Bangalore Palestine Solidarity Forum on the myth of ‘Israeli technology’

Image Courtesy: Mint Press

We demand that the Karnataka state government immediately stop its cooperation with Israel and reallocate the funds to sustainable agriculture projects that reflect the demands and needs expressed by farmers movements. We urge individuals and organizations to join us in building a joint struggle for justice from Palestine to India.”

In his second budget as the Chief Minister of Karnataka, H D Kumaraswamy allocated Rs 145 crores to Israeli model farming scheme. This follows from the Rs 300 crore allocated last year to the same scheme. What this ‘scheme’ entails apart from micro irrigation technologies such as drip irrigation is still to be seen. Drip irrigation per se is an elementary technology that farmers have been using for centuries in India. Yet Kumaraswamy invokes his commitment to Israeli technology, which came about since he visited Israel last year before being elected. Since then, the state agriculture and horticulture minister as well as secretary of state agriculture department have too visited Israel to learn their agriculture technology.

For all of these allocations and official trips, let us have a close look at what really the so-called Israeli technology is, what it is doing in Karnataka and what has its track record been in the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh as well as Palestine.

Presently, there is a large-scale project of drip irrigation, the Ramthal Marol project, going on in Bagalkot district of Karnataka. This project is being implemented by Krishna Bhagya Jala Nigam Limited with the assistance of Israeli agro-business firm, Netafim.

Two decades before Karnataka, it was the state of Andhra Pradesh that was hailing Israeli technology in agriculture. The Kuppam project of 1998 sought to demonstrate the Israeli model using drip irrigation for local farmers, much like the ongoing Bagalkot project. In Kuppam too, Israeli agro-business companies such as Netafim were involved. An independent study by Deccan Development society heavily criticised this model for being not only unsustainable but also detrimental for the local village economy, and several other experts further condemned this model as “technically unsound, low in agricultural sustainability, environmentally destructive and economically unviable. […]Rights of the farmers are totally suppressed.”

Such outcomes are unsurprising, considering that Israel’s agriculture and its agro-business firms such as Netafim are not developed to support small farming communities but to colonize land taken by force from the Palestinian farmers, who have been expelled from their farms at gunpoint. The model entrenches illegal occupation and apartheid against Palestinians people that still remained on their lands. Even for Jewish Israelis, this agro model over time has become so investment intensive that between 1981-95 almost 50% of the farms closed down, many after defaulting on loan repayment. And these empirical facts comes from Alon Tal, who is on the International board of Jewish National Fund, an agent of Israel’s settler-colonialism, and has been awarded by Monsanto.

The other major project with Israel is the Centres of Excellence for horticulture, running in Kolar, for mangoes, Bagalkot for pomegranate and Belgaum for vegetables. In a recent interview, an Israeli expert at the Kolar Centre of Excellence was demonstrating canopy technique for mango trees. This technique is neither new, nor unique to Israel- a regular Doordarshan Krishi Darshan programme talks about it in its horticulture episodes. Without any discernible benefits, Israeli model farming has a massive allocation in Karnataka’s budget. Compare that with the allocation of Rs 10,000 per hectare to minor millet producers. The average land holding in the state is 1.19 hectares for a household of 4.5 people.

With no accruing benefits, it is hard to not suspect that the push towards Israeli agricultural technology, along with the many visits to Israel by state functionaries to promote this technology (at the cost of state exchequer) is more of a diplomatic move. In the above-mentioned interview, the journalist asks whether Israeli Centres of Excellence would remedy the crisis of farmer suicides. The Israeli expert and Karnataka state horticulture official seem to suggest it will. Such trivialization is difficult to believe, but it seems this is Karnataka government’s solution to this grave issue. The welfare of Indian farmers, already reeling under a decades long agrarian crisis, is being sacrificed at the altar of Indo-Israel diplomatic relations.

These diplomatic relations are those with a regime of apartheid. In its 2004 advisory opinion on the Apartheid Wall, the International Court of Justice saw the wall as part of Israeli settlement enterprise which violates Palestinian human rights and also puts the obligation upon third states and organizations the responsibility to not aid and assist the this “situation created by the route taken by this wall”. India is playing with a political disaster by dealing with Israel’s regime settler-colonialism, illegal occupation and apartheid, and companies that sustain it.

Several of them, including Netafim, operate in illegal Israeli settlements which has also led to United Nations’ Human Rights Commission sending a warning letter to the latter. Operating in illegal Israeli settlements is violation of the 4th Geneva Convention and constitutes a war crime. These settlements are built on stolen lands and resource theft. Palestinians in occupied territories live under a regime of water apartheid. Farmers are denied access to their own farms and at times even shot for the same. Exploitation of natural resources of Palestinians and deploying it for furthering Israeli settlements in occupied territories is central to Israeli colonialism, and companies like Netafim are the facilitators of this process of dispossession and colonialism.

By implementing Israeli technology and giving space to companies such as Netafim, India is providing legitimacy to Israel’s violation of international law and Palestinian human rights. Further, this is being done at the cost of debt and crisis ridden Indian farmers who need sustainable technology and livelihood guarantees, not an unsustainable and resource consumption-based model which has so far shown no positive outcomes. Karnataka Rajya Rayatu Sangha has urged the state government to not introduce Israeli agriculture as it is not suitable and would adversely affect their agriculture.

All India Kisan Sabha endorsed the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, resolving to denounce and document any cases of Israeli corporate takeover in the Indian agro-sector and raising awareness among Indian farmers to prevent Israel and its corporations from reaping profits in India that finance military occupation and apartheid in Palestine. It would bode well for the Karnataka state government to listen to the voices from the ground: stop playing into the myth that is Israeli agricultural technology and becoming a PR tool for Israel at the cost of struggling farmers. We demand that the Karnataka state government immediately stop its cooperation with Israel and reallocate the funds to sustainable agriculture projects that reflect the demands and needs expressed by farmers movements. We urge individuals and organizations to join us in building a joint struggle for justice from Palestine to India.