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Unravelling the complexity: Israel-Palestine conflict and the question of humanity

As everyone not living under a rock knows by now, on October 7, 2023, Hamas, the Palestinian militant group, did what was considered impossible. It…

As everyone not living under a rock knows by now, on October 7, 2023, Hamas, the Palestinian militant group, did what was considered impossible. It launched thousands of missiles into Israel, overwhelming the vaunted Iron Dome, overran Israel’s borders, and caught Israeli intelligence by surprise (perhaps). The Israeli Army, its intelligence services and its missile shield are all considered one of the best in the world.  

Israeli soldiers were killed in the attack. But also, Israeli non-combatants, including women, children and the elderly, were killed, their corpses were loaded up on trucks and paraded on videos and dozens of people, also including children and women, were abducted. Some of these were people who were not even Israeli attending a concert for peace. By all parameters, these are clear violations of the international rules of engagement and violate all Islamic rules of engagement as well, which categorically forbids the killing of women, children and non-combatants. In violating these rules of engagement, the attack bears all the hallmarks of terrorism and can, therefore, be classified as a terrorist act. It cannot be justified. 

Ever since, what has happened has been pretty much what everyone expected. Israel was going to pummel Gaza; it will raid Palestinian territory and overwhelm Hamas. I am very sure Hamas knew that would be the case. Of course, the US and the UK, as expected, eagerly backed Israel. Of course, despite the collateral damage that Palestinian non-combatants, hundreds of men, women, children and the elderly would suffer, Israel’s aggression would have a sweeping claim of justification. But there is nothing sweeping about this.  

Israel, in its expansionist drive, has committed war crimes, murdered thousands of Palestinian women and children and illegally occupied Palestinian territories. It can be said categorically that Israel has engaged in state terrorism, using extra-judicial killings, coercive violence, the spread of fear and psychological impact, and undermining Palestinian authorities through arrests and assassinations. That, too, cannot be justified. 

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While there is no consensus on the definition of terrorism among conflict scholars, there is a general agreement that acts of terror incorporate but are not limited to (i)coercive intimidation through dramatic acts of violence, including kidnappings, arson, etc. (ii) the deliberate targeting of civilians and non-combatants (iii) the spreading of fear amongst the populace and the deliberate infliction of psychological trauma. In all this, the motivations for acts of terror are often religious, like Boko Haram, and ISIS, or political, such as the Basque Separatists of Spain, or the recent iteration of IPOB. There is criminal terrorism, too, like what the mafia does and the people called bandits in Nigeria’s northwest. (sad Nigeria has all these variations of terrorism all at once.)  

Do these parameters fit the violent acts both the Israelis and Palestinians have inflicted on each other since Jewish refugees who survived Nazism returned to Palestine in 1945 under the protection of the US and the UK and claimed territories whose dramatic expansion is captured in how the map of the region has changed since 1948? We can argue that throwing a bomb is terrorism and dropping one is not. It will be precisely what it is—obtuse. 

Both are religious terrorists. Israel’s entire claim to the occupied territories is based on the religious dogma that the land they occupy is promised to them by God. The mostly Muslim Palestinians see the occupation as a violation of their homeland and their sacred spaces. So, there we have a conundrum. 

From both perspectives, you can understand that at the heart of the conflict is both groups of peoples’ intense and legitimate desire to survive. 

But to boil it down, we have a situation where multiple wrongs are trying to impose an idea of what is thought to be right. And that is why this conflict has persisted. 

This also is the point where Nigerians get so emotional about this conflict. Split between Muslims and Muslim-leaning people on the one hand and Christian and Christian-leaning populace on the other, Nigerians have taken sides to either celebrate Hamas’s attack or celebrate Israel’s retaliation, goading for the annihilation of Palestinians, much in the same way as supporters of Hamas’ actions have been calling for the extermination of the Jews. 

Many of these passionate supporters have been very critical of Nigeria’s statement calling for peace in the region without understanding that Nigeria’s and the AU’s policy has always been Palestinian-leaning. In 1973, Nigeria severed ties with Israel and only restored these relations in 1992. It has been a touchy relationship since then because Nigeria, like the rest of the AU and most of the rational world, believes that a two-state solution is the best approach to peace in the conflict. This position has been rejected by Israel. It can afford to because it has superior military capabilities and is backed by the US and the British, who will never question Israel nor coerce and implore it to comply. That is not a position that will guarantee peace in the region. 

 So, to be honest, Nigeria’s statement on the recent crisis, even if it appears tepid, is a major policy shift. I am not entirely opposed to it because someone needs to be rational about this mess and call for a permanent end to the madness. Neither the Jews nor Arabs in that region are going anywhere and must, therefore, learn to coexist. There have to be parties willing to midwife this peace process. 

Having said that, there are questions to be asked about the recent conflict, which makes little sense, to be honest. Military experts will tell you that you don’t plan such a massive attack on one of the strongest militaries in the world from a garage or a butcher’s stall in the market. You can’t stockpile these kinds of weapons to launch such an offensive in a small place like Gaza, which is effectively a large open-air prison for Palestinians that Israel has constructed without someone knowing. In a viral Twitter video, one former Israeli intelligence officer claimed it is unfathomable that such a large-scale operation could be planned and that planning would escape the keen eyes of Israeli and US intelligence. 

Members of Egyptian Intelligence have told the Associated Press that they had warned Israel of something “big” being planned in Gaza and it was going to happen soon, and the Israeli PM, Benjamin Netanyahu, had been ambivalent when the Egyptian Intelligence chief informed him of this. Why? 

In moments like this, it helps to sit back and ask who would benefit the most from a conflict like this. And what is the bigger picture here? 

I certainly don’t think Hamas will rationally think it can win. Hamas would know for certain that Israel was going to retaliate with overwhelming force since Israel is definitely not like Nigeria, which has taken massive hits from Boko Haram without proportional, not to talk of overwhelming reaction, in the short, medium or long term. 

To bring this column to an end, we must understand that beyond Arabs and Jews and the notions of the holies that each group can lay claim to, humanity must first triumph. So, suppose you find yourself celebrating the success of Hamas’ attack on Israel, in which women and children were killed, or you find yourself cheering Israel’s retaliation in which women and children are being decimated, or you are calling for the extermination of one people or the other. In that case, the question is not who is right or wrong. The question is, what happened to your humanity?


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