NEW DELHI (Middle East Eye) -- India’s decision to invite Israeli officials to the disputed Kashmir region has triggered alarm among local residents and experts, with New Delhi accused of attempting to replace the indigenous culture and geography with a reimagined environment.
Earlier this month, Israeli diplomats travelled to Indian-controlled Kashmir to explore joint agriculture collaborations with the Indian government.
Yair Eshel, the agricultural attache at the Israeli embassy in Delhi, visited farms and farmers in the Kashmir Valley in Jammu, close to the border with Pakistan and later met Brihama Dev, a project officer of Mashav, Israel’s international aid agency.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, several Kashmiris told Middle East Eye the Israeli agriculture hubs would deepen India’s occupation in the region and accelerate its settler-colonial project.
“Earlier, we would draw the parallels between Kashmir and Palestine or India’s intimate alliance with Israel. But now they are bringing Israel to the Valley in the form of these institutions - which will be “agro-oriented” in name - but we all know that Israel will physically help India in Kashmir to turn it into a proper Palestine,” a Kashmiri academic based in Istanbul told Middle East Eye.
“India cannot carry out a genocide in Kashmir, nor can they manufacture an ethnic conflict. [But] since the Palestinian model is [seen as] successful, India has decided to bring in Israel physically so that they understand the ethnography of Kashmir,” the academic added.
Solidarity with the Palestinians runs deep in Kashmir with “Free Gaza” and “Long Live Palestine” slogans tagged alongside “Go India Go” on steel shutters.
In Srinagar, a local journalist following developments told MEE the announcement “only formalizes the relationship of these colonial powers who have been working together in Kashmir for a while now.
“Israel has now been surveying land under the guise of agriculture right at the border with Pakistan. What’s left to guess?”
Ties between India and the occupying regime of Israel have strengthened significantly in recent years, especially since Prime Minister Narendra Modi entered office.
The arms trade between the two regimes is worth more than $1 billion per annum, with New Delhi the biggest purchaser of Israeli arms and a co-producer of Israeli weapons.
“One cannot see the announcements in Kashmir as separate from the wide list of arms and technological transfer between India and Israel,” a Kashmiri academic based in the U.S., told MEE.
The U.S.-based academic, speaking on condition of anonymity over fears of reprisals, said the idea that outsiders could come in to educate Kashmiris on how best to produce apples, saffron, walnuts, among other crops widely produced in the region by indigenous communities, was presumptuous and arrogant.
“It is a classic settler-colonial imperative to claim you are bringing in development or improvement to the native population,” the academic said, noting how Israelis control water supplies in the occupied territories but also promote water conservation technology abroad.
Palestinian academics and historians have repeatedly noted that Israel’s settler-colonial project in the occupied territories cannot be extricated from its environmental policies which erase Palestinian history from the land.
Last month, Ghada Sasa, a Palestinian PhD candidate at McMaster University in Canada, wrote that Israel had “planted non-native pines, often even atop the culturally, spiritually, nationally, and economically integral Palestinian olive trees and other delicately sustained lands, to Europeanize the landscape.”
“Meanwhile, by preventing Palestinians from encountering vivid evidence of the Nakba, such as rubble and ruins, they are further removed from a great injustice and thus less likely to revolt,” Sasa added.
In August 2019, India sent tens of thousands of troops to Kashmir, implemented a communication blackout, and cut transport links as Modi’s government ended Jammu and Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status.
The Indian government said the move would usher in economic and social development in the Valley even as its most precious export, apples, were left to rot in orchards, leaving millions of people in financial duress.
‘Borrowing From Israeli Apartheid’
For decades, Kashmiris have been demanding the right to self-determination as promised by the 1948 UN Security Council Resolution 47. Kashmir is claimed in full by both India and Pakistan and a de-facto border separates Indian-controlled Kashmir from the part controlled by Pakistan.
Since the uprising began in 1988, more than 70,000 people have been killed, and thousands of others are unaccounted for. It is estimated that there are around 700,000 Indian troops in the Valley which makes Kashmir one of the most militarized zones on earth.
The severing of Article 370 and Article 35A that provided for Kashmir’s special status in the Indian constitution also meant that Indians could now
purchase land in Kashmir as well as become permanent residents of the state.
Within months, a senior Indian diplomat in New York told a group of Kashmiri Hindus and Indians that India should follow the Israeli settlement model in Kashmir.
Apoorva Gautam, Asia-Pacific coordinator for the Palestinian-led Boycott Divestment and Sanction (BDS) National Committee, told MEE that the Israeli agricultural centers seemed geared to accomplish two objectives.
“The centers greenwash Israel’s apartheid and settler colonialism in Palestine. They also support the attempts of Indian authorities and corporations to alter the land use and demography of Kashmir.
“The move directly affects the demography of the region and borrows from Israeli paradigms of control in the occupied territories,” Gautam added, noting that corporate investments and interests from other countries like the UAE in the region post-August 2019 were on the rise.
Likewise, Somdeep Sen, an author and India-Israel analyst, told MEE that India’s “replication of the Israeli settler colonial project in Kashmir gives validity to its settler-colonial project targeting Palestinians.
“It also gives it some diplomatic maneuverability and strengthens its international alliances for when it faces global condemnation for its draconian politics and policies in Palestine,” Sen, an associate professor in international development studies at Roskilde University, in Denmark, said.