Recently, senior leader Yasin Malik compared the current unrest in Kashmir with Palestinian intifada, arguing that the uprising succeeded in drawing international attention towards the situation in the valley. He also looked to allay the apprehensions regarding the apparent waning of the agitation. “In Palestine, people go for Intifada whenever they feel international community is showing less interest towards resolving the Palestine issue. Similarly, the storm triggered by the killing of Burhan Wani brought back Kashmir issue on international radar while New Delhi was also shaken by the resolve of people in Kashmir. So breaks should not be misconstrued that everything is over,” he said at a press conference in an apparent reference to the diminishing intensity of protests in the valley. Taking a cue from Malik’s assertion, it’s worth revisiting the Palestinian Intifada and also to look at the ongoing Kashmir unrest in that context.
Intifada means ‘a shaking off’ in Arabic. The term has been used to refer to the two Palestinian uprisings – 1987 to 1993 and 2000 to 2003 – against Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The first Palestinian intifada erupted in December 1987 with spontaneous uprising against Israeli military occupation and confiscation of land. Palestinians, including men, women and children joined massive protest demonstrations, economic boycotts and strikes against Israel. According to ‘The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Politics’, the first Intifada stemmed from the realization that the Palestinian issue and the Arab-Israeli conflict was slipping as a key concern of Arab governments and that Palestinians in the Occupied Territories would have to take matters into their own hands.
The second intifada, known as the Al-Aqsa Intifada, erupted when Ariel Sharon visited the Al-Aqsa Mosque symbolizing a provocative violation of the holy site.
The first intifada began as a revolt of the Palestinian youth throwing stones against Israeli forces, but became a widespread movement involving civil disobedience with periodic large-scale demonstrations supported by commercial strikes. The 2008 and 2010 unrests in the valley were quite similar in nature with stone pelting emerging as one of the dominant features of Kashmiri intifada.
Kashmir uprisings are also similar to first Palestinian Intifada in the way the government crushed the rebellion with iron hand. Several human rights organizations documented the repressive Israeli measures including the killing of demonstrators and punitive beatings. According to a UN report titled ‘The Question of Palestine & the United Nations’: “Between 1987 and 1993, over 1,000 Palestinians were killed and tens of thousands injured. Thousands of Palestinians were detained, thousands transferred to prisons in Israel and many deported from the Palestinian territory.” It also reported instances of maltreatment and torture in jail, lethal use of tear gas and excessive use of live ammunition, beatings and other severe measures. Israel also resorted to various forms of collective reprisal such as imposition of prolonged curfews. The UN report also documents how the educational system came to a halt when schools and universities were closed for extended periods. “In this situation, Palestinians attempted against all odds to overcome severe economic hardship through reliance on their community-based economy,” reads the report.
The United Nations expressed deep concern over the Israeli clampdown on the intifada, but failed to achieve any headway in resolving the longstanding dispute. Same is the case with Kashmir where UN has failed to go beyond the token words of concern and futile appeals of restraint.
Damien McElroy of ‘The Telegraph’ looked at the characteristics of intifada. On what made an intifada different from the daily grind of protests and demonstrations, McElroy writes that the mass support from Palestinians across towns and villages as well as across social divisions is the distinctive characteristic of an intifada. Same can be said about the 2008, 2010 and 2016 summer revolts in Kashmir.
While making a distinction between normal protests and prolonged spells of protests during intifada, he further writes: “In the periods of lull there are many failed attempts to call for an uprising that generally have seen big demonstrations break out but fade away over time in the face of the security forces response.” We can also relate this phenomenon with Kashmir which witnesses periods of calm and bouts of uprisings, like the one we are currently experiencing, before they wane over time in the face of the brutal government response.
As McElroy states, religion plays a role in energising the protests and Friday sermons often feature calls for a "Day of Rage" to express Palestinian anger. In Kashmir, we also witness surge in protests on Fridays across valley. Infact, fearing massive protest rallies at Srinagar’s Jamia Masjid, the government barred Friday prayers at the mosque for an unprecedented 17th week.
In her piece titled ‘Understanding the Palestinian roots of intifada, and its context in Kashmir’, Nirupama Subramanian tried to make a distinction between Palestinian intifada and “the stone-throwing in Kashmir”, stating that “the Palestinian intifada had its own historical context, a secular goal, internal and external circumstances, and specific trajectory of evolution”.
She referred to Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s speech at the UN General Assembly wherein he used the word ‘intifada’ while highlighting the situation in Kashmir to bring to it more global attention than it has received of late. Subramanian argued: “Sharif evidently meant to equate the Israeli state with the Indian state, the Palestinian suffering with the Kashmiri suffering, linking the two in a continuum of repression that the Muslim world in general has to deal with.”
Ironically, the BJP government may not mind being equated with Israel. Last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi likened the Indian army’s surgical strikes across the border to the functioning of Israeli forces. “Our army’s valour is being discussed across the country these days. We used to hear earlier that Israel has done this. The nation has seen that Indian army is no less than anybody,” he said.
Subramanian also makes a passing reference of the “Hindutva fantasy/aspiration for India to become an Israel’. But while she points out the differences between Palestinian Intifada and Kashmir unrest, there are many similarities which cannot be ignored.
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