Secret South African documents reveal that Israel offered to sell nuclear warheads to the apartheid regime, providing the first official documentary evidence of the state's possession of nuclear weapons.
The "top secret" minutes of meetings between senior officials from the two countries in 1975 show that South Africa's defence minister, PW Botha, asked for the warheads and Shimon Peres, then Israel's defence minister and now its president, responded by offering them "in three sizes". The two men also signed a broad-ranging agreement governing military ties between the two countries that included a clause declaring that "the very existence of this agreement" was to remain secret.
The documents, uncovered by an American academic, Sasha Polakow-Suransky, in research for a book on the close relationship between the two countries, provide evidence that Israel has nuclear weapons despite its policy of "ambiguity" in neither confirming nor denying their existence.
The Israeli authorities tried to stop South Africa's post-apartheid government declassifying the documents at Polakow-Suransky's request and the revelations will be an embarrassment, particularly as this week's nuclear non-proliferation talks in New York focus on the Middle East.
They will also undermine Israel's attempts to suggest that, if it has nuclear weapons, it is a "responsible" power that would not misuse them, whereas countries such as Iran cannot be trusted.
South African documents show that the apartheid-era military wanted the missiles as a deterrent and for potential strikes against neighbouring states.
The documents show both sides met on 31 March 1975. Polakow-Suransky writes in his book published in the US this week, The Unspoken Alliance: Israel's secret alliance with apartheid South Africa. At the talks Israeli officials "formally offered to sell South Africa some of the nuclear-capable Jericho missiles in its arsenal".
Among those attending the meeting was the South African military chief of staff, Lieutenant General RF Armstrong. He immediately drew up a memo in which he laid out the benefits of South Africa obtaining the Jericho missiles but only if they were fitted with nuclear weapons.
The memo, marked "top secret" and dated the same day as the meeting with the Israelis, has previously been revealed but its context was not fully understood because it was not known to be directly linked to the Israeli offer on the same day and that it was the basis for a direct request to Israel. In it, Armstrong writes: "In considering the merits of a weapon system such as the one being offered, certain assumptions have been made: a) That the missiles will be armed with nuclear warheads manufactured in RSA (Republic of South Africa) or acquired elsewhere."
But South Africa was years from being able to build atomic weapons. A little more than two months later, on 4 June, Peres and Botha met in Zurich. By then the Jericho project had the codename Chalet.
The top secret minutes of the meeting record that: "Minister Botha expressed interest in a limited number of units of Chalet subject to the correct payload being available." The document then records: "Minister Peres said the correct payload was available in three sizes. Minister Botha expressed his appreciation and said that he would ask for advice." The "three sizes" are believed to refer to the conventional, chemical and nuclear weapons.
The use of a euphemism, the "correct payload", reflects Israeli sensitivity over the nuclear issue and would not have been used had it been referring to conventional weapons. It can also only have meant nuclear warheads as Armstrong's memorandum makes clear South Africa was interested in the Jericho missiles solely as a means of delivering nuclear weapons.
In addition, the only payload the South Africans would have needed to obtain from Israel was nuclear. The South Africans were capable of putting together other warheads.
Both did not go ahead with the deal in part because of the cost. In addition, any deal would have to have had final approval by Israel's prime minister and it is uncertain it would have been forthcoming.
South Africa eventually built its own nuclear bombs, albeit possibly with Israeli assistance. But the collaboration on military technology only grew over the following years. South Africa also provided much of the yellowcake uranium that Israel required to develop its weapons.
The documents confirm accounts by a former South African naval commander, Dieter Gerhardt – jailed in 1983 for spying for the Soviet Union. After his release with the collapse of apartheid, Gerhardt said there was an agreement between Israel and South Africa called Chalet which involved an offer by the Jewish state to arm eight Jericho missiles with "special warheads". Gerhardt said these were atomic bombs. But until now there has been no documentary evidence of the offer.
Some weeks before Peres made his offer of nuclear warheads to Botha, the two defence ministers signed a covert agreement governing the military alliance known as Secment. It was so secret that it included a denial of its own existence: "It is hereby expressly agreed that the very existence of this agreement... shall be secret and shall not be disclosed by either party".
The agreement also said that neither party could unilaterally renounce it.
The existence of Israel's nuclear weapons programme was revealed by Mordechai Vanunu to the Sunday Times in 1986. He provided photographs taken inside the Dimona nuclear site and gave detailed descriptions of the processes involved in producing part of the nuclear material but provided no written documentation.
Documents seized by Iranian students from the US embassy in Tehran after the 1979 revolution revealed the Shah expressed an interest to Israel in developing nuclear arms. But the South African documents offer confirmation Israel was in a position to arm Jericho missiles with nuclear warheads.
Israel pressured the present South African government not to declassify documents obtained by Polakow-Suransky. "The Israeli defence ministry tried to block my access to the Secment agreement on the grounds it was sensitive material, especially the signature and the date," he said. "The South Africans didn't seem to care; they blacked out a few lines and handed it over to me. The ANC government is not so worried about protecting the dirty laundry of the apartheid regime's old allies."
A new book reveals that Israel’s secret relationship with apartheid South Africa went far deeper than previously understood.
BY GLENN FRANKEL | MAY 24, 2010
History is a great teacher, but sometimes it packs a nasty sense of irony. A case in point: South African Prime Minister John Vorster's visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem in April 1976, where he laid a wreath to the victims of the German Reich he once extolled.
It's bad enough that a former Nazi sympathizer was treated like an honored guest by the Jewish state. Even worse was the purpose behind Vorster's trip to Israel: to cement the extensive military relationship between Israel and the apartheid regime, a partnership that violated international law and illicitly provided the white-minority government with the weaponry and technology to help sustain its grip on power and its oppression of the black majority over two decades.
Like many illicit love affairs, the back-door relationship between Israel and the apartheid regime was secret, duplicitous, thrilling for the parties involved -- and ultimately damaging to both. Each insisted at the time that theirs was just a minor flirtation, with few regrets or expressions of remorse. Inevitably it ended badly, tainting everyone it touched, including leaders of American Jewish organizations who shredded their credibility by endorsing and parroting the blatant falsehoods they were fed by Israeli officials. And it still hovers like a toxic cloud over Israel's international reputation, providing ammunition to those who use the comparison between Israel's 43-year military rule over Palestinians and the now-defunct system of white domination known as apartheid to seek to delegitimize the Jewish state.
As bureau chief for the Washington Post in Southern Africa and Jerusalem in the 1980s, I squandered a lot of hours trying to pierce the iron curtain that the two countries carefully drew around their strategic partnership. I reported the various estimates that the arms trade between the two amounted to anywhere from $125 million to $400 million annually -- far beyond the $100 million that the International Monetary Fund reported as total imports and exports in the mid 1980s. Soon after arriving in Jerusalem in 1986, I asked Ezer Weizman, a former Israeli defense minister and champion of the secret partnership, about the uncanny resemblance between Israel's Kfir fighter jet -- itself patterned on the French Mirage -- and South Africa's newly minted Cheetah. He just smiled at me and replied, "I've noticed that as well."
Now comes Sasha Polakow-Suransky, who is an editor at Foreign Affairs magazine, a Rhodes scholar, and an American Jew whose parents emigrated to the United States from South Africa. His singular achievement in his new book, The Unspoken Alliance: Israel's Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa scheduled for publication on May 25, is to have unearthed more than 7,000 pages of heretofore secret documents from the bowels of South Africa's Defense Ministry, Foreign Ministry, and Armscor, the state defense contractor, including the secret 1975 military cooperation agreement signed by defense ministers Shimon Peres and P.W. Botha.
The Israeli government sought to block release of the pact to the author, but the post-apartheid South African government ignored its protests. The black-majority government, led by the African National Congress, "is far less concerned with keeping old secrets than with protecting its own accumulated dirty laundry after 15 years in power," Polakow-Suransky notes. Beyond locating the secret papers, he also interviewed South Africans and Israelis who played key roles in forging and promoting the partnership. The result is the best-documented, most thorough, and most credible account ever offered of the secret marriage between the apartheid state and Israel.
(By way of disclosure, let me add that Polakow-Suransky thanks me in his acknowledgements, although he needn't have; I only bought him a cup of coffee and passed on a handful of names and numbers when he approached me about this project some five years ago.)
Polakow-Suransky puts Israel's annual military exports to South Africa between 1974 and 1993 at $600 million, which made South Africa Israel's second or third largest trading partner after the United States and Britain. Military aircraft updates in the mid-1980s alone accounted for some $2 billion, according to correspondence he obtained. He puts the total military trade between the countries at well above $10 billion over the two decades.
Israel reaped big profits, but paid a price in moral standing. By focusing solely on its purported strategic value to the United States, Israel and its supporters have tended to downgrade the country's real case for preserving a special relationship with its staunch ally. Foreign-policy realists argue that the price Washington pays in the Muslim world for its support of Israel far outweighs whatever strategic value the Jewish state provides. The more compelling case has always focused on Israel's character as a robust democracy that shares American values. But the clandestine alliance with South Africa undermined Israel's rightful claim on U.S. admiration and support. After all, if Israel is just another standard-issue country that conducts business with pariah states and lies about it, why should America be concerned about its fate?
David Ben-Gurion, Israel's founding father, understood this, routinely condemned apartheid and sought to ally his country with the new black-governed nations of sub-Saharan Africa that emerged from colonial rule in the late 1950s and early 1960s. But the balance of forces began to change dramatically after the 1967 Six-Day War, when Israel seized control of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza. Ben-Gurion's heirs -- Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and Moshe Dayan, second-generation leaders of the ruling Labor Party -- worked to transform Israel into a mini super power and had no qualms about cooperating with South Africa to get there. "It was not a shotgun marriage," writes Polakow-Suransky.
The 1973 Yom Kippur War put the seal on the shift. Egypt succeeded in framing the war as a Zionist invasion of the African continent, and more than 20 African states severed diplomatic ties with Israel. South Africa, by contrast, furnished Israel with spare parts for its Mirage jet fighters, and South Africa's substantial Jewish community, encouraged by its government, poured money and support into the Zionist state. The two countries were on their way to becoming, in Polakow-Suranskys words, "brothers in arms."
The relationship started as a marriage of self-interest. South African money helped Israel became a major arms manufacturer and exporter and funded its high-tech economy, while Pretoria gained access to cutting-edge weapons and military technology at a time when most of the world sought to isolate and condemn the apartheid regime. For the ensuing two decades Israel continued to publicly denounce apartheid while at the same time secretly propping up the white-minority government and helping sustain racial supremacy.
Peres had been Ben-Gurion's gifted protégé and a key architect in building Israel's defense establishment and its nuclear capability during his years as director general of the Defense Ministry. When he became defense minister after the Yom Kippur War, he sought to grow the military-industrial complex in part with millions from the arms export market, which Polakow-Suransky reports increased 15-fold between 1973 and 1981. Early on his new role, Peres secretly visited Pretoria. In a memo afterward, he told his South African hosts that their mutual cooperation was based not only on common interest, "but also on the unshakeable foundations of our common hatred of injustice and our refusal to submit to it." That same year the two governments began holding biannual gatherings for Defense Ministry officials and arms industry exporters and an annual strategic cooperation conference between intelligence officials. After Peres and Botha signed their secret security pact in April 1975, Israel sold tanks, fighter aircraft, and long-range missiles to Pretoria and offered to sell nuclear warheads as well. Israel also began to act as middleman, buying arms from countries that refused ostensibly to do business with Pretoria and passing them on to the regime. All of this continued even after the United Nations Security Council passed a mandatory arms embargo against South Africa in November 1977. Menachem Begin's rightist Likud came to power that same year, and relations became even stronger.
Along the way, Polakow-Suransky introduces the unsung actors who helped cement the relationship. One of the key figures was Yitzhak Unna, a skilled, pragmatic and two-fisted Israeli diplomat who became counsel general in Johannesburg in 1969 and was later promoted to ambassador. Unna learned to speak Afrikaans, befriended the former Nazi sympathizer who headed South Africa's bureau of state security and launched a series of deals that brought the two countries closer together. Then there was Binyamin Telem, former commander of Israel's navy, who handled defense contracts with Armscor. Both men saw themselves as anti-racists -- Telem insisted that the Israeli embassy pay its black employees at the same rate as whites -- but both deepened the ties and approved contracts in the millions. Included were training and weapons systems that helped the South African military suppress internal revolts against apartheid. Israeli security companies and former military men also trained and equipped the repressive police forces of the sham puppet states known as Bantustans that South Africa sought to establish in the 1970s and 1980s.
By 1979, Polakow-Suransky writes, South Africa was Israel's single largest arms customer, accounting for 35 percent of its military exports. South Africa supplied Israel a 500-ton stockpile of uranium for its nuclear program. In turn, Israel sold South Africa 30 grams of tritium, a radioactive substance that helped increase the explosive power of its thermonuclear weapons. The extent of Israeli-South African cooperation was symbolized in September 1979 by a double flash over the South Atlantic that analysts believed came from an Israeli nuclear bomb test, undertaken with South African cooperation. To this day the details remain classified.
In the early days of the arms supply pact, Israel could argue that many Western countries, including the United States, had similar surreptitious relationships with the apartheid regime. But by 1980 Israel was the last major violator of the arms embargo. It stuck with South Africa throughout the 1980s when the regime clung to power in the face of international condemnation and intense rounds of political unrest in the black townships.
By 1987 the apartheid regime was struggling to cope with the combination of internal unrest and international condemnation to the point where even Israel was forced to take notice. A key motivator was Section 508, an amendment to the anti-apartheid sanctions bill that passed the U.S. Congress in 1986 and survived President Ronald Reagan's veto. It required the State Department to produce an annual report on countries violating the arms embargo. The first one, issued in April 1987, reported that Israel had violated the international ban on arm sales "on a regular basis." The report gave South Africa's opponents within the Israeli government and their American Jewish allies ammunition to force Israel to adapt a mild set of sanctions against South Africa. I was in Jerusalem when Israel admitted publicly for the first time that it had significant military ties with South Africa and pledged not to enter into any new agreements -- which meant, of course, that existing agreements would be maintained. It was, writes Polakow-Suransky, "little more than a cosmetic gesture."
From the start, spokesmen for American Jewish organizations acted as apologists or dupes for Israel's arms sales. Moshe Decter, a respected director of research for the American Jewish Committee, wrote in the New York Times in 1976 that Israel's arms trade with South Africa was "dwarfed into insignificance" compared to that of other countries and said that to claim otherwise was "rank cynicism, rampant hypocrisy and anti-Semitic prejudice." In a March 1986 debate televised on PBS, Rabbi David Saperstein, a leader of the Reform Jewish movement and outspoken opponent of apartheid, claimed Israeli involvement with South Africa was negligible. He conceded that there may have been arms sales during the rightist Likud years in power from 1977 to 1984, but stated that under Shimon Peres, who served as prime minister between 1984 and 1986, "there have been no new arms sales." In fact, some of the biggest military contracts and cooperative ventures were signed during Peres's watch.
The Anti-Defamation League participated in a blatant propaganda campaign against Nelson Mandela and the ANC in the mid 1980s and employed an alleged "fact-finder" named Roy Bullock to spy on the anti-apartheid campaign in the United States -- a service he was simultaneously performing for the South African government. The ADL defended the white regime's purported constitutional reforms while denouncing the ANC as "totalitarian, anti-humane, anti-democratic, anti-Israel, and anti-American." (In fairness, the ADL later changed its tune. After his release in 1990, Mandela met in Geneva with a number of American Jewish leaders, including ADL president Abe Foxman, who emerged to call the ANC leader "a great hero of freedom.")
Polakow-Suransky is no knee-jerk critic of Israel, and he tells his story more in sorrow than anger. He grants that the secret alliance had its uses. To the extent it enhanced Israel's security and comfort zone, it may have helped pave the path to peace efforts. Elazar Granot, a certified dove who is a former left-wing Knesset member and ambassador to the new South Africa, says as much. "I had to take into consideration that maybe Rabin and Peres were able to go to the Oslo agreements because they believed that Israel was strong enough to defend itself," he tells the author. "Most of the work that was done -- I'm talking about the new kinds of weapons -- was done in South Africa."
Polakow-Suransky sees in the excoriation of Jimmy Carter's 2006 book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid by American Jewish leaders an echo of their reflexive defense of Israel vis á vis South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s. The author himself draws uncomfortable parallels between apartheid and Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, noting that both involved the creation of a system that stifled freedom of movement and labor, denied citizenship and produced homelessness, separation, and disenfranchisement. As the Palestinian population continues to grow and eventually becomes the majority -- and Jews the minority -- in the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, the parallels with apartheid may become increasingly uncomfortable. Even Prime Minister Ehud Olmert agreed, observing in 2007 that if Israel failed to negotiate a two-state solution with the Palestinians, it would inevitably "face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights."
"The apartheid analogy may be inexact today," Polakow-Suransky warns, "but it won't be forever."
I've always believed the apartheid analogy produces more heat than light. But it's a comparison that Israel itself invited with its longstanding partnership with the white-minority regime. While Israel profited from the alliance, it paid a heavy price. Moral standing in the international community doesn't come with an obvious price tag, nor does it command an influential lobby of corporate and military interests working tirelessly on its behalf. But it does have value and its absence has consequences. The anti-Israel divestment campaign that is slowly gathering steam in college campuses across the United States and Europe is one such potential consequence. This movement, backed both by genuine supporters of the Palestinians and by Arab governments whose motives are far more cynical, once again seeks to equate Zionism with racism and rob Israel of its hard-earned legitimacy by portraying it as, in Polakow-Suransky's phrase, "a latter-day South Africa." The Israeli government has provided this movement with plenty of ammunition, including the sad and sordid saga that he so carefully unearths in his important new book.
this kinda irony comes out of human nature or human tendency.Crime done against ones own race is genocide but it doesnt matter if its done against other races.Otherwise british would have been implicated for the genocides of 4 million bengalis by artificially causing the famine in one of the most fertile area of the indian subcontinent long before hitler came to picture.
Genocide committed by British Government in Bengal was bigger, more ghastly and more cruel than the killing of Jews by Hitler. Time that the criminals are punished and descendants of victims compensated.
History is written by those who win a war and not by the losers. No wonder, the history of Second World War is written by British and American authors. We are told that the war was necessary to eliminate the evil of Nazism and Hitler from the earth. Nazism and Hitler are painted as devils because they killed six million Jews (a figure put out by British and Jew historians and disputed by many).
The last chapter in the history of Second World War was written in early October 1945 at the famous Nuremberg trial, when the four prosecuting nations -- the United States, Great Britain, France and Russia -- issued an indictment against 24 men and six organizations. The individual defendants were charged with the systematic murder of millions of people.
Sixty years after the end of the war, time has come to reopen the case and institute a fresh Nuremberg trial - this time against one of the prosecuting nations -- Great Britain -- for systematic and intentional murder of millions of people. This genocide was not confined to the Second World War. In fact, only its last episode was played out during the war. The ghastly genocide, which used hunger and starvation as tools, lasted for about eighteen decades and was carried out in Bengal, India (at present Bengal is partly in India and partly in Bangladesh) by the British colonial masters claiming about thirty million victims.
It started in 1770 with a big bang, when approximately one third of the total population of Bengal died because of a drought. About 10 million people died! East India Company, which had occupied the country five years earlier, did not even once attempt to introduce any measures of aid worth mentioning. British officers in India were happily reporting to their bosses in London about having maximized their profit through trading and export of food. (Incidentally, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, the prophet of Indian nationalism, wrote his celebrated novel "Anandamath" with the battle cry 'Bandemataram' in the context of the agony evoked by the ravages of the famine of 1770.)
It must be mentioned here that Bengal is a land of rivers and most fertile land of Ganges delta. Bengal was a granary of India till British came in. Every village had, and still has, a pond, which has fishes that can feed the village even when there is no rice. It needed British intervention to convert the lush green land of Bengal into famine-starved land.
Bengal had 30 or 40 famines (depending on how one defines famine) during 182 years of British rule in Bengal. There are no reliable accounts of the number of people who died in these famines. We have only the figures put out by British colonialists. But even given the limited data availability, once can see the barbaric face of British colonialism in India.
The last big famine in Bengal occurred between 1942 and 1945. At least four million people died during these three years. Some scholars believe that the number of dead was much higher (remember that the figure of four million is based on British sources). Notwithstanding the controversy about the number of dead, it is widely accepted that the famine was man-made. Nobel laureate, Amartya Sen, has demonstrated quite convincingly that the famine deaths were caused by British policies and not by drastic slump in food production.
The following facts deserve attention:
In May 1942, Burma fell to Japanese. British were afraid that Japanese aided by Indian National Army (led by Subhash Chandra Bose) would invade India from the east. Bose's slogan - Dilli Chalo (Let us go to Delhi) - had struck fear in the hearts of British. The British followed a policy of 'scorched earth'. On one hand, this was to ensure denial of food to invading armies, in case the Japanese decided to march across Bengal. On the other hand, the British wanted to break the will and ability of people of Bengal to rise in rebellion in support of the invaders. It could not be a coincidence that British executed a military police action in October 1942, during which 193 camps and buildings of the Congress Party were destroyed and countless people arrested. Between August 1942 and February 1943, 43 persons were shot by the British occupation police. Additionally, British troops were involved in an unknown number of rapes and lootings of food supplies, among other things.
Bengal was overcrowded with refugees as well as with retreating soldiers from various British colonies which were temporarily occupied by the Japanese. In March 1942 alone, around 2,000 to 3,000 British soldiers and civilians arrived every day in Calcutta and Chittagong, and in the month of May, a total of 300,000 were counted. As a result of the massive food purchases by the government, food prices in the countryside skyrocketed.
Expecting a Japanese landing in the Gulf of Bengal, the British authorities enacted the so-called "Boat-Denial Scheme" leading to confiscation of all boats and ships in the Gulf of Bengal which could carry more than 10 persons. This resulted in not less than 66,500 confiscated boats. Consequently, the inland navigation system collapsed completely. Fishing became practically impossible, and many rice and jute farmers could not ship their goods anymore. Subsequently the economy collapsed completely, especially in the lower Ganges-Delta.
The confiscations of land in connection with military fortifications and constructions (airplane landing places, military and refugee camps) led to the expulsion of about 150,000 to 180,000 people from their land, turning them practically into homeless persons.
Food deliveries from other parts of the country to Bengal were refused by the government in order to make food artificially scarce. This was an especially cruel policy introduced in 1942 under the title "Rice Denial Scheme." The purpose of it was, as mentioned earlier, to deny an efficient food supply to the Japanese after a possible invasion. Simultaneously, the government authorized free merchants to purchase rice at any price and to sell it to the government for delivery into governmental food storage. So, on one hand government was buying every grain of rice that was around and on the other hand, it was blocking grain from coming into Bengal from other regions of the country.
The blank check of the government (for food purchases) triggered price inflation. As a result, some merchants did not deliver food to the government but hoarded it, hoping for higher profit margins when selling it later. This led to further food shortages on the market and to further price increases.
In addition to this inflationary thrust, massive military activities in Bengal were basically financed by overtime of money printing presses. Oversupply of paper money by Government led to a general inflation, which hit the impoverished population in the countryside especially hard.
Even though British law in India provided that emergency laws were to be applied in case of famines, the famine in Bengal was never officially recognized as such; an emergency was not declared, and therefore no drastic counter measures were taken for its amelioration. It was not until October of 1943 that the British government took notice of the emergency situation, but it still refused to introduce any supportive measures that would have been necessary.
Even though India imported about 1.8 million tons of cereals before the war, Britain made sure that India had an export surplus of rice at record levels in the tax year 1942/43.
The bad situation in Bengal was discussed in the British Parliament during a meeting at which only 10% of all members participated. Repeated requests for food imports to India (400 Million people) led to the delivery of approximately half a million tons of cereal in the years 1943 and 1944. In contrast to this was the net import to Great Britain (50 Million people) of 10 million tons in the second half of the year 1943 alone. Churchill repeatedly denied all food exports to India, in spite of the fact that about 2.4 million Indians served in British units during the Second World War.
Given a choice, I would rather die in a gas chamber than die of starvation begging on the streets. Viewed from this perspective, Hitler appears humane and even angelic, while Churchill puts even the devil to shame. The thirty million men, women and children who died slow, painful deaths in the villages of Bengal were not enemies of the British Empire. They had done nothing to deserve the cruel fate. Howsoever much one might disagree with Hitler, at least in his own warped logic, he had a reason to hate Jews. British Government and Churchill did not even have such a fig leaf of distorted logic to justify their cruel barbaric act.
Amartya Sen has used the Bengal famine to justify democracy and run down dictatorships. The fact is that Churchill was democratically elected by British people. After independence, from 1947 till date, East Bengal (presently known as Bangladesh) has been ruled by dictators for many years. Yet, during the past five and a half decades, the number of starvation deaths in East Bengal (or West Bengal) is not even one per cent of the number of people that died of starvation during the half-century before independence. The issue, obviously, is not dictatorship versus democracy.
We are also told that the rulers of Bengal, before the British arrived, were self-centered despots, who did not care about their people's well being and were spoilt by luxury. British take pride in the fact that they brought 'good governance' and 'rule of law' to India, starting from Bengal and spreading to the rest of the country. In spite of all the alleged misrule that the Indian rulers of pre-British era indulged in, there is absolutely no historical account of any major famine in Bengal prior to the arrival of British in Bengal.
Academicians have a tendency to miss the holistic reality when they go hammer and tongs over fine details. Most academic debates about Bengal Famine have missed the most essential aspect - criminal act of the British Government. There is a tendency to study the Bengal famine in terms of parameters, which were internal to Bengal, like food supply, disease history of rice, inflation economics, democracy as a system of governance, weather analysis and many such wonderful terms. All such studies treat the famine as if it was a product of some systemic internal parameters peculiar to Bengal; and all that is needed is to study the parameters with a view to ensure that the same do not recur. This is a wrong premise.
Bengal was a victim of a criminal act perpetrated for more than one and three quarters of a century. British establishment indulged in brutal genocide in Bengal, at times to further their own interests and at other times out of sheer negligence of their duties. In either case, the British Government stands guilty of the worst crime in recent human history.
The Holocaust in Germany was a minor event compared to what the British did to a people, who trusted them and were loyal to them. Nazis have been accused and convicted of the Holocaust in Germany. Even today, there are attempts to hunt down ex-Nazis and bring them to justice. A few weeks ago, a court awarded compensation to a Holocaust victim.
Is it not time that the descendants of the victims of The Great Holocaust of Bengal sought compensation from the present Government of the United Kingdom? Is it possible to initiate a criminal case against Winston Churchill and all those who were in power during 1942-45 (or during 1765-1947) in British Government? Is that too much to ask for? Do you believe that the systematic murder of six million white-skinned Jews was a crime worthy of punishment, while the killing of thirty million black-skinned people of Bengal does not even deserve a footnote in history?
The least that people of India and Bangladesh can do is to construct a memorial in the memory of millions who died at the hand of a cruel barbaric monster. Let us at least shed a tear for them! Let us at least rewrite the history!