Nepal and Israel are celebrating 60th year of diplomatic relations this year. Nepal is one of the first countries in the South Asia region to recognize Israel as a state. Bilateral relations between the two countries have been good although Israel has been voicing for making multilateral relations of the two countries equally fruitful. Recently, there was a war between Israel and Hamas organisation of Palestine. Following an 11-day long exchange of rockets and airstrikes between Israel and Hamas, there has been a ceasefire. Media reports say over 250, mostly Palestinians, were killed in the war between Israel and the Hamas, the organisation that has control over Gaza, of Palestine, which saw Hamas targeting Israeli cities with rockets while Israel responded with airstrikes in Gaza. Given this backdrop, Nanda Lal Tiwari of The Rising Nepal talked with Ambassador of Israel to Nepal, Hanan Goder, about relations between Nepal and Israel and also about the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas.
Recently there was a war between Israel and Palestine. It is good the warring parties have reached a ceasefire. But, the question is, why does the fighting occur now and again?
Ambassador: The use of now and again in your question for emphasis is interesting. Yes, it is ninth or tenth rounds of conflicts like this. But let me offer my comment, the conflict is not between Israel and Palestine. The conflict is between Israel and Hamas terror organisation that is using an internal conflict in the Palestinian authority to start an escalation. Now, what do I mean? Israel is a sovereign country. We have the Palestinian authority that is responsible on the aspect of civil life of the Palestinians and they are in control of West Bank/Judea and Samaria and they were responsible on Gaza. But Hamas did not like it and they made a military coup in 2006 and took control of Gaza. The Palestinian authority is not in control of Gaza. Now, they were supposed to have election. For internal reasons inside the Palestinian authority, they decided to postpone the election. We don't want to intervene as it is a Palestinian issue. But the Hamas was interested in having the election. Now, what is the easiest way to create a dilemma or some problems is by trying to shoot. They started it earlier by shooting the people at a bus station. They missed, they could not create the chaos they wanted. It was not enough for them. So they picked up another issue. They picked up a verdict of the court on some property, which the government cannot control because the high court is completely independent. Its verdict was expected one, and they started demonstration against it. But then, it was not enough for them. So they incited the prayers inside a big mosque in Jerusalem to clash with the police. Now, you have a crowd of one hundred thousand people and two thousand beginning to throw stone at police. The police goes inside and there is the clash and in the photos in media you will see the police against the hundred thousand people, which is wrong. Even that one was not enough, so the easiest thing is to start shooting. This round they shot more than four thousand rockets on Israel. 20 per cent of them went up and fell down on their own houses. When a rocket supposed to go some 50 km away falls on your neighbour, you will claim that it was shooting by Israel on the neighbour, on the civilian family. No away. 800 of rockets fired by Hamas fell on their own area, on civilians, on their own people. It does not appear in the media. On the other hand, the Hamas targeted Israeli cities when they fired rockets, which is crime against humanity as per the international law. Luckily, we have the system to protect ourselves from the 3,200 rockets that fell on Israeli cities. But still, we lost people. We lost foreign workers in Israeli, Israeli children and also Israeli Arabs. We lost many things because they targeted civilians. When Hamas shoots, they do not go to an open field but onto the roof of a house, school or hospital and when you retaliate, there is rumour that Israel is attacking houses, schools or hospitals, mosques. This is bullshit. They attack Israel from civilian structures knowing that we will retaliate and they have the photos of human affected, civilian houses destroyed. Israel has no interest in attacking the civilian population. Israel is where Israel is and Gaza is where Gaza is, yesterday, today and tomorrow! Do you think if we kill a thousand children, it will bring peace? No way. On the contrary, it will only brew more hatred. Let me repeat, Israel has no interest to attack civilians, we target the terrorists. The Hamas target civilians or make it their base of attack. So they have the photos of people suffering and the media makes the report on them. This is a cynical way of terrorists that are playing with the human lives. The world recognizes Hamas as a terror organisation. You read it, you see it, and you also know what the Hamas claim to be. The only question I raise is, where Nepal is when it simply urges warring parties to .
During the recent war between Israel and Hamas as you said, there were also demonstrations within Israel by its citizens of Arab origin. What is that? How is the situation developing?
Ambassador: We have different communities in Israel. It is a democracy; some people are for the government and some people are against the government. There are people with different background. There are at least 10 organisations that decide about the Israeli government. Let it be. Being a democracy, you can say what you want, you can even demonstrate when you want as long as you don’t incite violence. Freedom of speech is valued as long as you don’t harm somebody else, and as long as you demonstrate, you don’t clash with your neighbour, and of course not with the government or the police. And some people were demonstrating. Although worrying, it was Israelis. That was something which was Israeli. Every society has groups, as in Nepal, India or Europe, you have different opinions. It is completely legitimate that people are demonstrating.
We were also talking about Hamas and our expectation of international community. And if the international community does not know how to condemn Hamas, they take it as a go ahead for next round. This is why we expect Nepal like other friendly countries to know how to condemn Hamas, and not to just call the parties for calm. How can there be calm as long as Hamas continue shooting rockets at Israel? Such a policy cannot lead to calmness. Terrorism should be condemned.
So, how could there be peace in the region?
Ambassador: Good question. Peace between the two parties can occur only when the two parties compromise, when a party recognizes the rights of the other ones. Israel recognizes the rights of the Palestinians. The Palestinian authority also agreed on that. But that is not the case now. The problem lies with the Hamas which holds a religious way of thinking and want to incite religious conflict. Religious conflict is dangerous, you know why, because you cannot ask god about which one is right. If you have political conflict, you can compromise. But if you discuss about whose god is more powerful, then this is an endless conflict.
The conflict is solved when it is becoming a political and not a religious conflict. The religious conflict with Hamas is that they say that Israel has no right to exist. You cannot have any way of dialogue with an individual or organisation that claims that you have no right to exist. On what do you negotiate in such a situation? What do we negotiate on the time table of our death?
How did you see the response of the international community in course of the recent conflict?
Ambassador: We have the list of countries which condemned Hamas, and we have the list of the countries that did not condemn Hamas. And our good friends, people and countries that understand how these things work are standing next to Israel, for right of Israel for self defence and protection of its citizens. You should know there is religious leadership in Gaza where there is no election, minority rights, woman rights, communities' rights.
Does the conflict has international dimensions?
Ambassador: Of course it has because what happens in the middle-east is affecting oil, commerce, transportation and also in UN voting in Geneva, on so many areas and places. And the Middle East has gone a long way forward. Only recently, we signed peace with Gulf countries. Our Prime Minister visited some Arab countries such as UAE and also Sudan, Morocco, Bahrain. There are some good discussions held with the South East countries and the discussions with Egypt have been very productive. There are some good signs as long as we do not tolerate a religious conflict.
The ceasefire has come into effect. How long do you expect it to long last, for instance, the truce made in 2014 lasted till recent past?
Ambassador: A ceasefire is a measure where there is a fence in the middle and you are there and I am here. This is what we all imagined. But, if you take balloons and send them with bombs to Israel, is not that contradiction to the ceasefire? And the say the ceasefire is only on rockets and not on balloons. They tie four or five balloons that also can carry a bomb and they send the balloon to Israel where the civilians or the children touch it as balloons, but the bombs explode. No, in such situation, this is not a ceasefire. The interest of Israel is to keep peace. But, the act in such a way that they want us to shoot at them.
Therefore, this ceasefire will hold as long as they would like to hold it. Ceasefire is ceasefire and at the moment Israel is supplying water, electricity and humanitarian aid to Gaza. But, they also shoot at the passage of the humanitarian aid. Why? Because in such situation the worker of the humanitarian aid stop working and then they will be hungry and then they blame us for starving them. It is a good question how long this truce will hold. But Malai ta Chhaina (I doubt), I have no clue as to how long it will hold, a year, a month or a week. By the way, they still have 10,000 rockets prepared to shoot. I am sorry, I am realistic. Ceasefire will hold as long as they (Hamas) enjoy it.
But there was no war since 2014?
Ambassador: That's what you say. That's why I was talking about the balloons. They kept sending balloons in Israel, which exploded and created fire. But his is not interesting for them. What is interesting is Israel as a democracy shooting at Hamas. Media do not report on hundreds of rocket fires on Israel. Therefore, even the peaceful situation has been very, very fragile. But, yes, it was not major attacks, like the one we have now. Still then, we have had three rockets from Hamas per week or so even during peaceful time. In fact, it was not peace as such.
So, you mean Israel has been undergoing a situation of terror despite peace?
Ambassador: There was no peace, but calm.
Let me now talk about the relations between Nepal and Israel. How do you see the relations in the last 60 years since Nepal recognised Israel as a state? Nepal is one of the first countries in South Asia to recognize the state of Israel.
Ambassador: When you talk about relations, I think you talk about bilateral relations. And the bilateral relations between Nepal and Israel are very good. When you talk about bilateral relations, it means what Nepal and Israel are sharing, exchanging and the visits and so on. Bilateral relations are on agriculture, tourism, aid, workers/care givers, investment and other similar aspects of cooperation. As we have had all these cooperation, bilateral relations between the two countries are very good and cordial, and they are growing every year. And we are very, very happy with the bilateral relations. However, relations have a second leg. And the second leg is the multilateral relations. Multilateral relations are expressed in terms of voting in the UN in New York and in the Geneva. I have a UN card of votes of Nepal in New York and Geneva. When I see it, I find Nepal is voting against Israel in almost all political issues. And how I can say we have a good multilateral relations. Only in 2018, 2019 and 2020 stayed absent in an issue, and we are happy for seeing Nepal is changing its positions. When I raise issues with the concerned ministry here, they say Nepal is gradually changing its positions in favour of Israel but, I see, the way Nepal has been voting in the UN in issues relating to Israel will take over eight decades for Nepal to have a neutral position on Israel!
As part of bilateral cooperation, we have 'Learn and Earn' programme in which about 500 Nepali farmers go to Israel every year. Nepal has one of biggest share in this programme. We take 4,000 students from 40 countries. I am the one that entered Nepal into this programme. I want to see more job opportunities for Nepalis in Israel. I also want to have construction workers and workers in tourism in Israel from Nepal. We also have scholarship programme and foreign employment ones.
Nepal is a beautiful country, people are honest and beautiful, and many Israelis love to come here for tourism, volunteer works. We have a good people to people contact. Despite all this, multilateral relations also have an effect on bilateral ones. Unfortunately, multilateral relations are not going ahead as expected. As I said earlier, relations have two legs, if only one leg is moving ahead and the other one is lagging behind, you cannot move much ahead.
Nepal is presently reeling under a health crisis due to the second wave of COVID-19. Recently, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli appealed to the international community for humanitarian aid. How is Israel responding to his call?
Ambassador: Of course, we care about what is happening here due to COVID-19. We did our best by providing medical supplies to Nepal in the first wave. Even now, Israel is providing ventilators, oxygen concentrators and other medical supplies. Besides government, private companies and other organisations are also collecting humanitarian aid to send here in Nepal, as people to people contact between Nepal and Israel is also very good.
Anything that I missed to ask and you want to add?
Ambassador: Nepal is an amazing country in its beauty and even more because of its people. Please keep your beauty, keep the beauty of your country, keep the beauty of your community and keep the beauty of your society. This is not my first time here. You have lovely people and lovely country. Do not neglect it. Many people in Nepal think that this exists, it will always exist. Keep your country, it is precious, it is beautiful. Appreciate what you have. You have amazing things in your country, please preserve them. It can be lost due to modernization, pollution and climate change, migration and so on.
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