Yesterday noon, the usual perturbing quietness of central Delhi was broken by activists gathered together to protest the diplomatic visit of Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, to India. Netanyahu’s visit is being portrayed, all across the mainstream media, as an “accomplishment” of the Modi regime. Netanyahu’s personal camaraderie with Modi, the elusive “agreements” — all these are being splashed across the front pages of newspapers and on prime time television, as if this was the validation we needed to be able to claim, “India has arrived”. And, sure enough, if the ruling regime, and the media that panders to it, desperately wants to be counted among the most anti-minority, repressive, and undemocratic regimes, then we have, in fact, “arrived.
Take, for instance, the renaming of Teen Murti Chowk. The Teen Murti Museum and Library stand as reminders of Jawaharlal Nehru’s legacy in India, the same Nehru who led the way for a steadfast solidarity with Palestine amongst postcolonial nations. Teen Murti Chowk now stands rechristened as Teen Murti Haifa Chowk, as a tribute to the Indian soldiers who died in Haifa during the World War I. These 44 Indian soldiers fought for the imperial British army, which had colonised their own nation back then. They died in a battle that paved the way for the British colonisation of Palestine. Israel did not exist back then. The shamefulness of this tribute, and the insult that it is to India’s legacy of support to the Palestinian struggle, reflects how the Modi regime is deeply complicit in the impunity of Israel.
The activists, who had gathered at Shah Jahan Road yesterday, strongly asserted that India cannot be complicit any further with the settler-colonial, occupation, and apartheid regime of Israel. While many spoke of the historic moment when India extended its support to the Palestinian struggle, leaders like Prakash Karat, D Raja, and Apoorva Gautam — an activist from the BDS movement — all demanded an end to military, diplomatic, and trade ties with Israel as these fuel the oppression of Palestine. Leaders from left organisations announced that protests have been organised in all the cities that Netanyahu is scheduled to visit. Among the various posters dotting the protest site, there were also ones that demanded the release of Ahed Tamimi — the brave teenager from Nabi Saleh who has been detained and will face prosecution for standing up to Israeli soldiers, soldiers who shot and killed her cousin brother, and invaded her home. Her father, while commenting on her detention, pointed out the injustice of it all, “This occupation stole [her] dream and [her] ability to pave a path towards a future, forcing [her] to see a different future for [herself]. If [she] were from somewhere else, [she] would have wanted to be a professional soccer player.”
The protesters, who had planned to march to the Israeli embassy, were prevented from doing so by the police and paramilitary contingents, who barricaded all the exits from the location. They may have succeeded in stopping the protesters’ march towards the embassy, but they could not stifle the spirit and the energy of the protesters, who made sure that Netanyahu knew that he was not welcome in India.
Many of those who had gathered for the protest pointed out that, what brings Modi and Netanyahu together are the racist, exclusivist, and supremacist principles that are the bedrock of the Hindutva and Zionist ideologies. Islamophobia is what make Israel and India partners, not the so-called “technology,” which, at any rate, has proven to be a failure in agriculture. Aside from this, Israel is interested in increasing its investment in India’s military. India is already the biggest importer of arms from Israel. The latest to join the list of Israel’s supporters is Bollywood, which Israel seeks to “woo” in order to fight the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement.
The protest on Shah Jahan road yesterday, and the many voices of dissent that are emerging across the country, stand testimony to the solidarity for Palestine that exists in India, solidarity that is also being rebuilt in concrete terms. The All India Kisan Sabha joined the BDS Movement against Israel in October 2016. This is a huge victory for the Palestinian-led movement that seeks to isolate and pressurise Israel till it complies with international law and respects Palestinian human rights. An Indian theatre artist refused to perform in the Israel festival last month. In the 10th Delhi’s Queer Pride, Palestinian lesbian women’s association, Aswat, extended their solidarity with the Indian queer movement and also urged the latter to strengthen the boycott of Israel and fight “pinkwashing” — a propaganda project aimed at whitewashing Israel’s crimes. In many ways, the solidarity for Palestine is growing and strengthening in India. While Indian media may choose to show us how close Modi and Netanyahu are, and our policy think tanks may tell us how “pragmatic” this alliance is, the writing on the wall says something else.