As erstwhile India and Palestine share a great many commonalities. Both have a colonial history of subjugation and have experienced a wounding severance. Both have been home to multiple religious communities with a complex sense of nationhood. For several decades after independence, India’s stance on Israel-Palestine has been of sympathy and support for Palestinians. The leaders of India’s anti-colonial struggle vehemently criticised the forceful occupation of Palestine to establish a Jewish homeland. Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs. What is going on in Palestine today, cannot be justified by any moral code of conduct.”
Similarly, India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru stated, “Palestine is essentially an Arab country and must remain so” and “the right of the Jews for a homeland should not come at the expense of a homeland of the Arab population of Palestine.” During the 1947 UN General Assembly Resolutions (UNGA), India submitted that independence for Palestine should be the primary purpose of any plan for the future of the country. India was also among the first countries that recognised the Palestinian state. In 1998, India co-sponsored the draft resolution on “the right of Palestinians to self-determination” in UNGA.
India has now turned its face from Israeli atrocities on Palestinians. Turning a blind eye to the human rights violations in Gaza, India, in 2015 and again in 2021, abstained at the UN Human Rights Council on resolutions relating to war crimes and violence in Palestinian territory. As if to underline this volte-face, in 2017, Narendra Modi became the first Indian prime minister to visit Israel who skipped visiting the Palestinian Authority.
However, India’s support for the Palestinian cause still reflects in the work of several Indian civil society, and educational and cultural institutions. The work of the Indian Campaign for the Cultural and Academic Boycott of Israel has underlined the principle that normalising relations at the level of knowledge and cultural exchange with a violent occupier and apartheid state like Israel is deeply unjust and morally repugnant. These actions are in line with the support for Palestinian people through Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) endorsed by a range of institutions across the world.
As Islamophobia has now regrettably become a common phenomenon in India, it is convenient for the State to disregard the cause of Palestinians who are predominantly Muslims. However, not only India, but the world needs to recognise that Palestine is a moral issue. Global support for Palestine is warranted following the universal principle of Justitia nemini neganda est — justice is to be denied to none, and not because of people’s faiths and beliefs. Further, in the words of Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, “Israel no longer has any moral dimension for global support” and following suit, India should also acknowledge the moral problems of bolstering Indo-Israel ties in the face of the forceful and violent Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.
A 2021 report by Human Rights Watch concluded that the “Israeli government has pursued an intent to maintain the domination of Jewish Israelis over Palestinians throughout the territory it controls. In the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem, that intent has been coupled with systematic oppression of Palestinians and inhumane acts committed against them. When these three elements occur together, they amount to the crime of apartheid”. The report recommended that the international community “subject agreements, cooperation schemes, and all forms of trade and dealing with Israel to enhanced due diligence to screen for those directly contributing to the commission of crimes of apartheid and persecution of Palestinians, mitigate the human rights harms and, where not possible, end the activities and funding found to directly contribute to facilitating these serious crimes”.
India’s reluctance to stand with Palestine is highly regrettable for it takes us away from our own history of anti-colonial humanism.
The writer is a Rajya Sabha MP, RJD