As Israel and Hamas continue pounding each other with lethal ordinance resulting in hundreds of civilian deaths and massive destruction, an equally fierce battle of words is also raging between another category of extraordinary mortals called activists. They are the ones endowed with a heightened sense of concern for human suffering and the courage to take up cudgels on behalf of the marginalised. So, while Israeli Defence Forces [IDF] and Hamas are blaming each other for precipitating the current crisis, activists too have joined in and aligned themselves with either side. This has created a paradoxical situation wherein activists are, on the one hand, shedding copious tears on violence being perpetrated by other the side, while on the other hand, defending similar actions by the side they support!
The fact that no individual, group, society or nation publicly endorses use of force to achieve a goal proves that violence has no place whatsoever in a civilized world. Yet, violence is unfortunately omnipresent in every sphere of human existence and what’s even more abhorrent is when attempts are made to justify this. So, while antagonists attempting to defend their aggressive actions in order to escape criticism, is still understandable, but when activists jump into the fray and try to rationalise violence, then it’s time to question their sincerity because as far as violence is concerned, there is no ‘conditions apply’ clause.
There can be no two views that violence by both IDF and Hamas is equally condemnable and should cease forthwith. Unfortunately, rather than pursuing this line of approach to bear pressure on both sides, activists are busy justifying violence by either side using their pet ‘euphemism stratagem’. Pro-Israel activists are defending bombing of Gaza by IDF by drawing upon US President Joe Biden’s “Israel has a right to defend itself " justification. Conversely, anti-Israel activists are using the ‘stick’ of Palestinians being dispossessed of their land and subjected to excessive force to pummel Tel Aviv. Accordingly, what we have is an ongoing verbal duel between Palestinian’s ‘right to resist’ versus Israel’s ‘right to defend’!
Amongst the most vocal critics of IDF actions is a group of notable Indians comprising novelists Arundhati Roy [Booker Prize-winner], Nayantara Sahgal and Githa Hariharan, film actors Naseeruddin Shah and his wife Ratna Pathak Shah as well economist Prabhat Patnaik, is. In its statement, this group has mentioned some issues that deserve deliberation since they demonstrate how due to a plethora of reasons [exuberance, extraneous considerations and vested interests] activists often end up adopting a partisan approach. So, while Ms Roy and her associates deserve full marks for forcefully condemning IDF’s violent actions, but by simultaneously justifying rocket attacks by Hamas against civil habitation, this group has put its own impartiality into question!
The statement issued by Roy’s group is a classic example of how skilful use of words, euphemisms, and unsubstantiated facts can completely change an issue’s character and complexion. For example, while referring to Hamas’s rocket attacks, it reads, "Palestinians in Gaza fired rockets at Israel. The rockets did not start or define the brutality that followed. The rockets came as part of a resistance — backed by international law — of an illegal occupation.” On the face of it appears to be an innocuous statement, but closer scrutiny reveals that it has been skilfully structured to obfuscate facts and justify Hamas attacks against civilians.
The first part of the statement reads: "Palestinians in Gaza fired rockets at Israel,” which despite being a fact is misleading, as it’s too vague a description for two reasons. One, it’s not ordinary Palestinians but members of Hamas [a proscribed terrorist group] who are responsible for these rocket attacks, and two, that while the rockets are being fired at Israel, they are being specifically aimed at habitation centres. Since Roy’s group comprises very well read and highly accomplished personalities, it’s implausible to blame these critical omissions on inadvertent oversight.
The statement goes on to say, “The rockets did not start or define the brutality that followed,” which, is an excellent example of how melodramatic sentences can obfuscate an issue. Once shorn of its bombast, all it means is that while there’s nothing wrong in targeting civilians with rockets and this act doesn’t have any element of brutality, collateral damage while attacking Hamas infrastructure and facilities intentionally set up within residential areas to deter IDF attacks, is an unpardonable atrocity!
The final part of the statement that “The rockets came as part of a resistance — backed by international law — of an illegal occupation,” is most intriguing as it is tantamount to Roy group’s approval of rocket attacks on innocent Israeli civilians by Hamas as it is “part of a resistance.” Such an attempt by some very prominent novelists, actors and academicians to decriminalise violence by glamourising it as “resistance” is unfortunate. This group has even gone to the extent of claiming that rocket attacks on civilians are “backed by international law,” but cleverly avoided citing any provisions of international law that approves of such violence. It is left to the reader to decide whether this is this an inadvertent oversight or a contrived omission?
While one cannot say about others, but Roy’s proclivity for taking inconceivable liberties with facts to suit her own weak line of argument is well known. In 2010, while addressing a seminar on ‘Wither Kashmir: Freedom or Enslavement’ organised by the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Societies, she said “Kashmir has never been an integral part of India. It is a historical fact,” adding that “even the Indian government has accepted this.” Unfortunately, the erudite Booker prize winner didn’t substantiate her claims by either presenting the “historical fact” of Kashmir not being an integral part of India, nor amplifying when and which government had accepted this! A year later, during a talk show with Professor Dibyesh Anand on ‘Democracy and dissent in China and India’she again did so- this time by targeting both the Indian state and the army.
In the video of this talk, Ms Roy asserts that the Indian State “has waged war since 1947 in Kashmir, Manipur, Nagaland, Mizoram, Telangana, Punjab, Goa and Hyderabad.” Thereafter she goes on to give her skewed observation a patently communal hue by adding that it’s the “upper-caste Hindu state that is perpetually at war”and saying that “it chose to fight” tribals in the North Eastern states and Telangana, Muslims in Kashmir and Hyderabad, Christians in Goa and Sikhs in Punjab. She even went on to say that “The state of Pakistan has never deployed its army against its own people the way the democratic Indian state has”!
Since no one at that time took what she said seriously [a rather unflattering reflection of Roy’s station as an activist], her factually incorrect statement went unnoticed for nearly a decade! However, when its video resurfaced in 2019, the clean chit she gave to Pakistan army caused immense pain and anguish to the victims of Rawalpindi’s barbarity. In its editorial of August 28, 2019, Dhaka Tribune hit out at her saying “The Indian author [Roy] said: "The State of Pakistan has not deployed the army against its own people in the way that the democratic Indian state has." We cannot agree with this statement, which at best is incorrect and at worst looks like an attempt to whitewash the sins of the Pakistan army.”
However, what’s more pertinent is that this reputed Bangladesh daily has adeptly exposed Ms Roy’s motivated tirade by noting that “While we can understand Roy’s desire to condemn India's actions and policies with respect to Kashmir, defending Pakistan through false examples is not the way to present her argument.” Under pressure from various quarters, she tendered a perfunctory apology by stating “I seem to be saying that Pakistan has never deployed its army against its “own” people the way India has. We all, at some point in our lives, might inadvertently say something thoughtless or stupid.” Even in this apology, she has tried to wriggle out of her self-created embarrassing situation, once again by resorting to untruth and cleverly prefixing her apology with the non-committal phrase “I seem to be saying.” However, with the video available online, her “seem to be saying” ploy was of no avail.
Reverting back to the issue of curbing violence, there is a need to avoid mainstreaming, glorifying or justifying violence. There can be no peace as long as we continue taking a partisan view based on ethnic, communal, national or regional considerations since such an approach only ends up giving quasi-legitimacy to violence by buttressing the indefensible logic that the oppressed have the right to take law into their own hands and decimate their tormentors.
Activists who support Israel should try telling those who lost their near and dear ones due to IDF bombardment that these deaths were justified as they occurred while Israel was exercising its “right to defend itself.” Similarly, Roy and her associates should try telling the children of Soumya Santosh, who was killed in a Hamas rocket attack in Israel, that since “The rockets came as part of a resistance” and are “backed by international law,” her death too is justified. It’s high time we realise the import of Mahatma Gandhi’s sagacious observation that “An eye for an eye will leave the whole world blind.”
About the Author
Col. Nilesh Kunwar was commissioned in 11 Gorkha Rifles in June 1977, and commanded 3/11 GR during Op Vijay. A graduate of DSSC, he has wide experience of anti-terrorist operations in North East and in J&K. An amateur Pakistan and Kashmir watcher, he is after superannuation, pursuing his favourite hobby of writing and contributes regularly to various newspapers, journals and think tanks. He can be reached on email: [email protected]
(Views expressed are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial views of Mission Victory India)