Yuval Noah Harari has emerged as one of the 21st century’s most recognised public intellectuals. In the midst of the Israel-Palestine war in Gaza, it is useful to revisit his 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, published in 2018.
He writes that ‘terrorism’ is a “strategy almost always adopted by very weak parties who cannot inflict much material damage on their enemies”. They resort to terror because spreading “fear is their main story”. Most important of all, “There is an astounding disproportion between the actual strength of the terrorists and the fear they manage to inspire.” He goes on to say that terrorists calculate that when the “enraged enemy uses his massive strength against them, he will raise a much more violent military and political storm than the terrorists themselves could ever create”. He further underlines, “Provoking the enemy to action without eliminating any of his weapons or options is an act of desperation taken only when there is no option.”
Although in 2018, when the book was published, Harari, like most Israelis, took virtually no note of Hamas (there is only one passing mention of Hamas at p.173), as he, like most Israelis, was totally complacent that Israel’s military and intelligence had the Palestinians completely cowed, his extraordinarily accurate perception of “desperation” leaving the oppressed with “little choice” but resort to foredoomed violence is that “since they are very weak, and have no other military option, they have nothing to lose and everything to gain”. That is why Hamas unleashed its limited stock of missiles in virtually one go, then broke through the Israeli barricades to capture about 200 hostages to bargain for the release of their own men and women—some 2,000 of them locked in Israeli jails.
They knew, of course, that Israel would retaliate—and retaliate inhumanely, viciously, and disproportionately. As Harari had predicted, “Fear and confusion will cause the enemy to misuse his intact strength and overreact.” So that, “Mistakes are made, atrocities are committed, public opinion wavers, neutrals change their stance and the balance of power changes.” For, again as Harari says, “Terrorism is a military strategy that hopes to change the political situation by spreading fear rather than by causing material damage.”
There can be no peace without justice. And it is justice of which the Palestinians have been deprived. For 75 years, Israel has been driving Palestinians out of their millennial homeland. To do this, it was Israel that introduced terrorism to West Asia. Organs like Irgun, Palmach and the Stern Gang secured independent Israel. At least two of their leading men became PMs of Israel: Yigal Allon and Menachem Begin.
Yasser Arafat, in retaliation, set up the Palestine Liberation Organization, but, after violence failed, sent his team for secret negotiations in Oslo. It led to the accord that brought Arafat back from Tunis to Gaza City but instead of a Palestinian state got only panchayati raj in the Gaza Strip, solving nothing. In consequence, Hamas won a free and fair election over the PLO. Ironically, it was Israel that funded Hamas to divide the Palestinian resistance. Now Hamas has shown its true mettle to morally defeat Benjamin Netanyahu, exactly in the manner predicted by Harari. Harari even foresees this when he links “Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Narendra Modi and Netanyahu” (p. 179) as peas sprouting from the same pod.
Hamas will fight and Israel will retaliate until and unless the Palestinian resistance turns Gandhian and shakes the world’s conscience as Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela did by basing their liberation movements on relentless, determined non-violent resistance.
Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.