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A Plea to My Fellow Indian Americans: In Defense of Human Rights, Stand with Gaza and Palestine

A Plea to My Fellow Indian Americans: In Defense of Human Rights, Stand with Gaza and Palestine

  • If you are unsure of where to stand on this issue or to even take any stand at all, know that Israel’s position enjoys avowed support from the likes of Donald Trump, Steven Miller, Richard Spencer, and Narendra Modi.

Last year for American Kahani, I shared a harrowing account of my experience visiting the West Bank in January 2020, only a few months before the Covid-19 pandemic devastatingly struck the U.S. Under incredibly heartbreaking circumstances today, I come back once again, this time with a pleading message to my fellow Indian Americans: Please take a clear and unapologetic stand for the freedom of Palestinians from Israeli occupation and apartheid. 

Over the past few weeks, you might have seen disturbing footage of Israel bombing buildings in the Gaza Strip — a place inhabited by Palestinians that has been described by the UN as ‘unlivable.’ These recent bombings have already killed over 200 Gazans, including over 60 children. You might have also seen reporting from news outlets referring to the horrifying and violent events unfolding between Gaza and Israel as one that is exceedingly “complex.” I think comedian John Oliver put it best this week in his segment resoundingly condemning Israel when he stated quite clearly: “While some things are incredibly complex and require a great deal of context, others are just wrong.” 

The depiction of this issue by Western media has traditionally been a “both sides” narrative in which Israel and Palestine are two entities that are on seemingly equal footing. Two conflicted parties with equal resources, equal finances, equal levels of international support, equal militaries — equal power. In reality, the following statement is an undeniable fact: only one side is an occupying state with one of the world’s most advanced militaries backed by the world’s most powerful country, and only one side is an occupied, stateless population with no army, financial means, or unwavering allied superpower to resist its occupier. What Palestinians have been enduring for over seven decades could not be more painfully clear — a dehumanizing, hellish condition imposed on them by Israel that ultimately has amounted to ethnic cleansing, apartheid, and slow-motion genocide. 

The most right-wing supporters of Modi and the BJP often praise Israel in a similar fashion to Spencer, imagining the possibility of a Hindu ethnostate in India at the expense of all religious minorities, but particularly Muslims.

While such terms are not to be used frivolously, the sobering reality in the case of Israel is — they aren’t. Alongside Palestinians and other human rights groups, even Israel’s own human rights organization B’Tselem is now plainly calling Israel an apartheid state under international law that systematically favors Jewish Israelis over Palestinians (for more, read this piece by Human Rights Watch: “Say Israel is Committing Apartheid? It’s Not a Decision We Reached Lightly.”) This systematic discrimination is upheld by Israel’s military, government, and law and cosigned by every U.S. administration, Democratic and Republican alike, save for a few hundred million dollars per year provided in humanitarian assistance to Palestinians that largely wouldn’t be necessary if the root of the issue was addressed in the first place.

For decades, Palestinians and their vocal allies have been falsely smeared as proponents of terrorism and perhaps most troublingly, anti-Semitism. Any sincere ally in this fight, which the overwhelming majority of people are, believes that the struggle for Palestinian liberation is an anti-racist, anti-settler-colonial struggle that does not tolerate anti-Semitism in any form. While no single definition is complete, the heart of this cause is to free an occupied, dispossessed people from an unending occupation and ensure their right to self-determination in their own homeland.  

If you are still unsure of where to stand on this issue or to even take any stand at all, know that Israel’s position enjoys avowed support from the likes of Donald Trump, Steven Miller — the architect of the family separation policy at the U.S.-Mexico border, Richard Spencer — a prominent white supremacist who wants to emulate Israel’s conception of a Jewish ethnostate for white people, and Narendra Modi. The most right-wing supporters of Modi and the BJP often praise Israel in a similar fashion to Spencer, imagining the possibility of a Hindu ethnostate in India at the expense of all religious minorities, but particularly Muslims. If we can so easily denounce Donald Trump and everything he stands for here, it should not be hard to make the ideological leap from Trumpism to the BJP’s Hindu nationalism to Israel’s ethnonationalism: creating and sustaining the plight of Palestinians since 1948.

Albeit cautiously, I’m heartened to believe that with the recent outpouring of rallies in solidarity across major U.S. cities, the increased amplification of Palestinian voices on mainstream news outlets, and the growing denunciation of Israel’s crimes against humanity by prominent figures in media and culture, the tide might be starting to turn on Israel and Palestine. To any person reading who believes that every human should live free from bombs, checkpoints, prolonged detainments, torture, house raids, home demolitions, forced expulsions (most recently in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah) and should have equal access to land, water, and resources — now is your time to join this cause.

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In the spirit of this changing tide, oscillating ever so slowly but surely towards the right side of history, I ask you as my fellow Indian-Americans also concerned about human rights, freedom, and equality for all to join me in solidarity with Gaza and Palestine. It is the absolute bare minimum we can do. 

(To support Palestinians today, you can contact your member of Congress to take actionget involved in your local Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter, and donate to the following organizations: Medical Aid for PalestinePalestine Children’s Relief FundPalestine Red Crescent Society, and the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights.)

Aparna Priyadarshi is a development practitioner working in the field of rural development and a recent graduate from Columbia University’s School of International & Public Affairs. Outside work, Aparna is a writer on issues related to injustice. Her writings include topics such as white supremacy in the United States, Hindu nationalism in India, and the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

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  • Social justice warrior working off a standard script. Throw in Narendra Modi into every conversation whether necessary and true or not. Go back and do some research before you rehash tired old arguments. And, India did not support Israel unequivocally this time so stop with your lies.

    • Narendra Modi and the BJP have the same far-right ideology of advocating for the supremacy of Hindus over all other religions, and especially want to oversee the expulsion of Muslims from India. I’m proud to loudly stand against that and be a “social justice warrior”.

      • The population of Muslims in India (200 million) is equivalent to the entire populations of France, Germany and Italy combined. There hasn’t even been one city in India that has expelled Muslims as per your comment. On the other hand the safe spaces for Hindus in South Asia have shrunk dramatically in the past few decades: Places that had significant Hindu minorities: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Kashmir, Bhutan etc have seen forced expulsions and conversions. Unfortunately this doesn’t get highlighted in the global media . I don’t think Modi’s rise came from nowhere – it’s a reactionary rise to the decimation of Hindu populations around India – leading to a feeling that India is the only safe space for Hindus.
        In addition since the 1980’s there has been Saudi-funded “Arabization” among some segments of the Indian muslim population – a more conservative bent to customs they observe in dress, language, education, women’s / reproductive rights etc that have also contributed to an alienation of Muslims from other religions in India (not just from Hindus btw) . So the reasons behind some of the tensions are more complex than just “hindu supremacy” complex. For those of us who have traveled and worked in India over the past few decades, we have seen these fissures developing over time.
        However in every major city I have traveled to (including those that are more than 80% Hindu), I am woken by the mosque calls to prayer at 5AM. Recently in Chennai there was a lawsuit brought against having Hindu festival processions use a road in a predominantly Muslim village because they were offended by “idol worship”. So it’s not as if Muslims are scared to practice their religion in India.

        I’m not a fan of the BJP but I don’t see some overriding fear of Muslim persecution in India. There is some discrimination in housing/ policing etc similar to what we see with African-Americans in the UnitedStates but it is nothing compared to what minorities are facing in other areas of South Asia where the numbers are too small (and disappearing too rapidly) for journalists to apparently bother caring.

    • Shailaja, facts don’t matter to this crowd. Modi and India, explicitly stated support for Palestine, before the UN, AGAIN, just days ago. People like you and me, read or saw the statements. People like Aparna, are basically following the Al Jazeera script (with zero knowledge of the Qatari money going to Hamas). Anything happens in the world, they have to bring Modi into it, even if he said the opposite. They are cut from this same ilk. In one city in the US, the city council is majority Bangladeshi. They decided write a resolution condemning India. Apparently, city councils, school boards, student councils, 4th graders, all now think they should focus their energy on foreign governments, rather I guess long division. I digress, but the resolution specifically attacks on LGBT rights. Because of course, you want to throw that in too. But the only problem is that, the BJP issued a statement in 2015, that they wanted to decriminalize gay relations and that did happen. Meanwhile, gay relations are completely criminal and severely penalized in Bangladesh. But there is clearly no resolution condemning them. Those city council members don’t care for gays, just as many don’t actually care for Palestinians. They just want to attack whoever, like Modi.

  • The worst that can happen to the the Indian American community is the new generation expressing their anti Hindu thoughts in the garb of being a Palestinian supporter or Kashmiri Muslim supporter. When I started reading this article I thought it was about Israel-Palestinian conflict. But I was shocked to read that it had hidden agenda of defaming Hindus by bringing vocabulary such as “Hindu ethnostate”, bringing in the name of Indian prime minister out of nowhere. Also, calling Israel as “apartheid state” is totally incorrect. Israel is the only democratic country in the middle east where Jewish and Muslims citizens have the same voting right.

    • My own family is Hindu and there is nothing anti-Hindu about condemning the supremacy of one religion over the other, no matter where it manifests.

  • For further context, I know fully well that I’m likely fighting a lonely battle on this site when it comes to Israel-Palestine. Americans like myself received an education that told us all Palestinians are Hamas; all Palestinians are terrorists. This is racist, incorrect, and wrong, and the next generation shouldn’t fall prey to the same racist misinformation. This audience for this piece isn’t bhakts that anyway get incensed at any criticism of Modi, but for a younger generation of Indian-Americans who are already overwhelmingly concerned about human rights in the US and around the world (which I am so proud of them for!). This piece is to raise awareness to this generation that it is important to connect movements for human rights and liberation, and that’s why the connection to rightwing figures like Donald Trump and Modi (whom many Gen Z Indian Americans already loudly condemn) is made – it is to say that the fight for Palestinian freedom from occupation is connected to the fight against Islamophobia in India and against racism against Black people in the US and abroad. Even though they are different contexts, histories and identities (which I am sure someone opposing this will be quick to point out), the oppression and collective trauma is connected.

  • Aparna – Palestine is represented by Hamas, in many cases. Money is given to help Palestinians, and it is used by Hamas, to buy rockets. I am sorry that you have a hard time with those facts. I am not bhakt, I don’t care about Modi. But what I do care about, is folks like you, dragging other people into what is already a messy conflict.

    This phrase is tossed around, with ridiculous comparisons and talking points. “Israel has a bigger military that Hamas, it’s just not a fair fight”. Since when does that matter? Did it matter when the U.S. went after Al Qaeda? How were the human rights when that war, lead to 311,000 Afghan civilians dying? Did the media say anything about “disproportionate death count,” because it started from an attack on Sept 11 that killed “only” 3000? But they are doing that now, and folks like you fall for it.

    We cannot simply support the underdog in everything. There is not an equivalency to be made between BLM, India, the PLO, etc. There are significant differences that matter hugely from a policy perspective. When the US invaded Iraq, established a new government, and eventually vacated, “liberating the Iraqi people to self-determination” — what happened — a terrorist organization took over. Human rights, eh? Students of history will tell you how many times this happened and where, and predictably it would happen here too. That is just one of the complexities to consider, but it seems like we’ve gone from Kushner (embarrassing enough) trying to solve Middle East peace, to Aparna (who thinks it all about Modi and Indians), Trevor Noah (comparing Hamas to his 4 year old brother who kicked him in balls), and some 4th graders.

    It’s the same brilliant minds that feel they are fighting discrimination, when they attack Tony Blinken by saying “well he’s a Jew, so you know what he’ll do” and proceed to beat up random folks wearing a yamaka on the streets of New York.

    • Unsurprisingly, you take on the typical war apologist narrative that these conflicts arise simply because Hamas flew rockets, and not that there is an underlying cause of such tensions – the system that keeps Palestinians in Gaza under complete blockade, and Palestinians in the WB under military occupation. Nowhere have I denied that Hamas represents some Palestinians, nor have I anywhere advocated my support for them. To continuously fixate the entire conversation on Hamas (yes, a horrendous political party and terrorist organization) and not the 50+ year Israeli occupation is a deflection that more and more people are seeing through. It’s a go-to tactic to fixate on Hamas, claim all Palestinians as terrorists (or “soon to be” terrorists, which is how the IDF and settlers defend killing Palestinian children), and claim that this entire movement is rooted in anti-Semitism, no matter how many times anti-Semitism is condemned. To equate Palestine and allies fighting against violent settler-colonial rule with the mission to liberate Palestinians to the US military saying they will “liberate the Iraqi people” when they really want to secure oil interests, is incredibly laughable, and have no idea how this analogy is being drawn. As I stated above, the connection to other supremacist ideologies is not to assume that there are shared histories and contexts, but shared impacts on those most severely impacted by those ideologies. Also on India/Palestine, yes India has taken historical positions at the UN that denounce the settlements but that tide is turning with Modi and Netanyahu’s budding relationship and India’s defense contracts with Israel. Read the article posted this week on here by a professor that shows how India’s position on Palestine has shifted over the years.

      I want people to speak out on Palestine as they did apartheid South Africa. I want people to understand what is happening so that it can end. To continue to denounce and scoff at activists trying to stand up for human rights is to co-sign these regimes and ideologies and diminish the oppression that comes from them. “Since when does that matter?” Are you literally asking when has it mattered that an entity with exorbitantly relative power has oppressed an entity without power/marginal power? Try nearly every damn time.

    • I read it, I mean, it’s a decent analysis but I could argue that it could also be flushed out. No think piece is going to cover every analytical element intricately and completely within 3 minutes.

  • Typical of the intelligentsia (both Indian and American) to support Palestinian terrorists like they did Yasser Arafat and Ahmadinejad. Sure, there are good Palestinians just as there are good people in every race, religion, nationality. But just because Israel defends itself against rockets fired indiscriminately by Palestinians who use their citizens as human shields, we shouldn’t denounce them because of their superior military. Remember the 6-day War when Israel had a fledgling military and had to defend itself against 5 Arab countries that ganged up against them, led by Egypt that had a vastly superior Air Force and military? Their express purpose was to annihilate Israel, wipe them off the map. That is still the official goal of Iran that supports Hamas and Hezbollah. Israel ended up defeating all those countries and in the process, gained more land. They were foolish to give up that land in a ” land for peace” deal that never materialized (they gave up the captured land but never got the peace they sought). Why conflate the situation by bringing up Trump and Modi? They both are scumbags (Indians who support Modi and denounce Trump are hypocrites – they are 2 peas in a pod, one a White supremacist, the other a Hindu supremacist). Ironically, white supremacists don’t like Jews and Trump’s decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem, while commendable, was done not out of altruistic motives. Anything Trump does is for purely selfish reasons. As for Modi, he was voted in for the same reason Trump was voted in. The liberals in India and USA need to clean up their act and learn from it. But coming back to the topic, let’s not glorify Palestinians just because they suffer under so-called tyranny. They are the ones who brought it on. They don’t want peace, they just want to prolong the conflict to get money and international support. And they want to get rid of Israel even though Israel genuinely wants peace.

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