The debate in the Rajya Sabha on the ongoing armed hostilities in the Israel-Gaza sectors did not throw any fresh light on the longstanding crisis, which has threatened peace in West Asia for over half a century. Unsurprisingly, there were demands from the Opposition benches, mainly from the Left and from a few ideologically-bent Congress members, for India to play a more assertive role. These critics wanted India to unequivocally condemn Israel for the loss of life and suffering in Gaza. It was clearly suggested that the people in Gaza were victims of Israel’s armed aggression and excessive use of force. Much was made of the death toll in the latest round of war, in which over 500 people were said to have died, a large majority of them being Gazans. There was no doubt that the death toll reflected an asymmetry, wrongly suggesting that Israel was winning the war by quite some distance. However, bipartisan observers would not fail to notice the inherent obstacles which would prevent Israel from ever winning the war against Palestinians. And that understanding would also help everyone appreciate why Israel treats every provocation from the other side quite seriously and seeks to respond in kind every time. Israel is surrounded by a very hostile environment. Everyone of its neighbours shares the stated goal of the more vocal Palestinian groups of wanting to see it disappear from the global map. The destruction of Israel is the stated goal of Hamas and other terror groups in West Asia. Others fund Hamas while not being so explicit in voicing their hostility towards the Jewish State. Given this overwhelming sense of insecurity, it is natural for Israel to take every offensive action against it very, very seriously. Thus, the disappearance and the killing of three Israeli youths earlier this month at the hands of a terror group in Gaza inevitably triggered the latest round of armed hostilities. If, however, more Gazans have died in the violence, it is because there is no designated open field where the two sides could match their military prowess. No. Necessarily, Israel has to neutralise the rockets that the Hamas fires from behind civilian locations such as schools, hospitals and even multistory residential buildings. It will be absurd therefore for anyone to expect that Israel will not try and silence the rocket-firing batteries hidden in these human clusters for fear of inflicting civilian casualties. Besides, there can be no equivalence in human misery and even in the rival death tolls. It is sheer survival in a totally hostile environment that Israel is concerned about. Its enemies in Gaza and in the wider Arab world however are fighting not for their own survival, which is ensured anyway, but for fulfilling their visceral anti-Jew wish, to see the extinction of Israel. Once you appreciate the sharp disparity in the motivations of the rival armed combatants in Gaza, you would easily understand why Israel seems to be able to neutralise the Hamas terror. Now, Israel cannot be faulted if it successfully defangs a vast majority of the rockets fired at its civilian population from underground tunnels and other locations in the densely populated areas in Gaza. Those shedding faux tears about the loss of life in Gaza should have also spared a moment for the great mental agony being inflicted on ordinary Israeli citizens, who are living constantly under the ever-increasing threat of Hamas rockets.
Yes, the Gaza problem is too complex and complicated to be solved by India saying a few strong words against Israel or the world leaders routinely issuing appeals for immediate ceasefire. In the debate in the Rajya Sabha, when everyone delivered the set-piece condemnation of Israel, Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj imparted some sanity and a much-needed sense of perspective to the proceedings by categorically stating that her Government had not resiled from the previous regime’s stance on the Israel-Palestine dispute. India is well-disposed towards both Israel and Palestine and fervently hopes that the two would settle their dispute through peaceful means. India also hopes for an early end to hostilities. It cannot and should not take sides in the dispute merely because some left-liberal sections in the polity are viscerally hostile to the very idea of Israel. India buys plenty of military equipment from Israel. That is true. But India also buys a lot of crude oil from the Arab world. Therefore to suggest that India is partial because of its purchase of defence equipment from Israel is not true. What is true is that India wants both Israel and Palestine to come to terms with each other’s existence and settle their dispute in a peaceful manner. However, wishing the other dead cannot be the starting point for any such dialogue. A very reasonable stand, indeed.