(Justice Markandey Katju is a former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own)
‘Nakba'(catastrophe) is the name given to the exodus of about 700,000 Palestinian Arabs in 1948 from the present territory of Israel, who fled out of fear after many were massacred by Israelis, including women and children.
Before Israel was established as a state, about 90% people living there were Arabs. Due to the Nakba only about 20% were left. The remaining fled to Jordan, the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, etc, and their descendants are still living there in horrible conditions.
Now after the events of 7th October, when Hamas attacked Israel, and the Israelis struck back, and the Israeli government’s announcement that people living in northern Gaza must move to the south within 24 hours as Israeli forces are going to move in there, a second Nakba has started, from north Gaza to the south.
Gaza is a tiny coastal strip of land, 25 miles long and 7 miles wide, heavily congested with about 2.2 million people.
Now half the population, i.e. over 1 million people living in northern Gaza, have been told to move to the south.
But where will they go? Where are the housing, food, water, electricity etc for them? And what will they do there? Where are the jobs for them? The Israeli order will convert the southern part of Gaza, which is already congested, into another Warsaw Ghetto during Nazi rule, deprived of essentials. And it will convert the majority of citizens of Gaza, who were hitherto peaceful, into militants, and make them join Hamas. As is said in Hindi ” Marta kya nahi karta ” ( A person facing death can do anything ). So far from solving any problems, this new step by the Israelis will multiply them manifold.
The Israeli government claims that this step was necessary because Hamas launched missiles on Israel from northern Gaza, and since the missile sites are hidden in civilian buildings, it is impossible to destroy them without collateral; damage. So Israeli forces have started moving into northern Gaza, and the civilian population there has been told to move southwards.
But this Israeli step is likely to be counter-productive, for the following reasons :
(1) It is an overkill to the Hamas attack of 7th October and will revive another ‘intifada’ generally in the region.
Israeli planes have destroyed many apartment buildings containing civilians ( and allegedly even a huge hospital ), and killed over 10,000 people, many of them children.
I am reminded of an interview I saw of Bill Erhart, a Vietnam war veteran, who said ( see the full interview below) ” The notion I had in High School was that the Vietcong terrorised the Vietnamese population and forced them to fight against the Americans on pain of death. What I began to understand in Vietnam was that they did not need to do that. All they had to do was to let a marine patrol go through a village, and what was left of the village gave them all the recruits they needed ”.
(2) In Gaza specifically, it will increase militancy against Israel, as more and more people there will join Hamas out of desperation and vengeance for the thousands killed in the recent hostilities.
(3) Till now while Hamas had ruled only Gaza, the much larger West Bank, which had been conquered by the Israelis after the 1967 war, was ruled by the relatively moderate PLO ( Palestine Liberation Organisation ) headed by Mahmoud Abbas. Now more and more Palestinians living in the West Bank, who were fed up of being displaced by Israeli settlers, will switch their support to Hamas, and it will become the de facto ruler of the West Bank, instead of the PLO ( whose leaders are perceived by many Palestinians as being hand in glove with Western powers ). So the West Bank, which was largely quiet till now, will, like Gaza, become another hotbed of insurgency.
(4) There are broadly two coalitions of powers in the world today (a) the coalition of Western powers led by USA and including most European countries, and (b) the coalition of Russia, China, and Iran. The former are overtly supporting Israel and giving it weapons and other supplies, while the latter are covertly supporting Hamas, and giving it weapons and other supplies.
Both coalitions are increasing the supply of weapons etc to the ones they back, and this will naturally increase militancy in the region.
I fear that the situation is going to get worse, and spread to neighboring regions, and no one can predict when and how it will end, and how many will be the casualties. Probably we are in for the long haul.