As Hamas launched a bold assault on Israel, Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed shock and solidarity. He stated, “The people of India firmly support Israel in this challenging time.” Additionally, India strongly condemns terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.
India’s decision to abstain from the Arab resolution for a Gaza humanitarian truce is noteworthy. Additionally, India backed a failed Canadian amendment condemning the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel. This stance marks a significant change in India’s regional policy over the past three decades.
Israel’s identity as the Jewish Holy Land and the historical homeland of Arabs has shaped its narrative since the late 19th century. To grasp its historical significance, one must recognize its importance in Judaism and Islam. Jerusalem, among the world’s oldest cities, holds deep religious meaning for Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. In Jewish tradition, it’s where Abraham almost sacrificed his son to God, and it was King David’s capital. Muslims believe Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven from there. While both Jews and Muslims have claims to Israel, the latter have a longer historical presence.
The persistent Israel-Palestine conflict, marked by shifting borders, stems from a complex blend of politics, religion, and territorial disputes. The history of the Promised Land, believed by Jewish tradition to be their rightful homeland, is a blend of changing border narratives and mythical memories. This ancient region, ruled by various powers and inhabited by diverse populations, has always seen fluctuating territories.
The intertwined histories of the people also create entangled lineages of holy figures, blurring the notion of exclusive ancestry. For example, the descendants of Prophet Abraham, central to Jewish ideas about the Promised Land, are also claimed by Muslims. How can one group assert exclusive ownership of a piece of land? This becomes particularly challenging when there are others with equally strong connections. Much of the contemporary history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict results from oversimplifying complex histories of coexistence and belonging. This often leads to the reduction of intricate narratives into simplistic origin stories.
Hamas & Palestinians
In 2007, Hamas took control of Gaza, splitting from The Palestine Liberal Organisation (PLO) in the West Bank. The division between the West Bank and Gaza is widely unpopular, with a June 2023 poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) indicating that one-third of Palestinians view it as the most detrimental development since Israel’s establishment in 1948. The same poll revealed that over half of Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank would vote for Hamas’s Haniyeh over PA President Mahmoud Abbas in a presidential election, while only one-third would choose Abbas.
Israel characterizes it as a war, specifically a “war on terror,” distinguishing it from a conflict against the people of Gaza. In this war on terror, the use of populated areas as battlegrounds by terrorists like Hamas results in higher collateral damage. Hamas is known to operate from civilian areas and employ human shields. This makes it challenging for any military to strike without causing significant collateral damage.
The Deception of Media & Narratives
The use of fabricated content is not just about shaping perception; it’s a form of warfare that can alter the dynamics of conflicts. Shaping narratives with clear objectives is now a crucial strategy. Different storylines emerge, like projecting power, playing the victim, garnering international support, and mobilizing domestic morale. Social media magnifies human tendencies to favor content that aligns with existing beliefs, connecting like-minded individuals and fueling war rhetoric. Social media can turn minor incidents into global information wars in moments, without any rules. Seeing is no more believing.
It’s alarming when a heinous act of terrorism is quickly forgotten, blurring the lines between good and evil. People around the world have protested against Israel but not against Hamas. Many mourn Palestinian lives but often ignore the suffering of Jewish victims and the hostages in Gaza. There’s a strong, often irrational, solidarity among Muslims without considering all the facts. Many, including moderates and liberals, support Gaza without fully understanding the context, relativity or acknowledging Israel’s perspective.
Failure of tactic or collateral damage?
In this conflict, widely covered on media and social platforms, emotional politics, rather than fact-based politics, is likely to further complicate Israel’s situation. Hamas and its allies will work to fuel these uprisings to advance their geopolitical goals. Regardless of the consequences, Israel will fight, as Golda Meir once told Joe Biden five decades ago, “we have no place else to go.”
Israel must recognize that it cannot fight a war against everyone simultaneously. Each strike causing harm to hospitals or refugee camps erodes its list of allies while strengthening its opposition. It needs a smart, not necessarily brutal, war strategy. Two incidents have globally condemned Israel’s military tactics: the October 17th bombardment on al-Ahli Arab Hospital, and the October 31st airstrike on the Jabalia refugee camp.
Right to One’s own place in the times of Uncertainty
Rabindranath Tagore believed the only solution to the Palestine issue was through direct cooperation between Jews and Arabs, warning that separating their interests would lead to conflict. Tagore, like Albert Einstein, supported a Jewish homeland to preserve their culture. However, he emphasized the importance of including Arabs in their plans. He proposed a joint Palestine Commonwealth government to build a new Palestine. Tagore stressed the need to honor the rich ancient roots of both civilizations. In the face of both sides’ inflexibility, he advocated for letting them maintain their respective identities, traditions, and beliefs. This would happen within a partnership commonwealth, emphasizing unity within diversity as the ideal model for diverse societies divided by race, religion, ethnicity, and culture.
The UN resolution’s omission of Hamas and its characterization of Israel as an “occupying power,” along with the demand for Israel to withdraw its request for civilians to relocate from North Gaza to South Gaza, is perplexing. Moreover, Hamas refuses to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist as a nation. The Hamas Covenant, issued in August 1988, explicitly states its goal of establishing an Islamic caliphate in all of Palestine. In a 2017 amended charter, Hamas reiterated its commitment to the “full and complete liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea.” Israel is locked in a survival battle with this adversary.
In this era of mounting uncertainty and a troubled past, shouldn’t a community have a dedicated space in the face of rising threats from religious majorities? Denying this, given historical evidence, appears unjustifiable.
The Fearless Way
A new regional order, as seen in initiatives like I2U2 to IMEEC (India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor), and the growing unity among Global South nations, is at risk due to the evolving conflict. From West Asia to Eastern Europe to the Western Pacific, the world appears to be moving towards what can be termed the “Great Global Disorder.” The recent violent conflict in Southern Israel and Gaza threatens India’s progress in the Middle East. India must work to prevent this crisis from fracturing the emerging alliance between Arab moderates and Israel, while also discouraging Israel from pursuing a Gaza invasion without fully considering its consequences.
Such an invasion could bolster Hamas’s legitimacy, isolate Israel internationally, and strain its relationships with moderate Arab partners. India should be cautious not to conflate the interests of Israel’s leadership with those of the nation as a whole. The focus should be on bolstering the Palestinian Authority’s moderate stance against Hamas. In India, strong and enduring political support for the “Palestinian cause” should be coupled with an understanding of the significant differences between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas.
The PA aligns with ethnic nationalism and a modern approach to state-building, while Hamas follows religious nationalism and aims to establish Islamic law in Palestine. The rise of Hamas is partly a result of Israel’s consistent efforts to weaken the Palestinian Authority. To counter Hamas effectively today, it’s vital to restore the political importance of the PA, which entails addressing its demands for full statehood.
Balancing Principles and Counterterrorism
India, a long-standing victim of terrorism, comprehends the tactics employed by groups like Hamas and the complexities of urban warfare, especially when terrorists use civilian populations as shields. That’s why, at the UN, we emphasized that the world should not accept any justification for acts of terror. Terrorism is a cancer that transcends borders, nationality, and race.
India’s challenge is not to appear “balanced” but to uphold its enduring principles and clear interests, particularly in countering terrorism. Shielding India’s domestic politics from the perpetual Middle East unrest is a fundamental goal. India should publicly call on Israel to adhere to humanitarian laws in its conflict with Hamas, emphasizing the principle of proportionality. Collaboration with Arab partners to secure the prompt release of Israeli hostages held by Hamas is essential. India’s recent participation in the G20 consensus underscores its credibility and diplomatic room to maneuver. To safeguard its interests in the Middle East, India must focus on empowering moderates in Israel and Palestine, facilitating reconciliation between them, and nurturing a broader coalition of moderate states.
This change is not about India abandoning the Palestinian cause. Instead, it involves moving away from traditional diplomatic formalities and defensive political correctness. The shift reflects a policy grounded in a pragmatic assessment of the evolving regional dynamics and India’s long-term interests, particularly concerning counterterrorism. India aims to increase engagement with the Arab world and reaffirm support for Palestinian statehood. Additionally, the approach involves urging Israel to respect international laws and enhancing aid to Gaza.
Strategic Agility and Moral Ground
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent calls to Arab leaders are a positive step. Secondly, the government should brief Opposition leaders on its regional policy. Lastly, address extremist groups spreading disinformation and cyber attacks while maintaining a balanced Middle East strategy. Opposition needs a modern Middle East perspective; recent Kerala blasts highlight the need to separate domestic politics from the region. Delhi must avoid appearing biased against pro-Palestine protests while concentrating on the required stance.
Developing strategic mental agility is crucial in today’s reality of swift responses and limited applications. As powerful nations hesitate to subject their choices to external judgment, India must balance being a rule-abiding participant with demonstrating fearlessness. Crafting narratives becomes essential to rationalize departures, with retaining the high moral ground being a test of realpolitik. India must distinguish itself through rational, justifiable foundations.
India is not a “soft state” with hesitance, stemming from fear and a lack of imagination, to take essential actions, especially in the battle against terrorism. The time demands addressing immediate vital concerns rather than rationalizing inaction by emphasizing its drawbacks. Current circumstances, such as nuclear deterrence, climate, terrorism and economic interdependence play a significant influence. In today’s world of rapid responses within limited options, cultivating strategic agility is paramount. While powerful nations hesitate to submit their decisions to external scrutiny, India must strike a balance between adhering to rules and displaying courage. Developing persuasive narratives to justify departures while maintaining a strong ethical position is the litmus test of realpolitik. India must set itself apart with well-founded reasoning.
About the Author
Intrigued by art, architecture, culture, mythology, and history, I’m a Kathak dancer connected to the world of experience, an avid reader, and a socio-political enthusiast. The dynamics of geopolitics, sanity, strategic studies, and socio-political issues captivate me in unconventional ways. I aspire to transform societal perspectives and debunk false narratives. Observing the world out and within, I cannot stay shut; my analytical mind compels me to address matters that interest me, advocating for substantive change.