“It was important to bring this group to see the truth firsthand so that they bring this story to millions of their readers and followers.”
A delegation of Indian journalists and social media influencers, including three Muslim writers from Kashmir, are in Israel on a weeklong media tour in the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre and the three-month-old war in Gaza as Israel seeks to bolster its case in the world of public opinion.
The group, which also includes an Afghan journalist living in exile in Germany, is visiting amid a bitter media war over the narrative of the war with the Islamic terrorist organization in Gaza and growing international focus on the humanitarian situation in Gaza, where Hamas uses civilian buildings to launch attacks from densely populated urban areas.
“How do I stop the support for the evil things that Hamas has done,” Yana Mir, Kashmir’s first Muslim female blogger, told JNS in an interview.
Mir has been threatened for her support for Israel in Muslim-dominated Kashmir.
She said that reading a children’s book at the age of nine about the birth of Christianity changed her worldview and put her at odds with the universal teaching in Kashmir that Israel is the land of the Muslims.
“How can Israelis and Jews occupy their own land?” Mir asked. Of the Oct. 7 massacre that killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and triggered the war, she said, “Now in our era, Jews are being exterminated again.”
Columnist Irfan Ali Pirjade added, “We felt the parallels with what Hamas is doing after visiting the [Yad Vashem] Holocaust Museum.”
“I am Muslim, but Jews deserve life and dignity,” said Sajid Yousuf Shah, the founder and CEO of The Real Kashmir News who now serves as media head of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party in Kashmir. “It’s not a matter of land but a matter of existence.”
He noted that his mother and uncle were killed in Kashmir by Islamist terrorists in front of his four-year-old cousin.
The weeklong study visit, which was funded by an Israeli NGO, included time at hard-hit southern kibbutzim attacked by Hamas, which have become a focus of war tours, and the traditional tourist stops at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Center and the Knesset in Jerusalem.
“Especially during these times, it was important for us to bring this group of journalists and social media influencers to see the truth firsthand so that they bring this story to millions of their readers and followers in India,” said Amit Deri, chairman of Sharaka (“Partnership” in Arabic), an Israeli NGO founded after the Abraham Accords were signed that seeks to shape a new Middle East built on dialogue, understanding, cooperation and friendship.
The Afghan journalist on the delegation, Abdulhaq Omeri, said that he had no clue before the visit that Muslims make up 20% of Israeli citizens, noting that he was pleasantly pleased to freely visit the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem and hear the Muslim call to prayer by the muezzin, things that he did not think were possible.
News cycle moved on
“People have forgotten the brutality of October 7 with the relentless propaganda of the media,” said Swati Goel Sharma, an editor at Swarajya magazine who is Hindu.
She said that while the Qatari-based Al Jazeera television network openly picks a side in the conflict, the Western media was more deceptive in their pretense of reporting on both sides’ perspectives.
The Indian journalist noted that the majority Hindu India was largely supportive of Israel, with the exception of the upper class and the cinema world, which follow the cue of the American left.
“Not too many people in Bollywood have an understanding about Israel, but if [American actress] Susan Sarandon says something about Jews or Israel then it’s fashionable,” Sharma said.
Image: Sajid Yousuf Shah, head of media for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party in Kashmir, visits Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Jan. 16, 2024. Credit: Sharaka.