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Palestine and Kashmir - Settler Colonialism and Globalising the Intifada

Disclaimer: This article is non-exhaustive. It is a short introductory reflection based on our own ongoing learnings and conversations and we encourage you to treat it as a conversation starter before doing your own research on this topic to further understand the issues explored in this article.

Intifada, noun:
Arabic word literally meaning ‘shake’, ‘shaking off'. Used to describe a popular uprising or resistance movement, particularly the Palestinian struggle for liberation.

Palestine continues to be the litmus test of our generation for every liberal and progressive, in evaluating their investment for justice, accountability and human rights. Both Palestine and Kashmir are the represent two key decolonial struggles left in our lifetime, and it’s time we start drawing the links between the two ideologies that govern these spaces; Zionism and Hindutva.

A Brief History of Palestine

The word Palestine can be traced back to the Ancient Greek word, Philistia, used in 12th century BCE. to describe the Philistines who inhabited part of the region. For thousands of years, the indigenous people of Palestine have been Arabic-speaking people, the majority of whom are Sunni Muslim. There are also minority populations of Christians, Shiite Muslims, Jews and Druze. Throughout its history, Palestine has been ruled by numerous different groups, including the Assyrians, Bablyonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Fatimids, Seljuk Turks, Crusaders, Egyptians and Mamelukes. The Ottoman Empire ruled much of the region over two centuries between 1517 to 1917, until the end of WWI in 1918, when Britain took control of Palestine. This was the beginning of the undoing of Palestine, and marked the commencement of the Zionist colonial mission to establish a Jewish homeland on Palestinian soil.

Zionism as an ideology of European colonialism began in the late 1800s, long before the Holocaust. Its goal is to establish a Jewish nation state on land which was already inhabited by indigenous Palestinian people. What began as an ideology organising the global Jewish diaspora in response to continuous discrimination and antisemitism, turned into a colonising mission backed by Western powers.

In 1917, the Balfour Declaration was issued by the British government. It announced British support for the establishment of a Jewish nation state in Palestine. While Jewish settlers had begun arriving in Palestine from as early as 1882, after the Balfour Declaration was issued, Jewish migration to Palestine increased exponentially. Between 1919 and 1936, the ruling British took land from thousands of indigenous Palestinians and distributed it to European Zionist settlers. In response, Palestinians held a strike against British and Zionist institutions, which lasted from 1936 to 1939 and was accompanied by boycotts. This strike was met with extreme force, with the British imprisoning 5,000 Palestinians, executing 148 people and demolishing 5,000 homes.

In 1947, the UN proposed a plan to partition Palestine into two - an independent Jewish state and an independent Arab state. Jerusalem - claimed by both Palestinian Arabs and Jews, was classed as international territory and attributed special status.

In May 1948, Britain withdrew from Palestine, and Israel declared itself an independent nation state. To indigenous Palestinians, this event is known as the Nakba - the Arabic word for ‘catastrophe’.

In immediate response to the unfolding events in Palestine, neighbouring Arab armies began moving in on the region to prevent the establishment of an Israeli state. What followed was the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, fought between Israel and Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon. By July 1949, Israel controlled more than two-thirds of the former British Mandate whileJordan took control of the West Bank, Egypt and the Gaza Strip:

“The 1948 conflict opened a new chapter in the struggle between [the Jewish people] and Palestinian Arabs, which now became a regional contest involving nation-states and a tangle of diplomatic, political and economic interests.”

A Brief History of Kashmir

Kashmir lies at the intersection of three civilisations - China on its northeastern border, India on its southern border and the Arab-Persian Islamic civilisation (now, Pakistan/Afghanistan) to its west/northwest. Just like Palestine, the occupation of Kashmir is, at its core, a territorial conflict over the region, a conflict which can be traced to British intervention.

The creation of this princely state actually helped the British to safeguard their northern frontiers during their advance towards the Indus in the 19th century, leaving the region of Kashmir a complex political buffer zone between the British and their Indian empire, and the empires of Russia and China in the north.

While Britain kept the existence of Kashmir alive and guaranteed, the weakness of its borders and peripheries could be ignored. Upon British withdrawal from the subcontinent, however, things took a turn for the worse. By 1947, the Indian subcontinent had been Partitioned, and the rulers of princely states were given the choice to opt for either India or the newly formed state of Pakistan, and with many reservations, to remain independent. Hari Singh, the maharaja of Kashmir at the time, thought that by delaying his decision he could maintain Kashmir’s independence, however, the political chaos in the region - spearheaded by India and Pakistan - the intervention of Pashtun tribesmen to the region, as well as a revolution amongst his Muslim subjects, pushed Hari Singh to make a decision. What resulted was his signing of the Instrument of Accession to the Indian union in October 1947.

Many Kashmiris observe this date as the ‘black day’ to denounce Kashmir’s illegal accession to India, and regard Hari Singh as a usurper who “lost his right to rule since the people of Kashmir had already revolted against him”.

For both India and Pakistan, Kashmir serves as a main source of water and power generation and given its majority Muslim population, Pakistan saw (and, indeed, still sees) Kashmir as a natural extension of itself. Localised warfare continued throughout 1948, until the UN intervened and a cease-fire was called in January 1949. In July of that year the cease-fire line was defined as the line of control, which divided the territory into Indian-administered Kashmir and Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

Pakistan was left with a territory that, although mostly Muslim, was thinly populated and relatively inaccessible, as well as being severely economically underdeveloped. The largest Muslim group - which is estimated to include more than half of the population - falls within Indian-administered territory, with its exit routes via the Jhelum valley blocked and inaccessible.

Since then, two more wars have been fought between the two states over the Kashmiri region which saw the violent mass exodus of the minority Kashmiri Hindus out of the Kashmir Valley. India continues to rule Indian-administered Kashmir under severe occupation, violence and surveillance, in a fashion similar to how colonial Britain governed India for almost a century. Currently, India has devised a “two-pronged strategy” to suppress resistance of indigenous Kashmiris, including extensive employment of the military, supported by harsh public laws.

“As a matter of fact, India has been a more callous and ruthless occupying force than its own colonial master. The human rights abuses in the occupied territory ranges from the mass killings, enforced disappearances, torture and rape to the curtailment of political rights and freedom of the speech. According to some reports, India has killed over fifty thousand civilians in Kashmir. This month [July, 2016], Indian brutalities in the occupied valley have reached their zenith. After opening indiscriminate fire and pouring lethal pellets on the unarmed protesters, India has imposed a ‘media blackout’ in the held Kashmir for the last three weeks.” - Mohsin Raza Mali

The Right-Wing Alliance

Dr. Akanksha Mehta of Goldsmiths University in London labels the alliance between India and Israel as a ‘right-wing sisterhood’ that has one thing in common; settler colonialism. Both states practice military occupation over the indigenous communities they are dominating.

Settler colonialism is defined as an ‘ongoing system of power that perpetuates the genocide and repression of indigenous peoples and cultures’. In essence, settler colonialism seeks to destroy and replace. Israel is predicated on the notion of destroying and replacing, it is a project that is structural and continuous, says Dr Sarah Ilmoud of the Palestine Feminist Collective. In Kashmir, India is also engaged in a similar project of asserting Indian supremacy over the region which was cemented in its decision to revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, and abrogate article 370 in August 2019.

Tracing the trajectory

1. Military

India and Israel share a special relationship as both states operate under an ultra nationalistic ideology that seeks to marginalise, oppress, and arguably, remove minorities. Their military and diplomatic relations began at the end of the Cold War and precedes Modi’s rule.

One thing that categorises the links between these two states is their robust military alliance and arms trade. As of 2020, Israel remains the second largest source to Russia as India’s largest weapons supplier; India buys 46% of Israel’s exports. On top of this, both have comprehensive data sharing agreements in place to combat ‘terrorism’- which means sharing information on homeland security, cybersecurity measures, and close cooperation between India’s intelligence agency with Mossad. Foreign Policy reported that the Indian Police Service visits the Israel National Police Academy every year for training, and that the Indian Border Security Forces use Israeli smart-fence systems and surveillance technology in Kashmir.

Elbit Systems, which has ten subsidiaries in the UK, produce 85% of Israeli drones used in the bombing of the Gaza Strip, which remains an open-air prison. PalAction reported that Elbit surveillance technology has also been found in Kashmir with IDF soldiers often involved in joint training programmes in Kashmir to ensure the smooth running of their genocidal technology.

What does this tell us? From Gaza to Srinagar, we are seeing an increased militarisation of law enforcement against minoritised populations and institutionalised brutality. Weapons ‘field tested’ against Palestinian bodies make their way to the subcontinent to be used on the civilian population in Kashmir which remains the most densely militarised zone in the world, with close to half a million Indian soldiers stationed in the region. In her book, Azadi, Arundhati Roy recounts how the Indian forces' most popular method of crowd control is the pellet gun, which has blinded hundreds of Kashmiri teenagers. Similar to the Israeli ‘shoot to maim’ policy in Gaza, this is a deliberate move to decrease the quality of life and lead to a complete breakdown in humanitarian infrastructure.

2. Annexation

Settler colonies seek to bring the existing apparatus’ into their domain and that means violent land grabs and dispossession. Part of Netanyahu's re-election campaign earlier this year promised the annexation of the Jordan Valley and parts of the West Bank (Area C). Technically labelled as ‘annexations’, these change the demographic makeup of a community. The ongoing #SaveSheikhJarrah campaign and the neighbourhood of Silwan and Lifta in occupied Jerusalem is an example of this.

In a similar fashion, after India revoked the special status of Kashmir in August 2019, a new set of domicile rules were introduced, which stipulate that Indians can buy land and permanently reside in Kashmir. These changes have a clear intention of repopulating native lands and changing the indigenous social fabric. Researchers Zainab Ramahi and Azadeh Shahshahani found that since May 18th of 2021, 400,000 people have been granted domicile status to reside in Indian-occupied Kashmir.

The process of annexation is also known as ‘slow genocide’ - these are attempts by colonisers to break the relationship between indigenous people and their land through eliminating native populations, denying them access to their land, and forced displacement. Slow genocide happens over decades, which ensures that this trauma and reality is reaffirmed and passed down to future generations of indigenous people.

Connecting the Struggles

Kashmiris see the Palestinian experience as a mirror image of their own. During the recent 11-day bombardment of the Gaza Strip by Israel, Kashmiris were out in the streets protesting against Israeli aggression, only to be violently dispersed and arrested by police. Graffiti artist Mudasir Gull who painted a mural saying the words ‘we are Palestine’ on a bridge, was also arrested.

The Hindu right wing has always admired the Zionist project. During the bombardment of Gaza over the summer, the hashtag #IndiaStandsWithIsrael began trending on Twitter. Floods of tweets praising Israel for its display of strength were posted by BJP supporters. Under the hashtag, there were terrifying posts expressing desire to copy Israeli brutality in Gaza in Northern Kashmir. There is an argument to be made about how both of these settler states operate under a framework of Islamophobia. In the western imagination, Palestinians are constructed as Muslim, erasing the plurality in a region which also has Palestinian Christian, Jews, and Druzes. Israel uses the language of terror to target Palestinian Muslims who dare to resist the occupation and frequently employs the language of securitisation of fighting against ‘Jihadi terrorists’ to bomb Gaza; a densely populated enclave measuring 25 miles long and housing 2 million Palestinians. The pretence of using Hamas is a pattern by the Israeli Defence Forces. This tactic is also used by Indian Security Forces and the BJP Government in Kashmir to label Kashmiris as ‘Pakistani Jihadis’ or ‘Islamic terrorists’. Time and time again, these categories are used to garner public support for defensive wars and justify state brutality.

Both of these settler colonial states operate under a framework of Islamophobia that dehumanises indigenous communities and upholds a brutal occupation and military siege, a framework that exists because of global, politicised perceptions of Islam and Muslim people in the post-9/11 era of global politics. Furthermore, the alliances and support between Western global powers and Israel and India cannot be ignored in terms of bolstering Islamophobia and subsequent colonial, military occupation in both Palestine and Kashmir.

International solidarity means standing with our comrades in Palestine as they fight to dismantle structures of white supremacy and settler colonialism, as well as standing with our comrades much closer to home in the subcontinent. Palestine and Kashmir are national liberation movements which have at its core, the right to self-determination. It is a decolonial issue. We need strong transnational solidarity now more than ever, and vow to dismantle systems of oppression both at home, and over ‘there’.

‘Tested in Palestine. Used In Kashmir. Could we make it more clear? Israel’s weapons are not welcome here!’- A Palestine Action slogan seen in a factory in Tamworth, which houses a subsidiary of Elbit.

We need to continuously make these links for collective liberation.

Free Palestine.

Azad Kashmir.

Habiba Akhtar is Communications and Outreach Coordinator at The Rights Collective. She is a graduate of SOAS University of London with an MA in Human Rights Law and works as a Researcher for the Legal 500 in London. Interests include gender justice, tech, and civil liberties.

Inaya Hussain is Community Builder at The Rights Collective. She is a graduate from SOAS University, with a BA in Social Anthropology & International Relations, specialising in South Asian studies. She is currently a freelance writer, writing on topics such as politics, culture and theatre, as well as poetry and spoken word.

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