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Updated: June 10, 2014 00:20 IST

Searching for Palestine in India’s Israel policy

T. N. Gopalan
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From India to Palestine — Essays in Solidarity: Edited by Githa Hariharan;
LeftWord Books, 2254/2A, Shadi Khampur, Ground Floor, New Ranjit Nagar,
New Delhi-110008. Rs. 350.
Special Arrangement From India to Palestine — Essays in Solidarity: Edited by Githa Hariharan; LeftWord Books, 2254/2A, Shadi Khampur, Ground Floor, New Ranjit Nagar, New Delhi-110008. Rs. 350.

In January last, the LeftWord published a collection of essays, From India to Palestine, protesting the ever blossoming “strategic relationship” between India and Israel.

One of the contributors, Sunaina Maira, despairs: “Where is India’s Palestine? It is a question Indians need to ask … Are we going to move closer to Israel and the U.S. and deepen our alliance with warfare and police states?”

We have the answer now. Narendra Modi, the new Prime Minister, has been hailed as Israel’s best friend In South Asia, by the prestigious New York-based International Business Times.

After Modi’s stunning victory, an Israeli news agency reported, “India’s Prime Minister-designate Narendra Modi has expressed his desire to “deepen and develop” ties with Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday, and it appears that Netanyahu's words do not constitute diplomatic flourish but, if anything, understatements.”

There is nothing unusual about such assessments. Immediately after the BJP chose Modi to head its 2014 poll campaign committee, back in June 2013, a commentator wrote in The Diplomat, a noted online magazine on current affairs, “... if Modi were to become PM, expect ties with Israel — already a key defence partner — to expand dramatically. While it was a Congress government that established diplomatic ties with Israel in 1992, it was under a BJP-led government from 1999 to 2004 that Indian ties with the Jewish State blossomed. This period led critics to believe that this was not just a security partnership but also a relationship with strong religious and ideological moorings.”

To think the avowed Father of the Nation, had remarked, “Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs ... Surely it would be a crime against humanity to reduce the proud Arabs so that Palestine can be restored to the Jews partly or wholly as their national home.”

There will be few in this country to regret that Gandhi has now become anachronistic in one more sphere. But the LeftWord writers cry their heart out, make a passionate plea for justice for the Palestinians, hoping, as is generally the case with activists, that someone would hear somewhere.

From Gandhi’s strong moral position to the 2003 visit of the then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to the ballooning defence purchases from Israel, the contributors have sought to chart the course of Indian policy towards Israel and contrast it with the all-enveloping gloom over Palestine.

“According to Israeli Defence Ministry reports, India accounted for 50 per cent of Israel’s military exports, surpassing Russia as the number one arms supplier to India in 2008. India has bought weapons worth more than $10 billion from Israel since 1999; not only is India the biggest customer, but it has also bought more arms than Israel’s own armed forces,” points out Prabir Purkyastha, who also stresses that arms sales form the bedrock of the Israeli economy and India’s enthusiasm for its products was a welcome breakthrough at a time when the end of the Cold War seemed to spell trouble for the arms trade internationally. Thus, when the pro-Palestine activists across the world are trying to drum up support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, seeking to pressure Israel, though not with much success so far.

Essay after essay in the collection brings out the horror and humiliation of life for Palestinians under Israel occupation. Movements are restricted, houses demolished, water scarce, jobs even more so, settlers on the rampage — situation tailor-made for violent protests, which in turn become justification for more outrages on the part of the Israeli authorities.

Anything could be excuse to stall a peace deal, the latest being an agreement between the Al Fatah and Hamas to work together. None other than U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned Israel it risked becoming an apartheid state, but withdrew his remarks post-haste, following a furious onslaught from the Jewish lobby.

During his recent visit to Jerusalem, Pope Francis rested his forehead against the concrete structure that separates Bethlehem from Jerusalem, and prayed silently. He stood at a spot where someone had sprayed in red paint “Free Palestine”. Above his head was graffiti in broken English reading: “Bethlehem look like Warsaw Ghetto.” Subsequently, he also said the conflict in the region was increasingly unacceptable, still as if by way of making up for his wall-prayer-protest, the Pope went on to offer prayers at the Victims of Acts of Terror Memorial.

Clearly things are going to get much worse, intifadas or no. But one wishes the collection had included some analysis of the rot within the Palestinians themselves, corruption, fanaticism, the Hamas catch-22, et al. Most writers have sought to be politically correct. That the Left introspect seldom is another story though.

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