Thursday, February 29, 2024

Self-critiquing amid polarization


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By Albert Thyrniang

Israel and Palestine are in the spotlight right now. Everyone is agog with the conflict between Israel and Hamas after the terror group gunned down 13,000 people injuring thousands and taking an unknown number hostages on October 7, last. Responding to the ghastly act Israel declared war on the Islamists by bombing Gaza. A ground offensive to ‘wipe out’ the Muslim Brotherhood offshoot is imminent.
The ‘Islamic Resistance Movement’ that desires Israel to be erased from the face of the earth to establish a Palestinian state in its place, has a massive support in the Middle East and world-wide. Israel too has global sympathy. Israel’s loyalists denounced the Hamas attack in the strongest terms while Palestine’s sympathisers hardly condemned the barbaric act pointing instead to Israel’s cruel ‘slaughters’ of the Palestinians. Rallies in support of ether side are being played all over the media. The polarisation is obvious. The conflict has already dragged many nations to the side of either Israel or Palestine. The turmoil in the ‘Holy land’ has virtually split the world into two. It appears that all Jews and Christians are with Israel while all Muslims back Palestine. This writer too presumed so until he came across a YouTube video. In the 20 second or so video a person who appears to be a Jew says, ’I stand with the Palestinians. I am against Israel’s Zionist government.’ I shook my head in disbelief. The description reads, ‘An orthodox rabbi on Israel.’ I reviewed the video and heard it exactly as stated. This shocked me. One thought that all Jews would never oppose Israel.
Research that followed reveals that a sizeable number orthodox Jews do not support the Israeli government. They don’t even approve of the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. They do not believe that the re-emigration of Jews from all corners to the land of their ancestors was right. They claim that this was the Zionist movement or Zionism and not a direction from God. To them the nationalist ideology of the 19th century that emerged in Central and Eastern Europe is against the will of ‘Yahweh’ (God in Hebrew). They believe that Yahweh still wants to see them in exile. He has not given them back their homeland. This group particularly decries the misuse of religion (Judaism) by the government and other Jews for their own benefits. They openly speak against the ‘atrocities’ of Palestinians by the Israeli government. They criticise the large displacement of Palestinians from their homes.
One major objection the orthodox Jews stand by is the settlements of Jews all over Palestine and especially in the West Bank. They strongly agree with the United Nation that the government aided ‘re-settlements’ of Jews in the West Bank is illegal. They are also convinced that the occupation of Israel in the West Bank and the Golan Heights after the Six-Day War in 1967 and the annexation of East Jerusalem in 1980–81 is illegitimate. This is Jews against the Jews.
Now, Palestinians against the Palestinians, nay, Palestinian authorities! It is well known that many children of Hamas leaders and Palestinian politicians have become anti- Hamas and anti- Palestinian politicians. A son of a Hamas founder considers the outfit’s violent activities inhuman. Others have told the world that the radical Hamas kill political opponents, jail journalists and throw LGBTs from high rise buildings and suppress other faiths outside Islam. They oppose the two-state solution to endlessly wage wars against Israel. They point their fingers also against other Palestinian leaders.
These politicians do not want peace. They want the conflict to continue for their self-interests. They feed on anti-Israeli sentiments so that the violence goes on. They are corrupt to the core. Their only objective is to remain in power while the Palestinian populace suffer. They are unapologetic in labelling not only Hamas but other Palestinian leaders as anti-Palestinian. These minority voices are clear that the Palestinian people are better off in Israel than in Palestinian territory. They appreciate that Israel is the only democratic country in the region. There is a secular and pluralistic constitution. All minorities live there with their bestowed rights. In contrast, Hamas won an election in 2007. Mahmoud Abbas was the presidential victor in 2005. Till date both have held no further elections. Other neighbouring Arab countries are all Islamic dictatorships. In these countries Christians and Jews were once dominant. Today they are almost extinct.
What about Palestinian Christians in Israel? In a video Christians were amused at America and other ‘Christian’ countries for standing with Israel. They expressed that in reality they are not respected in the country. They are looked down upon by sections of the Jewish community. They narrate instances when their members were picked up by the police for criticising the government.
It takes courage to voice dissent at times when polarisation is so marked. All Jews and Christians are morally demanded to explicitly stand with Israel and oppose the Arab Palestinians (Muslims). Muslims are to be with the Palestinians and bash Israel. However, even in this divided scenario dissent, though faint is not absent. The Jews criticising the Jewish state is to urge the Israeli government to adhere to human rights. It should be a Zionist government. It cannot act to please the fundamentalist elements. It may not listen to the orthodox teachers to dissolve the government and depart again to lands of exiles. The message is to stop the grabbing of Palestinian land.
The anti-Hamas minority voice should become mainstream. Palestinians should reject extremists like Hamas. Had it not been for Hamas the Oslo treaty would have created the Palestinian state. Peace would have been achieved. For both the Jews and the Palestinians there is no point in going back too much to the past. It is meaningless to continue to claim that God gave the land to Jacob or Ismail. Both the communities were there at some point in history. It is better to be practical now. Work for the two ‘state solution’. For that the Hamas ideology should disappear.
No establishment likes criticism from within. The anti-Hamas individuals have to flee to the US and other countries. The orthodox Jews and Palestinian Christians who are critical of the Israeli government are not taken kindly to by Zionists. In our country those who questioned the central government or security forces on the ‘surgical’ strike and Pulwama attack were branded ‘anti-national.’ Those who criticize the present dispensation for hatred, intolerance and denial of civil freedom were told to go to Pakistan. Many were arrested and jailed.
To be non-critical of the self is living in a comfort zone. It is sweet if Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Chinese or Russians, Germans, French, Italians, English, Americans have only positive thoughts about their country. Many feel obliged to desist from criticizing one’s race, tribe or religion even if there is a need. Others consider it dishonorable to ‘shame’ one’s own community. Still others fear repercussions if they go against popular view within a group.
There is pressure to abide by the ‘rules.’ This is what is happening in Manipur where ethnicity is above all else. The former cop, Thounaojam Brinda was forced to retract her statement that blamed the Arambai Tenggol and Meitei Leepun for the mayhem in the state. No one within the Meitei community would dare to critique the Meira Paibi (women’s movement) though there are instances when the women’s body played a negative role in the conflict. The houses of Meitei BJP leaders who ‘deviated’ from the narrative were burnt or vandalized. Even the valley-based media has to go along with the Meitei narrative.
The same applies to the Kukis. The Kuki National Organisation (KNO) spokesperson, Seilen Haokip’s house in Churachandpur was torched because he favoured the lifting of the blockade of National Highway (NH-2). The current sentiment is for the creation of a separate administration and the community has decided to never return to the valley. Anyone who speaks for reconciliation will be sidelined.
In Meghalaya one has to think more than twice to be critical of the Jaitbynriew. Even extortion and corruption is overlooked because the crime is practised by the ‘para-doh para-snam’. Against this background it is good that some have spoken up against the culture of ‘donation’. Someone has, in the social media, even lambasted priests, pastors and pressure groups who many consider to be above criticism. This writer is even asked by journalists, ‘Why an insider’ criticizes the Church? The response is too lengthy for this space. Recently Pope Francis said, ‘Gay couples could be blessed.’ It is actually a criticism of the church’s closed mentality towards the gay community. Not long after assuming office he asked, “Who am I to judge homosexuals”? This statement essentially criticises the Church’s judgmental outlook on the non-heterosexuals. We can learn from the orthodox Jews and the Hamas critics.


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