Vinod Mubayi

Nothing demonstrates the arrogance of Zionist settler colonialism more than the periodic extermination every few years of hundreds of Palestinians in Gaza by Israeli bombs and missiles. Leading Israeli politicians and military leaders are fond of describing this brutal violence as “mowing the lawn” as if the Palestinian people are nothing more than noxious weeds that need to be cut every so often. “Mowing the lawn” is a nakedly political act meant to repress and suppress if not exterminate the non-Jewish population of the territories like Gaza or the West Bank that are under de facto Israeli control.

In this context, it may be noted how cynical and jaded the statements made by the leaders of western countries, especially the US, sound whenever violence breaks out between Israel and the Palestinians. “Israel has the right to defend itself” says President Biden who knows full well the profound asymmetry of military power between Israel and each and every of its potential adversaries. The choice of words is revealing as it is meant to cast brutal actions by Israel against Palestinians who live under occupation in the much more benign light of ‘self-defense’.

The trigger for the current conflict is widely acknowledged to be the threats of eviction of Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem and the assault by Israeli police using tear gas and stun grenades on worshippers in the al Aqsa mosque on the holiest day of Ramadan. This provoked Hamas militants in Gaza to fire rockets into Israel, most of which were successfully countered by the Israeli “Iron Dome” system, followed by the aforementioned “lawn mowing”, i.e., the Israeli artillery and aerial assault on Gaza. When the cease-fire took hold, 12 people had died inside Israel, two of which were ironically Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel and one a domestic worker from Kerala, India. In contrast, the UN estimates 270 dead in Gaza, 68 of whom were children, many infants. This is deemed by Israel a ‘proportionate response’, viz. preserving an approximate ratio of 20-25 Palestinians killed for each Israeli life lost. Amira Hass, one of the most perceptive commentators on Israel-Palestine affairs, writes in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that:

“The lethal Israeli bombings of the residents of the narrow and sealed Gaza Strip may be presented in Israel as a “response,” but every Palestinian and also other sensible observers understand them as part of the century-long continuum in which one people takes over and expels, fragments, divides and crushes, while the other people refuses to give up its identity and homeland – so it is attacked time after time.”

American support to Israel is usually couched in terms of the $3.8 billion military aid given every year. More insidious and hidden is the many hundreds of millions given in the US in tax exempt donations to entities that use the funds to finance the growth of settler colonialism. In an insightful article in the news platform Truthout of May 25, Tanya Wintman writes:

“The settlement enclaves sprouting up across the area are supported by a constellation of corporations and nonprofits financed mainly through U.S. tax-exempt donations. In the case of Sheikh Jarrah and other East Jerusalem neighborhoods, one need only look at two such settler organizations, Nahalat Shimon and Ateret Cohanim.

In 2003, the Delaware-based Nahalat Shimon International purchased Sheikh Jarrah properties from two Jewish trusts. Nahalat Shimon intended to push Palestinians out of their homes and build a 200-unit housing complex. Delaware happens to be a corporate tax haven, but it is also convenient for setting up shell operations to launder money. Even the minimal corporate ownership disclosures required by the state of Delaware are blocked from public view. Just as the Israeli settler movement has hidden its activities under state-contracted mercenaries and local police, it has also benefited through the cover of sophisticated transnational tax havens. The movement’s financiers and board of trustees remain shrouded across the Atlantic and receive public subsidies in the form of Delaware’s lax corporate taxes. These financial structures lend themselves well to extrajudicial home seizures.

Similarly, Ateret Cohanim, another settler organization active two miles away in Batan al-Hawa, receives tax-exempt foreign donations through its “American Friends of 501(c)3”. A quick Google search reveals an address on West 35th Street in New York City. In his groundbreaking 2015 Haaretz investigation, Uri Blau found that Americans sent at least $220 million in tax-exempt donations over a five-year period to Israeli settlements, through organizations like Friends of Ateret Cohanim. These tax subsidies and the activities they support — the ethnic cleansing and Judaization of East Jerusalem — come with a loss to the U.S. Treasury. As the violence escalates, it is incumbent on us and our government to examine how our tax policies are furthering Israeli state violence and Palestinian dispossession, and fomenting political instability. [US] tax money is not just subsidizing Israeli military aid. It subsidizes private provocateurs, settlement lobbies and multinational corporations sowing destruction in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.”

This relentless drive to create an Eretz (Greater) Israel with no defined boundaries finds its voice in the increasingly right-wing majoritarian Jewish Israeli population egged on by their political representatives. It is manifested in the Jewish mobs shouting “Death to the Arabs” in mixed Jewish-Palestinian cities like Lod/Lydda. The basic underlying cause is Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories and its policy of apartheid not only in the areas conquered in 1967 but within Israel itself, west of the so-called Green Line. In a recent op-ed in the New York Times of May 25, Palestinian lawyer Diana Buttu emphasizes “We Palestinians living in Israel ‘sub-exist,’ living under a system of discrimination and racism with laws that enshrine our second-class status and with policies that ensure we are never equals. This is not by accident but by design.” These facts have been acknowledged by international organizations such as Human Rights Watch and the courageous Israeli human rights groups B’Tselem.

While the settler-colonial regime in South Africa was forced by international pressure to dismantle the ugly features of apartheid two decades ago, Israel defiantly refuses to do so and its patrons in the west, notably the US, remain complicit in its adamant rejection of international law and morality. Most ironically, however, aspects of Israeli policies are being imitated in a country one would have least expected to do so.

On August 5, 2019, the Modi regime in India, whose fervent adherents make no secret of their goal of transforming India into a Hindu Rashtra (nation), abolished the statehood of India’s only Muslim-majority state of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) and abrogated Article 370 of the India’s federal constitution that conferred a special status on J&K. While several reasons have been advanced to explain why the Modi regime took this drastic step, one particular reason, a settler-colonial policy to change the demography of the area by settling Hindus from other parts of the country there, has received a fair amount of attention. A number of laws have been passed to remove previous restrictions on acquiring land and property in the newly designated union territory downgraded from its previous status as a state. How feasible this attempt to foster settler colonialism is may be debated but this notion became more credible when it was explicitly mentioned by a high official of the Indian government. The Consul-General of India in New York Sandeep Chakravorty speaking in December 2019 to an audience in the consulate about the changes wrought by the Indian government in J&K referred explicitly to the actions of the Israeli government in facilitating Jewish settlement in the West Bank. He is reported to have said “I don’t know why we don’t follow it. It has happened in the Middle East. If the Israeli people can do it, we can also do it.” No doubt, lesser trolls from the BJP’s universe have said this many times in various contexts but the speech of the Consul gave it an official policy stamp.  It made the goal of developing a Hindu Rashtra in India appear to hew more closely to the already developed Jewish Rashtra in Israel. Any significant demographic alteration, if it occurs, would of course be done under the shadow of Indian military in the most heavily militarized region in the world today. This if it happens would bear a strong similarity to the way Israeli military facilitates Jewish settlers to appropriate land and terrorize the Palestinians living in the West Bank.

For approximately five decades, India supported Palestine completely. Its diplomatic relations with Israel were limited to a consulate in Bombay for the purpose of facilitating the travel of Indian Jews to Israel while it established full diplomatic relations with the Palestine Liberation Organization and allowed it to open its office in New Delhi. Several factors were likely responsible for this situation including India’s emergence as a leader of the non-aligned bloc while Israel was firmly anchored in the bloc of western imperialism, a position that was cemented when Israel joined Britain and France in imperial gunboat diplomacy: a military attack on Egypt in 1956 after Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal.

India’s position could also have been influenced to some extent by Mahatma Gandhi’s views on Palestine expressed in his paper The Harijan. As background it may be recalled that the migration of central European Jews, mistreated for centuries in Christian Europe, to Palestine began on a small scale in the late 19th century under the influence of the Zionist movement. This migration grew under the cover of British imperialism after the First World War when Britain and France conquered and parceled among themselves the territories of the Turkish Ottoman Empire with Palestine coming under Britain’s control. Lord Balfour the British foreign secretary issued a declaration in November 1917 promising a home for the Jews in Palestine. Writing in 1938 when the Nazi atrocities against the Jews of Germany were accelerating drastically Gandhi said that Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense as England belongs to the English and France to the French and it is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs. Gandhi described the Jews as “the untouchables of Christianity” and compared their treatment by Christians in Europe   to that of untouchables in India by caste Hindus but then went on to remark: “My sympathy for Jews does not blind me to the requirements of justice. It is wrong for Jews to enter Palestine under the shadow of the British gun…they are co-sharers with the British in despoiling a people who have done them no wrong.”

Mahatma Gandhi repeated this in July 1946 when he stated that with the help of Britain and America and terrorism the Jews are making the mistake of imposing themselves on Palestine. Gandhi’s position basically was that the western world that had done little to save German Jews from destruction at the hands of the Nazi fiends was trying to salve its guilty conscience by grabbing Arab land to settle European Jews in accordance with Zionist policy. This position like many other moral stances espoused by the Mahatma has little appeal to the Hindutva crowd one of whose members assassinated Gandhi in New Delhi on January 30, 1948. The Hindutvavadis worship the Israeli right-wing with whom they have a deep affinity based on shared contempt for Muslim minorities among other things. Netanyahu received a warm welcome from Modi when he visited India as did Modi from him when Modi visited Israel. So, it’s hardly any surprise that the Modi regime would take lessons in settler colonialism from Israel just as Indian police and paramilitary bodies have been reported to have received training from the Israelis in so-called “anti-terrorist” actions.

Meanwhile, Palestinians continue to live under the boot of the Israeli occupation. When periodic bouts of violence inevitably occur, Amira Hass reminds us “It is only natural that Palestinians will want the Jewish military superpower to lose it and for the Israelis to know what fear is.” On the other hand, Israel can and does inflict violence on a vastly greater scale while the sights of Palestinian children killed and maimed and homes and schools destroyed that arouse feelings “of helplessness, rage and despair among every Palestinian…are sights that in the best case do not move most Israeli Jews, and in the worst case make them happy.” This is the arrogance and the reality of settler-colonialism that the Modi regime ostensibly wishes to imitate in J&K.

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