Book Review | Hostile Homelands by Azad Essa

Essa’s work suggests that the Indian policy towards Palestine was one of self-serving interests rather than principles.

Book Review | Hostile Homelands by Azad Essa

Centring Palestinian Resistance

The foreword of the book has been written by Palestinian journalist and writer, Linah Alsaafin. She writes that Indian support for Palestine has been self-serving, as it was “contingent on Indian interests” (p. ix). Additionally, she states that India saw “Israel’s settlements as a model to colonize Kashmir” (p. ix). She adds that Indian settlers in Kashmir aim to have a “demographic change at the expense of Kashmiri Muslims” (p. xi). Likewise, the “2019 Citizenship Act” is parallel to “Israel’s return law”, which allows Jews to “gain automatic citizenship” (pp. x-xi).

Finally, she writes that Indian commitment to Palestine has “done more harm than good” (p. xii). Overall, she equates India’s approach to Kashmir and Israel’s approach to Palestine as based on settler colonialism. Centring Alsaafin’s voice in the foreword, author and journalist, Azad Essa, begins his exposition in five short chapters.

Two-faced Congress Policy

Essa states that the Congress placed its bet with Palestine to secure Arab support to counterpose the Muslim League. Yet, secretly, the Congress retained ties with Israel. In doing so, it adopted a two-faced policy based on self-serving interests rather than moral principles. Maintaining this inconsistency, where the Congress rejected the parity and autonomy demands of the Indian Muslims under a federation or confederation, it supported a federal solution to Palestine in 1947 (pp. 4, 7, 9).

 Likewise, while India publicly condemned Israel during the 1967 war, privately it “instructed its officers” to study Israel’s superior tactics in destroying the Egyptian and Syrian armies (p. 19).

Finally, Essa mentions that it wasn’t under the BJP, but under the Congress government of Rajiv Gandhi that the Babri mosque was “reopened for Hindu worshippers”, Hindutva ideology was facilitated, and ties with Israel were normalized (p. 24). 

Business with Israel, Charity for Palestine

In Chapter 2, Essa writes that India continued its two-faced policy by simultaneously trading in “weapons and surveillance technologies” with Israel while offering “occasional words of support, charity, and votes at the UN” for Palestine (p. 34). He views the Palestinian Authority as “a subcontractor” to “Israeli occupation” by “collaborating with the Israeli state” (p. 35).

Simultaneously, India offered $5 million in budgetary support to the Palestinian Authority but bought arms worth $1 billion from Israel (p. 58). Thus, he describes the Indian approach as based on “political and economic pragmatism” with Israel and “charity” for Palestine (p. 58). 

However, he also views the approach of the Gulf states as two-faced, as he describes them as going “public” and expanding “their existing ties to Israel” with the “Abraham Accords” (p. 62). He states that the UAE “endorsed the Indian government’s decision to revoke the semi-autonomous status of Indian-occupied Kashmir” and “conferred Modi” with the “highest civilian award in the Emirates” (p. 65). This is akin to the Palestinian Authority conferring Palestine’s “highest civilian award” to PM Modi (p. 61). 

Two-faced Hindutvist Project

In Chapter 3, Essa states that the “Hindu nationalist movement simultaneously collaborated with the British in India, endorsed fascist Italy” and Hitler’s “Nazi project” (p. 82). The Hindu Mahasabha issued the statement that “the revival of the Aryan culture, the glorification of the Swastika … are welcomed by the religion and sensible Hindus of India with jubilant hope (p. 82). The Hindutvists saw “no contradiction in “admiring” European fascism and Zionism (p. 84). They saw the “Jewish question” in Europe as the “Muslim problem” in India (p. 85).

Finally, Essa views India instead of Pakistan as closer to the Zionist project, as the Pakistani demand was for parity and autonomy instead of a homogeneous Hindu Rashtra or settling Hindus from around the world (p. 89). 

Conflating Criticism with Phobia

In Chapter 4, Essa states that the Israeli lobby in the US has the “ability to turn the criticism of Israel into existential crises for Jews”, conflate “criticism of Israel to anti-Semitism”, and condemn “Palestinian resistance and advocacy efforts” (p. 100). He notes that in conjunction with Israeli groups, Indian American websites like “Hindu Unity” and “Soldiers of Hindutva” began “publishing names of people it deemed to be enemies of Hinduism” and encouraged “violence against them” (p. 111). They called for the “expulsion of all Palestinians” and “the purge of Muslims” respectively (p. 112). Other groups started “harassing, intimidating, and policing academics and students at universities” and conflated criticism of Hindutva with Hinduphobia (p. 120). 

He adds that successful Indian Americans saw “their success as a symbol of their culture and individual hard work” as opposed to the privilege of “racial hierarchy or their caste” and “differentiated themselves from Black Americans, whom they saw as economic and social burdens to the system” like the “lower caste and urban poor back in India” (p. 110). Moreover, the “younger generation of Hindu Americans” use the language of “human and civil rights to defend Hindu supremacy in the U.S.” (p. 113). 

Propaganda for Settler Colonialism

In the final chapter, Essa states that the “Indian ideology” is projected as “non-violent, secular, democratic, and tolerant”, where there is “no caste-prejudice or anti-Muslim bigotry” (p. 136). The idea is to equate Kashmiri resistance with “terrorism” and “Hindu settlers” as “innocent civilians” (p. 159). He adds that India’s consul general to the U.S. in 2019 stated that “India would build settlements modeled after Israel” to create “Hindu-only settlements in Kashmir” supported by “security and militarized infrastructure such as walls, separate roads, and checkpoints, not unlike Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank” (pp. 156-157). 


Overall, Essa’s work suggests that the Indian policy towards Palestine was one of self-serving interests rather than principles. It is one based on military and business interests with Israel and throwing charity at the Palestinians. Such a two-faced approach has worked because of the collaborating Palestinian Authority and the Gulf States, both of whom have normalized Israel’s settler colonialism and Modi’s Hindutvist project. Given business and military interests, the contradictions of Hindutva in supporting both Nazi Germany and Zionism are brushed aside.

Finally, legitimate criticism is respectively equated with anti-Semitism and Hinduphobia and legitimate resistance is equated with “terrorism” while “settler colonialism” is normalized through projecting the Israeli or Indian state as “democratic and tolerant”.