On October 7, 2023, on the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, Hamas launched a brutal attack on Israel, killing more than a thousand people, mostly civilians, and kidnapping over 200 more.
The unprecedented attack was devastating for Israel. The Indian National Congress strongly believes that violence has no place in a decent world, and the very next day unequivocally condemned Hamas’s attacks.
This tragedy is, however, being compounded by the Israeli military’s indiscriminate operations in and around Gaza that have led to thousands of deaths, including large numbers of innocent children, women and men. The power of the Israeli state is now focused on exacting revenge from a population that is largely as helpless as it is blameless.
The destructive might of one of the world’s most potent military arsenals is being unleashed upon children, women and men who have no part in the Hamas assault; they, instead, for the most part, have been at the heart of decades of discrimination and suffering.
In this war, as it is now described, entire families have been wiped out and neighbourhoods have been reduced to rubble. Medical facilities are unable to cope with the vast humanitarian crisis that has befallen the population. The denial of water, food and electricity is no less than the collective punishment of the Palestinian people. The outside world, particularly those who want to help, is largely blocked out of Gaza, with relief and aid reaching the needy in a trickle, and not on the scale that is necessary. Not only is it inhumane but it is also illegal in international law. Very few Gazans are untouched by the violence. Bottled up on a small, over-densely populated strip of territory, they have nothing to fall back upon. And now, even the occupied West Bank has flared up and the conflict is widening.
The prospects for the future are ominous. Senior Israeli officials have spoken of destroying and depopulating large parts of Gaza. The Israeli Defence Minister has referred to Palestinians as “human animals”. This dehumanising language is shocking coming from the descendants of those who themselves were the victims of the Holocaust.
Humanity is on trial now. We were collectively diminished by the brutal attacks on Israel. We are now all diminished by Israel’s disproportionate and equally brutal response. How many more lives will have to be taken before our collective conscience is stirred and awakened?
The Israeli government is making a grievous error in equating the actions of Hamas with the Palestinian people. In its determination to destroy Hamas, it has unleashed indiscriminate death and destruction against the ordinary people of Gaza. Even if the long history of the suffering of the Palestinians is ignored, by what logic can a whole population be held responsible for the actions of a few?
It bears constant repeating that the complex problems faced by Palestinians — problems that are rooted in a troubled imperial history orchestrated by outside powers — can only be solved through dialogue. It bears constant repeating, too, that this dialogue must accommodate the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinians, including that of a sovereign state, that have been denied to them for decades, while at the same time ensuring the security of Israel.
The Congress’s stand
There can be no peace without justice. Israel’s unremitting blockade for over a decade and a half has reduced Gaza to an “open-air prison” for its two million inhabitants packed into dense cities and refugee camps. In Jerusalem and the West Bank, Israeli settlers backed by the Israeli state have continued to push out Palestinians from their own land in a seeming effort to destroy the vision of a two-state solution. Peace will come only if the world, led by countries that have the ability to influence policies and events, can restart the process of restoring the two-state vision and make it a reality.
The Indian National Congress has been consistent over the years in its strong belief that both the Palestinians and Israelis have the right to live in a just peace. We value our friendship with the people of Israel. But this does not mean that we erase from our memories, the painful history of forced dispossession of the Palestinians from what was their homeland for centuries, and of years of suppression of their basic right to a life of dignity and self-respect.
Contrary to some mischievous suggestions, the position of the Indian National Congress has been long standing and principled: it is to support direct negotiations for a sovereign independent, viable and secure state of Palestine coexisting in peace with Israel. This is also the stand taken by the Ministry of External Affairs on October 12, 2023. It is noteworthy that the reiteration of India’s historic position on Palestine came only after Israel began its assault on Gaza. The Prime Minister had made no mention of Palestinian rights in the initial statement expressing complete solidarity with Israel. The Indian National Congress is strongly opposed to India’s abstention on the recent United Nations General Assembly Resolution calling for an “immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce leading to a cessation of hostilities” between Israeli forces and Hamas in Gaza.
The world must act
There are voices on both sides speaking for an end to this madness. Many Israelis, having lost friends and family in the terror attacks, still believe that a dialogue with the Palestinians is the only way forward. Many Palestinians acknowledge that violence will only lead to more suffering and take them further away from their dream of a life of self-respect, equality and dignity.
It is unfortunate that many influential countries are being wholly partisan when they should be trying their utmost to end the war. The loudest and most powerful voices should be for a cessation of military activity. Otherwise, this cycle will continue and make it difficult for anyone in the region to live in peace for a long time to come.