Israel-Gaza : Bigotry Makes a Mockery Of Facts and Truth
Governments pandering to dangerously over-simplistic rhetoric on Palestine
If ever there was any proof still required of the complete polarisation of Indian society, then the auto-instinctive positions adopted by many on the ensuing Israel-Palestine issue, confirms them. Nuance, moderation, and facts have been surrendered at the altar of blind partisanship and bigotry.
Even those in positions of power are pandering to this dangerously over-simplistic rhetoric, which is then conveniently, subliminally, and creatively conflated to their own local partisan positions. The small spirit of ‘either with us or with them’ prevails.
Therefore, you either support Hamas or Netanyahu, in toto. That the terror group Hamas is not reflective of the entirety of the Palestinians or their cause, just as the unhinged politics of Netanyahu may not reflect the beliefs of all Israelis, is ignored.
Extrapolative logic of the same equation is that Hamas and their despicable actions are reflective of all Indians of a certain minority faith. Such reckless insinuations can unfortunately seduce and galvanise some cadres who are routinely fed on a daily dose of hate mongering based on personal identities.
The concern is not of divergence of opinions on a complex issue like Israel-Palestine that can have resonances and emotions locally, as that is vital to a healthy democracy and debate, but one of denigration of a community without full facts, with just about anything and everything that can be smeared onto it.
When an opposition leader and former Defense Minister of India posted his own opinion on the Israeli-Palestinian issue with the context of India’s historical position to ponder, it was met by a sitting Chief Minister of a State who has earned the notoriety of using the most inelegant and unsavoury language, remarking pettily “I think Sharad Pawar will send Supriya (Sule) to Gaza to fight for Hamas”.
The repartee entailed invoking someone’s daughter unwarrantedly and implying something that was either never said, or implied. While the incumbent Chief Minister is perfectly entitled to disagree with the Opposition leader and even insist that India’s position on Palestine had changed (it hasn’t, as reconfirmed by the Prime Minister himself) but he twisted the Opposition leaders’ views to suggest that he was supporting terrorism or the actions of Hamas.
Manufacturing outrage is now a full time occupation for some politicians. The deafening silence that accompanies their saying the most outrageous and divisive statements suggests the play of ‘nudge-and-wink’ by bigger powers-that-be, who are in a position to rein in such vituperative statements but choose not to.
India’s historical engagement with the said region took various evolutionary adaptations but it never appropriated or usurped the region's morass towards its own challenges. Magnificent ‘Sowars’ (cavalrymen) under British Indian Army sourced from the Princely State Forces of Jodhpur, Hyderabad and Mysore had carried out a daring, surreal and possibly the last recorded horse-cavalry charge in history (1918) to record the decisive victory for Allied Powers against Ottomans. Today it is commemorated as ‘Haifa Day’ for the unmatched valour of Indian soldiers.
Mahatma Gandhi, nuanced his own position as one that was deeply sympathetic to the plight of the Jews in Europe but also against Zionists who sought to evict local people i.e., Palestinians (who had no role in the misery inflicted on Jews) to create a state by force.
Later shaped by an admixture of morality, practicality and realpolitik, Independent India took a position on Palestine that was supported by all partisan persuasions, including the current ideological one. Indian preference evolved to the ‘two-nation solution’ that Delhi officially supports, but something that the xenophobic authoritarian like Netanyahu, dismisses.
Netanyahu had remained incredibly ‘iffy’ with his own country’s declared position. From Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh to Narendra Modi all Prime Ministers have officially endorsed the same line. Why would it then lead to current day dog whistling and insinuations of a very different kind, unless someone maintains one line officially, but surreptitiously suggests a completely different one to dominate, unofficially.
Even theologically, despite the ongoing mayhem in the region, the adherents of the Abrahamic religions consider themselves fundamentally alike, as ‘people of the book’, as opposed to people of other faiths, that are alien to that region. Unbeknownst to many, the Palestine cause (not the one envisioned by Hamas) was not a religious one, but a regional issue for the natives who could be Muslims, Christians, Druze or even Jews.
In a tragic incident of disproportionate reprisals, a Greek Orthodox Church of St. Porphyrius in Gaza Strip was hit, which was sheltering many Palestinians. There are well over a half a million Christian Palestinians called ‘Nasranis’, which include the likes of Waddie Haddad and George Habash who had picked up the gun for the liberation of Palestine. But for many here, to even posit the case of Palestinian perspective is to be only Islamic, and worse, seen to be supporting Hamas or terrorism.
While the Indian Prime Minister expressed his immediate concern by tweeting “We stand in solidarity with Israel”, he did counterbalance the same a few days later by tweeting about his conversation with the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas (India recognises him and not Hamas, as representing Palestine) by tweeting, “Reiterated India's long-standing principled position on the Israel-Palestine issue”.
But such delicate and necessary nuance and footprint may be deliberately ignored by some to persist with the more discordant, divisive and electorally gratifying line, which is aligned to the binaries of unmitigated hate.
Personal identity and faith afford a great opportunity to politicians to spread myths, invoke latent civilisational prejudices, and conflate unrelated pieces to stitch a storyline that even they themselves may know to be untrue, but they would still persist with the same to reap the power of falsehood, ignorance and hate in society. It is as the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish lamented, “the metaphor of Palestine is stronger than the Palestine of reality” - he certainly didn’t have India on his mind, but it rings true, nonetheless.
Lt. General Bhopinder Singh (PVSM) is the former Lieutenant Governor of Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Pondicherry. Views expressed are the writer’s own.