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TIES THAT BIND

Book Review: Drawing parallels between India and Israel – a ‘brilliant’ must-read ahead of BRICS summit

Book Review: Drawing parallels between India and Israel – a ‘brilliant’ must-read ahead of BRICS summit

‘Hostile Homelands’ by Azad Essa is a discerning, insightful resource on international relations, and the fact that it emerges from a South African writer adds incredible value.

As I returned from a deeply spiritual and soul-stirring hajj (pilgrimage), where one of the main prayers I repeatedly made was for justice and the ending of oppression of peoples all around the world, but more especially in Palestine and Kashmir, I was confronted by the images emerging out of Jenin.

Here Israeli special forces, supported by sophisticated drone technology, permeated the streets of the refugee camp in the most brutal and largest raid into the West Bank in two decades. 

Jenin, now a concretised feature in the West Bank, was initially an area where Palestinians fleeing ethnic cleansing and displaced by the Nakba in 1948 sought refuge from the Israeli incursions.

It is now home to 14,000 Palestinians, living in extreme poverty and with little hope of change. Young Palestinians aspire to martyrdom rather than careers as any normal child would. The desperate sense of hopelessness, abject poverty and occupation has dehumanised the people into an absolute sense of wretchedness. 

Unleashing apartheid terror upon Palestinians, including innocent children, four of whom were murdered by Israeli soldiers, has become the norm.

Israel continues meting out aggressive incursions with impunity, while using Palestinians as test subjects for their new armoured vehicles, drones, gunships and surveillance technology before marketing it to the rest of the world, including India.

My return from hajj was also met by images of Indian Muslims being lynched on suspicion of eating beef and Kashmiris prevented from gathering for Eid prayers at the historic Eidgah in Srinagar – a reminder of the occupation of Jammu and Kashmir with a more than 700,000-strong Indian Army.

It was further disheartening to receive reports of some of these soldiers storming a mosque in Pulwama district, forcing the Muslim worshippers to chant Hindu slogans, just days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi proclaimed, in a press conference with US President Joe Biden, that there was no discrimination against minorities, particularly Muslims, under his administration.

Alliances between like-minded, apartheid-driven leaderships

The similarities between India and Israel and the growth in right-wing fascist ideologies appear to draw alliances between like-minded, apartheid-driven leaderships. 

A new book, Hostile Homelands: The New Alliance between India and Israel, by renowned South African journalist and author Azad Essa, presents a compelling historical analysis of the military-industrial relationship between Israel and India, evocatively mapping out the complexities India faced in trying to maintain a non-aligned status, expressing support for Palestinian rights, while surreptitiously cultivating military and intelligence ties with Israel. 

Essa draws expository comparisons between the Zionist and Hindutva ideologies that are increasingly militant and unapologetic, as proponents in both Israel and India push the limits of democracy – in India, with the repeal of Article 370 in 2019, revoking Kashmir’s special status, and in Israel, with a bill to remove the judicial ability to rule on “reasonableness” of government decisions. Ironically, both countries continue to claim to be bastions of democracy. 

In a series of speaking events and book launches across South Africa, Essa has engaged South African audiences on the controversial concepts of neoliberalism and the growth of securitisation across the world, but especially by India and Israel aimed at export markets – not only as destinations for their products, but also their ideologies. 

While the forword to Hostile Homelands by Linah AlSaafin draws on personal anecdotes that I found intriguing, and identified with from my own travels to both the Occupied Palestinian Territories and occupied Kashmir (where I was presumed in both places to be a local and, therefore, experienced life from the eyes of Palestinians and Kashmiris respectively), Essa is provocative, posing vexatious questions, while providing succinct chronological accounts of diplomatic and political engagements that chart the relations between the two states. His consistent and dedicated research on the subject over years is evident in this publication. 

He craftily navigates post-colonial partitions in both the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent, and the lasting impact that the carving up of lands, dispossession and exile has had on the peoples and the present-day settler-colonial occupations. 

As he progresses to more contemporary politics, Essa weaves through the identities with critical emphasis on minority rights and the role of the diaspora.

In his engagements across South Africa, where it is often expected that, given our own history of apartheid, we would be more attuned to new manifestations, it seemed audiences were familiar with Israeli aggression and occupation of Palestine, but less aware of the implications of India’s embodiment of apartheid.

As an avid reader of his journalistic writings, I was able to draw connections with his previous work, but found a clear distinction in this critically acclaimed publication. 

‘Rich insights into India’s development’

American philosopher and political activist Cornel West called Essa’s work “brilliant and courageous”. Noam Chomsky found that this publication offered “rich insights into India’s development”.

Former South African minister Ronnie Kasrils said: “This is a brilliantly written book and a call for global solidarity.” And Palestinian writer, poet and victim of displacement and dispossession from Sheikh Jarrah, Mohammed El-Kurd, considered Hostile Homelands “formidable and timely”.

His crescendo is the connectedness of the two occupations, that of Palestine and of Kashmir (the most militarised zone in the world).

The heightened securitisation in a post 9/11 world, where Islamophobia has been conflated with counterterrorism and where this forms the basis and excuse for occupation, militarisation, unprecedented human rights abuses, killing, maiming, blinding, arbitrary detention and disappearances.

His storytelling in his speaking events paints the picture of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meeting Modi for the first time in Haifa in 2019, where the two frolicked in the Mediterranean waters, “whispering sweet nothings to each other in a bromance” that has epitomised the relations between the two occupying states. 

Hostile Homelands is a discerning resource on international relations, and the fact that it emerges from a South African writer adds incredible value. 

Even the cover of the book alludes to the apartheid origins, depicting the apartheid flag colours that also embody the blue representing Zionism, the saffron an emblem of Hindutva, and the white/lined region in between symbolising occupied territories. Underlying the text, there is a theme of anti-apartheid justice that is clearly drawn from Essa’s South African identity. 

‘Eerily silent’

As South Africa prepares to host the BRICS Summit next month, this book is a must-read for our politicians and diplomats, for our activists and academics, especially since South Africa is outspoken on the question of Palestine, but remains eerily silent in the BRICS corridors when it comes to the injustices perpetrated by India. 

On 16 June 2023, the Muslim Lawyers Association and the South Africa Kashmiri Action Group jointly lodged a renewed complaint to the National Prosecuting Authority and SAPS to arrest, investigate and possibly prosecute Modi when he arrives in South Africa next month.

In a fresh 600-page submission, several prima facie witnesses and 200 police reports from Indian-occupied Kashmir contain detailed evidence of abduction, tortures, rapes, extra-judicial killing, arson attacks and illegal arrest of political leaders and innocent civilians.

Reading Hostile Homelands by Azad Essa would only strengthen the argument that the military occupations of Kashmir and Palestine must be brought to an end and justice must be sought for the victims of decades-long brutality. DM

Zeenat is a former diplomat and political analyst.

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