Intro: Whenever there is violence in West Asia, it arouses emotive responses globally. The ongoing crisis in Gaza has raised similar concerns-Emergence of Israel as a nation-state in May 1948 was a landmark moment on the global geopolitical landscape. Since its inception, Israel and Gaza have experienced endless violence, and every time there are two sides of the same story. Each side blames the other as a perpetrator while defending their offence as just.
The following issues make the debate complex and two sided:
Gaza is boiling for more than three weeks now. There has been allegations and counter allegations. There has been effective narrative about the Israeli offensive against the Palestine. UN resolution proposed by Pakistan is adopted in favour of truce in the region which is largely perceived against the Israeli position. In this context, Prafulla Ketkar, Editor, Organiser, spoke to Mr. Yahel Vilan, Deputy Chief of Mission and, Ms. Liron Zaslansky, Counselor-Political Affairs regarding the nature of present conflict and Israel’s position.
- Largely it is perceived that Israel is using unjustified force in Gaza, what is your take on this?
Mr. Yahel Vilan: The story in Gaza is complicated and cannot be explained with pictures and numbers. People obviously feel that in Gaza 600 people got killed while on Israel’s side two civilians and 29 soldiers are killed till date. But the reality is beyond this. When we unilaterally withdrew from Gaza, we hoped that it would be become a symbol of Palestinian sovereignty. But when Hamas took over Gaza undemocratically in 2007, the real problem started. We have observed there is peace on the West Bank side where the real Palestine government is ruling. The Gaza is in crisis, because the Hamas leaders are ruling from the tunnels (illegall underground paths to enter Egypt) and are firing rockets from schools and hospitals. Common masses are being used as shields and that is why they are getting killed. The rockets are being fired without warnings; we have no option but to defend ourselves. We did warn the common masses to vacate the region so that we can destroy the tunnels and underground cities created by the Hamas in Gaza but our words did not find ears. This is the context of our side of the story and, it should be told to the world at large.
- But international opinion is against Israel and it is believed that you are not following the international law?
Mr. Yahel Vilan: What does humanitarian law say? Does it allow the use of UN schools to stockpile rockets and use human shields? Israel has faced more than 1800 rockets since 2005. More Israeli soldiers get killed than the Hamas leaders, simply because, they are fighting an unjust war. We have accepted Egyptian ceasefire proposal on 15th July itself but Hamas did not. We have to understand here that rather than outcome in terms of casualties, it is the intention that matters. International law also differentiates between militants and non-militants. In this case Hamas is involved in militant activity without following any international standards of war.
- What about the issue of proportionality and managing public opinion?
Mr. Yahel Vilan: See Tunnels are propping up in every Israeli community. If three rockets are launched in a day then it is peace. Can Israel as a nation afford to accept that for its citizens? Proportionality of threat by this non-state organization without any popular support is more eminent which we cannot neglect. We cannot sit back and see our civilians get killed.
Ms. Liron Zaslansky: Even in international law, proportionality is defined not in terms of deaths but in terms of threat and the threat to Israel is eminent. Missiles are directed towards strategic positions and even civilian population. From the time of abduction of 3 civilians to starting of actual operations, 217 rockets were launched against Israel. Just because we are defending our citizens and Hamas is using common masses as shields do not invoke the proportionality clause.
Mr. Yahel Vilan: Families are raising children under perpetual insecurity. 95 % aggressions and attacks from Hamas are not even reported. Most importantly there is no legitimate political demand for it.
- Do you think the coming up of the Islamic state in Syria and Iraq has made impact on this conflict?
Yahen Vilan: Actually whether it’s Al-Qaeda, ISIS or Hamas, they are one and the same. This is the war forced on Israel. Even Arab world understands that Hamas is equally dangerous for them. It is true that turmoil in West Asia has some impact on this conflict but only to some extent.
- What about the recent news of abduction of soldiers?
We have no confirmation about the abduction, but yes, they are missing in the warfare. It may be just psychological warfare.
- What is the way out in this situation?
Israel has no interest in Gaza. We are ready to accept any ceasefire proposal. We want peace and security in the region. Unless there is disarmament of the Hamas there cannot be regional peace and stability.
- What are Israel's expectations from the Indian government?
Mr. Yahel Vilan: We understand Indian compulsions. We are trying to make our point with the Modi government. We hope that democracy serves important link between India and Israel. So we should cooperate more on intelligence sharing, fight against terrorism and technology. We hope that will happen in coming days.