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Dr. Gandhi in the Holy Land

Am Johal | 31.08.2004 12:57 | Anti-racism | Repression | Social Struggles | London | World

Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, visited Israel and Palestine this past week.

Ramallah – The firetruck at the edge of the football
pitch was being used to spray water on the gathering
crowd. It was hot in midday Ramallah, but there were
a few vendors from Rukab’s ice cream milling about in
traditional clothes. Women were walking down the
hillside towards the political rally with pictures of
the dead. The Palestinians were waving the national
flag as the loudspeakers were blaring Arabic music in
anticipation of Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson. In the
world’s longest running international relations chess
match known as the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, Dr.
Gandhi’s visit left a ripple. He told the
Palestinians not to respond to Israeli aggression and
to set their own agenda. The night before he had
quoted Napoleon saying, “the general who holds the
initiative wins the war.”

As Dr. Arun Gandhi took to the stage with the Mufti of
Jerusalem, a representative from the Greek Orthodox
Church and others from the Palestinian Authority and
human rights organizations behind him, the audience
had reached over 5,000. He came with a message of
non-violence, as he had done the night before at the
Ambassador Hotel in East Jerusalem, and told the
crowd, “Freedom is our birthright.”

The crowd had arrived on buses from the villages
throughout the West Bank in support of the prisoner’s
hunger strike for better conditions that was closing
in on its second week. Earlier in the month,
activists had marched through the West Bank from Jenin
to Jerusalem in a Freedom March.

Dr. Gandhi, head of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for
Nonviolence in the United States, told the crowd that
in this Holy Land where Moses, Jesus and Mohammed
roamed, Jews and Arabs needed to learn to live
together and that they should learn from South Africa
and India.

Gandhi spoke about how his grandfather had been
politicized by the 1919 massacre in Amritsar, India
when General Dyer’s British troops fired into a
protesting crowd and killed over 300 people. General
Dyer had ordered medical personnel not to treat the
injured for 72 hours. Non-British people were ordered
by troops to crawl on the sidewalks and were whipped
publicly. Mohandas Gandhi later said, “We cannot do
to the British, what they did to us. Let us liberate
them from their colonialism.”

Mahatmi Gandhi had originally been invited to
Palestine in 1931 when stories of his non-violent
methods in resisting the British had reached the
Middle East.

Dr. Gandhi told the crowd that they should not protest
violently, that they needed to be better than their
oppressors if they wanted to establish real change.
Instead they needed to channel their anger into a
popular non-violent struggle that had long term

He cited further examples of non-violent resistance
such as when the protesting German spouses of Jewish
prisoners won the release of their partners from a
Berlin prison after the Nazi troops refused to fire on
them. He also gave a Norwegian example of how
teachers had refused to implement the Nazi curriculum.

Dr. Gandhi’s visit came as South African law professor
John Dugard, the special rapporteur for the United
Nations on the situation of human rights in the
Palestinian Territories wrote in a report to the UN
General Assembly that there is “an apartheid regime”in
the territories “worse than the one that existed in
South Africa.”

This was also the week that Israel announced 1,500 new
housing units in West Bank settlements despite all the
talk of the Gaza withdrawal. With the US led Roadmap
to Peace dead in its tracks, the facts on the ground
shifting towards Israeli expansionism in the West Bank
and all the supporting infrastructure that it entails,
over 4,000 dead Palestinians and Israelis since the
outbreak of violence in October 2000, some believe
there is a vacuum building in how to respond
effectively to the Occupation.

After the assassination of Hamas leaders Sheikh Yassin
and Abdel Rantisi earlier this year, Israel has
continued to beat down violent forces in the
territories and expand its holdings in Jerusalem and
the West Bank. The ground has shifted so far from
even the Camp David Accords that Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon and his Likud faction is openly engaged in a
land grab with tacit US support. Despite the recent
International Court of Justice decision condemning
Israel’s construction of the Separation Wall, and the
Supreme Court’s decision to reroute part of the wall
which runs through Palestinian territory, there is
still wide ranging and legitimate evidence to suggest
that Israel has effectively annexed the southern West
Bank south of Jerusalem, is expanding its territory in
Jerusalem and has engaged in further land confiscation
through methods including home demolitions, taking
over territory for bypass roads, new settlement
construction and infrastructure development to service
the expansion.

In the name of upholding Israeli security, they have
solidified the Occupation on the ground through the
use of bombs, tanks, bulldozers, movement
restrictions, construction of the Separation Wall and
through coercive methods of information gathering from

It came as a surprise to many this week when Attorney
General Menachem Mazuz, responding to the fallout from
the International Court of Justice decision on the
Separation Wall, recommended that Israel consider
adopting the Fourth Geneva Convention which outlines
responsibilities under international law for an
Occupying power of a civilian population under its
control. If Israel proceeded with the Attorney
General’s recommendation, there would be greater
enforcement mechanisms for violations of international
human rights law and humanitarian law. Israel still
contends that it is not an Occupying force because the
international community never officially recognized
Egyptian and Jordanian rule over the Gaza Strip and
the West Bank and as such, is not violating any
international agreements it has signed on to.

Dr. Gandhi spoke often of the civil rights movement in
the United States and the Apartheid system in South
Africa in the context of the 37 year Israeli
Occupation. Dr.Gandhi’s own father spent fifteen
years in jails in South Africa fighting against

“The first intifada was a better success because it
involved the whole Palestinian population and it
brought the masses to the streets,” said Mohammed
Alatar, leader of the US group Palestinians for Peace
and Democracy and one of the organizers of Dr.Gandhi’s
trip with East Jerusalem principal Terry Boulata and
another Ramallah based peace group formed after the
International Court of Justice decision regarding the
Separation Wall at The Hague.

The night before, a person in the audience at the
Ambassador Hotel welcomed Dr. Gandhi’s message and
said, “When you combine the power of popular
non-violent resistance with the enforcement of
international law, it can be very effective in
bringing about change.”

Am Johal


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  1. Consider what's required to wear the label: "Pro-Palestinian." — Clifford D. May
  2. breaking news — rep