By Anjan Roy
Not unexpectedly, Israel-Hamas war has sparked off a battle of words and ideas between two mainline political parties in India.
The prime minister’s statement on the Hamas attack as a terrorist act and full support to Israel came face to face from criticisms from the Congress. In its statements, India’s grand old party has recalled the traditional Indian stance on the Middle East crisis and indirectly slammed the government’s approach.
Prime Minister Modi’s statement and the Congress criticisms could not be really apprehended without going through the nuances of Indian foreign policy from the creation of the state of Israel and the subsequent history of the Arab-Israeli conflicts.
The process for creation of the state of Israel was kicked off by a resolution issued by the British prime minister, Arthur James Balfour in the 1920s in the aftermath of the first World War. After the Second World War, with the experience of the Holocaust and torture and killings of Jews n Europe, it was decided to carve out a patch of land around Jerusalem to create a new home state for the Jews.
The new state was created in 1948 in the land around Palestine immediately after the Second World War by the American president Harry S. Truman with an understanding with Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister. Ever since, the Muslim Middle East felt this was a state created by uprooting the locals in that land and vouched to wipe it out.
In fact, this is a thousand year old war and conflict. The Israelis were driven out from Egypt and all around the Palestinian lands a thousand years ago when the Israelis —or Jews— spread all over the world, particularly in Europe.
However, persecution of the Jews and stigma attached to the Jews was a persistent trend in European history. Anti-Semitism was all pervasive and the Jews were literally hated by the Christians in Europe. The Jews were persecuted and often enough burnt alive.
Even enlightened liberal European intellectuals were not above the intense anti-Semitism, the most loud and often witnessed one is the well-known drama by Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice. In the drama, Shylock the Jewish merchant asks for a pound of flesh from a loan defaulter.
As if from a sense of guilt, the Europeans felt this new state offered an opportunity for absolution from their millennial sins. Maybe, it was also a good riddance of the Ashkenazi Jews in various European countries. The Europeans could force such a solution as they were powerful then.
However, the Middle East countries could not accept that European solution and trouble started from the very inception of the new state. War and confrontation became endemic in the region. Even today, the Iranians are the most die-hard and openly espouse annihilation of the Jewish state. Other more realistic Middle East countries, have however, accepted Israel’s reality.
In the process of rejection and hostility all around, the Jews of Israel learnt pretty fast the techniques for survival. They developed formidable military capability as well as a highly sophisticate intelligence network, which until it was blasted by the Hamas with the current blitzkrieg on Israel.
Independent India’s foreign policy, crafted under first prime minister Nehru, had championed the cause of the underdog and those countries which were under colonial domination. This was a normal response after winning independence from the British.
India gave recognition to Israel on September 17, 1950 within two years of the founding of the new state. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru who was then the Prime Minister said that India should have given recognition to Israel earlier but there had been a delay.
The Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) had easy camaraderie with Indian leaders, including Indira Gandhi, who had hosted the firebrand and legendary PLO leader, Yasser Arafat. Much later, when Atal Behari Vajpayee had become prime minister, he also showed his sympathies to the cause of the Palestinians.
India’s relations bloomed fast with Israel only after the BJP came to power in 2014. The relations developed with closer security and defence relations. Israel, with its deftness in military hardware production, became a major supplier to India of strategic weapons systems and technology.
With India under constant terrorist threat from our neighbourhood, and military threats from China, Israel had become a major source of hardware and intelligence systems. No wonder, that hard core interests have promoted a re-orientation of the external policy stance.
Prime Minister Modi’s statement close on the heels of the Hamas attack, expressing support for Israel and the ghastly nature of the Hamas killings, has to be seen as India’s anxiety in case of such a terrorist action.
Prime Minister Modi’s open support for Israel in the face of a ghastly terrorist killings of civilians, hide India’s anxiety against terror attacks on our homeland. The Bombay killings —better known now as 26/11 as also attacks on Parliament in 2001 — is a reminder of what had happened to India earlier. This was not the only example of terror attacking in an open society.
The heinous crimes of Khalistani militants in an earlier period and a sudden outburst of revenge killings against it also underlines what terrorism can do to a stable society and polity. Western sympathies have a duplicity around it — a terror attack at home is highly condemnable and one afar is atoned in the name of democracy and liberalism. Western nations said nothing against Israel when in the last nine months of 2023, the killings of Palestinians in Gaza strip took place.
The Hamas- Israel war has all the potential of turning into a holy war if the global powers including the United Nations do not effectively intervene. For India also, eternal vigilance against terrorism has become imperative. (IPA Service)