Palestine has been at the centre of global attention in the last week. Starting with protests against ethnic cleansing of Palestinian families in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, on May 9th Israeli forces stormed the Al Aqsa mosque compound where worshippers were observing the last Friday night of the month of Ramadan. Soon after, Israel began its assault on the besieged Gaza strip, where close to 200 people including 55 children have been killed by Israeli airstrikes so far. Media centers including those housing international press have been flattened by Israeli missiles.
While this is going on in Jerusalem and Gaza, within the ‘48 territories, in mixed cities like Lod, Haifa and Acre, Zionist mobs are attacking Palestinians and their homes, often in collusion with the Israeli police- a scenario we in India are quite familiar with. Palestinians in the occupied territories of the West Bank are rising in protest, and 11 of them have been killed so far by Israeli forces. There were also unprecedented scenes of Palestinian refugees on Jordan and Lebanon border showing their resistance.
While none of these criminal actions of Israel are new, this cycle of Israeli settler colonial violence and apartheid has seen swelling protests from Palestinians and those in solidarity with them around the world. Last year Netanyahu had announced a planned formal annexation of 30% of the occupied West Bank. This decision was met with condemnation and counter measures, including 10 ex-presidents and 700+ MPs from the global south calling for sanctions and a UN investigation into Israel’s apartheid. More recently, Human Rights Watch has recognized Israel’s policies against the entire Palestinian population including refugees as apartheid.
In this recent spate of Israeli violence, the bias of western media, the complicity of powerful states and the propaganda of false equivalences is being vehemently called out. Palestinians have had enough, and their resistance is gaining more and more mainstream support today.
May 15th marked 73 years since the ethnic cleansing of over 750000 indigenous Palestinians, the destruction of 500 villages and 11 towns by Zionist forces to establish the state of Israel- what is remembered as al-Nakba, the catastrophe. Palestinians have expressed that their Nakba is ongoing, and recent events make that evident. The day itself saw escalated airstrikes in Gaza including flattening of a media centre and more killings. But it also saw protests across historic Palestine as well as across the world, wherever it was possible for people to gather in public. Even as powerful states continue to shield Israel, people’s resistance is squarely on the side of the Palestinian people.
For us in India, solidarity for Palestine is deeply tied up with the struggles for justice in our own context. India was counted among Palestine’s allies for the most part of the 20th century. From 90s onwards though, as Oslo Accords imposed a massive setback to the struggle for Palestinian liberation, India too began to warm up to Israel. Initially what was claimed to be a “pragmatic” shift under successive UPA governments has become a firm ideological collusion under the Modi government.
India is Israel’s biggest arms buyer, alone accounting for nearly 50% of Israel’s arms exports. These arms are “field tested” on Palestinians, to maim and kill them. This direct financing of and complicity with Israel’s illegal occupation and settler colonial crimes fits well into the ideological compatibility of Hindutva and Zionism- both violent, supremacist ideologies. India not only buys Israeli arms, but also borrows its tactics and strategies of repression to deploy them in Kashmir. The abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir reflects a settler colonial ambition, as has been stated by Indian representatives. The Citizenship Amendment Act closely resembles Israel’s Law of Return, according to which any Jewish person can become a citizen of Israel while Palestinians live under apartheid. Israeli spyware has been used against activists and lawyers involved in the Bhima Koregaon case. Companies like Netafim that enable the colonization of Palestinian lands and dispossession of Palestinian farmers are part of state subsidy schemes in India, imposing contract farming models.
It is in the course of resistance that one understands that solidarity and intersectionality of struggles aren’t just terms, they are central to the experience of organizing. In defending the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality, we also defend our own secularism, democracy and human rights. It is with this perspective that the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement in India has been connecting with local struggles and organizations. The BDS movement, led by the largest Palestinian civil society coalition has urged us to take the following five steps in order to resist Israeli settler colonialism and apartheid:
1. Work with progressive networks to pressure parliament and government to (a) end all military-security cooperation and trade (military funding in the US case) with apartheid Israel and similarly criminal regimes of oppression worldwide, (b) ban all goods/services of companies operating in Israel’s illegal colonial settlements; and (c) demand a UN investigation of Israeli apartheid.
2. Mobilize pressure in your community, trade union, association, church, social network, student government/union, city council, cultural center, or other organization to declare it an Apartheid Free Zone (AFZ), ending all relations with apartheid Israel and companies that are complicit in its system of oppression.
3. Boycott products/services of, and/or mobilize institutional pressure to divest from, Israeli and international companies and banks that are complicit in Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity. This includes all Israeli banks (Leumi, Hapoalim, etc.) and major multinationals such as: Elbit Systems, HP, G4S/Allied Universal, AXA, CAF, PUMA, Caterpillar, General Mills/Pillsbury, Hyundai Heavy Industries, JCB, Volvo, Barclays Bank, Alstom, Motorola Solutions, and CEMEX.
4. Cancel all academic, cultural, sports, and tourism engagements in Israel or supported/sponsored by Israel (or its lobby groups and complicit institutions).
5. Join a BDS campaign or a strategic Palestine solidarity group near you to act collectively and effectively.
All these steps can be sharpened, strengthened and linked with our struggles. Despite Israel’s brutal violence, Palestinians are marching forward today with their long due demands. As we organize to emerge out of the pandemic as well as state repression in India, our struggles are linked with the Palestinian resistance like never before.