A ceasefire is step one towards peace

India was among the 45 countries that abstained from the Gaza resolution. The government did not push for a ceasefire, possibly due to India’s increased collaboration with Israel.
Image used for illustrative purposes only. (Express illustration | Soumyadip Sinha)
Image used for illustrative purposes only. (Express illustration | Soumyadip Sinha)

The horrors of the Holocaust can never be forgotten. A fascist regime, through state-sponsored terror, eliminated six million Jews. In 1917, Britain had publicly pledged to establish a national home for Jewish people. It also called for safeguarding civil and religious rights of Palestinian Arabs, who comprised the vast majority of the local population. In the aftermath of the Holocaust, Jews considered Jerusalem their homeland. They started settling in the Palestinian region after 1914. But it was only in 1948 that the State of Israel was established. At that time, there were very few Jewish settlements in Palestine.

In 1948, the Zionist military forces expelled at least 7,50,000 Palestinians and captured 78 percent of historic Palestine. The remaining 22 percent was divided into the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. After 1948, Israel, as a matter of state policy, evicted Palestinians from their homeland and occupied large parts of the West Bank. As a result, 2.1 million Palestinians relocated to the Gaza Strip, where there are no Israelis. In the West Bank, Israeli settlers are in a minority, with 2.7 million Palestinians living there. In West Jerusalem, Israelis are in a majority while in East Jerusalem, Palestinians are in a majority.

During the June 1967 war, Israel occupied all of historic Palestine and evicted 3,00,000 Palestinians from their homes. In 1995, the occupied West Bank was divided into three areas: the relatively small Area-A under Palestinian control, Area-B under joint Israeli-Palestinian control, and Area-C under Israeli control.

The ousting of the Palestinians from their homeland is the primary reason for the conflict. The human cost of this conflict between 2008 and 2021 is mind-boggling. As against 251 Israelis, 5,739 Palestinians lost their lives, and 1.6 million Palestinians with Israeli citizenship live in their homeland as second-class citizens. More than 1,40,000 Palestinians, who are residents of Jerusalem, have been physically separated from the city by a 700-km concrete wall, 85 percent of which falls within the West Bank. Israeli occupation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem continues to grow at a fast rate. The movement of Palestinians across the West Bank is limited.

The act of terror by Hamas on October 7, 2023, and the retaliation by Israel cries for an immediate solution. The horrific images of civilians being targeted have shocked the world. The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) is holding an emergency special session to discuss the ongoing conflict. It voted on the Jordanian draft resolution calling for an “immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce” and asking all parties to comply with international law in the context of continuous and unhindered aid to the Gaza Strip. The resolution was passed with 120 member countries in favour, 45 abstentions and 14 against it. India abstained.

It is unlikely that the Israelis will suspend the bombing of the Palestinian people in Gaza. Over the years, Israel has always disregarded several UNGA resolutions condemning its occupation and calling for restoration to the Palestinians of their homeland.

An Independent Expert Committee of the UNGA concluded that Israeli occupation in the West Bank amounted to de facto annexation. It also held that the Palestinians’ right to self-determination was breached by Israel’s prolonged occupation of the West Bank.

The Gaza Strip, from where Hamas directed its terror attack on October 7, has been under Israeli sea and air blockade since 2007 and is believed to be an open prison for 2.3 million Palestinians. Since 2008, Israel has waged four wars on the Palestinian territory, killing thousands of people, mostly civilians, with limited Israeli casualties. Sixteen years of living under a blockade with constant fear has created this situation. Besides, Gaza-identity-holder Palestinians are not permitted to move into other parts of Israel, including the West Bank and East Jerusalem, barring a few exceptions.

This historical context suggests that the unjustified terror by Hamas on October 7, 2023, did not, as suggested by the UN secretary-general, happen in a vacuum.

United Nations-appointed Independent Experts condemned Hamas’s attack directed at civilians in Israel, the violent and indiscriminate attacks on Palestinian civilians in Gaza, and the tightening of the unlawful blockade, which has a devastating impact on the civilian population. Condemning Israel’s indiscriminate military attack, the experts have indicated that out of the 2.3 million people in Gaza, nearly half are children who have lived under the unlawful blockade and that this form of collective punishment has no justification. The experts reminded the international community of its responsibilities to address the root cause of the current conflict, including the 56-year-long occupation in violation of international law.

India’s position has always been that the Palestinians are entitled to self-determination. However, the Indian government has not asked for an immediate ceasefire, possibly because of the increased levels of collaboration between India and Israel. This is reflected in the prime minister’s tweet which stated: “We stand in solidarity with Israel at this difficult hour.”

I wish that the prime minister also condemned Israel’s killing of children and civilians in the aftermath of the Hamas terror attack. The Western world seems to have taken a partisan position in support of Israel. This can lead to further escalation of the conflict. India’s abstention may cost her claim to leadership of the Global South.

The war and devastation in all forms and manifestations are threats to humanity. The global community must not look at these events from the standpoint of supporting one or opposing the other. The solution must focus on saving precious lives that are staring at death and living in constant fear without food, water or medical aid.

An immediate ceasefire is a first step towards the peace that has eluded the Palestinian people since 1948.

(Views are personal)

(Tweets @KapilSibal)

Kapil Sibal

Senior lawyer and member of Rajya Sabha

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The New Indian Express