Arun Gandhi and the Question of Palestinian Nonviolence

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"It is my dream that one day Israelis and Palestinians in their thousands will pull down this wall that separates them."

The words were those of Arun Gandhi, grandson of the Mahatma Gandhi, addressing Palestinian and Israeli demonstrators last August at Israel's apartheid wall at Abu Dis.

The action was organized by Palestinians for Peace and Democracy, a small group of Palestinian Gandhians who asked Gandhi to join them. It was the first trip ever to the West Bank for the 70-year-old founder of the MK Gandhi Institute For Nonviolence. He was appalled at the way Palestinians were bottled up by the settlements, the checkpoints, the wall.

"Qalqilya, for instance, is completely surrounded by the wall," he told the Washington Report. "Farmers living along the wall are cut off from their lands. In a way it's even worse than the Bantustans were in South Africa. There, at least, where farmers had land, there were no walls to keep them from it."

Palestinians asked Gandhi, as the grandson of the man who led India's liberation struggle against the British, for advice about their own liberation struggle. That began a dialogue between friends about Gandhian nonviolence-a useful but difficult dialogue, as Gandhi and the Palestinians tended to have different interpretations of the meaning of nonviolence.

The Palestinian view perhaps can best be summarized by Hasan Abu Nimah, a Jordanian Palestinian, in an article in the March 30, 2005 Jordan Times. Abu Nimah quoted the late PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat as saying to Arab ambassadors at the European Parliament meeting of 1988: "From the first day of the intifada we took a decision not to use guns, and we are committed to that."

Abu Nimah went on to say: "At the 1993 Oslo accords, Arafat renounced violence once again, and made a commitment to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to resolve disputes solely by peaceful means. There were many such declarations."

None, Abu Nimah pointed out, brought the Palestinians nearer to a peaceful settlement, as Israel, instead of reciprocating, "interpreted the Palestinian commitment as a renunciation of even the basic right to selfdefense."

Gandhi responded to Abu Nimah's words, which he had heard often before, with words the Palestinians had heard often before from him.

"Palestinians think that so long as they are not using weapons they are practicing nonviolence," he said. "They think they can throw stones at Israeli soldiers and curse them, and that's okay. But true nonviolence means not showing anger, not provoking the Israelis. The objective of Gand; hian nonviolence is to appeal to the opponents' compassion, understanding and good sense. The belief in nonviolent action is that the opponent has a conscience, and if we appeal to his conscience, we can awaken it."

Gandhi was asked by this reporter if ahimsa (nonviolence), the spiritual core of his grandfather's campaign, with its roots in Indian soil, can be transported to the West Bank and Gaza. He was confident it could.

"All religions talk about nonviolence, love, respect," he noted. "True, the Western family of religions, for economic reasons, have tended to be more competitive, more violent than religions in the East. But ahimsa can be applied wherever there is conflict."

Contrary to media images, instances of nonviolence long have been a component of Palestinian resistance. …