Israeli activists appeal against training of India police accused of abuse

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Israeli activists have appealed the Supreme Court to bar the country’s security forces from training Indian police officers involved in “severe violations” of human rights and international law in Kashmir.

Dozens of Israeli activists have appealed the Supreme Court to bar the country’s security forces from training Indian police officers involved in “severe violations” of human rights and international law in Kashmir.

“With this petition, we are trying our best to show solidarity with the people of Kashmir,” Israeli human rights activist Sigal Kook Avivi, who was among 40 people behind the petition, told Al Jazeera.

The document was signed in January after the Israeli Police, Ministry of Internal Security and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs refused to pre-screen members of India’s police force from the Muslim-majority Himalayan region, according to Israeli human rights lawyer Eitay Mack, who filed the petition.

As Israel returned to a second nationwide coronavirus lockdown last week, court proceedings are likely to be further delayed.

“The fact that India is ‘the largest democracy in the world’, and is an important political and economic partner of the state of Israel and Western countries, cannot legally and morally justify providing assistance to specific Indian officers who are involved in grave crimes under international law in Kashmir, by way of training by police in Israel,” the petition stated.

Avivi, who has worked among African asylum seekers in Israel, said “as citizens of the world, we want to say we know what is happening to you, we are not ignorant … we see it, we hear it, we know it”.

Public and homeland security

In May, the Israeli government asked the Supreme Court to dismiss the petition. Any attempt to investigate or screen Indian police officers would be considered an intervention into India’s internal affairs. And this could damage relations between the two nations, the government stated.

Neither Israel’s Foreign Affairs Ministry nor India’s Ministry of Home Affairs were available for comment at the time of publication.

India and Israel signed a comprehensive agreement in 2014 to cooperate on issues related to “public and homeland security”, including fighting organised crime, money laundering, human trafficking and counterterrorism operations.

International rights groups have accused Israeli security forces of using excessive force against Palestinians and restricting their movements in territories.

The use of live ammunition, shooting civilians at checkpoints, torture of detainees, arrest of children and extrajudicial killings are well-documented since Israel occupied large parts of Palestine in 1967.

Avivi said, in light of Israel’s ill-treatment of Palestinians and migrants in the occupied territories, it was vital to understand that the country’s forces training military and police abroad “ends up further hurting people around the world”.

‘Nefarious institution’

More than half a million Indian forces are deployed in Kashmir – home to some 12 million people – to quell a decades-old armed rebellion against Indian rule.

Indian security forces have been accused of rights abuses including intimidation, torture, extrajudicial killings and arbitrary arrests, with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights last year calling for a formal inquiry into the allegations.

Just last week, the Indian army admitted wrongdoing by its soldiers in the killing of three civilians in July.

However, New Delhi has defended its forces, saying they are fighting rebels who want independence or a merger with Pakistan.

In August last year, India scrapped Article 370 of its constitution – which granted a measure of autonomy to the Muslim-majority region – and jailed thousands of people, including top political figures and journalists, to prevent protests against the move.

The region was also placed under longest internet shutdown experienced in a democracy, with the communications lockdown only partially lifted.

Earlier this week, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said that “incidents of military and police violence against civilians continue”.

‘Most dangerous policy’

Since India and Israel established diplomatic ties in 1992, the two nations have deepened social, economic and military ties.

Between 1992 and 2018, trade between the two countries increased from a mere $200m to $5.84bn. And, most of the trade was in the defence sector.

India is the largest buyer of Israeli arms, receiving 50 percent of all Israeli arms exports between 2013 and 2017.

Weapons sold to India include aircraft, anti-missile defence systems, air to air missiles, drones, assault weapons and others. The Indian security forces use the Tavor and Galil assault rifles in Kashmir and Heron drones in Ladakh.

In May 2020, India bought 16,479 Negev light machine guns from Israel worth $116m, despite the pandemic and economic downturn.

Israeli technology has also been used outside of Kashmir on Indian citizens including human rights activists and prominent political figures.

‘We can’t sit quietly’

Activist Avivi and Knesset member Cassif both have little optimism, if at all, that the case can be won in the Israeli Supreme Court, citing previous examples when the court dismissed similar petitions.

In July, the court dismissed a petition demanding that foreign diplomats who were war criminals should be refused visits to Israel’s Holocaust Memorial. The court said it could not interfere in the diplomatic issues and choices of the Israeli government.

A petition filed in 2017 by lawyer Mack seeking to investigate Israeli arms sales to South Sudanese militias during the civil war was dismissed by the court, which deemed the sales legal.

Cassif said if the court were to rule in their favour, “to a certain extent, it would be unprecedented”. Despite what the final ruling may be, Avivi said she and the petitioners wanted their opposition to be on paper.

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