India & Palestine – A relation that has stood the test of time

Amidst the recent bloodshed caused by the inhuman attack by Israel on Palestinian people, when the global community came together to condemn the eviction and attack carried out by Israeli forces, two hashtags were trending in India – One was “#IndiaStandsWithPalestine”, and the other was “#IndiaStandsWithIsrael” – Which openly supported Zionist atrocities and labeled the Palestinian cause as ‘terrorism’. 

But these people, who find ‘anti-muslim’ comfort zionist hashtags are missing an important chapter of Indian history & politics – (even they are missing recent 2-3-year-old headlines!) – India has always stood with the Palestinian struggle. Unlike many other countries, India’s political stance has always been in favor of the Palestinian people, Not Israel’s aggression!

“India and Palestine’s relations have stood the test of time. I have assured President Abbas that India is committed to the Palestinian people’s interests ” – Said Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his historic visit to Ramallah back in 2018. After Nehru’s pit-stop in the Gaza strip in 1960, It was the first-ever official visit by an Indian Prime Minister to Palestine. (PM Modi is also the first Indian prime minister who visited Israel). It is contradictory that the very same Modi’s followers and RSS cadres are leading the Anti-Palestine rants on social media platforms. 

Not just during PM Modi’s diplomatic visit, India and Palestine have always shared a special relationship. And in official terms, India has always stood in support of the Palestinian cause. Starting from Mahatma Gandhi to Jawahar Lal Nehru to Indhira Gandhi to Rajiv Gandhi to Narendra Modi, it continues. 

Even though Israel and Zionist propaganda’s got more attention and space during the BJP Governments & anti-Palestinian rants got more momentum, the Palestinian cause was never dismissed by India. As Mr. Modi said during his visit “A relation that has stood the test of time”

India’s Foreign Policy & Palestinian state

India’s support for the Palestinian cause is an integral part of the nation’s foreign policy. In 1974, when the Palestine Liberation Organisation and its leader Yasser Arafat were vilified as being a “terrorist, India became the first Non-Arab State to recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. In 1988, India became one of the first countries to recognize the Palestinian State and In 1996, India opened its Representative Office in Gaza, which was later shifted to Ramallah in 2003.

The evolution of India’s Palestine policy is not a recent event; it goes back to the pre-independence days. While expressing his deep sympathies with the long persecution of Jews, during World War II, Gandhi famously said in 1938, “Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French”. While writing from prison to daughter Indira, Jawhar Lal Nehru depicted the Palestine issue as analogous to the communal troubles of the Indian subcontinent. When he took the charge of the country from British, India officially continued its principled support to the Palestinian cause in its post-independence foreign policy.

Until the early 1990s, India endorsed the Palestinian cause almost exclusively and stayed away from diplomatic relations with Israel. It was in 1992 India announced that it was establishing diplomatic ties with Israel. On that occasion, Yasser Arafat visited India just to prove the point that though he was disappointed by New Delhi’s decision, he understood the reason for it.

Despite India’s growing diplomatic and business relations with Israel under the governments that came after, the bond with the Palestinian cause continued with little up’s and downs, with no much change. The only damages to the relationship were caused by the BJP led governments as they gave more space and praise to the Israel actions, celebrating the matching ideologies of RSS and Zionists. It played a vital part in forming an anti-Palestinian attitude in a large section of society.

In 2004, when the UPA government came to power, then Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh assigned E.Ahmed, Minister of State, Foreign affairs for course correction, which resulted in multiple diplomatic visits to Palestine.

In 2011, India voted in favor of Palestine becoming a full member of the UNESCO. India also voted against the United States’ decision in the UN to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December 2017 and in 2019, in the letter released on the occasion of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, PM Modi officially expressed his solidarity with the Palestinian people in their efforts to establish a sovereign, independent, viable, and united State of Palestine. 

Along with the strong political support to the Palestinian cause at bilateral and international levels, India has also extended various forms of economic assistance to the Palestinian people.

Yasser Arafat – India’s dear friend

Apart from the diplomatic relations between the two countries, the Palestinian leadership, especially the late Yasser Arafat, the enduring symbol of Palestinian nationalism, had a special place in India’s political history. His struggle for a separate homeland was strongly supported by India and its leaders. 

Arafat shared a deep, personal bond with Indira Gandhi, whom he called his “sister,” and this led to the opening of the first Palestinian office outside of the Arab world in New Delhi. The charismatic PLO chief would come to India at every available opportunity and stayed at India’s Rashtrapati Bhavan and met Cabinet ministers and political leaders during his visits.

During the 1983 New Delhi NAM summit, Yasser Arafat was offended on discovering that he was to speak after King Hussein of Jordan and he decided to leave the summit. Seeing the crisis, Natwar Singh, the Secretary-General of the summit, pleaded with Cuban president Fidel Castro to prevent Arafat from leaving. In his attempt to prevent Arafat from leaving, the Cuban leader asked – “Are you a friend of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi or not?”

In response, Mr. Arafat said, “Friend? I consider Indira Gandhi my sister and I am her brother.” He changed his mind and the NAM summit in New Delhi was thus saved from a major international embarrassment. 

Before the death of Rajiv Gandhi, Yasser Arafat, who then headed the Palestinian state, had sent his ambassador in India Dr. Khalid Al Sheikh to inform Rajiv that the LTTE assassins had reached India to fulfill their mission.

This relation continued even after his death. When the 75-year-old president of the Palestinian authority passed away in 2004, the UPA government decided to include Sonia Gandhi in the delegation to attend the funeral. When she couldn’t make it due to security reasons, A high-level delegation led by then External Affairs Minister K Natwar Singh, including Railway Minister Lalu Prasad, Ghulam Nabi Azad, E Ahmed, and CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury attended the funeral ceremony.

Yasser Arafat was also conferred with the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Peace and Understanding in 1988.