Palestine: conflict hotspot | Sunday Observer

Palestine: conflict hotspot

How many checkpoints did schoolchildren go through on their way to school in war-torn Jaffna? Over the two decades of the peak of military confrontation between the State and the secessionist insurgency, there would have been several checkpoints for many school journeys. For northerners, and others who travelled to that region, these war travails are now only a memory and, to some, the cause of varying degrees of war trauma suffered.

That episode of military confrontation was, thankfully, relatively short-lived, spanning as it did, barely three decades – even if it was the longest war ever fought on our island in recorded history. The 30-year war over Thamil Eelam was short in comparison with some other intra-state and inter-state military confrontations still ongoing in various parts of the world.

In comparison, the Nagaland liberation insurgency, although relatively low-key today, began in the early 1950s, and so spans over sixty years. The communist New People’s Army of the Philippines has been fighting a revolutionary insurgency for the past 45 years. Several marginalised tribal societies along Myanmar’s peripheral regions have been engaged in low level insurgency for either greater autonomy or secession (such as the Karens and Mon) for similar periods.

The Kashmiri insurgency, of a slightly higher intensity compared with those mentioned above, predates the Sri Lankan and continues, as does the relatively very minor West Iran insurgency against Indonesian colonisation. Kurdish insurgencies to varying intensities have been on-going in Turkey, Iran, Syria and, till recently in Iraq, since the 1950s at least. Kurd nationalists may argue that their militant struggles began a century earlier against the Ottoman and Russian Empires. And there are numerous other ethno-nationalist insurgencies and also inter-state military confrontations (India-Pakistan, North-South Koreas) that dot the world map.

But, in terms of intensity of warfare, sheer scale of social dislocation and humanitarian disaster and, the duration of conflict, what is the world’s worst crisis spot?

Just a glance at a global map of hotspots of violence, disaster and instability is enough for one to be struck by the sheer concentration of complex military confrontations ongoing and immense social disruption prevailing in West Asia.

Many analysts would date the length of the violent confrontations in Palestine-Israel from the time of the ‘Naqba’ (catastrophe) which is the term given to the period in the late 1940s when waves of armed attacks by Western-backed Zionist Jewish militia drove away entire populations from towns and whole regions of what was called Palestine. Today, most of that region – sandwiched between the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan and, the Lebanon Mountains and Sinai Desert – is officially claimed as the State of Israel. Just two tiny slivers of territory, namely, the West Bank (of the Jordan River) and the Gaza Strip, are under the administration of an elected government that struggles to get recognised as the State of Palestine.

Despite its Palestinian government, the West Bank is yet under the military occupation of Israel ever since the Israeli armed forces invaded the West Bank and all that was left of the original Palestine in 1967, including East Jerusalem. Israel remains the ‘Occupying Power’ over the West Bank and East Jerusalem although neighbouring (Arab Muslim) Jordan, on the basis of historic control over the Muslim sacred sites, remains nominally the ‘administering’ power of East Jerusalem.

Today, Israel has effectively expanded its control over the entire Jerusalem city and now claims the ancient city as its political capital in complete violation of international law and numerous United Nations resolutions. Thus, since 1967, Israel, having burst out of its agreed state boundaries – based on previous truces that, negotiated under the UN, had halted further Israeli expansion – effectively physically controls all of the territory that, since before the time of the so-called ‘Crusades’(over a thousand years ago), except for that even tinier sliver of coastal land called the Gaza Strip.

Even though the Israeli forces do not physically patrol the Gaza Strip, Tel Aviv claims the right as the militarily ‘Occupying Power’ since 1967 to impose military barriers and checkpoints along the Gaza boundary.

Ever since Israel’s refusal to withdraw its occupying forces after the 1967 expansionist war, the United Nations has labelled it the ‘Occupying Power’ and there are now dozens of UN resolutions that demand withdrawal back to Israel’s pre-1967 borders. In any case, even much of the pre-1967 borders are borders that encroach on Palestinian territory in violation of the original 1947 territorial agreements that allowed the establishment of Israel. One needs to look at the geo-political maps showing the border demarcations since that official founding of the Israeli state in 1947 to realise how much, in just the seventy years since then, Jewish Israel has gradually and forcibly and completely illegally expanded its territory to more than double its original size!

Today, the original larger Palestine, now comprises Israel, directly controlling over 80 per cent of the territory while the West Bank and Gaza are the remaining portions that make up the ‘official’ state of Palestine. Israel also controls the Golan Heights in the north that was part of Syria, an additional piece of rich agricultural land that it invaded and forcibly occupied in 1967.

Whatever, Tel Aviv may argue, the Israeli state has been in full violation of general international law (which does not recognise as ‘lawful’ any forcible territorial annexation whatsoever) and also dozens of specific United Nations’ resolutions that demand Israeli withdrawal and also govern Israel’s behaviour in these Occupied areas.

Theoretically, Israel should be the state most subject to strictures and sanctions for all its immense wrong-doing, ranging from sustained military aggression and territorial expansion, to the inhuman treatment of the (Palestinian, Syrian) populations in that occupied territory.

The non-Jewish peoples of Palestine, whether Arab Muslim or Christian, Druze or Syriac, now live boxed in to this small piece of land and have lived like this for over seventy years and done so in war-time conditions. The young people of Palestine still strive to enjoy life within these awful confines and mind-numbing atmosphere. If it took just a couple of postcolonial decades for Thamil youth to lose patience over far less oppression to become ruthless suicide bombers, one wonders just how the Palestinian population maintains its social sanity at all!

Gaza, which is smaller than the greater Colombo metropolitan area, is another world of horror in which a population of 1.8 million is boxed inside a fence encompassing its just 362 sq. km. area (the fence extending into the sea). On the sea side, the vigilant Israeli Navy does not allow any seaward movement beyond about the two kilometres that is all that is allowed for Palestinian fishing. And the three exit points through the fence open out into hostile Israeli settled territory. Movement through the checkpoints routinely takes hours presuming that one is finally allowed to pass through. Worse, literally everything that the

Gazan population needs for its survival, from fuel to electricity to water to food to medical supplies to social goods like educational materials (forget entertainment and culture) has to come through Israel or the single entry point on the southern Egyptian border (which is often closed by the Cairo military regime under Israeli pressure). And for decades, much of these supplies have been severely restricted by the Israeil authorities as punishment for the frequent Gazan protests and amateur, piecemeal insurgent actions using home-made rockets (and flaming kites!).

The familiar pattern of Israeli aggression over these seventy plus years features hundreds of Palestinians being killed and thousands more injured as against an occasional single soldier or Jewish civilian killed or injured in the countless incidents of protests, insurgency and episodes of Israeli military expansion and ‘counter-insurgency’ raids. Never has been the attrition of war been so disproportionate between the battling sides.

Thus, in the Palestine-Israel region alone there have been insurgencies, counter-insurgencies, inter-state wars and colonising invasions since the 1940s, accumulating over the last seventy years. Add to this the Arab and Islamic militancy that has fuelled inter-state wars in that same region that are a result of the spill-over of the Palestinian conflict into the larger Arab and Muslim region of West Asia. Add to that the power manipulations engineered all across the region (including northern Africa) by the Western powers in order to sustain a ‘safe’ environment for the Israeli state has engendered enormous wars and the collapse of entire states and permanent political instability in some.

This is the challenge to the international community, including Sri Lanka, to actively engage in addressing the need for peace and justice in this most violent region on earth that continues to undermine world political, economic and social stability and obstruct efforts of other countries to conduct business for their own prosperity and stability.