Partha Chakraborty Op-Ed: Empty tables and fog of war, but no road signs from Tel Aviv to Gaza

Partha Chakraborty

By Partha Chakraborty–

(Partha Chakraborty, Ph.D., CFA, is an economist, a statistician, and a financial analyst by training. Currently, he is an entrepreneur in water technologies, blockchain and wealth management in the US and in India. Dr. Chakraborty lives in Southern California with his wife and teenage son. All opinions are of the author alone)

This morning, out of whimsy, I searched “distance between Tel Aviv and Gaza City.” Bing replied “49.3 miles * Light Traffic * 1 hr 7 min” [at 10:35 AM PT Oct 22, 2023]. At a balmy 79 degrees, this should be very pleasant, I could keep my top down and music up. Thankfully, Google Map did better, saying, “Sorry, we could not calculate driving directions.”

If I went by the Art Museum of Tel Aviv, I would have seen the center of the plaza outside the museum featuring a symbolic installation — a long table covered with white cloth with 203 empty chairs and place-settings for guests that failed to turn up for Shabbat. As you made your way past the preparations for war, and assuming you could, stepping into Gaza Strip from the north you found a hellscape of demolished buildings, torn up roads, rubble and ruins everywhere. Miles away on both sides of the border you met women, children, and the elderly, huddled and shell-shocked, trying to grasp the goings on.

As I write this, over 1400 Israelis are dead from Hamas’ terror attacks on Oct 7, over 7000 rockets rained into Israel since then, 212 hostages forced, presumably, in tunnels deep under Gaza Strip, two of them freed yesterday. Over 4500 Gazans died in air attacks by Israel, thousands of buildings razed to the ground, more than a million people displaced already, all supplies — including food, water, medicine, and fuel — were cut off for days. Two convoys of thirty odd trucks in total have since entered with supplies, not remotely enough. Catastrophic, sub-human, hell-on-earth…. these are just the starting descriptions that roll off the tongue to talk about the humanitarian disaster that is bound to happen.

The temptation to rage against evil is high, and understandable, for Israel — so far avoided, with good cause. Israel is a State, and is bound by the laws of war within acceptable boundaries of mistakes that can happen. She stakes its legitimacy, and moral righteousness, on not repeating mistakes the US made post 9/11.

READ: indica’s coverage of the Israel-Hamas conflict

Laying siege on enemy territories is within laws of war, so is cutting off supplies temporarily. Proportionality in the context of war is not defined in terms of ‘symmetry’ of weapons used, nor does it imply equality of number of lives lost. A defending state can use as much force as she needs to defend, and no more. Evacuation of people is also accepted, but not permanent displacement.

So far there is little proof that Israel is systematically violating International Humanitarian Law, fog of war notwithstanding. That does not mean that the devastation in Gaza is any more palatable, or less in-your-face. However, the window to act is winnowing for Israel. She has seen this movie before, arguably, during both Yom Kippur War and the war with Lebanon, when she was coaxed into a ceasefire before military goals were achieved.

This time may be different, not just because the extent of Hamas terrorism is equivalent to a loss of fifty thousand American lives, proportionately, in a single day. It is because the Arab world is increasingly at ease with Israel, and especially enamored with the technological and economic miracles she brings to the table.

It goes the other way too, as Israel has shown keen interest in normalizing relations, through Abraham Accords and lately through détente with Saudi Arabia. It would be unthinkable a decade back to imagine flights between Jeddah and Tel Aviv, now it is an hourly affair. A thriving Middle East that utilizes the best of all sides is no longer a pipe dream. All in, Israel may have more of a runway to achieve a change she wants.

No question that spooked Hamas. Oct 7 terrorist attacks were a Hail-Mary as I see it, outrageous in its scope and brutality to provoke an outsized response from Israel, which in turn is certain to generate an outcry inside Israel for lives lost in close-combat fights. At the same time, she would be vilified in every international forum for the thousands of innocent lives lost, even if some were used as human shields.

It would be reasonable to expect Arab nations to pull away from the negotiating table at that point, but forced to share the financial burden of Muslim lives lost. This benefits Hamas as it draws its own sustenance from taxing assistance Gazans receive from outside, especially from Arab nations, to the tune of several hundred million dollars a year, according to the WSJ. Stalling of normalization initiatives, however temporary, is the biggest prize Hamas got that day.

Thankfully Saudis and Israel are still standing together — no official outcry against Israel’s war efforts in the Kingdom, yet. Israel must double down on normalization as soon as conditions permit.

Misery feeds the snake of terror, as does a sense of lack of representation. Biggest worries for Palestinians — both in Gaza and in the West Bank — relate to quality of life, administration of civic duties and corruption amongst the ruling class — and not, repeat not, Israeli Occupation. I see risks on the upside, only.

Under an international administration backed by strong UNSC resolution with peacekeeping by a joint international force that includes Israel, Arab nations, and Egypt, among others, credible nation-building can happen. This nurtures a civic society needed the day after, achieves demonstrable improvements in quality of life and promise for a representative Gaza family, and gives them a voice in their everyday lives.

Israel cannot absolve herself from responsibilities of facilitating nation-building post conflict in Gaza, and I hope she does not.

Nation building cannot happen with Hamas’ terror infrastructure still standing. The last thing Israel should do now is to smash-and-grab Hamas kingpins leaving the strip fend for itself. It does not make any life better in Gaza, leaves Hamas injured but still very much in power, and keeps Israeli lives in danger of another attack.

The cycle of intimidation, extortion, and terror that brought forth October 7 does not deserve a repeat. Gazans deserve better than what they have today.

Just as it happened with Khalistani Movement in India incitements for terror will subside with demonstrable improvements in quality of everyday life and representation in civic society. If this is coupled with targeted, and very limited, elimination campaigns against remains of Hamas’ inglorious bastards, you will have a next generation inside Gaza who see it more worthwhile to pursue changes within the boundaries of reasonableness, co-opting Israel in the process.

Even though it may not appear that way, all the puzzle pieces are there to be assembled for a better future in the land from the river to the sea. A future that accepts Israel’s right to exist as a (raucous) democracy in peace as a given. A future that builds on Palestinians’ dreams of better lives and accords them with representation worthy of trials and tribulations they’ve been put through. A future where neighbors do not live in fear or anger but have close functional relationships with each other.

Google was right this morning. There is no road from Tel Aviv to Gaza City that you could drive today. But I do see a newly paved coastal highway next year between two beautiful beach communities with two lovely peoples welcoming to their hearts and homes. I absolutely want to drive on that road — I cannot wait for the day when I will be drawn into interminable arguments on whose falafel is better and who grows the best watermelon.

I only wish yesterday was that day.

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