The politics of retribution has been around for quite some time. It is what comes to mind when watching or reading the news from the Middle East over the past days. Retribution, or revenge, is a perverse manner of seeking justice. It is encountered in a number of ancient law codes, at times also with religious connotations.
The Hamas incursion into Israel, earlier this month, and the resulting brutal massacre, was shocking, just as much as the indiscriminate bombing of Gaza by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). Both are condemnable: violence is not justifiable, irrespective of the reasons which generate it or the cause it seeks to support.
Nor is the collective punishment of the Gaza community in revenge for the terror instilled by Hamas on the revelers at the border kibbutzim in any way justifiable.
The right to self-defense has its limits. It must be exercised in full adherence to international humanitarian law. It is not a license for revenge. Nor is it a license for inflicting collective punishment on Gaza and its residents. Israel has a right to defend itself. Even Gaza residents have that same right to self-defense, a point which is generally overlooked.
Palestinians have been subjected to a continuous state of violence, being deprived of their state. Instead, they have been confined to an open prison.
Besieging over two million Gaza residents without access to food, water, electricity and fuel, is not self-defense: it is the revengeful imposition of a collective punishment. It is a war crime under international law.
The present state of the Middle East is a result of many years of violence and extreme hatred spanning generations. When the violence is displayed by the state of Israel it is called defense. When it is displayed by the Palestinian community it is labelled as terrorism. Both forms of violence end lives. Both are unacceptable. As a result, both Jews and Palestinians have been suffering for generations.
This spiral of violence can only be addressed if its root cause is addressed: it cannot be ignored. The root cause of the conflict is the displacement of the Palestinian nation from its homeland. Those seeking solutions over the years were discarded or even assassinated. Yitzhak Rabin and Anwar Sadat easily come to mind. They are not the only ones who worked indefatigably to give peace a chance: they built lasting bridges instilling hope in many.
It is only when a free Palestine joins the community of nations that peace can start taking root in the Middle East. This is however a very long process. There is no magic solution which can quickly reverse over 80 years of hatred. Peace must be given a chance to blossom.
Condemning today’s violence is appropriate. Unfortunately, however, selective condemnations do not solve anything. Many a time they even make matters worse.
The international community, over the years, has proposed a two-state solution to address the Middle East conflict. It is the only realistic solution which could address the root cause of the conflict. It is only when Palestinians are masters in their own home that the festering wounds of the conflict can start the slow healing process. Malta has continuously supported the two-state solution.
There have been a number of small steps forward over the years. It required men and women with foresight and vision. Unfortunately, the small steps taken were interspaced with violent reactions from those who have repeatedly sabotaged the different peace initiatives, for a variety of reasons.
Violence in the Middle East will not come to an end with plans to eradicate Hamas or others. With each rocket that explodes and increases the death count, fresh recruits spring up to be the standard bearers on behalf of the cause of their forefathers. It is only when the injustices inherited are addressed and reversed that peace can have a chance to blossom.
An eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth has unfortunately been the path followed to date. It is about time that other paths are explored in order that peace is given a chance.
ADPD Deputy Chairperson
Published in The Malta Independent – Sunday 22 October 2023