Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A ray of hope for peace in the Middle East

On Thursday, March 26, 2009, I read in the New York Times a column titled, “The Fierce Urgency of Peace”, by Mr. Roger Cohen. It was well written, gripping, and highly readable. I was quite impressed. I thought it was quite courageous of him to have written that column, knowing as he does what could happen if he provokes the ire of the Jewish Lobby (AIPAC). We know how Charles Freeman was forced to withdraw only 18 days ago, on March 11, as Chairman of the National Intelligence Council; the position was offered to him by Denis Blair, the Director of National Intelligence. AIPAC did not like Charles Freeman, thought he was anti-Israel, and so started a vile campaign against him, vilifying him.

In this column Mr. Cohen informed the readers that 10 prominent Americans had written a letter to President Obama urging him to have a more balanced policy regarding the Palestinians and the Hamas, and to discard George Bush’s policy based on the belief that “Israel can do no wrong”. The ten prominent Americans who signed the letter were: Paul Volcker, former national security advisers Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski, former Senator Chuck Hagel, former World Bank President James Wolfensohn, former U.S. Trade Representative Carla Hills, former Congressman Lee Hamilton and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Thomas Pickering.

I was so impressed with the column that I was inspired to submit a comment to the New York Times. Of course, the NYT refused to publish it. NYT is not pleased when a reader criticizes Israel too severely. Fortunately for me, I have this Blog where I can publish my comments without worrying about an editor of the NYT censoring it. Here is the comment that I sent them :

For the first time in over ten years, I saw a few rays of hope regarding peace in the Middle East when I read this column. Reading this column really cheered me up.

I disagree with you only on a minor issue: To meet with the ten signatories of the letter, President Obama need not wait until a new cabinet in Israel takes over. Instead, he should meet with them as soon as possible, say, within the next few days, because time is of the essence. With more settlements appearing in the West Bank with the passage of time, the entire area now looks like a gigantic slice of Swiss cheese with large areas fenced and carved out of Palestinians' ancestral land to create illegal settlements for Israeli settlers. The chance to implement the two-state solution is drastically reduced with the creation and establishment of each new settlement.

Until now Israel's strategy has been to talk endlessly about their desire for peace, while building more residences in haste in the West Bank to transform the landscape. At this rate, very soon, the two-state solution will vanish and, in its place the one-state solution will take root. Is this what Israel is striving for?

Judging from what President Obama has said and done so far regarding the plight of the Palestinians, I did not have much hope of witnessing a Middle East blessed with peace. Secretary of State Clinton has described the creation of new settlements in the West Bank as "not helpful", and in violation of the road map for peace. She could have expressed her unhappiness using much stronger words. It's quite likely that she used those words deliberately, and only after consulting with President Obama.

Too many people died in Gaza during the war. The killing of people and the destruction of residences and infra-structure must stop. President Obama must object to the bulldozing of Israeli Arabs' houses in East Jerusalem. Israel has bulldozed two houses, and it has announced that 80 more houses will be destroyed to make room for a new settlement near East Jerusalem. President Obama must put a stop to this. He must also adopt a more balanced policy towards the Palestinians, and take the role of a genuine arbiter for peace, and act now to bring peace to the entire Middle East.

— Yesh Prabhu, Plainsboro, NJ

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Primary Requirement for Peace in the Middle East

The primary requirement for peace in the Middle East and the creation and establishment of Palestine is that the two major factions of Palestinians, the Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA), unite and speak with one voice. The Israelis have succeeded in occupying Palestine and controlling the Palestinians because they have learnt, from the British, I suppose, that the principle “Divide and Rule” always succeeds. Isn’t it true that the saying “United we stand, divided we fall”, is true to this day? The British were able to rule India from 1858 to 1947, a country twenty-five times the area of England and fourteen times the area of the entire Great Britain, by meticulously adhering to the rule: Divide and Rule.

Hamas considers the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, for valid and justifiable reasons, a stooge of the Israeli government and a puppet of the American government. Hamas does not trust Abbas; their distrust of Abbas is based on his own record and behavior: Abbas’ muted complaints against the ever expanding Israeli settlements in the occupied territories and Israel’s astonishingly large number of check-points and guarded gates in the tiny area, and his half-hearted protests against the frequent searches, seizures, and arrests of Palestinians at will, with tacit approval of the US, and dozens of such grievances and sore points. In short, the Hamas believes that Mahmoud Abbas has sold the Palestinians’ rights and interests to the governments of Israel and the USA for political gain and to remain in power.

Hamas feels aggrieved too, because it considers itself as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, since it won the majority in the Palestinian general elections of 2006. But the United States, with help and connivance from its European allies, has branded Hamas as a terrorist organization, and has so far steadfastly refused to negotiate with it.

It is imperative that the two factions of the Palestinians bury their differences and unite and speak with one voice. If the Palestinians unite, then neither Israel nor the US will succeed in sweeping away as with a broom the dignity and rights of the Palestinians, the way they have so brilliantly succeeded until now.

But there are signs for hope. The British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has recently said that to bring peace to the Middle East, his government has scrapped its boycott of Hizballah, and would hold talks with the Iran-backed Lebanese Shi'ite movement. Can the recognition of Hamas be far behind? That certainly will be his next step.

I am addressing this question directly to the Palestinians: Why don’t you unite and speak with one voice? If you wish to see the creation of Palestine, you have no choice but to unite. Put aside your differences. Also, renounce violence, because violence begets only more violence. If you unite and renounce violence, the decent people of the world will support you. And history will be on your side, too. India achieved its freedom from the British by uniting and speaking with one voice, under the leadership and guidance of Mahatma Gandhi. He was committed, of course, to non-violence. It’s an excellent idea for you to emulate India and adhere to the principle of non-violence in your fight for freedom from Israel’s brutal occupation.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A sane voice for peace in the Middle East

On December 28, 2008, as I watched first on the BBC, and later on the Aljazeera channel the IDF's(Israel's Defence Force's) assault on the Palestinians in the Gaza, I was shocked and deeply traumatized. As the missiles flew from the Israeli jets and the bombs dropped, buildings crumbled. Houses, mosques, schools, and police stations turned into rubble and ruins. Even hospitals were not spared. Chunks of concrete and bricks, and pulverized roofs and walls of Palestinians' homes flew up in the air. Thick clouds of dust rose up in the air also, and a strange, white, mist-like haze pervaded and lingered in the air. Only about a week later did I learn that the strange, white, mist-like haze was caused by burning phosphorus; the Israelis had dropped white phosphorus bombs on the densely populated areas of Gaza.

As the haze slowly cleared, I saw screaming and terrified people running helter-skelter, and away from the explosions, only to encounter more explosions in front of them. I was horrified and I felt numb from shock. Women clutching infants and dragging toddlers befind them, screaming children trying to follow their mothers and grand mothers, and wounded, bleeding people desperately trying to run for their lives.

"This is not right," I said to myself, shaking my head.
"This is terribly wrong. And unjust, and immoral," a voice within me - my conscience - said. I felt as if I were witnessing a hunter shooting a fenced-in animal, an animal that could not escape. The Palestinians had no safe place to escape to.

But this was only the beginning. The worse was yet to come. And it came when I saw more than a dozen tiny, neatly wrapped bundles, the dead infants wrapped in tiny white shrouds and displayed in a morgue for all to see. The infants had been killed by the IDF in its bombing raids. And when I saw the tiny bundles meticulously laid down in a line, it broke my heart. Some of the bundles were stained with blood that oozed from the infants' war-inflicted wounds. And then I heard on the BBC that some of the children were burnt alive by phosphorus bombs. When phosphorus comes in contact with skin, it burns through skin and flesh, and down to the bones. Death by burning phosphorus is a most painful and agonizing experience. Eye witnesses have described the children screaming as they burnt in sight of their parents.

How could our government allow this war to proceed? I wondered. And when I read in the news papers that Mr. Obama had chosen to remain silent about Israeli's assault on the Palestinians because he felt that we have only one President at a time, and it wouldn't be proper for him to comment on the situation. I felt very sad and also a deep sense of revulsion at what I had seen on the TV. The biased and extremely pro-Israel coverage of the Gaza War on all major TV channels, and radio stations, and even in newspapers such as The New York Times, added to my sense of gloom.

My deep gloom lasted for over ten weeks. And then today, finally, I decided that instead of just wallowing myself in sorrow at the 1417 Palestinians senselessly killed, more than 15,000 senselessly wounded, and 20,000 rendered homeless, and 14,000 homes destroyed, I should work for peace, and ask for fairness and justice for the brutalized Palestinians, who feel oppressed under Israeli occupation of their ancestral lands for over forty years. People - both the Israelis and the Palestinians - deserve to live in peace. A three thousand years old Hindu prayer in Sanskrit, a simple prayer of great beauty is: Sarve' Janaah sukhino bhavantu! Which means: Let all people around the world live happily! How I wish a man of stature and principles, a man like Mahatma Gandhi, who was the embodiment of non-violence, were born in the Middle East to bring peace to the region!. Instead of Mahatma Gandhi, we have had the likes of Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon, and now we have Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Olmert and the ultra-right wing party leader, Avigdor Lieberman.

Over the last ten or more years, I have thought long and hard about how to bring peace to the Middle East. I know and I admit that because I am neither an influential columnist nor a well-known editorial writer at a major magazine or newspaper, what I write in this blog will barely cause a ripple, much less a deep introspection and change of heart regarding the plight of the Palestinians. Nevertheless, I intend to express my thoughts clearly, precisely and freely. I am not running for any public office, nor am I beholden to AIPAC, the Jewish Lobby; so, unlike most US politicians and some commentators and columnists, I can afford to say clearly what I think, and mean what I say.

To those who wish to know who I am, I have this to say: I am a chemist by profession, and a writer by choice. For over thirty years I have worked at two major pharmaceutical companies and one biomedical devices manufacturer, here in NJ, in their analytical labs and also in their Regulatory Affairs departments. My novel titled "The Beach Tree" was published in March 2004 by Author House. I am now working on my second novel. V. S. Naipaul, Joseph Conrad, Jane Austen, J. D. Salinger, Arundhati Roy, and Rudyard Kipling are my favorite authors. I am an avid gardener, and grow orchids on my window sills to remind me that miracles bloom even on slender twigs. And at night I meditate for peace of mind. I have been a life-long vegetarian because I was born in a Hindu vegetarian family. I am totally non-violent; I do not harm, much less kill, even ants, flies, spiders and insects. Like Mahatma Gandhi, I am committed to the principle of Ahimsa(non-violence).

Your comments regarding my posts are welcome.