Pleasure Gardens: Blackouts and the Logic of Crisis in Kashmir

In this exclusive excerpt from their new book Izabella Scott and Skye Arundhati Thomas contextualize the twin-snake history of Israel and India and how the occupation of Palestine informs the occupation of Kashmir.


You may have seen Hindu Indians expressing their sycophantic admiration for Israel—both online under posts about Zionists as well as in parades and marches. But the relationship between Israel and India is more complex than is implied by all the memes about Indians stanning Israel. For Indians, Israel presents an internationally sanctioned model for exterminating Muslims. For the Indian state, Israel offers a fruitful arms alliance and template for maintaining surveillant occupation. And while online Indians may receive racist retorts by Israelis scorning any affinity between them, the embrace that matters is the one between Israel's PM Benjamin Netanyahu and India's PM Narendra Modi. In a new book on the occupation of Kashmir and the blackouts of 2019, Izabella Scott and Skye Arundhati Thomas deftly present the twin-snake history of the modern world's two most successfully fascist regimes—each committed to expanding their borders by targeting those within them. Pleasure Gardens: Blackouts and the Logic of Crisis in Kashmir is out June 14th from MACK, read an exclusive excerpt below.


India and Israel were formed just months apart, in 1947 and 1948, respectively. The newly formed Indian secular democracy was, at first, opposed to Israel’s Zionist project. In the years leading to independence, Indian nationalists had aligned with the (Arab) struggle against the British Mandate and against Zionist leaders who depended on British power to establish the Jewish state. By Israel’s infamous Six-Day War of 1967 – which saw Israel quadruple in size, and annihilate three Arab armies in less than a week – India had taken a public stand against Israeli aggression. But, privately, it was a different story.

Secret arms deals had been taking place, beginning in 1962, as India sought military assistance from Israel, first during a border dispute with China, and afterwards, during two wars with Pakistan, in 1965 and 1971. A covert deal was hard to resist. Israel was gaining a reputation as the ‘gold standard’ for tried and tested weapons; the Six-Day War had been an impressive showcase. By the 1990s, India’s public position on Israel had shifted; for the first time, embassies opened in Delhi and Tel Aviv. On the international stage, India – lovingly tagged the world’s largest democracy – was on shaky ground.

In 1998, in response to the Thar Desert nuclear tests, weapons sanctions had been put in place by US President Bill Clinton. Pakistan was under sanctions too. Both nations had violated the US’s Arms Export Control Act of 1976, which controlled the sale of nuclear weapons. This meant that during Operation Vijay, while the army struggled to surveil the high-altitude LoC, India turned to a partner who could help circumvent the sanctions: Israel.

The wild, rugged terrain of the LoC necessitated new technologies. Air-borne weapons were essential. Israel would supply India with a fleet of Unarmed Aerial Vehicles, whichare now more commonly known as drones. The first deal was signed in 2001, where the Indian Ministry of Defence paid $7.2 million per drone to Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), the airplane manufacturer turned weapons dealer. Ceasefire treaties between India and Pakistan included explicit instructions not to breach the LoC, but the Indian Air Forces bypassed this through a loophole: aerial domination.

By the time this deal was signed, 9/11 had altered the international landscape, giving rise to the US’s decades-long ‘War on Terror’, targeting the Muslim world. India jumped to align itself with this agenda. Its relations with Pakistan had always been vexed, and the skirmishes along the LoC were in part the playing out of a long-drawn-out proxy war. The American Islamophobic rhetoric suited India well, sentiments that were emboldened by an incident that occurred less than a month after the Twin Towers fell: a bombing in Srinagar.

On 1 October 2001 a 4x4 Tata Sumo, packed with explosives, was driven into the front gates of Srinagar’s State Legislative Assembly complex, killing 38 people, plus the driver and his two aides. The Pakistani group Jaish-e-Mohammed claimed responsibility. By 31 December, India had blocked all rail, road, and air routes to and from Pakistan, and beefed up military presence along the LoC. The then BJP-led government announced Pakistan as a ‘terrorist state’ and doubled the national defence budget.

As President George Bush geared up toward the War on Terror, India’s weapons sanctions were lifted. This opened up a path for expanded relations between India and Israel. By 2003, India had handed over $130 million to Israel Aerospace Industries for drones and laser-guided missiles. Across the next two decades what had previously been a private relationship between the two nation states has become ever-more overt. Israel has grown to be India’s chief weapons and defence technology supplier. The narratives that proliferated after 9/11 legitimised and normalised the figure of the threatening Muslim ‘other’, and India was learning from Israel not only in technique and logistics but in rhetoric. The problem in Kashmir, like the one in Palestine, became about Islamic extremism, necessitating a military crackdown, and in later years, requiring heightened ‘self-defence’. This narrative is a red herring: by turning attention to religious issues, India is able to underplay the years of political dispute that have followed J&K’s accession to the Indian Union.

‘Aapka swagat hai mere dost’, Netanyahu said to Modi as he greeted him on the tarmac of Ben Gurion airport in July 2017, ‘Welcome, my friend.’ Three years into holding office, Modi made a state visit to Israel. He was the first Indian Prime Minister to do so. A sprawling red carpet extended down from Modi’s airplane on which the two leaders shook hands and embraced. Modi was driven to the Danzinger farm – a floriculture company founded in 1953, famous for its AmoreTM Queen Of Hearts petunia, with interlocking hearts on each petal. Here, a pot with taffy-pink flowers was pressed into Modi’s hands, a ‘new fast-growing Israeli Chrysanthemum named in honour of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’. Modi held it up for the cameras.

Israel has always been granted exceptional privileges by Western democracies. At the turn of the twenty-first century, when most Western states were moving toward multiculturalism and reaffirming civic democracies, Israel maintained its commitment to a singular ethnic demographic. It is what Jewish Israeli scholar Sammy Smooha, from the Department of Anthropology at the University of Haifa, describes in a 2002 paper as an ‘ethnic democracy’. In sharp contrast to its self-branding as a Western liberal democracy, Smooha writes that in Israel ‘Jews appropriate the state and make it a tool for advancing their national security, demography, public space, culture and interests’. In ethnic democracies, a distinction is made between ‘members’ and ‘non-members’ (i.e. everyone else) of the ethnic nation. ‘Members’ are the truer plebiscite. Non-members, while absorbed into the ballot in formal terms, are perpetually seen as a risk, and under the grandiloquence of crisis and occupation, as a threat that must be constantly mitigated.

The Hindutva nation building project in India follows this design. In 2019, the same year as J&K’s special status was revoked, new citizenship laws were introduced in parliament by the Modi government, The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and a new National Register of Citizens (NRC): two laws that worked together to establish new ancestry protocols, where Muslims were no longer to be seen as legitimate citizens of the Indian nation state. Soon after the bills were passed in parliament, Muslims across the country were quietly rounded up and taken to newly constructed detention centres; over a thousand people in the north-eastern state of Assam alone. Their legal rights were questioned, and they were forced to produce paperwork to show Indian lineage. Nearly 2 million citizens were reportedly stripped of their citizenship. Even outside of religious divides, citizenship is mostly a faulty qualifier in India, where most of the population is undocumented, and employed by informal economies. ‘We have been waiting for you a long time’, Netanyahu tweeted about Modi in 2017, ‘almost 70 years’.

On the morning of 15 July 2002, soldiers of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) entered the offices of Palnet, the Palestinian Internet service provider, and shut down operations. Ostensibly they cut cables, and trashed hardware. The raid was part of ‘Operation Determined Path’, which through several targeted strikes shut down the internet in the West Bank and Gaza. Explosions were heard; six Palnet employees were still in the building. On a Saturday in January in 2002, barely half a year after 9/11, the IDF placed dynamite in the studios of the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation in Ramallah. They poured gasoline on the roof, over radio and TV transmit-ters. An hour later the bombs detonated and the fire spread, destroying the top three floors of the building, which was now surrounded by tanks.

Eventually, the building collapsed. Employees of the radio station Voice of Palestine (VOP) and of Palestine TV, both of whom had offices there, attempted to climb through the rubble and salvage equipment. The Israeli state claimed that both radio and TV were being used to incite violence against Israelis. That same night, eighty Israeli tanks drew closer to the city of Tulkarem,also in the West Bank. For Operation Determined Path, the IDF had issued emergency orders, and intelligence services alleged that Hamas operatives had slipped in and were manufacturing explosives in the West Bank. A curfew was announced, and soldiers entered homes and made arrests every night for days. Just a month before this, Israeli forces had razed to the ground a VOP broadcasting building in Ramallah – missiles shot straight into the main transmitter.Israel’s early raids of internet and media communications infrastructure signals the occupying force’s shift in gear: cellular communications had introduced a new, seemingly abstract territory as a site of control.

In 1999, several Israeli settlers registered complaints of bad cellphone reception  along Highway 60, a smooth bend that moves north from  Jerusalem to settlements in West Bank. The French cell phone provider Orange placed a tower along the route, atop a fig and olive-covered hill frequented by shepherds from the Palestinian villages of Burka and Ein Yabrud. In the way that Israeli defence infrastructure laws are designed, the establishment of an antenna falls under ‘security’. This means, quite simply, that Israel could seize this land without procuring the consent of those who owned it or depended on it for a livelihood. Orange requested that the tower be connected up to the main electricity grid in order to power itself, the Israel Electric Corporation absorbed this, and the national water services connected the hill to Israeli-owned water systems. Slowly, a domestic infrastructure began to be built around this cell phone tower. There was a delay in building the actual mast, and so, first, a fake version was installed at the site.

In May 2001, two years after the first settler complaint of poor reception, 24-hour security was hired to patrol it. A guard brought in a trailer as living quarters, and erected a fence surrounding the site; eventually, his wife and children moved in too. Just under a year later, five more families joined and an outpost called Migron began to solidify. Donations from abroad helped build a synagogue on the site, and the Israeli Ministry for Construction and Housing started a nursery. Toward the end of 2006, Migron was a thriving community of over 60 trailers, 40 families, and 150 people – all around the base of a single cell phone tower. The military had accessed the Orange tower to upgrade its on-the-ground tech: smaller devices for transmitting field images could now be routed via the tower, where GPS locations would be monitored and tracked.

From telephone wire towers to broadband servers, the Israeli occupying force had begun to remap the landscape with a new layer of control. Total command over cellular communication perfectly suited the pattern of isolating and cutting off non-members of the ethnic democracy – no information in or out – and of creating fresh pockets of settler homes. If Israel was the first to install internet black-outs and conduct raids on news agency servers – the age-old war tactic of cutting communications, retooled for the online era – India is now the world’s most frequent administrator of communications shutdowns. IOK suffers the most. The August 2019 blackout, which remained in place until March 2020, was record-breaking: a total of 213 days. A report by the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, published soon after, revealed there had been 226 internet shutdowns in J&K since 2012. In the years since, legal and tactical shifts have only made the shutdowns harder to track: legal wordplay says the internet is ‘choked’ rather than blocked; shutdowns are framed as ‘temporary’. But indeed they are more often than not seemingly endless, and ever recurring.

Israel’s foreign policy has served a specific function. Its international relations have been dependent on its ability to manufacture certain types of technology and equipment desirable to other nations – cutting a different path to the strong-arm tactics chosen by Western powers across the twentieth century. Israeli journalist Yossi Melman calls this ‘espionage diplomacy’, and it suits a state that leads in the production of spyware and cyber-weapons. Israel’s international relations have gradually strengthened over the years as nation-states across the world – from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, to Hungary and Poland – seek tools to surveil and police their civilian populations. Number one on this list of nations looking to benefit from Israel’s advanced cyberweapons is, of course, India. This is brought into sharper focus by India’s rapidly rising online population – as of the start of 2023 there are reportedly over 700 million active internet users in India who on average spend 6.5 hours online each day. All eyes of the global tech giants are on India. In early June 2023, Google, along with two investment and management companies, released projections that India’s ‘internet economy’ would hit $1 trillion by 2030.

This makes data-mining and policing activities online as important as, if not more than, surveiling people IRL. Enter Pegasus – spyware developed by an Israeli defence firm called NSO Group, which enables users to access the encrypted communications data of any type of smartphone. Pegasus was first released into the global market in 2011 and sold exclusively to intelligence agencies, ostensibly for investigations pertaining to organised crime syndicates, terrorist attacks, and trafficking. In one of its first publicised successes, Mexican authorities used Pegasus to capture the drug lord El Chapo. But even in its earliest days Pegasuswas being used to monitor civilian activities; the Mexican government was also spying on political dissidents and journalists. The UAE used Pegasus to thwart any inklings of protest movements, Saudi Arabia to track women’s rights activists and, more famously, the Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi (who was killed by Saudi agents in 2018). India was keen on the technology, and in 2021 the independent newspaper The Wire was one of the investigating bodies of ‘The Pegasus Project’ which broke the story of the extent of Pegasus’s capacity for surveillance.

Despite New Delhi’s insistence that the allegations of India’s use of the technology were ‘baseless’, Pegasus was found on hundreds of Indian phones, including leaders of the BJP’s opposition parties, journalists, activists and lawyers. Dozens of people from the Kashmir Valley – separatist leaders, human rights activists, journalists, politicians – were targeted.

Since its creation in 2011, Pegasus had grown ever more sophisticated. As smartphone technologies evolved, so did Pegasus, allowing for the remote access of all data stored on a phone: texts, emails, images, contacts, browsing histories.

Cameras and microphones could be externally activated and controlled, calls intercepted, and a phone’s location tracked. In 2016 NSO Group released an update called Phantom, the brochure for which – leaked by Vice – reads ‘Turn Your Target’s Smartphone into an Intelligence Gold Mine’. On the front page is a note that explains how a phone can be used to wiretap a room. ‘The Phantom Advantage’ the brochure continues, is essentially ‘unlimited access’ to a target.

Israel’s tactic of espionage diplomacy has also resulted in nation states subtly shifting their foreign policy to favour Israel, so that they may build strong enough bilateral relations to purchase defence technologies. Mexico and Panamafor instance, the New York Times reports, began to align their positions with Israel in key UN votes so they could access Pegasus.

By the 2000s, Israeli weapons companies were increasingly privatised, attracting foreign investment – particularly American – and especially to the largest growing sector of its economy: cyber weapons and surveillance infrastruc-ture, which had initiated a new industry worth billions of dollars. By the time Pegasus entered the global market, cyber weapons outvalued fighter jets in their strategic importance. NSO was born in 2010, in a former chicken coop just outside Tel Aviv. The owner of the building had realised that coders were more profitable than poultry. NSO moved in, and developed the first prototypes of what was to become Pegasus. From as early as the 1980s, a tenth of the Israeli workforce was already employed by the arms industry. Pegasus is classified by many as a ‘weapon’, and The Wire reported reported of a ‘strong possibility’ that Pegasus was obtained by India in 2017, when Modi first visited Tel Aviv.

‘I for I [. ..] which means India for Israel and Israel for India,’ Modi announced in Jerusalem during his 2017 visit. Soon after, a press release announced that a slew of Memoranda of Understanding had been signed by the Prime Ministers of the two Is. For instance, The India-Israel Industrial Research & Development and Innovation Fund (I4F) was inaugurated, with both countries pledging $20 million each; the Israel Space Agency and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) would deepen collaboration; and an India-Israel Joint Committee of Science and Technology would collaborate on healthcare research, first by swapping data. A joint statement announced that the two were committed to ‘bilateral defence cooperation’, meaning they would work together on building defence machineries, starting with imports of Israeli technology into India. Both Prime Ministers made special mentions on the dealings of terrorism, pledging a ‘strong commitment to combat it in all its forms and manifestations’. The two Is were to advise each other on matters of ‘Homeland and Public Security’.

Two years later, on 4 August 2019, as barricades sprang up in Srinagar, as officials insisted nothing was afoot, as the capital was cut up into small blocks with checkpoints, it was Israeli tactics that were being deployed: a tried and tested toolkit – the Israeli state an expert in how to manage, control, police, and disappear a population from within.


According to a report published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, since Modi took office in 2014, nearly 42 percent of all Israeli arms exports have been to India…