Paradoxical realities muddle the Israel–Hamas war

This genocide occurred while every country in the world—that preaches human rights today—looked on in steadfast denial.  (AFP)
This genocide occurred while every country in the world—that preaches human rights today—looked on in steadfast denial. (AFP)


  • Pinning blame is complicated but overly violent action will only alienate those with nothing left to lose

On 22 July 1942, as part of Hitler’s ‘Final Solution’ for Jews, Nazi Germany launched Operation Grossaktion (Great Action) on the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto. This began by forcing Poland’s three million Jews into extremely squalid ghettos. The Warsaw Ghetto, the largest of them, had 400,000 souls packed in a 3.3km tinderbox. Thousands of Jews had already been killed by rampant disease and starvation well before Grossaktion began. The operation was to round up all Jews regardless of age, gender, physical condition or infirmities, stuff them in horribly overcrowded box cars to Treblinka and gas them to death. Over 300,000 residents of the ghetto were murdered by the Germans within just 60 days. In the beginning, Jews went along with the story that they were being ‘relocated’, but when they realised that the Germans meant to liquidate everyone; the ghetto resisted.

The uprising began on 19 April 1943 when the remaining Jews refused to surrender their daily quota of 6,000 people. In the months preceding, armed resistance had formed in the ghetto and begun to train using handguns, bottle bombs and weapons smuggled through tunnels. The Jews were under no illusion that they would even survive the uprising, let alone win it. However, as Marek Edelman, one of the commanders said, their inspiration to fight was “not to allow the Germans alone to pick the time and place of our deaths". The Jews fought for over a month, halting deportations, killing several Germans, including senior officers, until the latter were compelled to destroy each and every house with flamethrowers and shells, flattening the entire ghetto.

SS Grupenfuhrer Jürgen Stroop, the Nazi commander in charge of exterminating the ghetto reported “180 Jews, bandits and sub-humans, were destroyed. The former Jewish quarter of Warsaw is no longer in existence. The large-scale action was terminated at 20:15 hours by blowing up the Warsaw Synagogue. Total number of Jews dealt with 56,065, including both Jews caught and Jews whose extermination can be proved".

This genocide occurred while every country in the world—that preaches human rights today—looked on in steadfast denial. And yet the Jewish people survived industrial level slaughter. Millions of Jews like Madeleine Albright, Henry Kissinger, Daniel Kahneman, Levi Strauss, Garry Kasparov, Howard Schultz and Steven Spielberg are all descendants of holocaust survivors as are thousands of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

Even if protagonists change, history replays itself, because history is written by humans who have the same aspirations, hopes, fears, frailties and self-serving interests regardless of which side of the fence they are born. A mother’s pain on seeing her child’s body severed is the same regardless of the religion she practices. So, irrespective of which side’s babies one thinks it is okay to kill, there are paradoxical realities that can’t be wished away.

Firstly, two million people can’t be continuously pressured beyond tolerance. At some point, they will explode. Hamas only ignited it using visually brutal terror as a weapon to incite a reprisal so terrible that every person in the Gaza strip has been dealt a fait accompli hand. They have to fight to the finish because now its personal. Sure, Israel can bomb the strip into nothingness, but as the Americans, Russians, British and even Israelis ought to have learnt, bombing people does not weaken their resolve—it hardens it. Smart bombs and large armies don’t win small wars. If they did, these ‘superpowers’ wouldn’t have withdrawn in disgrace from their Middle Eastern misadventures. Every atrocity committed here on only makes it more difficult, if not impossible, to find a solution—be it between Palestine and Israel or in the larger context of the Middle East—creating big complications for India.

Secondly, there is irony in expecting that the ‘people’ of Gaza should be capable of overthrowing and evicting Hamas from their midst but still stay sufferingly under Israeli rule! Regardless of nationality, a society ridden with misery, malnutrition, arrests, torture, violence and random killings from both sides doesn’t have the luxury of choosing its suppressors. If anything, Hamas has successfully lured Israel into turning every Palestinian into a warrior seeking personal vengeance and alienated Islamic countries from the peace process. What seemed to be barbaric viciousness was the same strategy used by Osama bin Laden to bait America into his killing ground. An abominable act to elicit a disproportional response from a leadership struggling to hide its incompetence and retain power. Israel walked right into it. The burden of every Israeli family bereaved on 7 October is on Hamas but every one bereaved from here on for generations is not on Hamas alone. The people of both sides are killing each other because world powers are playing chess on the Gaza strip. Except that Israel has most to lose because the Palestinians are left with pretty much nothing.

Lastly, the only way to end violence is to give hope, not take it away. If any larger, powerful group of people continue to systematically deplete hope with degradation, economic deprivation, social subjugation and majoritarian violence, then those at the receiving end will have nothing more to lose, which would turn them into a formidable force. As indeed history has shown that those who have been deprived of the very will to live often eventually defeat superpowers with all the weaponry in the world. And lay grief to the rest of it.

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