By Steven Allen:Â
The last two days have been the bloodiest since the beginning of the two-week Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip, which has been subjected to intense bombardment and a massive ground incursion by Israeli forces.
According to the UN’s agency for Palestine refugees, UNRWA, 100,000 of the Strip’s inhabitants have already been displaced — 40,000 in the last day alone — with casualties continuing to rise rapidly. The death toll has continued to grow exponentially in the past few days, already racing past the 550 mark after a huge spike in casualties since a ground invasion started. In the last two days alone, over 200 residents of the strip have died. Over 3,000 people have already been injured — the vast majority civilians, and hospitals are overwhelmed.
Since the beginning of the ground invasion, Israeli military casualties have also begun to mount, with reports suggesting 13 troops died in a single attack inside the Gaza Strip on 19 July. The incident was shortly followed by a massive overnight assault on the al-Shujayya district of Gaza City leaving numerous civilians dead, injured and unreachable by emergency services.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), almost a million people are now affected by chronic water shortages and a sanitation crisis, and the targeting of civilian infrastructure has left 80% of inhabitants with less than four hours of electricity per day. The influx of casualties into hospitals has led to critical shortages in essential medical supplies, and one hospital deliberately shelled by artillery.
One of the most shocking events occurred with the killing of four young boys on Gaza beach on 16 July by shelling from the Israeli navy. In a serious violation of international law, reports have also emerged that a Red Crescent ambulance was targeted. Members of the International Solidarity Movement have also been targeted.
Israel has sought to defend what it dubs Operation Protective Edge as necessary for ending rocket attacks from Hamas operatives, and with the support of US President Obama, British Premier David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Whilst the UN Security Council has called for an immediate ceasefire and for the protection of civilians under international law, the evidence seems to suggest an intensification in the level of violence.
The Gaza Strip is less than 50km long and 10km wide, and inhabited by 1.8 million Palestinian refugees. All movement into and out of the territory is controlled by Israel to the north and east, and by Egypt to the south. Neither of the nations have opened border crossings during the current hostilities.
Gaza City is one of the most densely populated areas on earth. It has been under near constant siege and a physical and economic blockade by Israel since 2007 following the election of Palestinian political faction Hamas. The territory of the Gaza Strip is recognised as occupied land under international law.
Official support of the Israeli action from Western leaders has clashed with global public sentiment.Â Continuing bloodshed, macabre displays of Israeli support for the bombing campaign and allegations of collective punishment of civilians have provoked massive public demonstrations in London, Jakarta, New York, Istanbul and even in Tel Aviv. In France, thousands of protestors defied an official ban on protests, outraged by the decision of authorities to shut down demonstrations on public security grounds.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is reported to be heading to region to assist peace efforts to call for a ceasefire. This follows abortive attempts by the Egyptian government to stitch together a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. Qatar is also facilitating diplomacy, including Palestinian demands for an end to the crippling blockade of the Strip.
Elsewhere, the Venezuelan government has sought an emergency meeting of the UN Human Rights Council after President Nicolas Maduro condemned the “extermination” of “men, women, girls and boys” in the Palestinian territories during the assault. Leaders of the African National Congress in South Africa have called for expulsion of the Israeli ambassador, and Dublin City Council has called for sanctions to be imposed by the Irish government.
International monitors have also begun to call for investigations into crimes against humanity, with Amnesty International supporting an arms embargo on Israel due to allegations of collective punishment. Human Rights Watch and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights in Gaza have documented the indiscriminate targeting of civilians in the ongoing bombardment, including with weapons banned under international law. Seven Nobel laureates — including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Adolfo Peres Esquivel and Jody Williams — have publicly supported the call for an embargo.
Reaction in India
Protests have also sprung up across India against the Israeli aggression, notably in Delhi, Lucknow, Bangalore and Mumbai, with a smaller demonstration in Kolkata. Indian public disquiet, however, has thus far been met with official reticence. Congress has argued for the Indian government to ‘break its silence’ on the ongoing crisis, although Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj has so far side-stepped the issue. Swaraj was quoted in the India Times as saying “we have diplomatic ties with both nations. Any discourteous reference to any friendly country can impact our relations with them.” Whilst the ruling party sought to delay a crucial parliamentary debate on the crisis, the Rajya Sabha rejected a resolution on the Gaza aggression.
The official silence, however, has not been matched by the actions of Indian authorities on the ground. According to Al Jazeera, 16-year old Suhail Ahmad was shot dead by the Indian army in Kashmir at a Gaza solidarity protest in Kashmir last Friday. In Delhi, protestors criticised the police for heavy-handed tactics against JNU students who demonstrated outside the Israeli embassy, and the Palestinian envoy to India expressed disappointment at the Indian government’s failure to draw a “clear line between the aggressor and the defender in this situation.”
The real position of the Indian government?
Whilst the failure to respond thus far potentially reflects official public security concerns following the 2012 attack against the Israeli embassy in New Delhi, criticism has begun to emerge that it actually mirrors a more troubling link between nationalist Hundutva sentiments and more radical forms of Zionism. According to the President of the Doctors Association of Kashmir, Dr Nisar ul Hassan, the crackdown on protests and shooting of Suhail Ahmad reflects the intolerance of authorities to anti-Israel protests. Both are strongly nationalistic ideologies based on a religious identity.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been criticised for ties with Israel stretching back to his time in control of Gujarat, repeatedly conducting economic trade missions to Israel while Chief Minister of the State. The BJP apparently sees the strengthening of ties with Israel as a part of a broader strategy for asserting Indian influence and reigning in the Muslim world. It also cannot go unnoticed that India is today the second largest importer of Israeli military hardware in the world.
The resurgence of Israeli nationalism which marked the beginning of the current vicious assault on Gaza comes at a similar time to a more global shift towards nationalist politics in a number of post-colonial nations, including in India. The ideological proximity betweenÂ Hindutva and Zionism produces numerous parallels, including the tendency to silent dissent (Israel, India) and a tendency to delegitimize and criminalise opposition (Israel, India).
The ideological connection between the Hindutva of the BJP and the radical Zionism of modern Israel are likely to come under greater scrutiny in the days to come. Indeed, the mounting casualties and growing demands for international justice in the ongoing Gaza crisis are a test of the new Indian government’s foreign policy.
Pastor Martin NiemÃ¶ller is famously quoted as saying after the rise of Nazism in Germany:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.
Rather than leaving the fate of Gazans and other oppressed groups in the hands of a fundamentally broken international system, now is the time for citizens of India to speak out and demand justice for the appalling atrocities occurring in Gaza. It shouldn’t be forgotten that the policy of the Indian government in respect of the crisis will indeed represent a crucial indicator of how it will deal with issues much closer to home.