Experts discuss the Gaza war, providing a nuanced and comprehensive understanding of the region that has often been shrouded in controversy and misunderstanding.
Dr Adraian Haack
Director – India Office, Konrad-Adenauer- Stiftung
Israelis and Palestinians have one thing in common. They usually hate when foreigners explain their conflict to them. I’m an observer from the outside, so I don’t know in person how the people in the Gaza Strip suffer right now and I don’t know how it felt to be an Israeli on 7th of October 23. The first thing we should know about Germany in this conflict is Germany was the biggest bilateral donor of the Palestinian authorities. Not many people are aware of that. But this went hand-in-hand with our commitment to Israeli security. The principle of the German governments in the past was very easy: The better off the Palestinians are, the less they will commit terror attacks on Israel. There is a UN agency called UNRWA, which is, in particular, in charge of Palestine refugees. I’m not aware if there’s any other UN agency, which is only in charge of one ethnic group or one region in the world. This is very unique. I highlight this, to raise the point that there was never a lack of material support for Palestine. Some people say that Palestine had the chance to become a Singapore of the Middle East. But now it is more in the direction of Afghanistan.
But I remember from my work in parliament, in the foreign committee, that there were always problems with UNRWA. For example, the Germans were paying for the schoolbooks in West Bank and Gaza. But they were full of hatred towards Jews. Anti-Semitism was always more important than mathematics. The same was with infrastructure. There was a functioning water system in Gaza Strip, provided by the donor countries. The pipes were kicked out. They are now building the body of many of the rockets, which we see now being fired on Israel. There are a lot of bad examples regarding this. We can say, in total, the German philosophy of money for peace didn’t work out. This policy completely failed.
That’s very similar to Germany’s Iran policy which also completely failed. We defended the Iran deal, and had the idea that offering economic perspective to the Iranian regime will lead to less aggressive foreign policy. But the opposite happens. They use the peace times to intensify the proxy network, all over the region—the Hamas in Gaza; Hezbollah in Lebanon and Houthi in Yemen.
The German Middle East policy also failed. We supported the two-state solution but we were never really close to that, except, perhaps in the 90s. The main problem is that Gaza Strip and West Bank are ruled by two different groups, which are sort of enemies towards each other. The Fatah are the more moderate group, compared to Hamas, but one has to keep in mind that Abbas who is the Chairman of the Fatah party since 2009, is not distancing himself from the terror. After the 2009 election, they didn’t have elections. He is from Fatah. He’s denying holocaust. He’s very close within the radius of Moscow. So, he never, in fact, not only impressed, but the Fatah itself was never really a solid partner to build a two-state solution or in that regard, a three-state solution.
The logo of Fatah is assault rifle and a hand grenade covering the map of Israel. The official position of Germany is that we support this two-state solution. But I’m not too optimistic. Since the seventh of October, Germany is engaged in this conflict. Germans were killed during the attack. A 20-year-old German woman was beheaded. Officially, we are in favour of an end of violence and a ceasefire.
Rise of Anti-Semitism
But let’s be honest. Our people are still somewhere in the tunnels of Hamas, taken as hostages. So, we are probably not the best advocates of a ceasefire. The very objective of the German policy since the past has been very simple. It has good intentions, but it was never really able to commit to the realities in this conflict. It was always an ivory tower kind of politics and it was of the opinion that you can somehow exchange peace for financial support. That has not worked out so far.
At the same time, we see that the immigration into Germany from the Middle East and North Africa in the last decade has created a situation where we have anti-Semitism on the streets. We don’t have the same situation like in France, but we are going towards it. We have aggressive demonstrations all over Germany. It is a one-way street because the Jewish population is very smaller and, at the same time, unaggressive. Many parts of Germany are not safe for Jews.
For any Israeli government, it is hard to present any strategy to its people. Hamas has no military bases. They are right within the civilian infrastructure in Gaza Strip. We have a situation where the continuation of violence is very foreseeable. At the same time, Israel is now fighting this war, mostly with the Army reservist forces. Israel is a very small country. There is a chance that most people who are now in uniform and fighting in Gaza are personally victims of the seventh of October. They have a personal connection to the terror attacks and this makes the war even more difficult than it always is.
Iran’s Proxy Wars
Israel maybe able to destroy the structures of Hamas but it will not be able to end the idea of Hamas. The rubbles of Gaza will create a new generation of people who will continue the fight into the other direction. On both sides, the hate has increased so much. I don’t see Israel as an aggressor. I’m not seeing the average Palestinian peoples in Gaza strip of West Bank as the aggressors.
The aggressors are the leaders of Hamas, living in luxury in Qatar, using their own people as cannon fodder. Furthermore, there’s Iran which doesn’t want to get dirty. Hence, they use proxies all over the region. Their proxies, namely Hamas and the Houthi, are already in a fight with Iran’s enemies—in one situation with Israel and the other one, with Saudi Arabia. As long as Iran is not committed to a peace solution, it will be impossible to achieve peace.
Dr Stanly Johny
International Affairs Editor, The Hindu
The crisis, which is now unfolding before us in Gaza is one of the largest humanitarian tragedies and it is also a major geopolitical event. It has multiple implications. The latest flare up began on October 7, when Hamas, which is the Islamist militant group that controls Gaza, carried out a cross border raid in Israel, killing 1400 people, mostly civilians.
The larger context is that the occupation of the Palestinian territories has been going on for the last, at least 56 years. It was in the 1967 war that Israel captured the whole of historical Palestine; which includes today’s West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza strip under Israeli control. Israel was forced to withdraw from Gaza in 2005 after the 2nd Intifada, but from 2007 onwards, Gaza has remained under Israel’s naval, land and aerial blockade.
Even prior to the October 7 attack, the situation between Israel and Palestine remained tense, especially in the West Bank. In 2023 itself, some 200 Palestinians and 35 Israelis were killed, prior to the October 7 attack by Hamas, in West Bank itself. The West Bank has been divided into three areas—ABC: Area A is controlled by the Palestinian Authority, which practically has no authority; Area B’s security is divided between the Israelis and the Palestinians; and Area C is completely under the Israeli control. There are 400,000 Jews settlers in the West Bank and 300,000 in East Jerusalem.
Multiple Check Points
I have visited West Bank three times and travelled across the West Bank townships—both Palestinian townships as well as Israeli settlements. In the West Bank, there are about 640 Israeli checkpoints. If you’re in Ramallah, the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority and want to go to the Al-Quds University in Abu Dis, which is the most important University of West bank, you will have to go through multiple Israeli checkpoints. I went through it.
The UN Secretary General has called Israel’s response as collective punishment. In the last four weeks, 10,500 people were killed in Gaza alone, of which 70% are women and children. 1.5 million people have been displaced, which is more than half the population of Gaza Strip. Thousands were moved and thousands more injured. Hospitals and refugee camps are being bombed. Even ambulances are not being spared.
Shocking Global Response
Look at the world’s response to this crisis. Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. In the past 20 months, the United States has led the global response to this. The US mobilized the western world and imposed biting sanctions on Russia. The US supplied billions of dollars-worth weapons to Ukraine to attack the Russians. The United States has also imposed pressure on other countries, especially the developing countries, including India, to take its line. US media said that America was taking a very moralistic position against Russia’s violation of international laws and against the occupation of the Ukrainian territories.
And then, when Israel started bombing Gaza, four weeks later, after 10,000 people were killed, you don’t see any Western government even calling for a ceasefire. They have not even condemned Israel or asked for a solution. G7 today has called for a humanitarian pause. It means: ‘Stop bombing for a while, let in aid and then start bombing again.’ We see these contrasting responses towards the two big crises that we face now.
Thirdly, when it comes to the Hamas attack, a lot of questions come to our mind. Why did they do this? Everybody knew that the Israeli response would be disastrous, because Israel in the past had also responded with heavy force against every Hamas attack. What is Hamas’ or Israel’s military objective? There were multiple wars and peace efforts, yet a solution remains elusive and Palestinian state is still not a reality. So, what could be a possible solution? Is a two-state solution still viable? We need to debate this.
Mr. Sashi Kumar
Chairman, Asian College of Journalism
As far as I can see, in 1918, Palestine comprised 80 to 90% Palestinians. Within a decade or so, it changed to two thirds of Palestinians. There was a move to remove Palestinians from their homeland where they were living. This is a process of converting the inhabitants of a place—the native population—to refugees in some other place.
The latest flashpoint of October 7 and what Hamas did was certainly condemnable. It was horrific. But on the other hand, the way the governments have reacted officially, including India, is curious. In my personal view, it is pathetic. This has not been India’s foreign policy stance on Palestine for a long, long time. In 1977, we clearly said that the only way to settle the issue is to return the land to the Palestinians. We have had the Bombay terror attack and the Pulwama. We did not go and bomb civilians in Pakistan indiscriminately. First of all, it was a security lapse in Israel that has happened on October 7. But that’s an internal problem. We still don’t go out and kill civilians, especially children.
The Media Bias
The Western media gives a disproportionate attention to the casualties of October 7th. Al Jazeera is balancing that to some extent. Two of the hostages were released by Hamas. One was an elderly woman sitting on a wheelchair and she was interviewed by the media. In the Al Jazeera interview, she says the Hamas kidnapped and took them away to their holdout. She adds that they were treated equally and looked after well. But the same interview in BBC stops the moment the woman says she was kidnapped.
The demonstrations against Israel are not just taking place in the Arab world or the Islamic world. People in Grand Central Station, majority of them Jews, protest and they say, “Do not kill civilians in our name.” They are shocked. I’m seeing a new history. Historians like Ilan Pappe’ call what Israel has been doing in the Palestinian land, for over 55 years at the least, is ethnic cleansing. It’s being called an apartheid state and a rogue state as well. The problem is not with the Israelis or the Jews. The problem with the official Israeli State. We have an extreme right virulent regime with racist and apartheid character. We can’t be apologising and defending that, just as we cannot apologise and defend the October 7 attack that took place.
Where do the media get its news from? There’s a Swiss policy research study of 2016 and revalidated in 2019. It says that 80 to 85% of the news in the world, especially the global news comes from three news agencies. Barring a few newspapers like The Hindu, even the richest news organizations, particularly in this part of the world, don’t spend money on having a foreign correspondent. They pick up news from the agencies: AP, AFP and Reuters.
AP is an American agency based in New York. It’s owned by the newspaper owners. It has 4,000 correspondents across the world and feeds 12,000 major news outlets across the world. Those then feed sub outlets including news agencies like PTI and UNI in India; DPA in Germany; Middle East News Agency (MENA) and Gulf News Agency in the Gulf and so on.
The second is AFP. AFP is a quasi-government news agency. It has about 4000 correspondents across the world and has a sizable reach, though not as much as AP. It has a slightly different viewpoint. The third is Reuters, which is a private news agency. In 2008, Thomson, a Canadian billionaire took that over and it’s called Thomson Reuters now. He’s one of the 26 richest people in the world. They have about 3000 journalists across the world. These agencies put out some 3500 photos, videos every day.
But the point is, their viewpoint is completely aligned to the Pentagon and NATO axis. Thomas Curley is a retired AP chief turned a whistle-blower after he retired. In 2008 or 2009, he said that Pentagon employs 27,000 outfits or individuals across the world and spends $5 billion a year to ensure that the news structuring of the world is aligned to the Pentagon.
India Enables Nations
You cannot be hair-splitting and discussing academically or geopolitically or strategically the requirements of a situation. The point is, there has to be a ceasefire. There has to a halt to this. Otherwise, Israel will continue to perpetrate genocide on a daily basis.
The Holocaust is certainly one of the biggest disasters in our living memory. 6 million Jews were killed. It is called ‘Shoah’ in Hebrew. Similarly, we have the Nakba of 1948 where lakhs of Palestine Arabs were displaced from their homes. We have a whole history of the colonization of Palestine and of making people refugees in their own land. Gaza is called an open concentration camp. The whole process of uprooting the people has a sense of ruthlessness. It is a prolonged torture as well.
When there was a refugee crisis, which threatened to inundate India, what Mrs. Gandhi did was to create a Bangladesh. We enable nations. We do not destroy nations. We do not make them refugees. I’m afraid I’m not able to sympathize or apologize or celebrate Israel’s action.
Air Marshal M Matheswaran
Chairman & President, The Peninsula Foundation
I first visited Israel in 97. Since then, I have made quite a few visits there, officially. Being in the Air Force, we work with them on a lot of projects. As a military man, I have studied how Israel handled the 67 and 73 wars and bounced back. Of course, the American support was very vital in all that. From a military point of view, we admire the Israeli military, particularly the Air Force. We’ve always had very great equation in working with them during our visits and on our projects of strategic importance. My first impression when I visited Israel was highly appreciative of the excellent infrastructure development there and the people were extremely good.
I am also a person quite interested in history. I moved to every nook and corner of Israel. They took us around, and majority of the people who take you around on Israeli tours are former military personnel and who are very knowledgeable. So, you will learn everything quite well.
I observed that the region was highly developed and posh. But the majority of the people who come and work for them are from areas which are literally ghettos. I asked my Israeli friends, “Why is this so?” They said, “They are Palestinians and we are Israeli citizens.” The Palestinians were kept secluded, and the infrastructure was extremely poor. The settlements were mushrooming.
But the majority of the Israeli citizens and the people are secular. They have a compulsory military service for boys and girls. Many have continued with military service for 20 years, even though they may work in companies and various other assignments. Many of the people whom I interacted said, “We are tired of this conflict. We want to make peace with Palestinians. Our next generation of our children must live in peace.”
The scene we see now is completely radicalized. Netanyahu is a survivor and a politician. In my analysis, there are enough conspiracy theories floating around that Hamas was enticed into doing this attack. Netanyahu has a political history and from the 90s onwards, there’s one clear radical statement that keeps coming out that the entire Palestine will be Israel and that Palestinians have no place in that land.
Israel has leveraged Holocaust. It was a catastrophe and any normal human being must hang the head in shame for belonging to a society that conducted the Holocaust. But Israel has leveraged it, by getting sympathy over the Holocaust, for over 75 years. I think they are running out of that leverage now. While they were the victims in the Holocaust of the Nazi Germany, today, their behaviour is no different from the Nazi Germany, and they are the perpetrators. The world is already recognizing this.
From a geopolitical angle, ever since the beginning of the Ukraine-Russia conflict, the Western credibility has taken a massive beating. Who are the people who actually populate Israel today? The majority of the population belong to the Eastern Europe and Central Europe. The Zionist process was started in the middle of 19th century by Theodor Herzl, and a few others earlier than him. They were looking at land elsewhere because Jews were all over the world and they wanted land for themselves. There was certainly anti-Semitism and discrimination. But that disease is a European disease, not Middle Eastern. For 2000 years, the local Jews and the Palestinians lived comfortably in Jerusalem. They had no conflict. The conflict started when European Jews started coming into Palestine and occupying that land.
The UN Secretary General was quite right when he said Hamas doesn’t come out of nowhere. It is a reaction to state oppression. When the Jews bombed the hotel in Haifa, and killed British soldiers in 1930s, the British quite clearly labelled them as Jewish terrorists. Menachem who became Israeli Prime Minister in 1977 belonged to a terrorist outfit in the 1940s.
The Tunnels of Gaza
From a military perspective, there are many tunnels in Gaza and they are highly intricate. Urban warfare is almost impossible for Israel to tackle. Therefore, the first action for Israel is to bomb the hell out of the Gaza and flatten it completely. But tunnels run right down to 240 metres below. If that is the case, they will have to ultimately go into large, highly penetrating bombs, to demolish the survival and breathing mechanisms that operate in those tunnels for people to live there. Once you’ve done significant damage, then you move in and send your forces to do the urban warfare. That is probably the objective Israel is looking at.
Anthony Blinken said that Israel is looking at doing pretty much the same that the US did in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. What does that mean? No one can survive. That is probably the objective. The civilians will have no place to go but get themselves boxed between Egypt and the last portion of Gaza. That’s the worst catastrophe you can think of. A leaked Israeli report, perhaps leaked deliberately, says that this is an opportunity to ethnically cleanse Gaza and push them into Sinai. If that happens, the 40-year peace treaty between Egypt and Israel will collapse.
Q & A
Stanly John: When it comes to fighting the non-state actors in an asymmetric warfare, Israel doesn’t have that edge which it showed in conventional warfare, whether it is fighting the PLO in 1982 or when Israel invaded Lebanon. Is the objective of crushing or defeating Hamas, even if you use heavy, lethal and collective force against the Palestinian citizens achievable?
Air Marshal Matheswaran: Firstly, it’s not achievable. Secondly, you cannot kill people en masse. It is state terrorism. The children who are watching all this, will grow and they will fight. Britain and the Irish Republican Army fought for 70 years. Finally, they came to the negotiating table. Unfortunately, Israel is building a narrative based on biblical history and they have become a prisoner of that narrative. Talks and negotiations should be the way forward.
Stanly John: What do you suggest as a possible, practical and actionable solution?
Sashi Kumar: One state solution is not practical. Two state solution was a possibility. The prerequisite for that is that, on both sides, you cannot have extremists. On the Israeli side, they must give up their theological approach to statehood. On the side of the Palestinians, the militants must take a back seat. There must be a more moderate representative force, perhaps like PLO in its more moderate days, which can carry on a dialogue and come to a kind of consensus.
Stanly John: Why is the UN helpless or what can be done by the UN?
Air Marshal Matheswaran: UN has a very limited role, especially when it comes to conflict. The UN Security Council can pass resolutions and ask countries to do something. There are multiple UN Security Council resolutions. After the 1967 war, the UN Security Council asked Israel to withdraw from all the captured territories—the West Bank in Jerusalem, Golan Heights and Sinai Peninsula. 56 years later, except the Sinai Peninsula, all the territories are still with Israeli control.
The UN Security Council is not even able to pass a resolution, calling for a ceasefire. The first resolution that was put to the UN Security Council by Brazil, called for humanitarian pause. Even that was vetoed by the United States. The only country that can now effectively put pressure on Israel is the United States and nobody else. President Biden famously said his foreign policy would be cantered on human rights. But his administration doesn’t even call for a ceasefire, after four weeks of bombing. That’s the reality.
Stanly John: There is a view that you need to silence non-state actors like the Hamas, Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihads or even the Houthis. What do you think about it?
Air Marshal Matheswaran: If the state of Israel is very virulent and treats the 2 million Palestinians as second grade citizens in their own land, then the question of resistance from the non-state actors like Hamas and Hezbollah going away is just a wishful thinking. It is not going to happen. If they really want a solution, then the political process must start. One must recognise the fact that Israel is as much a settler nation, as the US, Australia, New Zealand and Canada are. Majority of the Israelis will themselves recognize that. Because they were persecuted in Europe, on a humanitarian angle, the Palestinians were willing to accommodate them. When you are a guest, and they are the owners of the land, if you want to live together in peace, then you must first recognize this historical fact.