7 months ago

The good and the evil in Gaza war

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Wars are known to throw up the good and the evil in men and women involved in or affected by it, directly or indirectly. Few wars have brought out these contrasting sides of human persona so starkly and consequentially as the war now raging in Gaza for over a month has. The ‘good’ here includes courage, heroism, sacrifice, and empathy for the innocent victims of war and righteous condemnation of brutality and crimes against humanity. The ‘evil’ is manifest in rapacity, rage, blind vengeance, collective punishment for the aberration of the few, calculated genocide, and arrogance of power. The list of attributes only illustrates the two categories in human character laid bare in a war and is not exhaustive.

Before assigning these categories to people individually, as a group and as representing an institution in the context of the war, highlighting the obvious that is likely to be missed in the plethora of facts appears in order to place the war in proper perspective. First, the Gaza war is unique among all in recorded history because it is being shown in electronic media in real time graphically, often continuously, as in a horror movie, complete with high decibel sound track. In its immediacy the war is Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘Apocalypse Now’ redux, magnified thousand times. Second, this is the only war in memory which is taking place day and night, almost continuously, in a specific dense urban-space for over a month. Neither during the First World War, nor the Second, was a city targeted for uninterrupted bombing as is Gaza being pummelled by high incendiary bombs now. Hamburg and Dresden, both reduced to rubbles during second world war, had their days of reprieve, while Hiroshima was destroyed in one fell swoop. So far, according to an estimate by chroniclers of the war, some 12,000 tonnes of explosives have rained down on Gaza, compared to 13,000 tonnes in Hiroshima by the atom bomb. In recent times, even the relentless bombing of cities in east Ukraine by Russia has had their days of respite. Third, the ongoing  war in Gaza,  a city that was home to 2.3 millions, has been accompanied with cut  off of electricity, water, food and medicine from day one,  a fate that Leningrad  was spared  during the blockade by the Nazis. Fourth, the images vividly portrayed on television monitors continuously over more than a month till to-date,   provide a tally of staggering numbers of civilian deaths, the injured and the missing. Among the 11,800-plus killed are 4500 children, a number far exceeding those in any conflict of similar duration, according to UNICEF.

In the backdrop of the unprecedented war in Gaza the good and the evil in human psyche have come out in sharp relief, making it simple and easy to see who embodies one of these and what that has spelt out for the endgame of the war. Among the  ‘good,’ the first is not a single individual, but a group of professionals, the frontline  doctors, nurses and medics treating the seriously ill, the thousands injured in the war and mid-wifing the birth of newborn babies in Gaza  hospitals that have seen their supplies of essential medicines and equipments dwindling fast without replenishments. They have shown courage and fortitude and commitment above and beyond the call of duty, under conditions that defy description. Their last appeal to international community was for help to save 42 new born babies who could not be kept in incubators for lack of electricity. They have been ordered repeatedly by Israeli Defence Force (IDF) to leave their hospitals as part of general evacuation of the city but they have refused to leave their patients behind even in the face of certain death. According to available statistics, so far 143 medics have died since the war was declared by Israel after October 7. Eighteen out of 32 hospitals in Gaza have been cut off due to bombings and lack of power and the rest. Doctors, nurses and medics belong to the noblest of all professions and their representatives in Gaza, have vindicated that image and tradition under the most trying conditions that not only makes the profession proud, but also reassures others that humanity will prevail.

The next group which has distinguished itself as heroes representing the good in humanity are the volunteer-residents of Gaza who have been at every bomb site, trying to bring the dead and injured buried under rubbles with their empty hands even while bombs were raining down. They did not belong to any organisation and were not called upon by anyone to volunteer in the onerous rescue operations.  Guided by the call of humanity and their own conscience, these anonymous men, including teen-agers, rose to the occasion and rushed to bombed-out structures in search of bodies, dead and alive. The sight of the young man hammering away, at a fallen concrete to break open a space leading underground to find survivors will forever be etched in memory of the viewers who saw it. Equally enduring are the numerous scenes of injured, particularly babies, being carried by impromptu volunteers from wailing ambulances and frantically running for hospital emergencies. These men and young boys are not trained to work in disasters of this monstrosity, nor have they been called upon by any authority to sally forth to find the dead and dying. Yet, when the moment of crucible came to test their courage and humanity they did not fail to respond.

The television journalists who have been covering the war, with visual images of bombs falling, buildings crashing down to the ground, men, women and children running scared to death for safety, chaotic and shocking scenes of injured overwhelming hospitals’ resources and long treks of evacuees walking on foot, in donkey carts and open trucks away from homes destroyed, in search of safe havens that prove elusive, offer profiles in courage in war zones that take no prisoners. Never so few have done so much to bring the horrors, the inhumanity and the pitiless rumblings of modern day war machine to so many in real time ignoring their own safety. So far, 39 journalists have been killed in Gaza war while an Al Jazeera television journalist lost his entire family as he was covering the war’s carnage. War zones always take a toll of journalists covering the frontline but no war has taken a higher toll than the one raging in Gaza now and the number may be counting. They embody the good of humanity in upholding truth and in representing facts on the ground.

Like the volunteers in Gaza braving danger, the aid workers including those of the United Nations (UN), have been at work day and night in the war zone at great risk. Their task of delivering food, medicine and other essentials has been disrupted by indiscriminate bombings on supply routes and refugee camps. To date 81 aid workers, including 40 from UN, have lost their lives and more may be added to the number as the war continues. They, too, represent the good in humanity in the dark days of war.

On Armistice Day in on 11 November, some 300,000 marchers took to the streets in central London, protesting against the killing of civilians in Gaza and calling for ceasefire. The marchers included Christians, Muslims and Jews, united in their call for peace. Similar marches and protests have taken place in Paris, Berlin, Brussels, New York, Washington DC and cities around the world demanding   end to the brutal war in Gaza. The marchers do not belong to one religion, faith or race and represent a rainbow coalition of humanity united in their desire for peace and universal brotherhood. The marchers’ articulation of good in humanity is taking to the street for the whole world to see.

Students in Harvard and Cornel University were among the first to react with revulsion against the war in Gaza and held meetings with banners immediately after the war broke out. This shocked the educational establishment who always strains to stay politically neutral. Some of the donors of funds to these hallowed institutions, mostly Jews, were prompt in discontinuing their funding. While the students clearly represent  the  ‘good’, the latter  definitely belong to the ‘ bad’ or even evil in question.

Among notable individuals, former American President Obama, the maverick intellectual Noam Chomsky, deputy prime ministers  of  Ireland and Spain, the president of Sinn Fein, the UN Secretary General, President of Turkey, American  actors Kate Blanchet,  Susan Sarandon and Anjellina Jolly have come down hard against the war in Gaza that is killing civilians. Even President Macron, who belatedly realised that ‘right to defend’ gives Israel a carte blanche, and modified his view on this and  said in the BBC interview on 10 November that terrorism cannot be fought by killing civilians, may be included in this group. When most of governments in the West are emphasising the right of Israel to defend itself, thereby legitimising the war in Gaza, it takes moral courage and righteousness of the highest order to speak out the truth. These public figures and celebrities reaffirm the faith that conscientiousness that is at the heart of good in humanity will triumph over expediency and opportunism.

Last but not the least, Hamas the militant group labelled  as ‘terrorists’  in the  West may qualify to represent ‘good’ in humanity in so far as their determination to free Palestine  from the illegal occupation of Israel is concerned. On this score, their armed incursion on October 7 inside occupied territory near the border with Gaza is justified but not the killing of civilians. But the justification of incursion per se as a right to one’s land occupied by the enemy outweighs the moral outrage of causing civilian deaths and as such Hamas as freedom fighters can be considered as representing the good.

Between the good and evil lies the gray area where one can see individuals and institutions either sitting on the fence or using double standard, even bias, in making judgements and pronouncements about the war in Gaza. Not infrequently, they lack moral clarity and indulge in instant prejudice. This type of lapse of   humanity thrown up by the Gaza war can be seen by the attitudes and utterances of most of the Western countries in Europe. No time was lost by them after the Hamas incursions in Israel on 7 October in saying in a chorus that ‘Israel has the right to defend itself’, giving a green-light to launching a punitive war. It was as if Israel’s right to self defence had been questioned by some countries. Because of this ambiguity involved in the purported justification, the European countries should have elaborated and specified what the ‘right to defend’ meant in this case. They should have said, firstly, Israel has the right to defend itself within its own territory when attacked by an enemy. Secondly, Israel can defend itself by targeted killing of elements in other countries, pre-emptively, or retrospectively, even though this runs afoul of international law. When Israel declared war on Gaza, it could be only in the second, albeit arguable, sense. Right to defend by killing attackers living in another territory in reprisal cannot give Israel the right to take collective punishment against the whole population even on the ground that the attackers are embedded in them. But that is what the unqualified support of ‘right to defence’ by west European countries implied. When Israel unleashed its brutal war in Gaza killing civilians in hundreds everyday and the total number of deaths totalled over 5000  civilians, European countries added the caveat that in conducting war in Gaza Israel should observe international law. They said nothing about the cutting off of electricity, water, medicine to the entire population. It was not only collective punishment but war crime according to existing international laws and conventions. When death toll rose near 10,000 and 1.2 million residents of Gaza were forced out of their homes by constant bombardments and faced starvation and  deaths by missiles as they moved towards so called safe haven, these countries called for ‘humanitarian pause’   and not ceasefire. Only hints of punitive measures like sanctions and boycott, implicit or explicit, could give some teeth to this call for ‘humanitarian pause’. But nothing of the sort came out of Europe. When Russian bombings cut off electricity and water in cities in eastern Ukraine, European countries  cried ‘foul’ calling it as war crime .In contrast, they have so far remained silent on Israel’s deliberate cutting off of these necessities of life from the start of the war. By their use of double standard, one for Russia, another for Israel, the European countries have exposed their moral bankruptcy and lip service to the cause of humanity. This view is reinforced by their immediate suspension of all aid to Palestine soon after October 7 incursions by Hamas. This is not the Europe of enlightenment, high moral standard and of eternal human values that one once associated it with.

Most of the media in the West, print and digital, have predictably, shown their egregious side through biased coverage of the war and even misinformation and distortion of facts. Controlled and staffed mainly by Jews, the Western media has always been pro-Israel, irrespective of the merit of the case. In the respect of Gaza war, they have gone the whole hog in painting how Israel, as the beacon of light and progress, is fighting against forces of darkness and evil represented by Hamas and Palestinians. The worst example of this misinformation is the news about beheading of 40 babies by Hamas on October 7. The source was Israeli army and its prime minister’s office, both interested parties in spinning facts. Without trying to verify the authenticity of this news, it was printed in headlines in a number of papers in Europe and America and telecast in CNN. In a   recent letter, signed by 100 writers, published in Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and syndicated by Reuters, an appeal has been made for even-handedness and objectivity in the coverage on the war. (AlJazeera, October 11 ). In the letter, Western media have been requested not to use dehumanising rhetoric in justifying Israel’s  killing of civilians. Western media also have been advised not to discount news carried in Arab newspapers and televisions. Watching CNN’s coverage of Gaza war one perceives two underlying strategy. The first is to ignore the news as far as possible, giving it lower priority to national news. Second, present views on the war that support Israel’s policies  and actions on the ground by selecting guest speakers and commentators who have clear bias in favour of Israel.

Men and women are not born as evils. It is a social and political construct. It may lie dormant, as did Dracula of myth, and like the mythical character it awakens in moments of darkness. Many of the people of Israel are peace loving, humane and gentle. But the extremist rightwing Zionists are monsters, bereft of human values. They killed hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in 1948 and evicted 750,000 when the northern part of Palestine was granted to them under a UN mandate. More of Palestinian land was occupied by the extremist led government of Israel and more Palestinians were evicted in 1967. Now 80 per cent of land in occupied West Bank has been gradually taken up extremist settlers and expansion is continuing. Killing of Palestinians and destruction of their homes and infrastructures has become routine. Emboldened by comprehensive support from America, Israeli governments have trampled on human rights of Palestinians and their right to freedom with impunity. After leaving Gaza in 2007, Israel imposed blockade over land, air and sea, making it an open prison akin to a concentration camp. It made frequent vicious armed interventions inside at the slightest sign of defiance by the militant group Hamas, killing hundreds, levelling out residential buildings by scores. The extremists representing evil in Israel did not hesitate to assassinate their own prime minister Yazhak Rabin for daring to reach a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians. Echoing the policy of ethnic cleansing, a minister in the present cabinet has declared that there is ‘no such thing as Palestinian people’. The defence minister announced after the Hamas incursions on October 7 that supply of power, water and fuel would be severed, describing the Palestinians in Gaza as  ‘human animals’. The corrupt and  brutish prime minister arrogantly declared a war on Gaza as if it was a country with a government and a standing army, boasting  that the war would change the map of middle-East, a clear enough hint at ethnic cleansing and occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. The defence minister on Sunday last (11 November) warned Hezbullah  against firing rockets and threatened to send Lebanon back to the stone age. The fundamentalist interior minister, on his part, has got rifles distributed among settlers in the West Bank to make Palestinians a fair game. All these are part of a vicious plan to commit genocide aimed at ethnic cleansing. Only politicians and military leaders with a diabolical mind can target hospitals, refugee camps and schools again and again for bombings on the pretext that Hamas is using   civilians  as ‘human shields.’ It surpasses the worst kind of cynicism to think that where 2.3 million people are packed into 355 square kilometres and forced to live cheek by jowl they will not be in close proximity. Even if these are being used by Hamas as refuge, these are protected areas under international law.

If there was any doubt  that extremist Israelis,  deep down in  their hearts, are full of hatred and greed, the simulacra and essence of evil, the way they  have conducted the war so far has removed that irrevocably.

No government has enabled the present extremist Israeli government to be more arrogant and vicious than the present American Administration. By repeating the mantra, ‘Israel has the right to defend itself’, it has justified all actions taken by the Israeli army leading to killings of thousands of deaths, injured and missing as within their right. More horrifying is the experience of civilians running  pellmell for shelter that has proved elusive in the face of  bombardments of so called safe areas and lack of food and water. When this was brought to his notice, the American president cynically observed that ‘war has its costs’ and cast doubts on  the veracity of figures of casualties  coming out of Gaza. His Secretary of State, so long parroting his boss’s mantra, has recently admitted, in a rare moment of contrition, that ‘far too many Palestinians have been killed.’ But neither the mounting suffering of Palestinians nor rising crescendo of criticism on the streets of America, Europe  or in other countries  is going to change the heart of the present president  and make him utter the words, ‘ceasefire’ until his protégé, the  Israeli prime minister thinks that the mission of finishing off the Palestinians has been accomplished. After all, he is the president who declared as a Senator ‘if there were no Israel, it would have to be invented’. By his words and deeds he has distinguished himself   during this war as an avatar of evil. There are quite a few among the American politicians who are in his league, Senator Bill Grahan being one. Across the Atlantic, Rishi Sunak keeps his august company.

The good news is that those upholding the ‘good’ side of humanity in the war in Gaza, far exceed in number those in the serried ranks of ‘evil’. The bad news is that it is the former as leaders in politics, media and business who have power to take decisions on life and death. There is something dysfunctional about the world we live in.


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