SUNDAY MAGAZINE

What about “Never again”?

Douse the fire: Will the ceasefire hold?

Douse the fire: Will the ceasefire hold?   | Photo Credit: Photo: AP

PRIYAMVADA GOPAL

Israel’s ‘security’ agenda has seen the country come close to a tragic re-enactment of the policies of ethnic hatred and extermination that accounted for the suffering of its own people.



Several anguished Israeli voices have spoken up against the carnage being undertaken in their name.





Some years back, a good-natured piece on SatireWire announced the birth of a new race, a Hindu-Jewish attempt to form ‘a super-religion to fight off the common Islamic enemy.’ Alas for the Hinjews, ‘no matter how many times they are reincarnated, can never please their mothers’!

Humour can can cut to the truth and, indeed, the ‘textbook alliance’ parodied here is one that has been advocated perfectly seriously and on precisely such questionable ideological terms. SatireWire’s pastiche of a cow wearing a yarmulke was scarcely more surreal than that picture of Ariel Sharon, general-turned-politician held to account by an Israeli commission for two infamous massacres, laying flowers on Gandhi’s samadhi. In 1992, an apparently ‘pragmatic’ security agenda prompted India to restore full diplomatic relations with Israel (accompanied by vast arms purchases) after nearly 50 years of a principled stand against Israel’s expansionist occupation of Palestinian territories. We now hear distinctly spurious talk of special ‘cultural affinities’ between Judaism and Hinduism. Surely Judaism can hardly have less affinity with Islam, a religion with which it shares Semitic origins and languages, scriptural insights, prophets, dietary taboos and ritual practices?

Leaders like Gandhi and Nehru recognized Israel but also believed that an India emerging from under the colonial yoke could scarcely endorse the forced occupation of other lands and the exodus of thousands of its inhabitants to make way for European settlers. The 1948 formation of Israel on the British Mandate of Palestine was itself brokered by an Empire which had developed a habit of offering other people’s lands, including parts of East Africa, for the establishment of a Jewish homeland (which would conveniently excise Europe of her centuries-old Jewish presence).

To understand Palestinian sentiments, it is worth imagining what might have happened had India, also a British imperial possession, been offered to and accepted by Zionist leaders. What might our feelings be, not only if North India had been handed over for establishing the nation of Israel, but also, if after those borders had been drawn, the new entity proceeded, say, to take over parts of Gujarat and Bengal, as Israel did with the Golan Heights, Gaza and the West Bank in 1967? Would we, who still nurse the terrible wounds of our own Partition, be sanguine in the face of the loss of homes, livelihoods, farms, and orchards as we wandered for lifetimes as exiles in neighbouring countries or raised entire generations in refugee camps?

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To ask this is not for one moment to forget the terrors inflicted on the Jews of Europe, the horrific suffering that necessitated their own flight, their incalculable loss of homes and families. But having looked on as Israel pulverised Gaza into near nothingness, also killing hundreds of young children, we as a nation must rethink our now uncritical endorsement of Israel’s ‘security’ agenda. In the hands of an unscrupulous leadership, Israel has come close to a tragic re-enactment of the very policies of ethnic hatred and extermination that underlay the suffering of its own people. Even steadfastly neutral organisations like the Red Cross have now criticised Israel’s wilful violations of international law in the bloody collective punishment inflicted on civilians and aid organisations. By tacitly sanctioning a vengeance described by one appalled Israeli commentator as ‘an eye for an eyelash’, we are supporting an ethno-religious nationalism which, far from having ‘affinities’ with India, has nothing in common with our own proudly plural foundations. Israel is a state which officially elevates a single religion; India is not and we should resist every force that bends us in that direction, not least because we have seen the effects of that narrowness at our doorstep.

The unpalatable truth is that our new-found national friendship with Israel has not been based on solidarity with the historical suffering of Jews or on a real dialogue with Israeli people. We have come to it via the seductive allure of ‘War on Terror’ discourse which lumps all resistance to the practices of the U.S. and its Israeli satellite state (a status India should not covet) under the undifferentiated category of ‘terrorism’. While Hamas’ rocket attacks on Israeli civilian areas are reprehensible, their impact is fairly contained and is certainly not comparable to the indiscriminate brutalities of, say, al-Qaeda.

Where al-Qaeda’s leadership appropriates and perverts the rhetoric of liberation, Hamas’ credibility among Palestinians derives from its participation in a very real struggle against occupation in the face of near international isolation. Troubling though its Islamism might be, that too has to be understood in the context of an occupation that has been conducted in insistently ethnocratic terms touting the supremacy of the Jewish state.

This exemplifies the self-fulfilling prophecies of civilisational clash at the heart of the U.S.’s highly selective counter-terrorist rhetoric which not only fosters such damaging Islamism but guarantees that this narrow ideology finds support among ordinary people who otherwise have little to gain from it. At the end of the day, Palestine is not a Muslim issue — though often deemed so by both supporters and detractors — but a simple question of the right of a people to freedom from occupation.

While both countries are undermined by hawkish nationalists and religious zealots, Israel and India fortunately share powerful and humane dissident traditions. Several anguished Israeli voices have spoken up against the carnage being undertaken in their name. Like Hindus who refuse to concede Hinduism to the travesties of Hindutva, these Jews point out how Talmudic tenets of ‘truth, justice and peace’ have been debased by Israel’s leadership. Given their vastly lucrative trade ties, it is morally incumbent on India to use its leverage to bring Israel back from the war of extermination it is waging. The great number of decent people in both nations — and in ravaged Palestine — must now make common cause against hatred and violence. It is time to reaffirm and extend to all peoples, the world’s powerful post-Holocaust vow. ‘Never Again’ must not die, dishonoured, in Gaza.

The writer teaches in the Faculty of English at the University of Cambridge.

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