GoaChronicle Editor-in-Chief, Savio Rodrigues, recently got in touch with Arjun Ramesh Hardas to have a conversation regarding the Israel-Hamas tussle. Arjun Hardas is the Indian representative for the US-based American-Jewish Committee which is a 115-year-old NGO, set up in 1906.
Explaining what the Israel-Hamas conflict is all about, Mr.Hardas said, “Firstly, the recent conflict which erupted in the Middle East is not as much of an Israel-Palestinian as much it is in Israel-Hamas conflict. The current conflict can be divided into three different parts. The first incident which happened was regarding a simple property dispute which emerged in the East Jerusalem territory of Israel which is predominantly Arab-settled. This territory is the one which Israel took control over in 1967 in the 6-day war and previously, this was taken over by Jordanians in the 1948-49 Israeli war of independence. This was the territory that had Jewish inhabitants and others and unfortunately, all of them were either expelled or killed in east Jerusalem which included the holy sites of the Jews, Christians and Muslims- Temple Mount, Al-Aqsa, Church of the Sepulchre.”
“This quarter of Jerusalem was taken over by the Jordanians; the Israelis had to withdraw in 1948. After this, every Jewish was killed or expelled in the area which also includes the popular west bank, originally called Judea-Samaria area. Now, after 1967 when the Jordanians were expelled and the Israeli government took over, an agreement was made which said that the property would remain untouched and the Arabs will continue living there. But obviously, there are political changes and east Jerusalem was officially annexed by the State of Israel. Now, the problem with the Palestinian part is that there was never any Palestinian sovereignty, no sovereign state called Palestine ever existed. It was either the Jewish Judea 2000 years ago, after which the Muslims came along. Subsequently in 1918-19 when the Ottoman Empire was defeated, the British got the mandate for Palestine and then there was a civil war between the Jewish and the Arab inhabitants for what eventually became the territory of Palestine. The Jews won the civil war and as happens during such wars, the winning party takes over from the previous regime”, he continued.
Arjun went on, “Up till 14th May, 1948, the British were still in control of the territory. But on 14th May, the Israeli government under Ben-Gurion declared independence and the British started withdrawing from that point. Therefore, this territory was under the sovereignty of Israelis. Right after that, one day later, Jordan, Egypt and 4-5 other Arab countries simultaneously invaded the new State of Israel. The Israeli army had to go to war without a warning. It was a small army and much lesser resources. On 29th November, 1947, finally the British had given up and went to the UN. The UN put up the matter for voting and it was decided that the British mandate of Palestine be divided into an Arab and a Jewish state. Till now, there are some parts of the country which do not have borders because the other part does not agree with them, like in Lebanon or Syria. The Israeli army, relatively weak to those of its neighbours, could not defend everything at all times. So they lost east Jerusalem and it was partitioned. One of the territories, which were last, is the Sheikh Jarrah.”
“1967 onwards, there were Jewish owners who had been expelled by the Jordanians out of Sheikh Jarrah, and they came back later and for the last many years, have been insisting that the Jordanians who live in those houses which originally belonged to the Jews, should start paying a rent. This has gone up to the Israeli Supreme Court. A judgment is awaited. The second part started wherein the Temple Mount or the Al-Aqsa complex, which is at a higher plain and overlooks what the Jews call the Western Wall, the only remaining wall of the second holy Jewish temple which was destroyed by the Romans 2000 years ago. The first one was destroyed even earlier. Now, because the subsequent conquering Arab armies took over this territory, they also built two mosques there- Al-Aqsa and Haram-al-Sharif. Both these mosques are built on the base of the Jews’ holy temple. When Jews pray, they pray at a lower level. By the way, the Jews are not permitted to go higher up to their own Temple Mount. The Arabs threw stones at the Jewish congregations below them during this crisis of Sheikh Jarrah. The Israeli border police entered the complex, not the mosques, and started taking on these rioters to stop, but this continued for about a week or so”, Mr. Hardas added.
He went on, “In the meantime since there was no reaction from the so-called Palestinian leadership, Mahmoud Abbas who is the President of the Palestinian authority from the Fatah faction. The problem is, Abbas is now in the 16th year of a four-year presidency. He has held no elections since God knows when. His credibility is also very low. Hamas took advantage of this silence and they issued an open threat to the Israelis that if they didn’t withdraw from the Al-Aqsa complex (they never entered the mosques), Hamas would start firing rockets. Hamas is a very radical faction of the Palestinians. They were relatively restricted to the Gaza area. In 2005, when Israel under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon withdrew from Gaza completely and took away even the bodies of their dead from graves, every single Jew just withdrew. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)/Fatah took over, elections were held, and the Hamas movement staged a coup against the Fatah government in Gaza. Fatah party members were even thrown off roofs. So, what they call occupied territory has not a single Jew. In 2007, without any provocation, Hamas started firing rockets at Israeli civilians. One of the places which made it to the news was a little Israeli township called Sderot. It takes literally 15 seconds for a rocket from Gaza to hit Sderot.”
“Young children in Sderot are fighting PTSD. Schools have cement bunkers to hide if a rocket is heard being fired. Many have died. So, in 2008, there was a slight incursion and that is when Israelis put a blockade on Gaza. Gaza is a heavily populated yet tiny area. Every time Israel retaliates, specific areas are targeted so that civilians are not hurt. What Israelis also do is a ‘knock on the roof’. Calls are made to residents of a particular building and are told to leave with a warning of the impending bombing. No other army does that. Rocket firing from Gaza happened in 2012 and 2014 too. There is no reasoning behind why Hamas does that. The Hamas will never talk to the Israelis. It is openly stated in their charter that they will never recognize Israel or have a negotiation with them. The aim is to destroy Israel”, he revealed.
Talking about the recent violence, the AJC representative said, “During 11 days of clashes, 4000 rockets were fired at Israel. And the Iron Dome which everyone talks about is a defensive mechanism. Also, by law, every Israeli house or apartment has to have a safe room. Trauma of a rocket flying overhead is tragic. Israel has invested in safety, not attack. An app called Red Alert gives out a warning when a rocket heads in your direction. Every single night since Hamas started firing rockets, my phone beeped with multiple notifications in one second (I had downloaded the app when I was in Israel in 2018). This has to stop. Iran, on the other hand, supplies equipment to Hamas and Lebanese Hezbollah. Iran is a long-term problem. There has to be a long-term solution to the conflict. Hamas is a terrorist organization. They have constructed a 150 km long tunnel network called the ‘metro’ to cross borders underground and kill civilians and kidnap soldiers. Also, demonstrations in support of Palestine are fine but their calls for death upon the Jews are nasty. This is a complex issue, there are no simple solutions.”
When the question was raised whether Mr. Arjun thinks that the Israeli government and defense will ensure that Hamas is completely crushed this time, he replied, “This is a tricky question. The conventional answer should be that Israel carries out ground operations, gets into Gaza, and goes hunting for Hamas and their hideouts. Hamas literally has autonomous rocket-building factories there. The problem is that such factories’ launching pads are built right next to or below houses, schools, or medical establishments. Thus, inevitably, when Israelis retaliate, unfortunately, a house or a hospital is bombed. This is great PR for Hamas to call out Israel’s ‘human rights violation’. If Israel sends in ground troops, they will get stuck in the heavily populated areas. Hamas is within the population. Who do you kill? Also, money that is sent to Gaza for rebuilding purposes after the bombing is diverted to build these tunnels and rockets. Again, Iran has invested a lot. Millions of dollars go out for rocket building. When anybody says that there should be a dialogue between Israel and Palestine, who should Israel talk to? Who will speak on the behalf of the Fatah movement? The President hasn’t stood for elections for the last 12 years. For the Israeli leadership too, turmoil is sometimes politically beneficial. But at the end of the day, politics remains but the humanity is to be brought out.”