favour of independent Palestine. But, deeply ingrained ideological prejudice prevailed on the abstention vote.

The cyber army of the IT Cell has gone many steps further. They have acted on the belief that this conflict is essentially between two religions – Islam and Judaism. Sailing in the growing Islamophobic ecosystem, they have acted under the mistaken belief that opposition to Hamas would help them nail the secular opposition in the coming elections. Authentic studies have shown that more than 50 per cent of the fake news in favour of Israel has originated from Indian IT Cell handles.


There is no other option before the Indian people. Joining the millions marching across the world in solidarity with the besieged people of Palestine, our solidarity must assert that we reject the pro-imperialist, pro-Zionist stances of the Modi government. So, the only course is to force popular opinion to ensure a ceasefire now. Humanitarian aid must reach the people of Gaza. As much as for the Palestinian people, the Indian people’s own struggles for justice, peace and democracy demand this in our battle against hate and retribution.