What is it that makes Israelis not simply despise Palestinians—whom most of the educated world thinks of as people thrown out of their own homes by an occupying power—but squeeze them into smaller and smaller areas and then carpet bomb them, celebrating the murder of their children?
What is it that makes a people who initially came to the land as refugees take ownership of houses to which they have no legal right, and go on to create a legal system that somehow deprives Palestinians of their homes and then asks the newly homeless to pay money to their occupiers to help them settle in?
What is it that allows apartheid to persist in the twenty-first century, that lets a country accord its citizens different rights depending on to which religion they belong?
The answer: A narrative.
A narrative has been fostered about Palestine and Israel which allows Israelis to feel they are the sufferers of an ancient wrong, not so recent as World War II, but dating back millennia, as a result of which they must take revenge on the descendants of those who wronged their ancestors; those descendants, to them, are not Germans but Palestinians.
Israelis grow up hearing that Palestine is not home to a people, but barren land waiting to be claimed by its rightful people, Jews. They grow up hearing that this was their storied homeland, from which they were flushed out by Arabs invading from Iraq and elsewhere, and that therefore they now have a right to that land and that the Arabs—who have been there for millennia—must “go back” to their homes.
The land must be rid of its impostors, its colonisers. And anyone who does not agree is a Nazi; at the very least, an Anti-Semite.
And that is a perfect parallel to the narrative that is being fostered in India.
It is as if we were a prosperous country, where Ram Rajya persisted until the Mughal invaders came in and razed temples and built mosques and tombs, and taxed the original settlers of the country for continuing to practise their religion.
It is as if we were a single entity even before 1947, rather than a hotchpotch of warring kingdoms that were easy to divide and rule.
It is as if the white colonisers who came—the Portuguese and Dutch and British and French, particularly the British—could have been defeated if only we hadn’t been weakened by the Mughals, whose alleged conniving and double-crossing natures could not be matched by the purported forthrightness of the rulers of the imagined single entity that was Bharat.
And yes—say the creators of this narrative—the white colonisers may have been as brutal as the Mughals, but they did Quit India; and the Mughals did not, and all the Muslims in India are their descendants and therefore must be made to quit India, starting with deprivation of citizenship. And therefore the National Population Register and Citizenship Amendment Act are the final steps in freeing India from its colonisers and anyone who speaks out against the CAA is a seditionist, and everyone who is against the CAA is anti-national. They, say the creators of this narrative, stand in the way of this ancient land being rid of its impostors, its colonisers.
Little wonder, then, that the creators of this narrative feel so much love for Israel and offer so much support as for the Israelis themselves to be bewildered by the level of investment; and this from a country that, to Israeli tourists, is little more than a vacation spot where they get to exercise their legendary bargaining skills.
In the minds of those who believe India was one happy enormous kingdom, it was Muslims who threw Israelis out of their land and occupied it for 1500 years; now that the Israelis are “back”, the remnants of ancient invasion must be removed, and this will be a model for India.
And therefore every Muslim is asked to “go back to Pakistan”, although history suggests that it was Hindus rather than Muslims who moved to what is now India from what is now Pakistan.
And therefore social networks should be banned, because those are the breeding grounds for anti-nationals and seditionists.
And therefore, in the middle of a pandemic that is decimating the country’s population, the Delhi Police are asked to raid the offices of Twitter, as if they expected to recover a treacherous “toolkit” from cupboards that haven’t been opened in months.
We can laugh at the imbecility of the average troll and the fabricated history the troll expounds.
But the narrative that seems bizarre now may seem believable to future generations, as has happened in Israel. And the conflict in our country—a country which is not yet 75 years old but is waging the sequel of an ancient, imagined war—will be the same as the conflict in Israel.
Is that the future we want?