I read the fast and furious headlines generated by the attempt to break the Israeli blockage of Gaza within days of finishing the re-reading of a book I had last read when in school, Leon Uris’s masterpiece “Exodus.” His descriptions of the heartbreaking Israeli attempts to break through the British blockade of the same region 60 years ago were yet vivid in my mind as I pondered over the irony of what seemed virtually a scene-by-scene action replay, this time with the Isrealis as the blockaders of a hemmed in Palestinian populace, caught between economic oppression of their own leaders and the reluctance of Isreal to accept them in jobs without security against terrorism.
It was soon after the birth of Jesus Christ and the unrest following his preachings that the Jews were scattered throughout the then known world, awaiting a Messiah who would lead them back home. Unlike the peaceful assimilation they enjoyed in India, across Europe and Russia, Jews had, over the centuries been victim of ferocious pograms aimed at deciminating their numbers; for whenever they were allowed peace, their native talents blossomed into masters of business and finance, arts and culture, philosophy and teaching, which invited envy of native populaces. The crescendo came during the second World War when Hitler aspired to eliminate all the Jews of the world in the infamous gas chambers of his concentration camps.
Back in the late 1940s at the end of the War, it was British perfidy and double dealing, its desperation to retain its hold on oilfields which prompted it to diabolic measures to prevent the landing of the tragic survivors of Hitler’s concentration camps in Israel, to settlements purchased with dollars sent by American Jews to resettle their embattled brethren. The settlements had been started by early emigrant settlers who had poured their blood, sweat, toil and tears into the deserts to make them bloom, watched in amazement by the Palestinians who had for centuries left the deserts barren. It is this blooming desert which is being coveted by all who never worked to make their share of the desert bloom.
After first encouraging the Isrealis, the British then reengaged to foil entry of the survivors, packing off successive waves of boatloads to Cyprus and elsewhere, house in refugee camps which were in fact concentration camps minus the gas chambers perhaps. Don’t we Indians know all about British tactics of divide and rule and exit after partitions?
That was what happened with British cartographers drawing straight lines on maps to create ‘nations’ willy nilly and leave behind chaotic messes for them to stir forever after, India, Germany, West Asia, Cyprus, Ireland et all. Perhaps the greater tragedy lay in the native leadership.
India was lucky in its sagacious Gandhi, Nehru, Patel and others, who surmounted the bloody tragedy of Partition to rouse the refugees out of their stupor ASAP and encourage them to resume their lives, trading or working anywhere, to get out of the refugee camps at the earliest. There were hosts of animosities, heart rending tragedies and memories of unfortunates left behind, snatched by marauders, leaving sores in millions of hearts. But the result of the ‘get on with life’ motto is there for all to see, the entrepreneurial magic of the Sindhis and the Punjabis, much of which has fuelled the middleclass magic that is a base for the economic miracle of today’s India.
On the other hand, the Muslims who went to Pakistan are even today Mojahirs, outsiders even in the fairly stable Punjab and Sindh, while the rest of Pakistan and its northwest are dissolving into a myriad tribal entities constantly at war with each other and those around them, encouraged by the Taliban, the ISI etc. This troubled Pakistan is an arrow aimed at Afghanistan’s myriad tribal identities harking back to the pre-Mughal era of tribalism. Beyond Afghanistan, the arrow goes through the old tribal heartland of Central Asia, erstwhile members of the USSR and today republics of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and others which can boast of the most fabulous blue tiled mosques and minarets but lack the stolid democratic infrastructure to keep at bay either intra tribal mischief or that of the superpowers, past and dying and eyeing their oil and other mineral resources and ready markets.
In West Asia too, where is that sagacious leadership to overcome the hawks in each camp? The Palestinians have, for the past sixty years, funded their camps with petro dollars, feeding nursery children guns and violence rhetoric instead of nursery rhymes and peace; they have laid bare to international media every broken home, every baby dead from a bomb or a missile. How come we never see similar pictures of damage and death in Israel racked by Palestinian bombs and missiles? It cannot be that they are never fired, for otherwise on what are the billions of dollars being spent if not arms and ammunitions, for the populace does not look wealthy enough to have enjoyed those massive donated fortunes fuelled into Palestinian coffers over the last six decades?
Sandwiched between maverick leaderships in Palestine and Pakistan, fuelled by hate and hostility and petrodollars and the US ones, what can one hope for West Asia in the near future? India too has cause for worry. Our ties with those lands are as ancient as our civilizations and our population too carries a massive number of Muslims, more than in many of those countries or several of them put together. When is the old Islam of peace and prosperity and wisdom going to prevail?