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Gaza: The conflict heard round the world

The world weighs in on the explosion of hostilities between Israel and Hamas.


NEW DELHI — India's ties with Israel have grown ever warmer since 1992, when New Delhi established full diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv, following decades of strong support for an independent Palestine. But public opinion, at least among the educated elite, nevertheless appears to remain divided as Israeli air strikes rain down on Gaza.

“When you look at the humanitarian situation, I don't see why some of these countries are favoring Israel,” said Shweta Mukesh, a Delhi-based student.

“I think particularly in the '90s India was trying to build relations with US, because historically US was pro-Pakistan. Along with that came building strong relations with Isreal but that's not something I'm in favor of.”

“Even though Palestine [Hamas] may have made the first move, according to what I've read, that still doesn't justify Israel's retaliating back and killing innocent people,” said Aaron Basaiawmoit, another Delhi student.

With India's communist parties officially condemning Israel for the air strikes and demanding the government break off military ties, the left still clearly sympathizes with the Palestinians, according to responses posted on Twitter.

“Think the time when Israel could claim self defence passed when they started bombing babies. Tho Hamas no angels,” tweeted one user.

“Form the 2 states already. (Though I think this round is because of the coming election. Hamas rockets have fallen thru the year),” posted another.

But right-leaning Indians see the Israelis as allies in the fight against terrorism — particularly after a Jewish outreach center was targeted in the November 2008 attacks on Mumbai.

“For all those ppl tweeting 'Pray 4 #Gaza', find some time 2 Pray 4 #Israel too. They are being bombed by Hamas as you tweet...” tweeted a user affiliated with the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

“While Hamas use arab kids as human shields, Israel soldiers shield Arab kids from rockets fired by Hamas....” tweeted another Hindu nationalist.

India voted against the creation of Israel in 1948, and New Delhi delayed establishing full diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv until the end of the Cold War provided a new impetus for normalizing ties, according to Jawaharlal Nehru University professor P.R. Kumaraswamy.

With the coming to power of the right-leaning Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 1992, however, New Delhi not only established full diplomatic relations, but also began actively courting Israel as a military supplier and economic partner. Since then, a succession of Congress-led governments have continued to strengthen ties — perhaps with the view that Israel's own terrorism problem makes Tel Aviv more understanding than Washington when it comes to India's troubles with Pakistan. And though Kumaraswamy, the author of “India's Israel Policy,” maintains that New Delhi has not dropped its support for Palestinian sovereignty or the two-state solution — it has certainly dropped it from the public conversation.

When then-Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna visited Israel this January, observers remarked that the candid nature of the interaction reflected a new stage of the relationship, according to the Times of India. Noting that for years, India met with Israel quietly, always with an eye to Arab opinion, an official who was part of Krishna's meetings in Israel told the paper, "This visit proved that at the highest levels, India and Israel can openly discuss issues of interest and concern with each other like other normal partners, without inhibitions."

Along with that change, India's growing stature in world affairs has raised the stakes in taking a strong position for an independent Palestine — as New Delhi continues to lobby for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. So while tiny Bangladesh issued a stern, if meaningless, statement condemning Israel's air strikes, India has maintained a studied, and meaningful, silence.

— Jason Overdorf (follow @joverdorf)


South Africa


JOHANNESBURG — There are renewed calls in South Africa for a boycott of made-in-Israel products, following a bloody week of Israeli air strikes and Hamas rocket attacks.

During decades of apartheid, South Africa’s white minority government developed close ties with Israel. But under the African National Congress, the liberation movement turned ruling party, the country has become an increasingly fierce critic.

The South African international relations minister on Tuesday strongly condemned the “disproportionate use of force” by the Israeli government against Gaza, which has caused “deaths and injuries on both sides, particularly among Palestinian civilians, including children.”

Maite Nkoana-Mshabane said in a briefing to media: “At the heart of the conflict lies Israel’s continued illegal occupation of Palestinian land, especially the continuing blockade of Gaza.”

This is a perspective echoed throughout the ANC.

At the ANC-organized International Solidarity Conference last month in Pretoria, the Israeli-Palestinian issue was the key topic of discussion.

ANC chairwoman Baleka Mbete accused Israel of being ‘’worse than apartheid South Africa,” according to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions in South Africa group, which was also in attendance.

A declaration agreed to at the conference called upon delegates to condemn the "continuous occupation of Palestinian territories by the Israeli government.’’

With the explosion of violence between Israel and Hamas, anger against Israel has grown. This week the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions group called on the South African government to step up a boycott of made-in-Israel goods, immediately recall its ambassador from Tel Aviv, and expel the Israeli ambassador from Pretoria.

They were supported by Cosatu, South Africa’s politically powerful trade union federation, which in a statement said it “reaffirms its total solidarity with the Palestine people's struggle and its legitimate demand for full national sovereignty and human rights.”

South Africa has a significant Jewish population, numbering about 70,000 people, and many Jews played prominent roles in the struggle against apartheid.

Responding to the most recent Israel-Gaza conflict, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies said the Israeli government is “carrying out defensive operations.”

“This is not a war the Israeli people wanted, and we do not believe that the majority of the people of Gaza wanted it either,” the group said in a statement.

“Rather, it has been instigated by ruthless fanatics driven by an obsessive desire to oppose the very existence of the State of Israel, regardless of how many innocent people on either side will suffer.”

The outspoken Nobel peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu on Friday said that “once again, the innocent people of Israel and Palestine are paying with their blood to advance the divisive and exclusive agendas of the intolerant few.”

Tutu has long been a critic of Israel, including of its ties with South Africa during apartheid times. While Israel officially opposed apartheid, it had close connections with South Africa’s government during the years of white rule.

"Once again, fanatics on both sides blame each other and claim to be acting with the approval of God,” Tutu said in a statement Friday. "Once again, the world wrings its hands and seeks to heal this gaping wound with a flimsy, impermanent plaster of tenuous cease-fire."

"The sustainable solution must include the return of illegally occupied land and the creation of two nation states, in a process overseen by UN peacekeepers," he said.

— Erin Conway-Smith (follow @ejcs)