Tourists headed to Kashmir have often found themselves caught in the stormy politics of the state. It is now the turn of tourists from Israel. While the state government has set out to woo them, local hardliners, especially those from the Hurriyat, have begun crying foul, accusing the tourists of being part of a larger political and strategic agenda. Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, for instance, thinks New Delhi is pushing “Mossad agents” as tourists to involve them in counter-insurgency activities in Kashmir.
This hasn’t deterred the state government, though, from participating in an official delegation to Israel in June this year along with Union tourism minister Subodh Kant Sahay. “Kashmir is calm at the moment,” says Talat Pervez, director, J&K tourism department, who was part of the Indian delegation. “The situation here has changed for the better. We are witnessing a tourism boom and we want more and more Israeli tourists to come here. The state government will do its best to woo Israeli tourists.”
But this announcement, as many expected, came under close scrutiny and sharp criticism, both in the Kashmiri media and from the separatist leadership. Geelani went as far as to allege that New Delhi is planning to create “Israel-type settlements” for migrant Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley in the garb of implementing a return-and-rehabilitation policy. And to execute this plan, he claims, it’s inviting Mossad agents. (David Goldfarb, the Israeli embassy spokesman in New Delhi, refused to comment on the issue when Outlook contacted him.)
Geelani is seconded by Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, who leads the moderate faction of Hurriyat, who has asked the government to explain why it is encouraging Israelis to visit Kashmir. “Muslims have a problem with Israel due to its aggressive policy towards Palestine. That is why, except Israelis, tourists from all over the world are welcome here,” Mirwaiz told Outlook. “We see a design in encouraging Israelis to visit Kashmir.”
“The Israelis never disappointed us when even Indians chose to stay away,” says Abdul Rashid, who owns Kashmir Hilton, a houseboat on the Dal. “Young Israelis who’ve just finished (compulsory military) training come here.” Apart from the Valley’s captivating beauty, they’re also curious to know the Muslim culture. “We’re not allowed by most Muslim countries,” a young woman told a TV channel after the Mirwaiz asked the government to ban Israelis from visiting. “Here’s a place we can go inside.”
Meanwhile, Kashmir is awash with tourists these days. Hotels, houseboats and guesthouses are booked till October. “It’s a carnival out here. Everyone’s happy. We haven’t had such an atmosphere in the past 22 years. It seems our good old days are back,” says Rashid. His earnest advice? Stop politics over tourism. “Even if Israelis are coming, there should be no politics over it. A small incident can bring tourism to a halt.”
Even if, for argument’s sake, we accept that Mossad agents do visit the Valley, what could they get up to (No Entry for Noah?, Jul 30)? And what would they gain?
Ranjit Sinha, Calcutta
While we may have problems with Zionist expansionist policies, we should have no problems with Israeli citizens. Israeli tourists must be welcomed as warmly as any other.
Tourism is key to the prosperity and development of Kashmir. The separatists on Pakistani payrolls must be marginalised.
These hardliners should be rounded up and packed off to Pakistan. If they remain here and are given freedom of all sorts, it won’t be much longer before they turn the Valley into another ‘Waziristan’.
Vinod Kumar, Delhi
not all israelites are against Islam n which r, r against the commands of Almigty God
Why should we go overboard in supporting Palestinians and Arabs over Israel? When has the OIC supported us on Kashmir. One has to just skim through the calendars published by such countries detailing the atrocities on Muslims. India figures prominently on the list. While there is no doubt that our government has not treated Kashmiris nicely, but did we kill 1 million Kashmiris??
Israel, on the other hand, no matter what its motives are, has always supported us through thick and thin. And as Deng Xiaoping famously said,"I don't care if it's a white cat or a black cat. It's a good cat as long as it catches mice." Israel may be the devil incarnate for Muslims all over but the Arabs in Israel enjoy far more freedom that in the neighboring Arab countries. And for all the hyperventilation about legality of Israel status and how it's residing on stolen lands blah blah: A lot of nations have been born that way. Plus if the Mullahs are so piqued about the treatment of Muslims at the hand of Israelis, they should probably pay attention to China too. Are the Chineses tourists going to be banned next? Gujaratis too?
These jackasses remind me of the guy who was cutting the branch on which he was sitting.
A famous song in a Malayalam fim down south- Please bring back my Kashmir- this reverberates in every corridors of indian society...Hope we are seeing a new horizon.
There is some similarity between India and Israel.
Both the nations are surrounded by enemies. Israel is spending 6% its GDP on defence while India is spending only 2% ( two percent) of its GDP on defence. Armed Forces of India are complaining that money allocated is often not spent and brought forward to next year and that acquisition of arms is delayed.
We have to learn from Israel. And we should know how NOT to be a softstate.
Geelani put Israel tourists and "migrant" Kashmiri pundits at the same level !!! this is most disgusting.
>> "Why has the rock solid consensus that had once prevailed in India across the political spectrum regarding Palestine now withered away?"
Because there was no consensus. While a lot of us can sympathize with the Palestinians, the issue has little meaning or relevance for us. There are a lot more things closer home, and ones that affect us more directly, agitate us more, and frankly, are more important to build consensus around.
The seeming consensus is due to the fact that Congress was the only major political force. Any "opposition" was either an offshoot of the Congress, or the Left, which in these matters, is more "secular" than Congress. Nehru probably genuinely and passionately believed in the rights of Palestinians and supported them out of this conviction. For the rest of the sicko crowd, it was just another trick to broker Muslim votes.
BJP obviously didn't care much about this. In fact, the aggressive campaign of Congress towards this, and the importance of this issue to our internal and foreign policies might have turned them (and a lot of ordinary people) against the cause to some extent. As its importance on the political stage grew from 89 onwards, the seeming consensus was shown to be a myth.
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