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West Asia: News of a Kidnapping

News of a Kidnapping The title comes from a well known work of non-fiction by the novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The book tells of the kidnapping of an ordinary government official by Colombia

WEST ASIA

News of a Kidnapping

T
he title comes from a well known work of non-fiction by the novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The book tells of the kidnapping of an ordinary government official by Colombia’s notorious drug cartel that came to have international repercussions, especially with that country’s relations with the US. The book’s echoes now resound in west Asia, and Gaza, where events in recent weeks have taken on a familiar cycle. Last June, on a day when different Palestinian groups, including Hamas, appeared close to thrashing out a compromise on the issue of “recognising” Israel, a border skirmish between Israeli soldiers and a lesser-known militant Palestinian group soon took on serious repercussions. It led to the killing of two Israeli soldiers and the kidnapping by the group calling itself, Islamic Army, of a 19-year old corporal, Gilud Shalit.

Since June 25, Israel has retaliated with brute force and vehement insistence, as it has on similar occasions in the past, when Israeli civilians have been targeted by Palestinian suicide bombers. While crimes such as the latter deserve condemnation in the strongest terms (as they have been), Israel’s own criminal actions have rarely invoked the same criticism. The “west”, especially the Quartet – comprising the US, EU, the UN and Russia – responsible for the “peace road map” four years ago, has seen it as Israel’s legitimate need to provide security to its citizens. And in this instance too, the Israeli imperative of securing the safe unconditional release of a soldier has extracted a heavy price on Palestine. Besides the several lives lost, essential infrastructure such as bridges and a power station have been destroyed in Gaza affecting especially the town of Beit Lahiye, while the UN and other human rights groups have warned of the psychological scars such operations can inflict on an entire population and children. Israeli troops that are always positioned in the buffer zone between the security wall and Israeli territories have now entered northern and central Gaza, and have also blocked the crossings into Gaza from the south that ensure the supply of much needed vital material including food and fuel. What is ironical about the Israeli aggression is that it has only been a year since the publicised and much lauded (by the west again) programme of disengagement from Gaza was implemented and Israeli forces withdrew after 38 years of occupation.

In retrospect, such a turn of events was expected ever since Hamas was elected to power in Palestine on an overwhelming majority but was denied recognition by the western world. Events that followed subsequent to the Hamas victory and its formation of a government under prime minister Ismael Haniye expose the western world’s championing of democracy in the “uncivilised Orient” for the sordid tokenism it is. While Israel went ahead with its plans of creating

Economic and Political Weekly July 8-15, 2006

“Bantustans” out of Palestine territory, the US and EU cut off all assistance to Hamas, thereby effectively stymieing its chances of governing effectively. With most of the population starved financially, fringe extremist groups can easily up the ante, in circumstances when any peace that exists is forced and fragile. In Gaza, the kidnapping has been followed by Israel’s incursions, the routine bombardment of Palestinian habitations and ministry buildings, the taking into custody of several Hamas ministers and office-bearers, and it now stands at a dangerous flashpoint. After Hezbollah in a copycat gesture recently captured two Israeli soldiers, Israel’s next offensive has been directed against Lebanon.

There is thus a dreary inevitability about events in west Asia, when violence seems to be replicating itself almost in geometric progression, and yet the essential question remains unanswered or perhaps has too many answers which facilitate non-intervention. The members of the Quartet are divided, too critical of each other to work out a solution this time. But as is also predictable, the US, whose interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan have seen an unravelling in the last few weeks, will eventually intervene. It will choose to exercise its influence on Israel when the flashpoint is in imminent danger of an explosion and west Asia will then again return to its state of watchful, simmering conflict.

The kidnapping and the events that have followed in its wake are, thus, in a sense symbolic. For the walls of suspicion and mistrust in west Asia have foundations too deep to keep away conflict; at best, the physical facets of separation that have recently come up, such as the security barrier, may keep the enmity at bay but only for a while. m

Economic and Political Weekly July 8-15, 2006

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