Palestinians have great appreciation and liking for India and Indian culture. A very well developed Islamic heritage within the Indian culture sustains the charm of India to an average Palestinian. Bollywood, Indian food, clothes, education (around 12,000 Palestinians graduated from Indian Universities) and India’s consistent support to the Palestinian cause add significantly to the India appeal for a Palestinian.
Existence of cultural similarities and having a small Indian community in Palestine has made Indian arts and culture very popular in Palestine. Main mode of Indian cultural consumption is through Arabic dubbed or subtitled Bollywood movies and Indian TV serials. Indian cuisine is also liked in Palestine. Indian spices are widely used in Palestine. In marriages, Indian hina, saris and music are very common.
In recent years, a few Yoga practitioners (mainly from the West) made efforts to popularise Yoga in Palestine and have had some success. Currently, Yoga is practiced as an ancient therapeutic tradition, which is useful in combating stress. It is being practiced mainly by women (pre & post natal healthcare, a tool for releasing stress of financial and political turmoil) or by the activists fighting occupation or indulged in community development programmes. In Gaza, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society offers yoga classes to help with stress and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Currently, Palestine has three part-time yoga studios and some part-time yoga teachers. To raise the profile of Yoga in Palestine, Palestinian Yoga practitioners intend to organise a first ever international yoga conference in the West Bank in June 2016. On June 21, 2015 an International Day of Yoga was organized in Ramallah.
Several cultural activities, including film shows and photo exhibitions have been organized by the Representative Office of India in various Palestinian cities in addition to screening of documentaries prepared by Public Diplomacy division in local TV channels, local schools and youth clubs. A performance by the Indian martial arts dance troupe Kalaripayattu was organized in October 2004 in Ramallah. In 2014, a bust of Mahatma Gandhi was unveiled at the Garden of Nations and a Kathak performance was organized at Ramallah. In March 2015, an evening of santoor by Dr Varsha Agarwal and team was organized in Ramallah. From July 1-9, 2015 an India Bazar was organised.
The contemporary cultural connections have roots in history. Traders from Historic Palestine did travel to India for spices, clothes, gold and precious stones. Indian Hospice located in East Jerusalem also bears testimony to the historic and vibrant cultural connections between Palestine and India. For nearly seven centuries, the Indian Hospice in East Jerusalem has served as a destination for Indian pilgrims. The saga of this Hospice began in the days of the Ottoman Empire when Sufi saint Baba Farid of Shakar Ganj, travelled to the Holy Land as a pilgrim. Out of respect for his saintly qualities, the governor allowed him to stay in a part of the IslamicWakf, which is comprised of two rooms attached to a mosque.
Al Aqsa Mosque also bears imprints of India’s cultural connection with Palestine. The Nizam of Hyderabad donated chandeliers to the Al Aqsa mosque, which till date adorn the Mosque. Indian Muslims contributed significant amount of money to open the Al Aqsa Mosque University. Unfortunately the university has not been founded because the money collected for the University was used for defending Palestine in its revolution in 1936 - 39. Muhamad Ali a prominent congress leader and leader of Khilafat movement was buried here.
During the WWI, Indian soldiers fought alongside the Allied forces against the Ottoman Empire. They fought in three major battles, the largest being the battle of Wadi Gaza, as well as the Mantar battle. Around 40 soldiers (Hindu, Muslims and Christians) were buried in two cemeteries at Gaza. The cemeteries are maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Indian contingent participated in UNEF in Gaza and soldiers who made supreme sacrifice there were also honoured in the cemeteries.
India-Palestine cultural connections also draw strength from India’s cultural and civilizational linkages with the Arab world. The idea of India has figured in the Arab imagination for centuries, and the Arab civilization, with its philosophical depth and entrepreneurial energy, has effortlessly intersected with Indian civilisation all these years.Our thinkers, scholars, philosophers and traders have interacted across centuries. Arab scholars like Alberuni have, in their writings, documented Indo-Arab cultural links including Indian contributions to Arab thought and culture. Archaeologists have found evidence of trade links between the Indian sub-continent and the Arabian Peninsula. Many illustrious Arab families have the surname al-Hindi. ‘Hind’ is still a popular name being used by many Arab women. The very famous Indian sword in the Arab world was called ‘Hinduana’ and ‘Mohannad’. The decimal number writing system of India is said to have spread to India through Arab Civilization. On the other hand Astronomy was introduced in the Arab world in 8th century through the Indian Sanskrit book ‘Surya Sidhhanta’.
Palestinian cultural affinity to India drew sustenance from India’s very strong and vocal political support for the Palestinian cause. In 1938, on the proposal to create a homeland for Jews in Palestine Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “my sympathy for the Jews does not blind me to the requirements of Justice. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs… The nobler course would be to insist on a just treatment of the Jews wherever they were born and bred. The Jews born and bred in France are French precisely in the same sense as the Christians born in France are French. Every country is their home, including Palestine, not by aggression but by loving service.” Ahmed Shawki, the famous Egyptian poet, paid tribute to Mahatma Gandhi by writing a poem praising Mahatma Gandhi:
“Oh sons of Egypt Raise the Laurel and salute the Indian hero. He is like the apostles in defending right and virtue. He called on Hindus and Islam to intimacy and friendliness.”
In a rare honor, a bust of Mahatma Gandhi was unveiled in Ramallah Municipality’s Garden of Nation in 2014 ( despite the fact that, in the Arab-Muslim culture, busts or idols are usually rare since they are considered by many scholars to be prohibited). A Street is also named after Mahatma Gandhi in Ramallah.
Legendary Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had a special place in his heart for India. He was very close to Nehru–Gandhi family. In 1988, Yasser Arafat got Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding. On her return to power in 1980, Indira Gandhi invited PLO leader Yasser Arafat to New Delhi and established formal diplomatic relations despite stiff opposition and strong pressures. She was called Gamal Nasser’s niece, King Faisal’s daughter and Yasser Arafat’s sister in the Arab world. She was immensely popular among the Arab people who called her Alsayyida Indira Gandhi.