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Sunday Sentiments


    Posted On November 12, 2023

    By Karan Thapar

    Perhaps because I do it for a living, I’ve come to believe the best way of understanding a situation is to ask questions about it. Not only does that clarify any doubts you might have but, more importantly, it tends to expose the inconsistences, even, contradictions that are imbedded in whatever you’re considering which may not be immediately apparent. Oddly enough, the process also helps you think straight i.e. logically as opposed to emotionally or instinctively.

    So let me share with you the questions I have about the Israel-Hamas war. They might be of help as you make sense of the avalanche of detail and heartrending images we’ve had to contend with for five weeks.

    First, after one month of war what does Israel believe it’s achieved? It’s killed over 11,000 Palestinian civilians, injured more than 27,000 and devastated large swathes of Gaza, reducing the area to rubble. But Hamas is by no means defeated. Every night it fires rockets into Israel, forcing “millions of Israelis (to run) to bomb shelters” as the country’s army has frequently tweeted. So what does Israel believe it’s achieved?

    Second, Israel has said “obliterating” Hamas is its goal. But at what cost? Is there a level of death and destruction which will satisfy Israel’s quest for punishment or retribution? Or is the country prepared to carry on killing innocent civilians and destroying Gaza till it obliterates Hamas, no matter what the death toll? No doubt Israel believes the end justifies the means. But does it?

    Third, is Hamas an ideology or an organization? This is not a rhetorical question. It actually probes the heart of the matter. An organization can be obliterated. An ideology cannot. Indeed, the attempt to do so might only strengthen it.

    Fourth, Israel’s explanation for targeting hospitals, schools, ambulances and refugee camps is that Hamas is either in these places or under them. However, the evidence it’s provided has been refuted by Hamas and, in one or two instances, challenged by Al Jazeera. To resolve the matter Hamas has suggested the United Nations should appoint an independent inquiry. In a situation where neither is prepared to believe the other, isn’t that a reasonable suggestion?

    Fifth, Prime Minister Netanyahu has categorically refused to accept a ceasefire. But he has agreed to “tactical little pauses” which could be of four hours a day. But what is the moral logic behind this? Doesn’t it sound like a lunch break in the middle of twenty four hours of carpet-bombing? It’s almost like fattening calves before you slaughter them.

    Sixth, the West never ceases to repeat Israel has a right of self-defence. Of course, it does. What Hamas did was barbaric and savage, utterly condemnable and completely unforgiveable. But does the right to self-defence include a right to indiscriminately kill civilians?

    There is, however, another point. Let’s not forget Israel has been in illegal occupation of Palestinian territories for 56 years. During that time its built settlements encroaching on Palestinian territory, arrested thousands without trial or due process, tortured and killed. Israelis like Gideon Levy and Avi Shlaim have called this apartheid. So don’t Palestinians also have a right of self-defence against such occupation?

    Seventh, does Israel have a plan in mind for what is called the day after? Once Hamas is decimated, what is to replace it? Fatah and the Palestine Authority are in no position to do so, not least because Israel has destroyed their credibility.

    But then who? And whoever it is, will they accept Netanyahu’s insistence that Israel will retain overall security responsibility indefinitely? And if he insists on that, won’t Israeli military boots have to be present on the ground in Gaza? And if the answer is yes, aren’t we back to square one?

    No doubt there are other questions. This is not a comprehensive list. But for me these raise critical issues which have helped me understand. Primarily, by revealing what I don’t know. That’s one way of making sense of what I do.

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