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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 32, August 2, 2014

Like Apartheid South Africa, Israel Must Be Boycotted

interview with Professor A.K. Ramakrishnan

Saturday 2 August 2014

The following is an interview of A.K. Ramakrishnan, a Professor at the Centre for West Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He has been one of those Indian scholars of international relations who continue to critique the USA and Israel’s hegemony, internalised by many as a fait accompli. An expert of West Asia, Islam and critical theory, Ramakrishnan strongly condemns Israel’s ongoing brutal attack on Gaza and thus calls for a complete boycott of Israel the way the international community isolated South Africa for its practice of apartheid. In a conversation with Syed Mohammad Raghib and Abhay Kumar, he speaks about Israeli occupation and the failure of the world community—including the Arab world, China and India—to stand in complete solidarity with the Palestinian liberation movement. The excerpts of the interview are as follows.

According to media reports, Israel remains on the offensive, killing hundreds of Palestinians, mostly children and women, injuring and displacing thousands of them. Can you justify Israeli claims that it is defending itself from a “threat” of Palestinian “terrorists”? 

There is no justification for this at all. The first and foremost thing is the question of Palestine, which cannot be reduced to a matter of security concern. Let me reiterate that it is a politicalissue and it must be addressed politically. The illegal occupation of Palestinian land is the heart of the problem. Israeli authorities use the threat from “terrorist” activities from the Palestinian side as a continuing logic for its attack on Palestinians by trying to put under the carpet the reality of its colonial occupation. In fact Gaza remains the largest open prison in the world as the movements of people are monitored and even the supply of food and essential commodities can be carried to the Palestinians only if Israel allows them. In short, Palestinians are virtually under complete siege. In the recent past, the situation aggravated when an anti-Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood regime came to power in Egypt. With almost all the options closed, Hamas and Al Fatah tried to form a unity, which Israeli state perceived as a threat to Zionist interests. Like a typical colonial master, Israel does not want the Palestinian leadership to be united. The ongoing offensive, therefore, is a desperate attempt by Israel to stop Palestinian unity and put any peace process at bay.

What is your view about the fact that hundreds of Palestinians would not have been killed by the Israeli forces, if the rocket attack had not been carried out by Hamas? 

Such propaganda hides the fact of Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine. What are all means available to the people of Palestine to fight against their oppression? One cannot equate the strength of the massively armed Israeli state with that of the poor and state-less Palestinians. It is to be noted that there is an asymmetrical power relation between Israel and Hamas. The Israeli state, unlike a non-state actor like Hamas, is capable of inflicting incalculable and unimaginable damages.

Tell us more about the failed attempt to reach a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas?

The pro-Israeli Western media recognised the aggression in Gaza, pressurising Israel to reach a ceasefire. In spite of that, Israel is desperate to strike at the very root of Hamas. For Hamas, the choice is not easy as it knows very well that Israel will definitely do a selective breach of ceasefire on the pretext of “security” concerns.

The Israeli attack began on July 8 but it does not seem to stop soon. Is it a failure of the international community and human rights organisations? 

One should not forget that the so-called international community, which often projects itself as the champion of “freedom” and “human rights”, has maintained a calculated silence and has even supported the Israeli occupation, leaving almost no option before Palestinians to resist colonial apartheid. It is beyond doubt that the peace processes to resolve the Palestine-Israel conflict, have often been shallow and half-hearted and both Israel and its allies are unwilling to acknowledge the legitimate rights of Palestinians. Unfortunately, peace initiatives have often been used as a ploy to perpetuate illegal occupation and expand the Israeli settlement in Palestine. In spite of this, the truth remains the same that the right of Palestinians for an independent state is the most undisputed international issue. Yet, it is projected as a controversial matter. All countries of the world have recognised the right of Palestinians to have their own free state. Even the USA, which is in complete collusion with Israel, agrees in principle to this. But what is lacking is calling a spade a spade at a critical juncture. The international community must not only condemn Israeli’s aggression but also reject its illegal occupation. It is on this aspect that the world community has failed.

Colonialism may be a historical reality for the rest of world but it continues to sting Palestinians every moment. The whole cycle of formation of independent nation-states after the end of European colonialism came and went and many thought that it could have been the end of Israeli apartheid in Palestine as well but the Palestinians still remain a people without a state. Is it not due to the betrayal of international community? Unfortunately, gradual deprivation, uprooting, discrimination, and elimination of Palestinians by the occupier Israel are not often recognised as an everyday problem by the world community. This happens every day in a very systematic manner. It is to be kept in mind that when I say Gazans I am talking about not only the inhabitants of Gaza but also those thousands of Palestinians who fled from that part of historical Palestine, which is now under Israeli control. Unfortunately, the international community has an uncanny knack of forgetting this ghetto of Palestinians. Worse still, Israel has blatantly done a demographic shift in Palestine and the international community continues to maintain a criminal silence over it.

Once victims of colonialism, Arab countries, China and India etc. seem no longer interested in fulfilling their own pledge of fighting against colonialism and apartheid. Are you disappointed with their callousness and opportunism with regard to the Palestinian issue? 

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries still provide Palestinians financial aids but it is also a bitter truth that they do not want an independent Palestinian state. A Palestinian state under a secular and progressive leadership is always perceived as a threat by monarchs in the Arab regions. As Saudi Arabia faces an internal challenge from the Islamic forces, it is against organisations like Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and secular groups. As for China, it is today the most aggressively capitalist regime. Realpolitik interests guide China’s policies and it does not want to disturb its “peaceful rise”. It is also least interested in disturbing the status quo of West Asia. As a fast growing economy, it is heavily dependent on oil from West Asia and it does not want to antagonise any regime there. The guiding principle of China is maintaining status quo is good for rapid growth.

What do you have to say about the role of India? The BJP-led government at the Centre is not only defending Israeli aggression but also muzzling the voices of protest as the peaceful demonstrators at the Israeli embassy in New Delhi were beaten up and detained by the police last week?

Since the 1990s, the security ties between India and Israel have been growing with India emerging as one of the biggest buyers of Israeli arms and weapons. In future this alliance will grow at an even faster rate. India’s close ties with Israel are justified by the ruling elites on the ground that its strategic alliance with Israel is compatible with its historical commitment to the issue of Palestine. Such an argument is baseless. It is beyond doubt that India’s commitment to the Palestinian liberation is in conflict with its strategic ties with the coloniser, Israel. Unfortunately, opportunism and real-politik considerations are taking precedence over principled and independent foreign policy. That is why the Government of India does not have a will to question Israel’s aggression.

Are you disappointed about the fact that an attempt is being made to reduce the freedom of Palestine to an issue of Muslims, instead of it being projected as an issue of humanity? 

As I mentioned earlier, the Palestinian question is a political and secular issue and not a religious issue between Jews and Muslims. Political issue means a quest for an independent state. Muslims, Christians and Jews all have fought together for Palestinian liberation. The stance and acts of the Israeli state need not be confused as the position of all Jews across the world. It should be borne in mind that Palestine is not only a land of Muslims but also that of Christians and Jews. Irrespective of their religious beliefs, Palestinians are fighting for their common political goal. Besides, there are many Jews, including rabbis (Jewish clergies), both in Israel and outside, who support an independent Palestinian state. And they have held several demonstrations in London and New York. Let me reiterate it is not a Jew versus Muslim conflict. But mainstream media project it as a religious one and thereby somehow suggest that it is an insurmountable problem. We should see the centrality of politics and seek a political solution.

There is confusion about the solution to the Palestinian problem? What is your view on this?

The two-state solution is the generally recognised position. Intellectuals like Edward Said expressed the desire to have a common political entity on the ground that both Jews and Arabs have a shared history and therefore their future is also inextricably linked. Amid this, Israel has tried all means to destroy any possibility of a future independent state of Palestine by carrying out a massive demographic change. In my view, the solution has to be reached by the Palestinians themselves but many of them do recognise the fact that the possibility of a viable Palestinian state is systematically destroyed. That said, I support the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with a clear provision for the right to return. That means that those Palestinians, who have left their land, can come back. The right to return should be enshrined if there is the establishment of one state. This will ensure that Palestinians would have an important say in the future.

Given that, what is to be done?

It is high time that the world community boycotted Israel the way South Africa was isolated for its practice of apartheid. The international solidarity for Palestine should not only be confined to words, but also be implemented through deeds. A well-coordinated campaign is necessary for that. The terrible and inhuman attack on Gaza should make the world awake to the need for a comprehensive resolution of the issue. Such blatant use of force on Palestinian civilians should not be allowed to get the stamp of a ‘legitimate’ state action.

The interviewers—Syed Mohammad Raghib (raghib.jnu@gmail.com) and Abhay Kumar (debatingissues@gmail.com)—are both Ph.D scholars at the Centre for West Asian Studies, Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.