Some years ago, in a class in the University of Delhi, a philosophical question was put forward by a professor – “In the 50,000 odd years the human species has been on planet earth, what is the difference between the earliest human and you?” Many answered in terms of development and progress. The question remained, after so many millennia. Have we moved beyond working to provide for ourselves, like the rest of the animal kingdom? Has our progress allowed us to look beyond fending for ourselves to living?
As Kennedy had said in his inaugural address, the world is different now. We have progressed to the point where a man has the power in his hands to both, abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. Yet, the issues at hand remain the same as have been since the dawn of society that human rights are not at the generosity of the State, but an inalienable right all are born with.
The State of Israel has been in a near perpetual state of war since its inception in 1948. Having fought eight recognised wars and numerous conflicts, there is the threat of everyday attacks from Palestinian forces. So much so, military service is mandatory for citizens over the age of 18. For a country surrounded by nations which initially refused to recognise the country and have made it clear the destruction of the non-Muslim nation will be a joyous moment, it is hardly surprising.
The State of Palestine also has had a bloody history. A nation marked by war for centuries, it had particularly violent decades before the Declaration of Independence of Israel. More decades of strife followed, in which most of the adult male population was either a casualty of war or incarcerated. Its own Declaration of Independence in 1988, Palestine was officially given Observer Status (non-State Entity) in the UN General Assembly, upgraded to non-member Observer State in 2012. Having taken into account the two state solution, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) had taken over the administration of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, after Jordan and Egypt relinquished all claims to the areas respectively.
The state of affairs, as they stand today, is that there are two individual identities linked to the same land which both the sets of people identify as home. On one hand, Israel, with its Jewish population and having faced persecution across Europe, has claims going back to biblical times. Palestinians, on the other hand, have lived there since those biblical times. While Israel is the dominant entity in the region, West Bank and the Gaza Strip are under Palestinian or joint Palestinian and Israeli administration. Given the tense environment of the region, security considerations come under the ambit of Israel.
Therein lays the contention.
For security from continued agitation of Palestinian people, in the form of militants, suicide attacks and knife incidents along with other forms of violence, Israel has followed a plan of securing the borders between Palestine controlled areas and the rest of Israel. While this could be seen as a way to better mark borders for a two state solution, the ground reality is quite different.
The Barrier walls, as are seen on many borders around Israel, is the chosen method of securing the perimeter of West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Effectively blockading West Bank on three sides and with the Dead Sea on the fourth, with the Gaza Strip having the same along its borders with the Mediterranean Sea forming a natural border on the fourth side. Some would call it the largest prison areas in the world. Any kind of relief or supply materials to be brought in there are only two options. Risk the sea, with the possibility of an Israeli blockade, or go through one of the gate in the Israeli Wall, conditional to being approved by Israeli authority.
With frequent rocket attacks from the Palestinian extremist helping to support the idea that such extreme measures are necessary, this policy imposes a severe restriction on essential supplies and medical aid for the areas. Israeli retaliation for rocket attacks also puts many civilian lives at risk, with civilian settlements having to be cleared to even have a 100 metre buffer zone for the wall.
The Palestinian population has made its anger known. Israel has been in the news many times with incidents of knife attacks on their security forces at checkpoints. Girls as young as 12 have been arrested by Israeli forces for carrying out such attacks, which have prompted the Palestinian people to call the arrested the youngest freedom fighters in the world.
One can’t deny the similarities between this policy and similar actions by Nazi Germany before and during the Second World War, with the introduction of the ghetto system to discriminate between Jews and non-Jews.
In an era long gone, there was a man who went by the name Peter Fechter. Born in 1944 Berlin, his name became famous for his death. On 17th August, 1962, Mr. Fechter was shot while trying to escape to West Berlin by crossing the Berlin wall. The East German Border Guards shot him before he reached the western side and he bled to death over the course of an hour, without any medical help with West German civilians and military trying to offer assistance and East German Border guards watching him bleed. A memorial stands today at the same spot with his name, under which, written in German, reads “…he just wanted freedom.”
Ranveer Raj Bhatnagar