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Hostile Homelands: The New Alliance Between India And Israel | Book Review


This is a review of the book Hostile Homelands authored by Azad Essa, and published by Pluto Press in February 2023.

Writing history is a conflict zone, especially in the Western historical tradition after the post-World War II anti-colonial struggles when formerly colonized peoples entered the field to correct the grotesque white supremacist conceits that had dominated. Studying history is treacherous territory for those who don’t understand how the politics of history determines the method of writing it. 

‘Hostile Homelands’, as part of the anti-colonial historic tradition, is faced with the analytic problem of elaborating how Palestine and Kashmir became totems of colonialism at the same time that European colonies were breaking up all over the world. Thus it is necessarily a diplomatic and political history explaining how the relationship between India and Israel developed from 1947 when both nations were forcibly and traumatically created out of partition, expulsion, and colonialism.

A Diplomatic History With a Contemporary Spirit

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The book is not a ‘people’s history’ type study that is so popular among anti-colonial historians today. It does not elaborate on the history of Palestinian or Kashmiri resistance. But the entire architecture of the book is to unfold what India and Israel’s diplomatic maneuverings meant for the anti-colonial struggles in Palestine and Kashmir. The book never stoops to an insufferably dull recitation of wars, treaties, and events, but it must necessarily address them (the Partition, the forged 1947 accession agreement, the wars with Pakistan and China) because from them the entire matrix of colonialism in Kashmir was constructed—not just the justifications for occupation but the very structures of oppression that stand with full force today.

As a diplomatic history, ‘Hostile Homelands’ is not the same genre as the old stodgy colonial stuff but is moved by such a radically different spirit that it will be viewed as an incendiary device by nationalist historians of India who see themselves as courtiers to state power. Regrettably, the colonial historians and U.S. State Department-type analysts still dominate the field and favor the Indian version of Kashmiri history, especially the ‘Pakistani-sponsored terrorism’ narrative – and they want to keep it that way. Most library collections are dominated by old-guard colonial historians; anti-colonial voices are not known.

Hostile HomelandsIn a review Indian-American historian Sumit Ganguly wrote of ‘Hostile Homelands’ for Foreign Policy journal, he argues that the book is a flawed polemic full of insinuations and innuendos, especially because Essa did not sufficiently address the issue of ‘Pakistani-sponsored terrorism’ in Kashmir. Once again, the politics of writing history determines the method of writing it. There is nothing polemical or sly about Essa’s account. It is a straightforward diplomatic history that doesn’t pretend to neutrality. One is never confused about where he stands on the Palestinian and Kashmiri freedom struggles. Nor does he honor the narrative of an India-Pakistan territorial dispute that dominates most scholarship on Kashmir and makes most diplomatic histories boring, dishonest, and incomprehensible in order to justify India’s actions in Kashmir. He is not a courtier to state power but a voice for the oppressed, and has written one of the few invaluable books on the Kashmiri struggle.

Essa begins with the ‘two partitions’ of 1947: the Zionist conquest of Palestine with militias and death squads and the Partition of India and Pakistan as part of ending British rule over India. There are no easy comparisons or parallels between the two partitions and Essa does not try to force them except to show that both the Palestinian and Kashmiri struggles were born from British colonialism in rupture, conflict, and in violation of every principle of their sovereignty and self-determination. Nevertheless, the two anti-colonial struggles have a profound affinity long noted by Kashmiri resistance activists in protests, graffiti, and chants, with Kashmiris even calling their struggle ‘Intifada’ in identification with Palestinian resistance.

Exposing Diplomatic Facades

Perhaps the hardest but the most vital section of the book to understand focuses on the development of the military and industrial relationship between the new colonial-settler state of Israel and the new nation of India. It has long been widely believed that India, emerging from British colonialism under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru, was a staunch supporter of the Palestinian struggle. Essa systematically deconstructs that myth and shows it to be more a calculated and conniving strategy by Nehru and the Congress party of playing both sides of the street, that is, of having a diplomatic façade opposed to Israeli colonialism whilst courting Israel for military support since Israel has always existed primarily as a garrison state and by virtue of its military prowess.

In Hostile Homelands Essa directly lays out the duplicities, the clandestine character, and the criminalities of Nehru’s relationship with Kashmir and with Israel. It was after all Nehru who arranged for the fraudulent accession agreement of 1947 and who first deployed Indian troops to Kashmir in 1947. Despite his rhetoric, Nehru was not a socialist trying to construct a socialist society. He was a Brahmin Hindu nationalist of Kashmiri Pandit ancestry trying to construct a modern Indian capitalist state as a preeminent force amongst the emerging post-colonial states. It is not that Nehru was bereft of anti-colonial sentiments, at least for Palestine, but his primary and far deeper commitment was to building a modern state. The social forces that Nehru represented, the class and politically nationalist character of the Congress party determined his strategies regarding Kashmir and required forcibly annexing Kashmir, a predominantly Muslim country, against the will of the Kashmiri people because it had strategic value to India. Kashmiris had no ability to resist annexation given the overwhelming relationship of forces to India’s advantage—in particular Indian military force. Essa shows that there was not a decisive rupture toward Kashmir between the approach of Nehru and the Congress party from that of the BJP’s approach today but rather a continuity rooted in the Hindutva mindset of building a majoritarian capitalist state. 

It was interesting to read Essa’s description of how Israel built its relationship with India, patiently tolerating Indian rhetoric against Israeli colonialism whilst secretly supplying weapons for India’s occupation of Kashmir and wars against Pakistan and China. Israel clearly had a long-term perspective on nation-building and played its hand well in maneuvering around Nehru’s chicanery. We can really see the development of Israel as a military state through the descriptions of Israel’s courtship of Indian collaboration. It is through that militarism that Israel established its strength and proved its utility to US capitalism as a bulwark in the Middle East.

From his statements, we know Nehru understood the character of Zionism and of the colonial-settler state of Israel. As a Hindu nationalist, he must also on some level have understood the affinities between Hindutva ideology and Zionism. He must certainly have seen the affinities between the formation of Israel and the colonial claims of India on Kashmir. That would explain the mendacity and diplomatic duplicity of Indian policy toward Israel. India jockeyed for support from Arab nations whilst also attempting to get military support from Israel. 

The ‘War On Terror’ Narrative

Most scholarship on Kashmir ignores the popular struggle for independence from India and makes it a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan, both nuclear powers. Lately, analysts have begun to include China, also a nuclear power making illegitimate claims on part of Kashmir. India has managed successfully to impugn the Kashmiri struggle by linking it with the Islamophobic ‘war on terror’, a strategy first employed by Israel against Palestinians. Like most post-colonial countries, Kashmiri independence activists in the 1960s through 1980s considered guerrilla warfare as a possible strategy but eventually overwhelmingly rejected it for a strategy of building a mass popular resistance movement. However, since the ‘war on terror’, the narrative continues to play an essential role in the structures of oppression in both Palestine and Kashmir by justifying the occupations and extreme violence against unarmed civilians.

The book moves from the military relationship between India and Israel and the ideological affinities between Hindutva and Zionism to the collaboration between the Israeli and Indian lobbies in the US. As Essa shows, there is a symbiotic, almost sinister collaboration between the Hindutva and Zionist lobbies in the U.S. and elsewhere. From their perspective, collaboration is politically imperative to weaken both the Palestinian and Kashmiri struggles. The U.S. wants that relationship to work because it plays a crucial role in U.S. strategic goals in the Middle East and South Asia as a counterforce against the advances of China.

An Act Of Solidarity For Voices Suppressed

The field of Kashmir historiography is dominated by Indian nationalist writers and others who take a realpolitik point of view with no sympathies for the oppressed. There were, at least until recently, very few Kashmiri history writers although there are many cogent Kashmiri political analysts. Many Kashmiri intellectuals were drawn to political activism, to making history which leaves no time for writing history. The writing of history is a conflict zone for the oppressed.

It has always been thus so it is no surprise that there is a dearth of Kashmiri historians whilst Kashmir is under a brutal occupation where journalists, human rights, and political activists are imprisoned. Even Kashmiri scholars living in the diaspora face harassment and repercussions, as Essa described in his book. Because there have been several decades-long news blackouts about the Kashmiri struggle, its history will best be written by those who made it. But whilst Kashmiri voices are silenced, ‘Hostile Homelands’ is a supreme act of solidarity to help human rights activists around the world understand the forces aligned against two of the most important anti-colonial struggles in the world today.



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The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Mary Scully is a political activist and writer in the US since 1966, participating in the antiwar movement, the Civil Rights movement, the women's rights movement, Palestinian solidarity since the 1967 war, the trade union movement. She is an active supporter of the Kashmiri freedom struggle.

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