The Tribune - Spectrum


June 8, 2003

Spilling blood over sand
Harbans Singh

Blood and Sand — The West Asian Tragedy
by S. Nihal Singh. CBS, New Delhi. Pages 334. Rs 550.

Blood and Sand --- The West Asian TragedyWITH his vast experience of world affairs and the distinction of having edited the Khaleej Times in the Persian Gulf for nearly seven years, S. Nihal Singh bears impeccable credentials to unfold the never-ending tragedy and heartbreak of the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation.

The book is a collection of selected articles written over a period of two decades, wherein the author has attempted to bring out the ramifications of this tragedy on the lives of not only the Palestinians and Israelis but the whole of the Arab world as well as the wider world. But since the book is a collection of articles written over a period of time and has, according to the author, been subjected to minimal editing, it is also flawed as the movement in time is both jarring and at times confusing. This flaw notwithstanding, a careful study amply succeeds in fulfilling the aim of the author.

Briefly, the author introduces the reader to the countries that have any kind of stake in the region and not only analyses the geo-political compulsions of a particular country but also gives insight into the characteristics that prompt the responses. Many Indian readers and opinion makers would be surprised to know that UAE, which has a literacy rate of 80 per cent and where 15 per cent of the federal budget is spent on education, ruled in 1989 that non-Muslims were not governed by Sharia courts and that a temple and a mosque stand in juxtaposition in Dubai. Or, a Turkish admonition: "Do not dismiss the dish saying that it is just, simply food. The blessed thing is an entire civilisation in itself."


However, such insight of the liberal aspect of the region pales into insignificance in the light of the treachery of fellow human beings that began with the drama of the founding of the Israeli state in the Arab world. One marvels at the capacity of man to subject himself to selective amnesia even when reacting in groups. Thus we have a Europe that has for centuries hunted and hounded the Jews passing on the guilt either to Nazi Germany or the hapless Arabs. Equally appalling is the fact that but for President Eisenhower, none of the American Presidents has been able to withstand the pressure exerted by the Jewish lobby on the policy makers. It bodes ill, for the strength of the US has been the ability of its citizens to cast away the baggage of their contentious history in some distant land. By allowing itself to be dictated by the complexities of the past of the Jewish history it is allowing itself to be mired in the same rut in which Europe had fallen before World War II.

There is little doubt left in the mind of the reader that as long as the US refuses to take a decision on the basis of equity, justice and fair play there is little hope of a resolution of the problem. Till that happens Israelis will continue to pound the Palestinians armed with nothing better than a stone and the spirit to become a human bomb in the absence of an opportunity to fight a conventional war on equal terms. There are times when the sensibility of the reader is numbed by the insensitivity of a people who have themselves suffered persecution for centuries. One would have thought that the collective suffering and the repeated coming back from the dead would make them more humble and considerate to their fellow beings. Alas! It was not to be so.

On another plane, the book is also a saga of the US efforts to reconcile its competing interests in the region. While there was a time when it propped the Shah’s Iran as the regional power it was soon constrained to build a counter power in President Saddam’s Iraq! And, how every thing has recoiled on the only surviving superpower in the world! It is also instructive to note that today, even before the US has undertaken the task of rebuilding post-Saddam Iraq, the fundamentalist Iran, that the US had hoped to contain, is already making incursion towards the oil fields of the Shia Iraq.

India’s approach to the region too deserves some notice. Perhaps the only time a meaningful policy was pursued was when Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister. But then she too, like the Americans, had erred in reading the flow of currents in the region. Thus, today, India has neither any role nor friends bound by the bonds of mutual interests.

Finally, the author is convinced that Ariel Sharon is not the man who can help usher peace. It would be interesting to observe the events that are to follow now as Sharon’s Israel has apparently accepted the land-for-peace formula. Or, perhaps once again the refugee problem would scuttle another attempt.