A Just Peace for Palestine: The Background
Israeli Colonialism, Apartheid and Occupation of Palestine
Gaza: The latest attack on Gaza in which 2,200 have been killed, 10,000 wounded and half a million displaced, is a part of a series of wars that Israel has waged against the people of Gaza. This is the 4th war that Israel launched against the people of Gaza after its formal withdrawal from physical occupation of Gaza. Legally, Gaza is still considered as occupied territories, as all exist and entries have been blocked by Israel and therefore Israel continues to be the occupying power.
Gaza, the narrow strip of 360 square kilometres, in which 1.5 million Palestinians live, is one of the most densely populated areas in the world; and since 2007, it is entirely “locked up”. Israel blocks the passage of goods and people; even essential aid has been reduced to the minimum. The economy has collapsed, and 80-90% of Gaza’s population now depend on external assistance.
This is what Gaza is reduced to today: the world's largest open air prison, in which people suffer destruction and death as a result of Israeli military assaults.
The UN Goldstone Report has indicted Israel for war-crimes committed during the 2008/9 war. After the latest war, the UN is examining the charges of war crimes that Israel committed in Gaza.
The Occupation of Palestine: Palestine has become a test for humanity, and Indian civil society, political parties and the government need to respond to this challenge.
The series of attacks on Gaza are part of a much longer history – of over 65 years – of Israeli colonization, occupation and apartheid. It began with the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948, during what Palestinians call the Nakba, the catastrophe. In that year, Israel established itself on 78% of historic Palestine and to do so it expelled 75% of the indigenous Palestinian people living there. They were never allowed to return to their homes. This was in direct violation of United Nations Resolution 194 demanding their return to their homes and properties as well as compensation.
Till today, the Palestinian population in these territories live as second class citizens, suffering state-sponsored racial discrimination in all fields of life – whether it is land ownership and use, education, access to job opportunities and basic services. They are denied access to fundamental rights and remedies. Political organization and freedom of speech are seriously curtailed.
Since 1967, Israel has occupied the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and other Arab lands, in spite of numerous United Nations resolutions and near unanimous international condemnation. These lands are systematically broken up into small, non-contiguous parts, cut off from each other by walls, military zones and Jewish-only colonies. Israel is building a concrete wall running through the West Bank to enclose Palestinian centres of population in isolated Bantustans. This “apartheid wall” will be 720 km long and 12 meters high. With the completion of the wall, Palestinians are now left with only 12% of historic Palestine.
Nearly half a million Jewish settlers now live in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in expanding settlements protected by the Apartheid Wall. Settlements are in complete violation of International Law that prohibits a change in the demographic composition of any occupied territory by the occupying power. However, colonists benefit from state-subsidized housing and services, cultivate confiscated Palestinian land, and travel freely on settler-only highways throughout the West Bank. In contrast, travel and trade are made almost impossible for Palestinians, by over 500 checkpoints. Their lands are confiscated for settlement expansion; their water resources stolen by Israel; and their livelihoods destroyed. The result is a new wave of forcible displacement of Palestinians. The estimate is that more than 150,000 Palestinians have been internally displaced during the last four decades of Israel's occupation in the West Bank and Gaza. A further 250,000 are currently at risk of being displaced.
Palestine - A quest for justice
In an attempt to end the Israeli occupation and achieve their rights through internationally backed negotiations, the Palestinian leadership agreed, in 1991, to a negotiation process with Israel. This ended in the Oslo Agreement two years later. The failure of the Oslo process rested in the fact that the negotiations did not have the basic principles of international law and human rights as a point of reference. Moreover, Israel has not respected the agreement. On the ground, there has been continued occupation, land confiscation, building of colonies; and no Palestinian self-determination.
The Israeli government has been maintaining a façade of negotiations, while expanding the settlements and ethnically cleansing Jerusalem of its Palestinian population. It has no intention of respecting any of the UN Resolutions on Palestine, precepts of international law or human rights. Even this fig leaf of negotiations now no longer exists, as Netanyahu's government wants to expand settlements while asking Abbas to continue negotiations.
In 2005, in response to the failure of negotiations and the international community’s unwillingness to hold Israel accountable, Palestinian civil society appealed to citizens of the world to shoulder their moral responsibility to end complicity in Israel's violations of international law and Palestinian rights. Inspired by the South African struggle against apartheid and rooted in a century-long tradition of Palestinian civil and popular struggle for freedom, justice and human rights, Palestinian civil society has called for boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it ends its violations of international law and respects Palestinian human rights. The BDS Call asserts the primacy of the right to self-determination and addresses the fundamental rights of the three main components of the Palestinian people: to live free from Israeli occupation in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem; to end Israel's system of institutionalized racial discrimination against its Palestinian citizens; and for the Palestinian refugees and internally displaced, the great majority of the Palestinian people, to exercise their UN-sanctioned right to return to their homes of origin and to receive reparations.
Based on progressive, anti-racist principles, the 2005 Palestinian Civil Society Call is increasingly eliciting responses by mainstream and influential actors. Over the last five years, personalities from different cultural spheres, global financial institutions, major trade unions, faith groups, political parties, groups of academics, governments and individuals of conscience of every kind have begun to take a stand. By refusing to provide a cultural cover up for Israeli apartheid, artists and cultural institutions have sent a clear message to Israel that its occupation and discrimination against Palestinians is unacceptable. Divestment initiatives encourage and pressure individuals, financial institutions and companies to shed their investments in Israel in order to curb the profits of Israel’s war and apartheid economy. Consumer boycotts have allowed individual consumers to show their opposition to Israel's oppression through collective action.
BDS shows the way for translating words into deeds and turning people’s basic instinct in support of justice into actions that can truly end injustice. In the next five years, the BDS national committee (the BNC) hopes that the Palestinian people will reach the end of the long, dark Israeli tunnel of occupation, apartheid and denial of refugee rights, and begin to emerge into the light.
India and its people have historically played a crucial role in fighting colonialism. Part of this has been the support provided to all those struggling to be rid of the yoke of colonialism and foreign domination. However, our nation’s foreign policy has, in more recent times, abandoned these ideals of self-determination and anti-colonialism. While playing lip-service to the Palestinian cause, India’s strategic and economic relations with Israel have been growing by the day.
Military ties: Today, India is the prime export destination for Israeli weapons and military technology. According to Israel Defence Ministry reports, India accounted for a full 50% of Israel's military exports, and surpassed Russia as the number one arms supplier to India in 2008. Since 1999, India has bought more than $8 billion military hardware from Israel, an expenditure that goes directly into subsidising the Israel Armed Forces and its occupation.
The latest Israeli wars and attacks have moved a number of governments to review and limit their arms trade with Israel. Calls for an arms embargo are getting louder. However, India continues to increase its support for the Israeli war industry with more new contracts, bypassing its own national anti-corruption guidelines.
In fact, a number of cases have been filed against both Indian and Israeli officials for corruption in India-Israel defence deals. But not only has India not blacklisted the concerned firms, it has actually rewarded them with even bigger contracts.
The Barak deal with Israel Aircraft Industries is the one on which FIRs have been filed by CBI against George Fernandes and others in India; the same deals are also under investigation in Israel. The CEO of Israel Aircraft Industries was forced to step down because of cases of corruption. Even so, Israel Aircraft Industries has been given an order for 2.5 billion dollars for joint missile development with DRDO.
Israel Aircraft Industries launched its TechSAR all-weather, high-resolution radar satellite using an Indian launcher in collaboration with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). Israel has made no secret of the fact that the prime function of TechSAR is to spy on Iran, a country with which India has friendly relations. It is also known that this was the first in a series of five such satellites that India has agreed to launch for Israel.
In 2000, India and Israel established a joint commission to combat terrorism at the ministerial level. This meets twice a year. Israel is supplying equipment movement sensors and other monitoring equipment to monitor movements across the Line of Control (LoC) between India and Pakistan.
Economic ties: In the first half of 2010, according to figures from the Export and International Cooperation Institute, India has become Israel's second largest export market, up from 8th place, with imports from Israel totalling $990 million. The export of electronics equipment and security systems to India grew from less than $10 million in the first half of 2010 to $160 million. Major exporters include ECI Telecom and Comverse, TowerJazz, Elbit Systems and Rafael.
A large number of products that are exported from Israel are from occupied Palestinian territories – illegal under international law. Israel refuses to identify the exports that originate from such illegal settlements. To enlarge trade ties with Israel under such conditions means making India complicit with Israeli violations of international law and human rights.
This is apart from the Israeli arms and security industry, which are directly complicit in the occupation.
Elbit Systems, for example, produces the drones used in the wars and attacks against Gaza and Lebanon and provides equipment for the Israeli Merkava tanks. The Israeli Apartheid Wall has provided a massive source of revenue for Elbit, which with the provision of technical equipment directly participates in the construction of the Wall. Comverse, for its part, is built on Israeli military intelligence technology with close ties to the government. These ties have led to problems with other intelligence agencies in the past, particularly for its subsidiary Verint. CIA officials as well as the Australian government have raised concerns over the company’s usage of data, which it gathers through its services in the telecommunication sector.
Instead of making trade conditional on Israeli respect for international law and human rights, the Indian government agreed, in the spring of 2010, to open negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement with Israel. This will only promote Indian complicity with Israeli occupation, colonialism and apartheid.
Cultural and academic ties: In 2003, India and Israel signed agreements for cooperation in a number of fields, including education and culture. These agreements call for cooperation between academic and cultural institutions in the two countries to exchange artistes and scholars. Most disturbing, the academic cooperation agreement currently in force enables direct implementation of this cooperation, seriously compromising the autonomy of universities so fiercely safeguarded by Indian academics thus far. The agreement has established a Joint Working Group consisting of officials of the two governments to implement steps like "twinning arrangements between institutions of higher learning", "setting up of educational/training institutions", "providing mutual assistance and co-operation in the fields of Information Technology, Computer Science, mathematics & science", instituting scholarships and exploring" the possibility of mutual recognition of educational qualifications", among others.
This cooperation with educational institutions in Israel, particularly in the field of science and technology, is tantamount to collusion with the war machinery of Israel. The extension of this cooperation to other disciplines is no less significant, because a co-option of the social sciences and humanities into Israel's hegemonic project is simultaneously necessary. Far from impressing upon Israel the need to respect the rights of free movement and unfettered intellectual exchange of Palestinian academics, artists and students, these two agreements signal our country's assent to their marginalisation and exclusion.