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Gandhi's Peace Plan for Palestine

Gandhi's Peace Plan for Palestine

Issue 9 Jan / Feb 2005

In the cauldron and chaos referred to as the Middle East Conflict Arun Gandhi is not the first to call for peaceful civil disobedience as a means of resistance. However, he is perhaps the first to be listened to. Maybe it is the Mahatma bloodline which has immunised him to the cold cynicism which invariably follows such a suggestion, yet Arun Gandhi's message has an importance far beyond his surname.

"For the Palestinians war is suicidal. They don't have the power or the armaments to match the strength of Israel. Suicide bombings can easily be portrayed as terrorism, and in a world that is weary of terrorism people believe what the Israelis have projected and feel that Israel is justified in killing the Palestinians because they are terrorists. Thus violence is a no-win situation for Palestine."

His logic is strong, yet it is diffi cult to envisage how peaceful resistance could work given the ever escalating cycle of violence. However, Gandhi understands, like his grandfather before him, the power of the media; so when he calls for peaceful resistance he does not mean inaction. “It is diffi cult for an outsider to suggest exactly what would work, but imagine thousands of mothers anddaughters assembling outside the prisons. They would quietly, peacefully paralyse the place if they didn’t allow any movement of traffi c in that area day and night. Thousands of women can do this in relay, taking turns. That would get media and world attention.”He also suggests highlighting the plight of the Palestinian refugees in Jordan in the same way. “What if 50,000 men, women and children marched peacefully from Jordan to return to their homeland in the West Bank? Can Israel - in either case - kill thousands of innocent people who are unarmed and not threatening?”

A powerful question indeed and there will be people who will say “Yes!” but Gandhi is undeterred. “There is no reason to believe that the Israelis have no conscience or that they are inhuman.” Treating one another as human beings is a recurrent theme in Gandhi’s discourse, as is forging links. “We have to learn to build relationships that are based not on selfi shness or self-interest but on respect, understanding, acceptance and appreciation. We must learn to respect different religions and different cultures and not be judgmental, even if they are different from what we practice. If we can tolerate people of difference when we do business with them why can’t we tolerate them as human beings?”

Not surprisingly Gandhi has come in for criticism from all sides. Many Israeli commentators were angry that he met with Yasser Arafat, but Gandhi is unrepentant. “Unless one meets all parties to a dispute how can you resolve it peacefully? The idea that some people are evil and must be shunned is wrong. In non-violence there is no enemy. When we brand people as enemies or evil and either shun them or destroy them, we are destroying ourselves in the process. It is impossible to kill someone without killing a little bit of yourself.”

Beyond the critics, others have commended Gandhi for being well meaning but reject his ideas as naïve. He himself is happy to be called naïve. “If respecting people as human beings and trying to work for peaceful solutions is being naive then I am proud of being naive. I would rather be naive than be a tyrant or a monster.”

Yet a look at his grasp of the issues is anything but naïve. Non-violent resistance relies on a calculated sacrifi ce and the reaction of others to that sacrifi ce. “Gandhi was successful because he was able to arouse world opinion and sympathy through non-violent suffering. When the world saw how the Indians were quietly suffering because of the British atrocities, the world raised a hue and cry. That is the strength of non-violent action. The world was not sympathetic to the plight of the Indians before Gandhi started his campaign, and the British just did not know how to deal with a highly moral struggle.”

The campaigns of Gandhi the grandfather are well recorded in history. They were based on the concept of Satyagraha, “the force of truth”, which he believed removed the need for the force of violence. Arun Gandhi believes the Palestinians have “the force of truth” on their side, and underlines their right to a homeland. However, he himself dislikes states based solely on religion. “The Palestinians have a right to a homeland as much as the Jews have a right to a homeland. For either to deny the other their right is wrong. But I don’t believe that states should  be exclusivist – rather respect all religions and allow all religions to practice their beliefs freely without let or hindrance.”

If the force of truth is with the Palestinians they still need training according to Gandhi in the workings of non-violent resistance. “No one is ever ready for peaceful or violent resistance. In each case the people have to prepare themselves, train themselves and make an effort to achieve their goal. We do not equip young men and send them off to the battlefi eld without any training. Similarly, unless there is a concerted effort in training the Palestinian people in non-violent protest they will never be ready.”

It is hard to see where such training is going to come from. With the death of Arafat the leadership of the Palestinians is uncertain, and Gandhi is unsure how the chips will fall. “Perhaps the vacuum will be fi lled with fresh air and new insights if a solution is what everyone wants. But it can also be more of the same if everyone is determined to kill each other. For a solution to work there has to be a great deal of give and take with genuine commitment and compassion.”

Gandhi has a great deal of commitment and compassion, and an awful lot of optimism. “There is not a conflict in the world that cannot be resolved if there is a will and a desire to do so.” The big question is will he be listened to? “I don’t know. That is not my main concern. My job is to help people understand better ways and I must do it in whatever manner I can. I am not trying to equate myself with them but I do wonder about the great people of the past - like Jesus, the Prophet Muhammad and others. Did they fi rst try to find out how many people would listen to them before they began preaching? I think then they would still be waiting. People will listen and understand only when you talk. If you don’t talk how will people know? The violence we see in the world is because we subscribe to the culture of violence. We fi ght fi rst and talk afterwards.”

One can only wish Gandhi well. The late Professor Ismail Faruqi described Jerusalem as the “key to world peace.” It remains to be seen whether Arun Gandhi’s ideas can unpick the lock.


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