3 December 2020 10:16 PM



Where Have all the Palestinian Students Gone?

NEW DELHI: There was a time when the Palestinian embassy, housed in a few rooms, was bursting with passion. It was home to the hundreds of Palestinian students who would spend their spare time at the mission, with the diplomats young, enthusiastic and informal.

Those were the days before India had moved to establish diplomatic ties with Israel and PLO leader Yasser Arafat was a regular visitor. For him India was a friend, a place where he could “drop in” to share a word, seek advice, or just vent without having to seek permission. That was also then the time that India became a favourite destination of Palestinian students who came to student medicine and humanities.

It started changing, not just as the relations between New Delhi and Tel Aviv grew but also as the PLO disintegrated into warring factions, and unity of the Palestinians was weakened by ambitious leaders. India’s friendship with Israel became a major deterrent and the numbers of Palestinian students reduced considerably. The differences between Fatah and Hamas also led the Palestinian embassy in Delhi----by now housed in plush quarters---to take sides and not encourage the residents of Gaza to step out for furthering their education.

It was thus not easy to find Palestinian students. Till the 1990’s a reporter had only to visit the Palestinian mission to speak to the young people. Today the mission is a huge building with empty rooms, and definitely not the hub for Palestinian activity in the city.

Asad Ashraf adds: Maryam Yousef , a Palestinian, married an Indian eight months ago. But she has lived every bomb and every strike by Israel on Gaza, checking the list of dead frequently, as she prays for the safety and security of all she has left behind in the tract of land that was her home.

For Yousef as indeed for all Palestinians the dead are the “martyrs of the Palestinians struggle against the occupation of Israel.” The 50 days asymmetrical conflict in one of the central flash points on the map of West Asia, the Palestine, has killed more than 2000 people and wounded another 10,000 if not more. It has shattered the livelihood and shelters of thousands of civilians in Israel’s Operation Protective Edge.

For many other Palestinians like Maryam, living in Delhi, the past days have been of distress and despair. Love and marriage brought her to India but for many others it was the old reputation of India as a “friend” that brought them to this country.

“I preferred to come to India, because India has always been at the side of the struggling people of our country. It has always extended a hand of help to our suffering people, its leaders made good rapport with the leaders of Palestine,” says Dr. Aladdin, a dentist based in Delhi and has been here since 1992 when he travelled to India on a student visa.

Aladdin, has no childhood memories from Palestine, since he was very young when he had shifted to Egypt with his family. But his desire to visit his homeland remains a distant dream. As he says, “I go to bed every night thinking about my country and its subjugated people.”

Another Palestinian living in the Vasant Vihar area of New Delhi, Ibrahim, is engaged here in Medical tourism, and remains more closely associated with the Palestinians coming to India for treatment. There was peace in Gaza when left but as he points out, this is just a relative term as ever since the bifurcation of their homeland “there has always been wide scale rampant structural violence even in the absence of overt conflict.”

“I have no hopes from Israel, I don’t think there will be any solution to the problem we are facing until the big international players agree to the need for a permanent and respectable solution for the suffering masses,” Ibrahim says.

Expressing his anger and frustration, he adds , “Everyone in my country wants to die, kids who are supposed to play soccer pick up stones to block the advancing tanks and bulldozers to try and prevent them from destroying their homes. what kind of life is this?”

Narrating his own experiences in Gaza he recalls a day when he escaped death at the hands of an Israeli soldier, “ It was during Ramzan, some years ago, I and a few other friends were trying to cut the road in a controlled area, when an Israeli soldier aimed his gun at us and placed his finger on the trigger as if he was going to shoot us. I started reading my last prayers and closed my eyes for a moment to realize later that it was dirty trick to traumatise us.”

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