‘Complaining to Iqbal: Dialogue with the Dead’ (also titled ‘SMS to Sir Muhammad Iqbal’) is a poem written by the late Malaysian poet and public intellectual Mohd Kamal Hassan (1942–2023). Inspired by his trip to Spain, the poem provides a concise account of the pitfalls of the international order that he calls ‘the New World Disorder.’ It talks about the predicaments of various global communities — including the Palestinians — over the years leading to the poem’s publication in 2002.
In respect of the question of Palestine, Kamal Hassan uses the literary device of apostrophe and addresses the poet-philosopher Muhammad Iqbal (1877–1938) in the following way.
I wish you have heard the guns
the cries from Deir Yassin, Shabra, Shatilla
the savage rumblings of Sharon’s tanks,
the merciless bulldozers tearing
into Palestinian homes.’
The list of Palestinian places that have witnessed the cruelty and savagery of the Israeli state is ever increasing; very few places have been left untouched. The enormity of Israeli oppression and callous disregard for human life is no longer a rarity. It is vying for record-breaking heights of persecution, while the tale of suffering and loss of the Palestinians is getting longer and bloodier.
Kamal Hassan alludes to the April 1–11, 2002 Israeli massacre of the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank. The Israeli forces killed about 52 Palestinians including the elderly, women and children. Ariel Sharon (1928–2014) was Israel’s prime minister at that time, and that is one reason why Kamal Hassan uses the phrase ‘Sharon’s tanks.’ Sharon’s senseless use of bulldozers to demolish Palestinian homes earned him the notorious nickname of ‘Ariel “the bulldozer” Sharon.’
After many episodes of massacres in other Palestinian neighbourhoods, the crammed and crowded Jenin refugee camp was visited again by the marauding Israeli tanks on July 3, 2023. The murderous tanks were abetted by air bombings. After conducting a 48-hour cowardly campaign against the relatively defenceless Palestinians, the Israeli forces killed 12 refugees of the Jenin camp.
The Israeli forces have now withdrawn from Jenin. However, the Palestinians continue to live in fear because, for decades, Israel has been exercising unbridled liberty to wage war and satiate its thirst for their blood at will. Jenin or any other part of Palestine can be a target for Israeli violence any time.
It should not be forgotten that the Jenin camp houses about 18,000 displaced and dispossessed Palestinian refugees. It is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Therefore, bombings on Jenin are unlikely to avoid human casualties.
The inhabitants of the Jenin refugee camp had been uprooted from their homes by the foreign, Israeli settlers. Thanks to the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 on the lands of the Arabs. Palestinians have been made refugees in their own land only to be killed intermittently and made homeless through periodical land-and-air raids and massacres. Now they have been forced to flee the Jenin refugee camp in their thousands and in search of shelters God knows where.
The cries for justice are falling on deaf ears. Those who have power to stop these gross human rights violations and injustices are in denial or in complicity with the oppressive Israeli government. In April 2002, when the whole world was shocked by the Israeli atrocities, the then US Secretary of State Colin Powell (1937–2021) made a mockery of justice and said to a US Senate committee: ‘Right now I’ve seen no evidence of mass graves and I’ve seen no evidence that would suggest a massacre took place.’ This time, the US Biden administration backed the massacre of Jenin. We leave the case of the oppressed Palestinians and other vulnerable groups with God.
But I want to discuss the blatant hypocrisy of those in power and of the media. The Israeli regime used the euphemism ‘Operation Home and Garden’ to give a good name to the dirty things that its forces perpetrated in Jenin. Mainstream media outlets were either silent or playing down this brutality. Needless to say, a comparable Russian atrocity in Ukraine would perhaps induce a different media reaction, especially in the West.
Some media organisations use sophisticated phrases like ‘major military operation’ to condone Israeli atrocity or to give it some sort of legitimacy. Conversely, the same media resort to terms like ‘terrorist acts’ to describe whatever defensive measures the defenceless Palestinians desperately take.
I believe (Western) media people have first-hand information about Israel’s colonial and apartheid treatment of the Palestinians. But they are forced to hide the truth and compromise with their conscience in order to comply with the editorial policy of their employers. In some way, they and their conscience are also victims of the juggernaut of the Israeli state. I pity them equally.
On a final note, the United States’ one-sided and unconditional support for Israel creates domino effects. It provides unjustified legitimacy to other global actors to commit aggression in their countries and beyond. Similarly, mainstream media complicity in Israel’s human rights abuses in Palestine is too much to bear.
Great powers that can deter the Israeli occupation and help achieve justice for the Palestinians seem to pursue their strategic interests. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the Palestine question and other sore issues in the world will reach amicable solutions only if the world leaders agree to put truth and justice above politics.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.