By Uzair Belgami:
“Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French.” – Mahatma Gandhi
The story of Israel and Palestine is remarkable in many ways. To many of us in India, it is just another violence-torn region which is in a state of perpetual unrest. We sometimes see an obscure headline pop up on the bottom of our TV screens about a killing here, some terrorist group there and in general a whole lot of bloodshed and protests. Of late, there sometimes erupts a massive flurry of headlines which involve a lot of Palestinians being killed for who knows what reason — however, as Israel is doing the killing while world bodies like the UN watch, there must be some legitimate reason. In any case, it seems this is mostly some ‘Muslim vs. Jewish ’ issue and nothing to trouble us Indians!
Yet, the fact is that the story runs much deeper and is of much more relevance to the Indian state and us Indians, than perhaps we may perceive. The violence which has erupted in Gaza in the last week is just the metaphorical ‘tip of the iceberg’, an understanding of it requires an introduction into the history of the region. Though presenting such a detailed history is crucial, it is unfortunately outside the scope of this piece. I would recommend watching theÂ award-winning documentary — Occupation 101, or going through this brief article on the same (I am sure there are much better resources widely available!).
However, for the sake of those who still couldn’t care enough to follow the links, what can be garnered in short (while, unfortunately, being quite simplistic) is that historically the Israeli state was formed, at least in part, by ethnic cleansing and occupation of the lands and homes of native Palestinians. This was done with the active collusion of Western powers like Britain and America, where there are large and powerful Israeli lobbies. Following this, in order to keep a hold over the land and to keep the native population and eventually neighbouring Arab nations at bay, Israel has embarked on a policy of military violence, ‘disproportionate response’ and ‘terrorism’. This is demonstrated by the fact that Israel has received more condemnations from the UN General Assembly, the UN Human Rights Council and other human rights organisations than any other nation in history — all of which it has utterly ignored. A large factor in its acting with total impunity is the unconditional support it receives from the United States government which has vetoed UN Security Council resolutions against Israel on repeated occasions. Israel now controls both the Palestinian regions of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Gaza is kept in a literal inhuman ‘siege’ with even essential humanitarian supplies restricted by Israel and constant killings and arrests of the people of Gaza. On the other hand, in the West Bank, despite repeated condemnations from the UN and EU, Israel adopts a policy of constant land grabbing by building illegal settlements all over the region and subjecting the local population to horrific apartheid-like conditions.
In 2007, a group called Hamas was elected to power in the Gaza Strip after democratic elections, defeating the Fatah party which is representative of Palestinians in the West Bank. The election of Hamas, which is designated as a terrorist organisation by America, EU, Israel and a few other governments (but not so by others such as Russia, China, Turkey, etc), resulted in further sanctions by Israel and increased military action. The Hamas also repeatedly fires rockets into Israeli territory, which though they claim is ‘resistance to occupation’, is nevertheless aimed at terrorizing Israeli civilians. With Israel’s policy of ‘disproportionate response’, it has on repeated occasions bombed structures including hospitals and schools all over the Gaza Strip — as is the case in the most recent episode, where in response to the kidnap and murder of three Israeli settlers which Israel blamed on Hamas (though Hamas has never accepted it), Israel has launched a military offensive on Gaza killing more than 200 people (an overwhelming majority of whom are civilians), injuring almost 1000 and destroying countless buildings; while Hamas has fired hundreds of rockets into Israel, killing one Israeli person. Add the role of media which has historically been accused of biasness in its covering of the story, the role of foreign governments such as Britain, America and the Arab League and the implications of the fate of this ‘holy land’ to the emotions and sentiments of people all over the world — and it is quite plain that this is not just any conflict.
Israel has constantly maintained that these actions have been in ‘self-defence’ and it has been unconditionally supported by leaders of America, Britain and other Western governments. Meanwhile, there have been countless protests from civil societies in many different countries over the years. And Israel’s actions have been condemned by leaders such as Gandhi, Albert Einstein, Nelson Mandela, Noam ChomskyÂ and Desmond Tutu. Also boycotts of Israeli goods have been called for all over the world; recently Stephen Hawking too decided to participate in the academic boycott of Israel. Of late, many soldiers from the Israeli Defence Forces themselves have sensationally begun to speak out in distraught and disgust at the state’s military actions. Miko Peled, the son of the ex-Israeli-general and grandson of one of the founding fathers of Israel himself; many respected Jewish academics; Jewish rabbis; and even holocaust survivorsÂ all condemn the Israeli state’s actions in the strongest possible terms.
And so, what have the good people of our own country got to say about the ongoing inhuman violence and massacres of civilians in the Gaza strip since the past ten days? While the Modi government has still declined to give any strong statement, there is another appalling and despicable aspect to this scenario that hasÂ been on display of late: the reactions of many Indians (for example see the disgusting posts by Subramaniam Swamy in its support). The Zionist ideology is one which is characterised by strong fascist tendencies, hyper-militarisation, breeding fear, hate and using corporate strength for political ends; open racism and apartheid against minorities, manic nationalist, and ruthless suppression of dissent. All this is very similar to another right-wing ideology which has recently come to the fore in our own country. Ring any bells yet? It is hence hardly surprising, andÂ still deeply disturbing that there are many particular Indians standing in support of Israel and even praising their war crimes. It is thus no wonder that many hardcore Hindutva activists and ideologues in our country seem to find a strong partner and ally in Israel (just as they found with the ideology of Hitler and Nazi-ism).
This perhaps may be expected from right-wing cronies and ideologues. But alarmingly there seems to be a silent apathy, or worse, a slowly growing quiet endorsement of Israel’s crimes by many young Indians, who otherwise do not subscriber to hard-line Hindutva or fascist ideologies (for example). Their support is of course explained by the economic benefit that the Indian state may reap by maintaining strong ties with Israel, especially in the realms of military technology and furthering strengthening its fortress of arms. Also, they view Israel as sort of ‘model state’, praising its hardline and disproportionate responses to it’s ‘enemies’ which they, in a nationalistic frenzy, would like India to emulate. When one takes the time to think of the implications of what this means — it is damning on us as a nation and as human beings.
The trivialisation by Indians, of such unimaginable violence, gross oppression, blatant genocide and disregard of international law and human values committed by Israel – in the face of economic and military interests troubles me deeply. Wishing for India to emulate Israel is a horrifying ambition. Ignorance and apathy to the situation can be understood — but this tendency to actively support international war-mongers just because ‘our ideologies are similar’, or ‘we may derive mutual benefit’ is one which is reserved for the dark ages of opportunistic war and imperialism. They have no place in our civilised, progressive Indian state. Such unethical support and selfish endorsement of an apartheid state is no less than criminal and shall forever stand as a blot on the values of our freedom fighters, the values of the Constitution and the values of humanity.
This, when many countries all over the world have been voicing their disgust openly and effectively! Chile has recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv, while Scotland has openly offered medical services to all injured. Perhaps surprisingly, a few days ago, a large number of MPs from Britain itself have publicly called for a condemnation of Israel’s war crimes and imposition of sanctions. India though, as it has in the recent past, has chosen to stand beside many similar selfish Arab nations and other countries who find it too risky to their ‘national interest’ to speak out in response to this unprecedented humanitarian crisis. It is sad that today we have been trained to believe that nationalism is more important than basic humanity. We have all heard the saying “to be neutral in times of injustice, is to take the side of the oppressor”.
I urge us Indians to think: what do we hold more dear — human values of justice, respect, peace and equality or a hyper-national urge to do anything we can to become ‘more prosperous and powerful’ as a state? Does our conscience allow us to support and endorse inhumanity just because we derive benefit out of it? Supporting Israel and not having the will or interest to condemn its oppression and destruction is not at all dissimilar to supporting the local gunda when he commits crimes in our locality — just because we may have more ‘power’ and ‘wealth’ with his backing. India may even be further propelled along the path to be a military super-power by maintaining silence over Israel’s crimes — but I’m sure I speak for many decent human beings when I say that I for one would be very uncomfortable to be in a super-power like this, devoid of values and integrity, when they conflict with our interests.
Unfortunately this issue has been distorted by many into a seemingly ‘Muslim issue’. The culprit for such a distortion among other agents, must first lie with Muslims and Arabs, who have infused religion into a humanitarian crisis for building support and public pressure. Yet a brief reading of the history and present situation of the conflict will without doubt lead one to the conclusion that this is firstly and above all — a humanitarian catastrophe.
The choice which India has to make – of tacitly supporting Israel by maintaining a ‘tactical silence’ or showing solidarity to oppressed Palestinians by condemning the war-crimes and demanding an end on the inhuman siege — is above all, a choice of values, a choice of the ideals we wish to embody and the vision we have for our country. I believe that India, despite its flaws and gaping problems, is firmly on the path to development and making a better life for us Indians — yet do we want a country which is all-too-ready to take up the ensemble of present-day military ‘super-powers’ – of being an international bully, looking out primarily only for its own self-interests and further propelling the arms race by being a military giant? Or can we dare imagine a developed nation which stands for human values and co-operation above all, even when its selfish economic interests seem to be at stake? Such a vision may be termed ‘impractical’ by the short-sighted and the power-hungry ‘true nationalists’ — and it may well be in the present global context! Meanwhile, the world’s 4th largest military power is occupying and terrorizing people who have been kept under siege and denied basic amenities, let alone a military defence. It has recently started a ground invasion and reports are coming in that it has deployed nerve gas on Gazan streets, as usual with no international consequences. If Indians really do care about turning one of the particular visions of India mentioned above into ‘practicality’, we may well start with solidarity with Palestine.