London Calling

This is normally the time of the year when one looks back to what it has been like and considers what may lie ahead. The present however inevitably dominates our thoughts and concerns. Right now, there can be no doubt that what is gripping our attention is the dire situation in Gaza. The surprise attack on Israel by Hamas on 7 October 2023 has triggered a massive retaliation by the Israelis that is widely seen as disproportionate in terms of its scale and impact.

Most readers of this magazine will already have formed an opinion on the long running Israel-Palestine saga and its latest manifestation that is still ongoing.  It has been the subject of extensive debate and coverage in the media, online forums, academic and legal articles, exchanges and conversations in private and public. Why am I even bothering to write about it, because by the time this is read it will have been overtaken by other news and events? The reason is I want to put on record what is passing through my mind at this moment.

If I were twenty years younger, I would have joined one of the weekly pro-Palestinian demonstrations that have become a regular feature of Saturdays here in London.  Well, twenty years ago, in 2003, I did take part in a `Stop the War` march against the expected invasion of Iraq, which took place anyway!  But mass protests do matter as a barometer of public disquiet on issues such as these.

That Israel is hell-bent on reducing the population of Gaza to a state of homelessness and penury is evident from the widespread and indiscriminate destruction of their properties and infrastructure that has been taking place on a relentless basis daily with air-strikes and ground attacks by the IDF (Israeli Defence Force). This cuts across the whole expanse of the territory, comprising a land area of no more than 25 miles long and between 3.7 to 7.5 miles wide.  And as for death and injury suffered by Gazans, the picture is far, far worse. The Gazans are in effect being massacred (some 15,000 dead before the current temporary pause in late November) or coerced into moving out of Gaza as refugees in a re-enactment of the 1948 Naqba, in a form of ethnic cleansing. This state of affairs is certainly not going to end well. The cycle of aggression and resistance will continue with a new generation of fighters and defenders, and targeted victims and collateral casualties on both sides. The much vaunted so-called two state Israel-Palestine solution is just a mirage; it has never been seriously pursued by any of the powers involved, and the Americans in particular have a lot to answer for this.  

As for apportioning blame, historical parallels are not hard to find. When 9/11 happened, for example, all the world`s attention was centred on its daring nature and the challenge it posed to the security of the USA. The Americans were instantly reminded of the Japanese assault on Pearl Harbour in 1941. We know how they reacted and the repercussions that ensued. Just as the Americans were exercised about their hurt pride and humiliation in 1941 and 2001, so the Israelis too are consumed by what the Hamas did on October 7 – the killings, the mayhem, the taking of hostages, etc.  

But while the Israelis` focus remains on the initial attack and their revengeful response, nobody is keen to ask questions about what had led to it, just as after 9/11 there was hardly any open examination or frank discussion in the US itself of what had prompted the perpetrators to mount a coordinated military style operation.

Both had come out of the blue, but only a deeply felt sense of grievance and injustice, rooted in past wrongs, can explain what happened. That is not to excuse but rather to understand the paradigm of cause and effect, and that requires a detachment from the emotions generated by the happenings. What has been absent are the voices of reason, wisdom and moderation; where are the likes of Bishop Tutu and Martin Luther King in the world at large?

Diplomatic even-handedness in their public utterances by world (especially western) leaders will not do; what is required is outright moral condemnation of the excessive use of force by the Israelis in their declared mission to eliminate Hamas once and for all, because whatever they do will not bring about a lasting peace. Why is no one shouting, `enough is enough`.

So what is new, my readers will wonder, before swiftly shutting the page and moving on? I had actually planned to write something entirely different (delving into the 20 year span of AwaaZ – how it has evolved into a world class intellectual and cultural platform on a multifaceted level – and to revisit some of my own writings in the magazine) but what prevailed was a sense of anger at all that is happening in Israel-Palestine. What resonated with me was this passage from a piece I had written about Edward Said in 2006:

`{H}is was the concealed rage of the thinker.  He spoke of the diminishing pockets of Palestinian homes and farms amidst a growing number of Israeli settlements … what he called “contonization”, but what the rest of the world sees as “apartheid” like little Bantustans, connected, or often not even that, by roads and access points under the control of the Israelis`. 

Said was referring to what he saw in the occupied West Bank; his take on Gaza and the current situation would have been equally damning!

This year, 2023, then will go down as a pivotal turning point on a number of fronts: not just the wars currently raging in Europe, the Middle East and other parts of the world, but also the devastating effect of climate change and other fundamental ills affecting humanity.

And 2024 presents an equally depressing prospect. On the global geopolitical scene, there will be general elections in the USA and India and the likelihood of Donald Trump and Narendra Modi coming back will only strengthen the trend towards an overarching string of extreme right-wing populist governments across the world, the latest of them, Argentina and the Netherlands in the offing will be adding to Hungary, Poland and Finland already in office. There is very likely to be an election in Britain too, which thankfully Rishi Sunak is likely to lose!  That said, we can at least see the beginnings of a new world order emerging in which the ascendancy of the west will be supplanted by China and a regenerated third world alliance of like-minded nations not aligned to any block. On that cheerful note, I say farewell.

Ramnik Shah


  • Born in Kenya, practiced law in Nairobi from 1964 to ’74 and then for the next 30 years in England, where since retirement he has been engaged in academic research and writing on migration and diaspora related subjects and general literature. He is the author of ‘Empire’s Child’. See also www.ramnikshah.blogspot.com