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Israel & Judaism through a Fresh Lens
Israel & Judaism through a Fresh Lens

The Partition Experiments

This coming April, we will celebrate the 70th anniversary of the birth of the modern Jewish state. Before that happens, we’ll pass by a less celebrated date. November 29th will mark 70 years since the United Nations partition plan. We’ve seen the pictures of the celebrations after the vote passed. I’m pretty sure there isn’t a city in Israel that doesn’t have a “29th of November” street.

But we are currently on the anniversary of a much larger partition of a British territory in 1947. The vote took place in the British Parliament in July, but on August 15th India was officially divided. We really don’t take enough notice of the fact that there were two British territories partitioned in that fateful year. It's worth remembering how differently they have proceeded. It's a complicated history, but the basics are as follows:

In the early 20th century, the large Muslim minority in India began to claim that they represented an independent nation. One way or another, they would need separation from the Hindu majority, and self rule. In the months after World War II, British recovery made running their empire close to impossible. In August of 1946, Muslims attacked Hindus in Calcutta, leading to counter attacks. The British decided they would pull out entirely. The violence leading up to partition grew to truly horrific levels. The recorded atrocities are bone chilling. 

Starting that August, the country was divided and massive population transfers began. The numbers are staggering. Millions were displaced, murdered, raped, mutilated and branded. It took at least a decade for populations to stabilize, including the repatriation of tens of thousands of kidnapped women. Many of these women refused to return home, knowing they would be inhumanely ostracized for having lived under enemy control. In the ultimate aftermath, not only Pakistan and India were formed, but also Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka. Multiple wars have been fought over the years, over disputed Kashmir, but for now things seem relatively quiet.  


There were enough similarities in the Indian and Palestinian conflicts that partition was seen as the best solution to both. The major difference, of course, is that both sides agreed to partition in India. That’s why today there are two powerful, stable, nation states. Despite the serious problems that continue, Indians and Palestinians have continued to develop their own countries. Their fates and fortunes are their own, for better and worse.

I’m sure that there are many reasons that the Arab/Israeli conflict garners so much more media attention than the Pakistani/Indian one. India faced death, pain and suffering on an enormous scale, but the relative stability of self rule has made for a much less toxic, and therefore less interesting, situation. Possibly, that’s one of the reasons it goes largely ignored.

It makes you think, doesn’t it? I wonder how much thought the Palestinians have given it.


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