Violence of Religious Tribalism

I was born in a country that was ripped apart by the violence of religious tribalism. In 1947 the British ended their colonial carnage by drawing a line and dividing a people, leading to unimaginable slaughter and animosity.

Seven decades later, the wounds are still fresh, and the status quo feeds an arms race and incessantly widens the gulf between India and Pakistan. Peace between the two nations is fleeting and elusive as ever.

Around the same time the British withdrew from India they spawned a similar outcome in another part of the world. 750,000 Palestinian Arabs were displaced from their homes to form the Jewish nation of Israel.

The conflict that ensued as a result of this mass displacement in 1948, continues to this day with periods of quiet, but never peace.

And so like clockwork war returned again in May, sparked by the age old land dispute, religious zealotry and militarized dominance.

By the time it simmered down, 68 children were added to the bottomless slaughter list, extinguished by shrapnel and concrete. Most of them died in one the world’s most impoverished and choked of places. They died because of where they lived. The virus of hate got them.

For the fourth time in 13 years, Israel had launched a major military offensive on the Gaza Strip in response to rockets launched by Hamas. In its latest assault that began on May 10, at least 242 Palestinians were killed in Gaza and 13 in Israel.

Between 2008 and 2021, at least 5,739 Palestinians and 251 Israelis have died due to the war. 23 Palestinians for each Israeli, according to the United Nations. Over the same time period at least 121,438 Palestinians and 5,682 Israelis were injured. Many Palestinians have continued to be displaced over and over again in their own land.

As I watched buildings pulverized to rubble in Gaza on TV, it reminded me of the Twin Towers that came down in my city, in a heap of concrete and mangled steal.

Israel said these buildings were harboring Hamas leaders/terrorists who were endangering innocent civilians. Out of kindness they said they had given people fair warning before leveling their homes to dust. We only had the “trustworthy” words of Benjamin Natenyahu to take for it.

The “collateral damage” doctrine was at play. Much like their overlords who had killed thousands of innocent civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan in the name of fighting terrorism, Israel saw itself well within its right to do the same.

Then in response to the shifting public opinion, pushing for an immediate ceasefire the American President spoke, stating “Israel had a right to defend itself.” Meaning Israel can commit war crimes until we say it is not acceptable.

The Palestinian right to defend its citizens is only an after thought, as in comparison they have no real power and Hamas that rules over Gaza is a terrorist organization. Gaza for all practical purposes is a large prison camp, whose life line is in Israel’s mighty grip.

As rockets took flight indiscriminately from Gaza over the walls and into the “Iron Dome”, a few managed to pierce through reciprocating the terror all too familiar in this region. So a democratic state saw itself well within its right to fight a terrorist group with overwhelming and disproportionate force with little consequence.

While there is a lull in the blood letting for the time being, nothing has changed. The deep seeded hatred on either side of the wall has only gotten worse.

The illegal occupation and usurping of Palestinian land continues unchallenged only because the US turns a blind eye and arms Israel to the teeth.

In direct violation of International Law and UN resolutions Israel and its army of zealot settlers are on a religious mission to take more and more of the land. Which they believe is unequivocally theirs as it is written in the Bible. If this continues unabated the two state solution will become untenable and that seems to be the ultimate goal.

The hardliners and religious zealots on both sides benefit from the violence. As does Iran, the US and other proxies that take advantage politically and financially from blood money generated from an endless conflict.

Being critical of theocracy in Saudi Arabia and Iran, white nationalism, authoritarianism, Trumpism is all kosher. But criticizing the oppressive tactics of Israel amounts to antisemitism. This double standard absolves Israel in the eyes of many of its supporters no matter how much destruction the armed forces unleash.

According to Human Rights Watch, Israel is “committing crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution” against the Palestinians.

It is known that Israel faces formidable enemies that wish for it not to exist. But anyone who wishes to acknowledge reality, knows this is a fantasy. Israel possesses nuclear weapons and has one of the most well equipped and battle ready forces in the world and the unwavering support of the US.

Using this argument justifies the status quo and allows Israel to arm itself to no end and as a response emboldens Hamas and its backers to do the same. The more Israel unleashes terror the more justified the existence of Hamas becomes to those who live in its shadow.

In 1993, Yossi Beilin, the Israeli deputy minister of foreign affairs, recruited two college professors, Yair Hirschfeld and Ron Pundak, for back-channel negotiations with the Palestinians to find a viable path to peace. He specifically told them, “if you get caught you will be charged with treason and espionage and I cannot protect you.” They took the cue and decided to dream the unthinkable.

The 2018 HBO documentary “The Oslo Diaries” takes you on an intimate journey revealing how close the negotiators came in achieving the impossible.

Told through the diaries of the chief negotiators and interviews of others involved, the documentary charts the journey to the Oslo Peace Accords and shows how Yitzak Rabin and Yaseer Arafat agreed to set aside their deep mistrust and hatred to bring an end to decades of bloodshed.

Through secretly filmed footage and news archives from the time, the film tells a gripping story of how peace was within grasp before it was wrecked by an assassin’s bullet. The hardliners won by killing Yitzak Rabin and quashing the dreams of millions of Israelis and Palestinians who wanted to live side by side in peace.

As ground realities shifted Benjamin Natenyahu came to power defeating Shimon Peres by a slender margin. The Oslo Accords were abandoned. Hamas became a formidable force and more than 16,000 people have lost their lives since.

The people who dreamed of peace are still around. But the audacity of hope seems to have vanished.

At the end of the documentary, Shimon Peres, who was one of the chief negotiators of the Oslo Accords and later became Prime Minister after Yitzak Rabin’s assassination and went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize, is asked if he is optimistic about peace. He says,

“I don’t think there is an alternative, neither for the Palestinians nor us. The only alternative is an ongoing war. In war there are no victors, only victims. No war is ever finished. Unless it is being replaced by peace.”

This was his last interview. Shimon Peres passed away in 2016.

In the end only truth and reconciliation can achieve peace. History shows us over and over again, that a system of Apartheid is untenable. If Israel wants to be a modern democracy, it cannot build walls and discriminate people based on their ethnicity. It is antithetical to its very origins.

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Anand Kamalakar

Anand Kamalakar

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Anand Kamalakar is a Brooklyn based documentary film director, producer and editor. His latest film SALAM can now be seen on Netflix.