NEW DELHI, India — As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived in India with a six-day visit, bringing along with him a 130-member delegation to strengthen ties, Indian Muslims took to the streets to rally for a cause they feel attached to – Palestinian freedom.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a tweet called Mr. Netanyahu’s visit, which started on Sunday, “historic and special,” aimed to “cement” close friendship between the two nations.
PM’s @netanyahu’s visit is a long anticipated moment in the history of India-Israel relations. Had fruitful talks with him and discussed ways to boost cooperation between India and Israel. https://t.co/4HZWXQwcPH pic.twitter.com/OVQdXefpD0
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) January 15, 2018
This is the second time an Israeli Prime Minister is visiting India. The first trip by Ariel Sharon took place in 2003. The visits of both prime ministers took place at a time when right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was in power.
During the trip, Mr. Netanyahu is supposed to visit various Indian cities, including Agra in Uttar Pradesh and Mumbai in Maharashtra. On Tuesday, he will launch the third annual Raisina Dialogue, a three-day geo-political conference in New Delhi that will be attended by more than 150 speakers and over 550 delegates from around 90 countries.
India and Israel are expected to sign a number of deals in various sectors, including defense, oil and gas, renewable energy, amended protocol for airports, cybersecurity, and co-production of films and documentaries.
Mr. Netanyahu’s visit comes seven months after his Indian counterpart’s three-day trip to Israel. Mr. Modi has become the first Indian prime minister to visit the country. However, despite the country’s growing relationship with Israel, on December 21, India voted in favor of U.N. General Assembly resolution rejecting U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.
The U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel had evoked a sharp reaction from Indian Muslims and other social groups. More than ten million protestors marched at over a thousand locations across the country on December 22.
The latest visit of the Israeli leader is also mired into controversy with Indian Muslim organizations, human right groups, university students and several political parties holding demonstrations against Mr. Netanyahu’s visit.
קבלת פנים מרגשת בארמון הנשיאות בהודו – כבוד גדול למדינת ישראל! pic.twitter.com/uWCNmHBRnE
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) January 15, 2018
Protests Across India
On Wednesday, four days before the Israeli prime minister’s arrival, members of the leading Muslim body Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind (JUH), which comprises socio-religious and political leaders, unanimously called to oppose Mr. Netanyahu’s visit. Indian Islamic organizations – Jamat-e-Islami Hind, All India Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen, All India Muslim Majlis Mushavirat, All India Muslim Personal Law Board, Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadeeth and All India Milli Council – formed a committee on the Palestinian issue.
“It is necessary to express solidarity with the people of Palestine and to protest the visit of a Prime Minister of a country whose hands are stained with the blood of innocent Palestinians,” a statement, issued by the organization, said.
JUH head and former Member of Parliament Mehmood Madani said his organization would be holding protests against Israeli prime minister’s visit across the country starting January 14.
On Sunday, scores of protesters hit the streets in the capital city of New Delhi, holding “Go back, Netanyahu” placards and shouting anti-Israel slogans. The protest culminated with the burning of the effigy of Mr. Netanyahu.
Around 600 miles (965 km) north of Delhi, thousands of Muslims marched in the town of Kargil, Indian-administered Kashmir. They were carrying Palestinian flags and shouting “Down with Israel.”
“The land of Mahatma Gandhi can’t tolerate a war-criminal like Netanyahu,” said Shiekh Sadiq Rajaie, Chairman of the Guardian Council, Imam Khomeini Memorial Trust (IKMT) Kargil, while addressing the protestors.
“India has always been against the illegal occupation of Palestine and the oppression inflicted by the Zionist state on the Palestinian people,” Sajjad Hussain, a Kargil resident told The Globe Post. “This protest was organized against the friendly outlook of the ruling BJP regime towards Israel. It is very dangerous for our country as the Israeli state is based on terrorism and hatred.”
On Monday, a group of university students hit the streets near the Israeli embassy in the national capital. The protesters organized under the banner of “United Against Hate,” a campaign started against rising hate crimes in India in July 2017.
“The Israeli prime minister is the mastermind of massacres in Palestine,” Dhrupadi Ghosh, a student leader and one of the protest organizers, told The Globe Post. “Palestine is a land of resistance, you see how a six-year-old boy stands in front of a gigantic tank to fight occupation and 16-year-old Ahed Tamimi stood against the occupation army.”
Ms. Ghosh says that she will stand with the people of Palestine until they are freed from the occupation.
Also on Monday, India-Palestine Solidarity Forum (IPSF), a civil society group held a press conference in Mumbai, which was attended by Tushar Gandhi – the great-grandson of Mahatma Gandhi – who denounced India’s welcome of Mr. Netanyahu. The civil society group called for a protest in Mumbai on Thursday, as the city will be visited by the Israeli prime minister.
“Israel denies any option of a peaceful settlement to the Palestinians. It is the biggest impediment to the peace process. In 2015, Netanyahu had said on the record that there would be no Palestinian state under his watch,” Javed Anand, Founder and General Secretary of IPSF, told The Globe Post.
He further said that Isreal had been violating international law by inflicting atrocities on Palestinians and establishing illegal settlements in West Bank.
“Apart from America, nobody stands with Netanyahu. Neither should India,” he added.
Indian Muslims are Emotionally Attached to Palestine
According to Navaid Hamid, President of All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat (AIMMM), a federation of various Muslim organizations in the country, Indian Muslims are emotionally attached to the Palestinian cause.
“Since the early days of the Palestinian conflict, the Muslims in India have been sympathetic to the cause of the Palestinian counterparts. Even our father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi, said that Germany is for Germans, France is for French, Britain is for British, and similarly, Palestine is for Palestinians,” Mr. Hamid told The Globe Post.
Mazin Khan, who is a publisher at a Delhi-based Pharos Media & Publishing house, feels that the attachment Indian Muslims feel toward the Palestinian people is natural since the occupied Jerusalem houses Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam.
“The occupied land houses the third of the holiest sites in Islam and Indian Muslims have always stood against atrocities happening in any part of the world, either it is happening in Palestine or Balochistan, and we will continue to do so,” Mr. Khan told The Globe Post.
Aman Qurashi, a student at Delhi-based Jamia Millia Islamia University, has never been to Palestine but is well-versed about its history. He thinks that Palestinians should be given the right to their land.
“I have never been to Palestine but I do know that it is a country which has been occupied by Israel and the people of Palestine want to be free from Israel as they are illegally occupying their land and killing its people,” Mr. Qurashi told The Globe Post. “So, I stand for their right for self-determination, like millions of other Muslims in India,” he added.