I wish Will Durant was with us today. The last section of his great work, The Story of Civilization begins with The Age of Reason, which he chronicles until the Napoleonic era. I wonder how he would document the present retrogressive U-turn in the story of our civilisation, returning to the medieval pre-renaissance age of religious fundamentalism, and the triumph of barbarians. What comes foremost to my mind is the situation in the Levant and Middle East that has steadily been deteriorating in this direction for several decades now, converting cradles of great civilisations into graveyards of irrational jihadi extremism through the likes of ISIS and Hamas.
This week in Parliament, there was a discussion on the violence that has erupted and escalated between the Palestinians and the Israelis for some time. My friend Ghulam Nabi Azad, who opened the discussion on behalf of the Congress party, was heard in great silence. I too, heard him with great patience, though tormented all the time by the unfairness of his entire presentation. Throughout his speech, there was not one word of empathy for the six million Jewish people who were burnt alive in the furnaces of Hitler, or an honest recall of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem standing to attention beside the German Fuhrer enjoying salutes from the mass murderers employed by the German state. The only words I can use to describe them are that they were monsters wearing human hoods.
India had welcomed the Jewish people into our ancient pluralist society in the Malabar coast, much before the Christian era, where they settled peacefully and profitably, just as it had welcomed Arab Muslim traders several centuries later. The ancient state of Israel that had existed thousands of years ago was created anew in 1948, not by militant Jews or Zionists, but by a near unanimous vote of the United Nations. During the earlier British mandate years from 1922 to 1948, British rulers had encouraged Jewish immigration into Palestine and by the end of the mandate their population had grown to 30%. The United Nations rightly resolved that there shall come into existence two independent states of Israel and Palestine to coexist in peace and economic cooperation. Let us remember that the British partitioned India for a much smaller proportion of Muslims. While the Hindus and their political representatives in India accepted Pakistan, the Palestinians and the surrounding Arab states did not. They attempted a military infanticide of the newborn state of Israel, and foolishly the Muslim Palestinians within the borders of Israel joined the jihad, thereby committing treason punishable by death.
India granted full recognition to the state of Israel, de facto and de jure. Arrangements had been finalised for the settling up of an Israel embassy in Delhi, but Jawaharlal Nehru went back on his promise on the advice of the venerable Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. Israel suffered the indignity of having only a consul to represent it, confined to Mumbai with no permission to enter Delhi.
The collective military attack against Israel by all the surrounding Arab states and Palestinian forces in 1948 proved a humiliating debacle for them, and a disaster for the Palestinian citizens of Israel, from which they have not recovered till today. They are still living in miserable refugee camps, forced upon them because of a fanatical political leadership which is blind to reality.
For the benefit of my friend Ghulam Nabi Azad and those of his ilk, let me recall something deeply imprinted in my memory. I was in Germany during the summer of 1967, when once again, surrounding Arab states had put together their military might acquired at enormous expense of wealth to wipe Israel off the world's map. I watched a television interview of Ahmad Al Shukeiri, a veteran diplomat elected as first Chairman of the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation), with a mandate to establish a Palestinian entity. A journalist asked him what he and his forces would do after entering Israel and subjugating the Jews. I still remember his blood curdling, jihadist response: "We'll allow the survivors to go back to the countries from where they came." And then he menacingly twisted his moustache and proceeded, "But Inshallah there will be no survivors." It is since then that I have ceaselessly been a supporter of Israel and its survival as a free people within secure borders and a democratic government, something almost unknown to the Arabs in the region.
This war of 1967 came to be known as the Six-Day War, an Israeli military miracle that ended in a massive and humiliating defeat for the invaders. Ahmad Al Shukeiri himself was discarded and Egypt lost Gaza, which it had earlier grabbed after the dissolution of the All Palestine Government in 1959, plus the entire Sinai Peninsula. Jordan lost the West Bank and Syria the Golan Heights.
Slowly the sensible part of the Arab world realised that their dreams of destroying Israel had become their worst nightmare. Gradually, subsequent negotiations came to accept Israel's right to exist. Fatah, which has been in occupation of the West Bank, has recognised the state of Israel, but Hamas that controls Gaza has not. Egypt, being politically the most mature, signed a separate peace treaty with Israel in 1979, and was the first Arab state to recognise it. Israel returned to Egypt the entire Sinai Peninsula along with all its expensive Israeli investment. Even today, Egypt does not sympathise with Hamas, and has closed the tunnels opening into Gaza, that are Hamas' lifeline. And if Egypt and Israel can live in peace, then why cannot the Palestinian state as well? Frankly, there is no other solution.
I am a genuine friend of both the Israelis and Palestinians. I have arrived at some firm conclusions about their future, which I must record for the benefit of those who share my concerns. My prescription is that:
1. All the states surrounding Israel must accord Israel recognition, both de facto and de jure.
2. All these states must be bound by treaties of perpetual peace and economic cooperation.
3. The international borders of Israel must provide it complete security to the satisfaction of the Security Council.
4. The United Nations must guarantee the immunity of Israel from any external aggression.
5. Israel will necessarily withdraw from almost all the areas that have come into its possession as a result of the aggressors' defeat in all the wars started by them to wipe Israel off the world's map.
If these conditions are fulfilled, I have no doubt that Israel will reconcile to the Corpus separatum for Jerusalem under an international regime, on the lines of the United Nations resolution of 1948.
There is then the vexed question of the return of the refugees who left Israel in response to the call of jihad by the neighbouring countries. According to the law of Israel and the law of every civilised state, they all are guilty of treason and if apprehended, liable to be sentenced to death. Every person who wishes to live in Israel must owe allegiance to that state. Any refugee who sincerely swears by the Holy Quran that he will be a loyal citizen of Israel and not commit acts of treason or terrorism against it, may well be allowed to return. This, however, is incumbent upon a host of confidence building measures, and it would be totally unreasonable of the international community to persuade Israel to accept potential traitors as Israeli residents. After having survived jihadic infanticide, Israel is not likely to commit political suicide.
I believe that the real enemies of the Palestinians are not Israel or the Jewish people or the US government. Their real enemies are those who have kept them in miserable refugee camps. A small fraction of the Saudi and Iranian wealth could have provided civilised conditions of existence, reasonable prosperity and wholesome occupations for all the Palestinians. An industrial Palestine would have been an economic competitor with Israel. The real enemies of the Palestinians are the Hamas, the Fatah, the Hezbollah, and the surrounding governments. The poor, misguided Palestinians are helpless pawns in the political chess of the Middle East.
Coming back to the Parliament debate, after hearing the first speaker from the ruling party whose presentation was incompletely articulated, and repeatedly interrupted, I left the House realising that an expelled member of the BJP would not be better off.
As for what the Hon'ble Minister for External Affairs said in Parliament, as reported in the newspapers, and what Hon'ble Mani Shankar Aiyar wrote the following day, to these and other issues, I will revert next week.