The sustained attacks by the Israeli armed forces on Palestinian civilians in Gaza, based on the excuse that some Hamas men had kidnapped and killed three Israeli teenagers, have shocked those in the world community who believe in the idea of ethical responsibility, democracy, justice and negotiated settlement. The attacks by Israel are disproportionate to the crime committed earlier by Hamas, and are intended to terrorise civilians, dissenters within Israel; targeted to forcefully displace Palestinians to flee out of Gaza in tune with the Israeli policy of capturing land for “pure” Jewish settlers and continue reconstructing a Zionist fundamentalist state.
Those who mouth words such as humanitarian intervention, liberal peace, hegemonic stability, and still continue to flaunt international laws of peace and the Geneva Conventions in Israel today stand de-legitimised in front of the scales of justice. In this context where does India stand?
The Indian government has taken different stands leading to policy confusion. The collective statement signed by prime minister Narendra Modi in the BRICS summit with other emerging countries this week is unambiguous and principled. It clearly supports the creation of an independent Palestine that should co-exist with an Israeli state. It emphasises that the Palestinian state should be based on the borders delineated on June 4, 1967, and that it “should be contiguous and economically viable with East Jerusalem as its capital”. The statement reiterates resolutions in the United Nations bodies. The statement indicates India and the BRICS are convinced, as are most in the third world, that the Palestinians cannot get justice, peace, equity or citizenship rights within the state of Israel. Any state that cannot ensure this to its own citizens is surely rogue in its character, procedural in its democracy and warped in its justice.
Despite the PM’s statement, foreign minister Sushma Swaraj did not allow a discussion and resolution on this urgent issue in the Lok Sabha. The reasons, she said, was that India was friendly and needed both Israel and Palestine. That currently, Israel was helping India to evacuate stranded Indians in the Iraq crisis, and the most often cited reason that India is getting sensitive defence equipment and technology from Israel, and could not “alienate” it.
All three reasons are flawed for the following reasons. If Israel is India’s friend, is it not the duty of a friend to tell its ally that it is wrong? What kind of superficial friendship is this that it is based on accepting the injustice and its own commitment, for the sake of friendship? When India was colonised, the USA was a “friend” of the UK. But they did advise them to de colonise. Does friendship with one country mean that you can betray another friend? On the contrary, friendship should mean India advising and pressuring Israel to immediately stop the ethnic cleansing, murder and displacement of its own citizens.
On the question of getting defence technology, the reality is that it is Israel who is dependent on India for the billions of dollars they are getting, and not the other way round. India can get sensitivities and adequate defence technologies from anywhere in the world, as it used to earlier. This myth of “national security needs” from Israel is pulling wool over mostly their own eyes.
On the issue of Israel helping in the evacuation of Indians stranded in Iraq, surely this is a humanitarian issue and not one that needs to be some quid pro quid for absolving them of what look like crimes against humanity. Further, it is disappointing that the brilliant officers in the Indian Foreign Service have not been able to give the ministers of two successive governments the right and ethical advice on Palestine.
So, what should be done now? India must call for an immediate ceasefire. India should give humanitarian aid to the Palestinians. The recent budget has increased external development assistance and some of this should go to the Palestinian territories. India should ask Israel to bear all liabilities, full responsibility for the wanton destruction and loss of life. But most of all, India should uphold in all practical ways the statement signed by the PM in the BRICS summit, till its every word is implemented. This would be the real test of friendship to both Israel and Palestine.
Despite numerous UN General Assembly and Security Council resolutions, Israel has not withdrawn from the Palestinian territories annexed by it during the 1967 war. The creation of Israel itself brought into being a Zionist state which has consistently annexed Palestinian territory and excluded on community while favouring another. This has been consistently opposed by India till as late as the 1980s. Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru as also other leaders urged that Israel’s racist policy be stopped. Currently, a large area of Palestine has been separated and divided by the Israeli apartheid wall that segregates Palestinians in areas not officially Israeli. Israel is currently annexing large parts of Jerusalem, a city that is holy to all the Semitic religions.
The issue of Palestine is not isolated. It is linked to the very basis of India’s foreign policy. Even if this policy intends to be “pragmatic” and “complex”, supporting Palestine, stopping war amounts to help end the wars in West Asia and de-legitimising fundamentalism, terrorism and racism to which India is committed. Supporting Israel is supporting militarism and discrimination, which is associated with many rogue states today.
The Indian position on Gaza should not tie itself in knots. Where on the one side the PM makes a clear statement, the BJP unit in Kashmir leads demonstrations for an independent Palestine, the foreign minister refuses discussions in Parliament, and the security establishment is steeped in ambiguity. The prime minister’s commitment to an independent Palestine must be followed up unambiguously by using all means to pressure the one road block to it—Israel. The Indian government and civil society must rise to support the Palestinian people and their struggle for justice, peace and independence.
The writer is professor at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.