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The author's native country, India, is both a burgeoning world power and part of the Global South. And yet, its ambitious Prime Minister Narendra Modi hasn't dared to say a single word against Israel's actions in Gaza and the West Bank, even when countries in South America and Africa have severed their diplomatic relationships with Israel.
NEW YORK — The three years since coming to New York as a graduate student have been the most demanding and stimulating period of my academic life. One of the most exciting and joyous accidents of this journey has been my close friendship with Arab students in this city.
I have shared a house with a Syrian and a Palestinian here in Brooklyn, which I have grown to call home. I now make makloubeh with lal mirch and garam masala. Pita bread with zaatar and olive oil has become my go-to midnight snack. I have gotten drunk on arak and unsuccessfully danced dabke at parties. The Delhi boy in me has also now learned to cuss in Arabic.
These friendships have made me realize how similar we are to each other as people. My best friend in the city happens to be a Palestinian Christian whose family was displaced from Jerusalem in 1948 and has lived in exile ever since.
My roommate is from the West Bank, where she and her family have to face the everyday humiliation of crossing Israeli checkpoints to travel in their own country.
It did not start on October 7 for me. I have been hearing stories about the Israeli settler violence in Occupied Palestine for the last three years. I know people in this city whose houses have been bombed, and whose family members have been killed, arbitrarily arrested, and displaced. I attach human faces to Gaza, Ramallah, Nablus, Bethlehem and Jerusalem.
I will not pretend to write from a neutral and distanced position today. Neutrality often helps the oppressor, not the oppressed. Over the last three years, Palestine has become as far and as close as India, in some ways. When I read the news from Gaza on my phone, it hits me as if something horrible is unfolding back home.
Israel's destruction of Gaza
Israel’s genocidal destruction of Gaza has shaken the world to the core. More than 15,000 people, including 10,000 women and children have been killed in Gaza. Another 17,00,000 people stand displaced. Numbers would have increased by the time you read this.
Hospitals, schools, universities, homes, refugee shelters and UN offices have been relentlessly bombed. A senior UN human rights expert called Gaza a textbook case of genocide in his resignation letter. Along with Gaza, all the rules of international humanitarian law have been bombed by the Israeli forces.
Amidst this destruction, the Palestinian cause for liberation has found renewed support across the globe. Millions have come out on the streets of London, New York, Berlin, Paris, Cairo, Amman, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Seoul, Johannesburg, Wellington, Sydney, Islamabad, Dhaka, Sao Paulo, Bogota, Kuala Lumpur, Santiago and countless other cities to demand an immediate ceasefire and a free Palestine.
Jewish Voice For Peace protest near New York's Manhattan Bridge on Nov. 23
New York solidarity
Every nook and corner of New York has witnessed protests on a daily basis for the past two months. New Yorkers of all colors, classes, nationalities, ethnicities and religious backgrounds have gathered on the streets. The heart of the American empire reverberates with passionate slogans of ” Ceasefire now” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” every single day.
"This is our generation’s Vietnam" is the sentiment that runs across the American student body.
Subway stations are sprayed with graffiti in support of Gaza. People wearing keffiyeh and Palestinian flags in solidarity have become a common sight. Poets, singers, writers, actors, filmmakers, musicians, painters and academics are all lending their voices to the cause.
People wave Palestinian flags from their windows and bus drivers honk loudly in solidarity as protesters march on the streets. Halal carts, run mostly by Arab migrants, are witnessing longer lines for chicken and rice orders. Volunteer-run organizations from different walks of life like Jewish Voices for Peace, Palestinian Youth Movement, Within Our Lifetime, Answer Coalition, Shut it Down and many others have worked hard to organize these actions.
American Jews have participated in heroic civil disobedience actions, courting arrest in support of Palestine. Students at Columbia University, New York University and City University New York, three major schools in the city, have responded to the calls of their conscience by demanding that their university leadership divest from Israel. Walkouts, teach-ins, banner drops and cultural gatherings have been organized on campuses to break the uncomfortable silences. "This is our generation’s Vietnam" is the sentiment that runs across the American student body.
Contradiction in Freedom of Speech
University administrations, under pressure from trustees and donors, have responded with vengeance. Pro-Palestine student organizations on campuses have been suspended, students disciplined and employees terminated. Palestine has become the limit case for free speech on elite U.S. university campuses.
All liberal façades of top research institutions have crumbled. Universities are openly functioning as academic wings of the American military-industrial complex. These gatherings in New York come at a time when the Joe Biden administration has stood in support of the belligerent Israeli occupation. They have supplied weapons, money and diplomatic consent for Israel’s genocidal war.
While contradictions of the world’s oldest democracy are out in the open, news from the world’s largest democracy has been disappointing and sad. The Indian government has not allowed any large-scale street mobilization for Palestine. Protesters have been detained, cultural gatherings stand cancelled and dissenting voices have been stifled. A certain fear grips the argumentative Indian mind on the question of Palestine.
Pro-Palestine protestors rally outside the Fox News building in New York on Nov. 29.
India's deafening silence
India, whose independence from the British empire had set the path for the liberation of the entire colonized world, has silently witnessed a genocide of an occupied and colonized people. India, a country that gloriously fought the mightiest of the colonial empires has shown reticence to support the anti-colonial struggle of the Palestinian people.
Once upon a time, a newly independent India, still trying to stand on its feet, had brought the agenda of apartheid to the UN tables to speak against the racial violence of the colonizers and became the first country in the world to impose sanctions on apartheid South Africa. Now, a 75-year-old India, set to become a global superpower, has not found the moral courage to utter a single word against Israel’s apartheid regime, even at a time when fellow countries in South America and Africa have severed their diplomatic relationships with Israel.
The question of Palestine is the most urgent political and moral question of our times.
Indian social media users have contributed most to the online disinformation campaign on Israel-Palestine, demonizing Palestinians as terrorists and sub-humans, who deserve to be annihilated from the face of the earth. Mainstream Indian media, rotten for many years now, has acted as gaslighter par excellence.
Comparing the Palestine-Israel situation with India-Pakistan has been the biggest intellectual error, when in reality it is the pre-independence India-British empire analogy at play here. Israel is a settler colonial formation on Palestinian lands. Would we Indians have acknowledged the British colonial state’s right to exist over India? If the answer is no, then what makes us ally with Israel today?
Rabid islamophobia has blinded our moral vision. Strategic deep state and defense partnerships with Israel have silenced our fearless political voices. We speak in measured tones, walking tight diplomatic ropes on this issue. India’s abstention in the UN General Assembly on the humanitarian ceasefire resolution speaks so much about us as a country. In strategically supporting Israel, we have ended up supporting some of the worst war crimes known to man. Our silence on Palestine has muted all the values of our freedom struggle as well. We have forgotten the role that an independent post-colonial India had to play at the world stage.
Instead of becoming the voice of the Global South, we have sadly reduced ourselves to the status of a strategic partner of a morally bankrupt American war machinery. The question of Palestine is the most urgent political and moral question of our times. It is not just a question for Palestinians and Israelis, it is a question for all of us bearing witness. It stands before us as a mirror demanding us to look at ourselves and see what we are becoming.
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