Opinion: Understanding Sikh responses to Israel- Palestine Issue.

Sikh twitter has been abuzz with posts on Israel’s onslaught on Palestine or at least that’s what they see on social media and news channels. The sentiment among larger Sikh community is that of condemnation of Israel and solidarity with Palestine. Sikhs by virtue of their values and shabd recognise the entire human race as one and hence oppression anywhere is viewed as something that Khalsa needs to stand against.

While there are many who stand with Palestine and condemn Israel, there are some who stand on the opposite side of the argument. The argument among this section of Sikhs is that ‘Israel deserves to continue to live’. This sentiment is amplified with notion that Sikhs themselves are faced with existential crisis like Jews. This hyperbole in head with questions like “What would you do if Nankana Sahib was to be taken back?” is the core of their argument or “How will sovereign state ever be defended without Israel model?” The unfortunate part is that this argument is backed by insecurity or let’s say a distant dream. The dream of taking our lands back while maintaining that Pakistan as a country should give it back to us and also continue to be safe place for Muslims. Not only is it a distant dream but there are serious flaws with the arguments. First one has to understand that no one is denying that Israel has right to live and defend its territory as well as people, that is not even what the conflict is about. Secondly the Sikh parallels with ‘Sikh Sovereignty’ lack context of Sikh rule. The Sikh kingdom of Maharaja Ranjit singh not only defended itself but also expanded itself with aggression but the rule more or less was just and not adharmic. There is no argument if you feel that Israel is not being adharmic at the moment. Please do not get me wrong and I no where say that the Hamas is engaged in some sort of Dharmic fight. While we condemn the razing down of towers and killing of children by Israel we need to be condemning unapologetically about the rain of bombs that Hamas showers Israel with.

There may be some tricky hypothetical emotional roller coasters for some when snippets of history are picked up in context of Sikhs and Israel- Palestine. Arafat not only admired Indira Gandhi for operation blue star but also suggested that “Sikhs like Jews are community that needs to be suppressed and nipped in the bud.” The Hamas charter does not recognise Sikhi as a true religion.

Sikhs who stand in solidarity with Palestine argue that it was IDF that trained Indian army units for operation Blue Star. In all honesty both the sides back their claims with arguments that are not only vague but lack matter. IDF has been training Indian army for almost everything be it for Kashmir’s operations or Maoist handling operations. All Nehruvian governments on the other hand have been good friends of both Israel and all Arab countries. The diplomacy of Indira Gandhi govt with Arafat is mistaken as something else by one group of Sikhs.

Both the above scenarios or history throwbacks are not relevant in forming an opinion of condemning the violence. The above scenarios are at best used to reinforce what one already believes and that to me is not rational. Importantly both the historical throwbacks ignore the context of Israel- Palestine issue at hand. It is neither “Denying Israel its existence” nor “supporting Hamas backed terrorism.”

Akali Dal Amritsar had at one point wanted to blacklist Arafat. The edict was never passed by Takht. Jathedar Vedanti who passed away yesterday had commented that “Sikhs need to stand against oppression done to them in Islamic countries.”. This statement had come after attacks on Sikhs in Afghanistan and stands as lone statement in context of Sikhs and Muslims conflict in modern world.

Takht to this point maintains that it has no locus standi in the whole conflict of Israel and Palestine. Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh has talked against conversions in Pakistan, he has talked against attacks in Afghanistan but he hasn’t talked about anything in Middle East. There is no article or edict by Sikh Takhts in this regard.. If there is no edict by the Takht and the Sikh Panth, it leaves us to go to Sri Guru Garanth Saahib Ji and sikh History. Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib ji himself was not janeu wearing person and technically should not have cared enough for protection of people from mountains of kashmir. Guru Nanak Dev Ji Mahraj denounced jenau long before ninth guru stood up for protection of very thread. Our gurus were not in contradiction of each other, it is one shabd that transcended from first to tenth guru and it is that Shabd that Sikhs need to go to in situations like this. The contradictions faced by Sikhs today should melt away if one reasons out on what actually is happening there.

I personally do not call it a ‘clash’ or ‘conflict’ or ‘war’ for it takes away the slaughter and genocide carried out by a stronger one which is Israel in this case. I stand with the right of Jews to have their homeland and condemn the killings, occupation and eviction of Palestinians from their land. This said I also condemn the Hamas for using Palestinians as scape goats to launch vicious attacks on Israel. Here is how I understand the whole issue as that of hypocrisy of one side.

There is a popular word called as ‘Nakba’ in American Jewish community. The word is treated as taboo and is not discussed for it uncovers the hypocrisy of Israel and Jews.

The Nakba translating as “catastrophe” in Arabic, refers to the eviction of more than 700,000 Palestinians who were expelled or fled in terror during Israel’s founding. The word also evokes the many expulsions that have occurred since: the about 300,000 Palestinians whom Israel displaced when it conquered the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967; the roughly 250,000 Palestinians who could not return to the West Bank and Gaza after Israel revoked their residency rights between 1967 and 1994; the Palestinians whose homes Israel demolished in 2020 alone. The East Jerusalem evictions are so combustible because they continue a pattern of expulsion that is as old as Israel itself.

Jews find the word Nakba hard to discuss because it is inextricably bound up with Israel’s creation. It is the same way Partition of Punjab is hard to discuss for Pakistani side when we talk about how our lands went to them and we suffered more. Without the mass expulsion of Palestinians in 1948, Zionist leaders would have had neither the land nor the large Jewish majority necessary to create a viable Jewish state. Jewish leaders now face the dilemma of not allowing Palestinians for the fear of demographic change.

In order to avoid this reckoning, the Israeli government and its American Jewish allies insist that Palestinian refugees abandon hope of returning to their homeland. This demand is drenched in irony, because no people in human history have clung as stubbornly to the dream of return as have Jews. Establishment Jewish leaders denounce the fact that Palestinians pass down their identity as refugees to their children and grandchildren. But Jews have passed down our identity as refugees for 2,000 years. Jews are being hypocrites here and some Jews have been openly saying this on twitter that they are ashamed of their country.

Now this conflict can be seen in hypothetical comparison to conflict that doesn’t exist between Sikhs and Pakistan or for that matter Kashmiri Pandits and Kashmiri Muslims. In addition to telling Palestinians they cannot go home because they have been away too long, Jewish leaders argue that return is impractical, same way some Kashmiris in the past have argued about return of Pandits or some Pakistanis on return of Sikhs. But this too is deeply ironic because Jews have been accepting people into their land, it’s just not the Muslim people. At the height of the Soviet exodus in the early 1990s, Israel took in about 500,000 immigrants. If millions of diaspora Jews began moving to Israel tomorrow, Jewish leaders would not say taking them in was logistically impossible. They would help Israel to do what it has done before: build large amounts of housing fast.

When most Jews imagine Palestinian refugees’ return, they probably don’t envision it looking like Israel’s absorption of Soviet Jews. More likely, they predict Palestinians expelling Jews from their homes. But the tragic reality is that not many Jews live in former Palestinian homes, since it is believed that only a few thousand remain intact. The fears of ethnic cleansing and demographic change lingers on the Jewish mind when they are the ones who have evicted Palestinians.

None of the American Jewish leaders speak about Nakba for the fear that facing the crimes committed at Israel’s birth will leave Jews vulnerable. Once the Nakba taboo is lifted, Palestinians will feel emboldened to seek revenge. But more often than not, honestly confronting the past has the opposite effect.

“The occupier and myself — both of us suffer from exile,” the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish once declared. “He is an exile in me and I am the victim of his exile.” The longer Jews deny the Nakba, the deeper our moral exile becomes. By facing it squarely and beginning a process of repair, both Jews and Palestinians, in different ways, can start to go home.

Please stop calling it a conflict or a war or a clash. It is a clear case of eviction of one set of people from their homes, their lands and a constant powerful force denying them their rights to live peacefully. While I say this I stand with Israel’s right to defend its citizens from attacks of Hamas in any way that it can, be it the use of Iron dome or iron fist to wipe out the terrorists. In conclusion I want to maintain that Sikhs need to stop the echo chamber and should form their own opinions on it without invoking Sikh history or making false parallels with Sikh genocide as well. Sikhs will condemn anything that’s unjust and there is no need to force Sikhs in “have to condemn” this. Sikhi by its design invokes response against adharm and I am sure when people see it they will call it out.

One thought on “Opinion: Understanding Sikh responses to Israel- Palestine Issue.

  1. This is a politically heated topic. But, justice has been done to the long standing, just demands of the Palestinians, while acknowledging Arafat/PLO’s support for Gandhi. This oppression by Israel only erodes any sympathy Muslims have for the historic abuse suffered by Jewish people. When Palestine is free, is when Jews also will be safest and the region as a whole will know peace.

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