What similarities are there between Britain’s retaliation after retaking Delhi from rebels in 1857 and the Israeli state’s violent military operations in Gaza today? The two events are 165 years apart Although they may be separated by their history, there are some very visible similarities.
The rebellion, in which the sepoys temporarily liberated Delhi from British rule in May 1857, was an unprecedented failure for the British military and intelligence services. The rebellion that began in Meerut soon attracted many kingdoms, large and small, in northern India, who decided to join the rebellion. This was by no means an unprovoked attack, as many British officials at the time wanted the world to believe. During its 100 years of rule in India, the British violated everything the Indians held dear and sacred. This revolt was a violent but understandable response to a century of subjugation, humiliation, and dehumanization.
One incident that stood out for its brutality was the massacre of 150 British nationals, including non-combatants, women and children, at Kanpur. Rudranshu Mukherjee, in his essay titled “The Devil Has Been Released on Earth,” points out that sepoys initially provided Britain with a safe route to sea. However, after being loaded onto a boat at a nearby ghat, he was fired upon indiscriminately.
Fast forward to October 7, 2023, and an unprecedented series of events unfolded as the world woke up to the news that Hamas militants had captured some areas near the Gaza-Israel border, albeit for just a few hours. . In addition to their unprecedented nature, these attacks carried significant symbolic weight. Palestinian militants have seized control of checkpoints and settlements and even bulldozed sections of the apartheid wall, all emblematic of half a century of Israeli occupation.
The October 7 attack was undoubtedly violent, but like the 1857 rebellion, it was not without provocation. There is a very dense background of Israeli settler colonialism and state violence that cannot be separated from this response. From the great Al-Aqsa Mosque to the olive groves, everything Palestinians hold dear has been repeatedly desecrated by Israeli forces and settlers.
However, in both cases the tables quickly turned.
After liberating some territory from British hands, the Sepoy Rebellion quickly lost momentum. Reinforcements arrived from Punjab and expelled the rebels from Delhi. By this time, the story of the Kanpur massacre had not only spread from India to Europe, but had also undergone layers of exaggeration. Unfounded stories about children being nailed to walls and gang rapes of British women began to circulate. These stories played a major role in conditioning British public opinion in favor of the unlimited use of force against the “savage natives.” When the time came to punish the rebels, British soldiers and media used these rumors not only to justify excessive force and widespread retaliation, but also to call for the complete destruction of Derry. .
In the Lahore Chronicle, for example, British writers repeatedly called for the sultan’s hanging and the “levelling” of his city. In a response article to the Chronicle, one reader demanded that the Jama Masjid not be spared for fear of offending Muslims. There was also a proposal to convert Jama Masjid into a church. These documents, proposals and demands resonated with the British forces in Derry. Even after the widespread looting and mass killing of adult men in Delhi, demands continued to be raised for the complete destruction of the city. In this way, mass murder, amounting to genocide, was justified on the basis of fabricated lies.
Similar unsubstantiated exaggerations circulated in the public domain in the immediate aftermath of the Hamas attack on Israel. The famous story of “40 Decapitated Babies” was born out of interviews with Israeli reservists by reporter Nicole Zedek. Similar claims were soon echoed by the Israeli Prime Minister and the US President, causing untold outrage around the world. A few days later, Zedek withdrew his report after finding no evidence to support the decapitation. However, by then the story had been widely published in the international media and was building public opinion in favor of large-scale retaliatory action in Gaza.
Calls for genocide to “completely destroy Gaza” emerged from various quarters and were supported by the Israel Defense Forces. These demands were often injected with religious and racist rhetoric that sought to portray Israelis as “children of light” and Palestinians as “children of darkness.”
Israeli operations in Gaza have so far included cutting off Gaza’s water, gas and electricity supplies, as well as bombing hospitals, homes, universities, refugee camps and border crossings. As of this writing, the Israeli military’s relentless bombing of Gaza has killed more than 10,000 people, many of them children. However, demands to “completely destroy Gaza” continue to be made.
These operations are war crimes even according to the narrowest definition of the term, but they are retaliation justified on the basis of unsubstantiated claims that Palestinian militants beheaded children and raped women. . The October 7th Hamas attack was extremely violent, but these layers of exaggeration added to the narrative surrounding the attack have helped create a monstrous image of Palestinians as a whole, and now they are Bombings of homes and schools seem less tragic.
If there’s one thing we can learn from comparing Britain’s 1857 retaliation with Israel’s alleged retaliation in 2023, it’s the fact that colonial strategy remains more or less unchanged. On the one hand, it refuses to acknowledge indirect colonial violence, manifested in discriminatory laws, apartheid walls, settlements, and checkpoints. On the other hand, direct colonial violence is justified by dehumanizing indigenous peoples and creating an image of “.human animal”, can only be cracked down with tremendous and indiscriminate violence.