Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will arrive in Israel on July 4 on an official visit to celebrate 25 years since the establishment of full diplomatic relations between the two countries. Unlike other heads of state, and notwithstanding the fact that the world has just marked 50 years of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Modi has decided not to visit the Palestinian Authority. This has not come about by chance.
One can assume that Modi and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will get along well. After all, both are nationalist leaders who have been accused of manipulating feelings of fear among the public, attempting to weaken democratic institutions and restricting the right to free speech. Under their watch, their security forces have also been accused of violating human rights and attempted to cover up these violations – in the West Bank and Gaza in the case of Israel, and in Kashmir and the North East, in the case of India.
According to publications in Israel and in India, Modi’s visit is to take place against the backdrop of one of the largest arms deals ever involving Israeli security industries. The deal, worth an estimated Rs 3,200 crores, includes, among other things, missiles, surveillance and monitoring systems, reconnaissance planes and weaponised drones.
Although one cannot overlook the tremendous security challenges that India faces while protecting its 1.3 billion citizens, the people of India should keep in mind that military deals with Israel carry an additional price tag – the importation of a militaristic Israeli model, and the Israeli state’s expectation that a government that purchases arms from it will stand alongside it against the Palestinian people in international forums.
Israel’s security model
Not only does Israel sell security systems to other regimes, it also sells a concept – the militarisation of civilian institutions and forces, endless war, and the viewing of large parts of one’s own citizenry as enemies.
Israel’s Palestinian citizens are second-class citizens whose citizenship is disposable, according to Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who seeks to transfer them without their consent to the Palestinian Authority. Regardless of their level of education, their involvement in Jewish society, and even their positions in civil service or government institutions – when these Palestinian citizens wish to fly from Ben Gurion International Airport, enter a shopping mall in one of Israel’s main cities or apply for a job, they are automatically considered potential terrorists.
This applies all the more to the civilian Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, who are considered to constitute a high security risk by the State of Israel, and are under constant military surveillance. Every Palestinian who opposes the Israeli occupation – even if they act nonviolently, or take no action at all on this issue – has no right to political expression and protest as far as the military occupation regime is concerned.
The Israel Defence Forces Military Order 101, which has been in effect in the West Bank since 1967, bans the assembly of more than 10 people and any political expression unless a military commander has issued a permit for it. According to the order, anyone who violates its stipulations may be imprisoned for up to 10 years. There is no need to deliberate at length as to what Mahatma Gandhi would have made of this order.
The Israeli model may be convenient for an authoritarian regime in a small country such as Singapore, with which Israel has maintained longstanding security relations, but it is most certainly unsuitable for India. The country’s enormous territory would not allow for surrounding its entire borderline with fences and cameras. India’s security forces would not be able to carry out personal surveillance of each and every one of the country’s 180 million Muslims – who are increasingly being viewed by the Indian state with the kind of suspicion Israel shows its Palestinian citizens. On the contrary, the strict Israeli security model is only expected to exacerbate India’s security problems, and push more youths into the ranks of local or international armed groups.
Furthermore, India’s economy is not built for a permanent state of emergency and war, in which Israel has been since its establishment in 1948. Indeed, quite a few elements of the Israeli economy, as well as numerous Israeli citizens, profit from the occupation and state of war, particularly the Israeli security industries, which are now about to sell the Indian government “battle-proven” products. However, a full-scale conventional war between India and Pakistan may harm the Indian economy tremendously, and jeopardise peace prospects in the region for many years.
For the time being, Israeli arms are expected to accelerate the regional arms race in the Indian subcontinent, a race that comes at the expense of investment in civil infrastructure and the social-internal challenges faced by India. For instance, following the purchase of weaponised drones from Israel, India is expected, in the long run, to purchase additional advanced systems to counter weaponised drones procured by its opponents. In fact, evidence suggests that advanced cyber warfare products, which were developed by the US and other Western states, are now being used for cyber attacks on these very states.
India’s relations with Israel have been complex, and at times chilly. For many years, India – as a leader of the non-aligned countries – had been one of the most important supporters of the Palestinian people and their struggle for independence. By contrast, Israel has now become one of India’s main arms suppliers. The Israeli Border Police, a paramilitary unit tasked with the violent suppression of Palestinian protest against Israeli occupation, has trained Indian security forces in “counter-terrorism” warfare.
Israel expects that in return for arms sales and training, India will entirely relinquish its support to the Palestinian people, and replace its interests and values with its policy. This expectation is based on blindness and condescension. India, the world’s largest parliamentary democracy, is not Augusto Pinochet’s junta in Chile in the 1970s, or the contemporary dictatorship in tiny Equatorial Guinea, where Israel could expect automatic support in return for military sales.
In September 2005, a world summit took place at the United Nations, followed by a UN General Assembly resolution: “Each individual State has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.”
A long time before that, in 1971, India embarked on an extraordinary humanitarian mission to stop the genocide that Pakistan was perpetrating in its eastern part. The genocide was stopped, and the region, Bangladesh, later gained its independence. Although at that time, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s government did not act for purely altruistic motives, this was a bold and laudable step, which carried a high risk, especially since Pakistan was an ally of the US.
While the conduct of Indian security forces in Kashmir weakens New Delhi’s moral leeway to criticise the Israeli occupation, one can hope that even if Modi finds it convenient in the short run to embrace US President Donald Trump and Netanyahu, the people of India will not give up so easily on their heritage and on their important role in the global struggle for justice and liberation.
Eitay Mack is an Israeli human rights lawyer. This piece has been translated into English from Hebrew by Ofer Neiman.