Gorenberg’s Fantasy of Palestinian Non-Violence
Gershom Gorenberg has done a Tom Friedman on us. This immensely intelligent and incisive commentator on the Israeli-Arab conflict has written a fantasy which imagines a Ghandiesque Palestinian non-violent campaign of resistance to the Occupation which succeeds in bringing down the hated Israeli system and replacing it with peace. It’s really worthy of late-career Friedman, an example of someone who encourages their imagination to reel off scenarios which it would like to be true, but which haven’t half a chance in Hell of coming anywhere close to being so.
It’s no accident that this was published in a publication founded by Bill Kristol, one of the bell-weathers of the neocon movement. Who else would be as interested in the trite question on the lips of liberal and rightist supporters of Israel everywhere: Why is there no Palestinian Gandhi?
After spinning such a wild scenario leading to an Israeli prime minister agreeing to negotiate for peace with a Palestinian Gandhi as a result of a single non-violent march from Ramallah to the Al Aqsa mosque, Gorenberg writes a telling statement:
To sit in my study in Jerusalem and to imagine recording this chronology as a historian is to be filled with the wild hope that fantasy can bring and with the pain of knowing it is fantasy.
There is nothing wrong with HAVING such a fantasy. But there is something wrong with believing that such fantasies are tough enough or real enough to deserve to see the light of day.
Here is the basic presentation of his thesis, which includes within it the reason why it is a fatally flawed premise (at least Gorenberg has the honesty to include this):
So why not adopt the strategy of nonviolent civil disobedience, the methods of Gandhi? That question has been asked for years, by moderate Israelis and by Westerners with sympathy for both sides. It comes packed with assumptions. It implies that Israelis accept a civilian death toll like that in Gaza only when they believe it is the unavoidable price of self-defense. It presumes that Israel remains a society whose citizens would not long allow their government to use deadly force against masses of nonviolent demonstrators. And it suggests that if Palestinians succeeded in shedding the image of terrorists and appeared internationally as saints, they would succeed in bringing unbearable Western pressure against Israel.
But even if patronizing, the question remains valid: Sainthood can work. Britain abandoned India; Montgomery’s buses were desegregated.
Yes, indeed. The notion is patronizing. Why would anyone in their right mind presume that Israel would NOT use deadly and massive force against masses of nonviolent Palestinian demonstrators? Of course it would and it has. The truth of the matter is that Israel is not colonial Britain. 1948 is light years removed from 2009. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has coarsened both sides to the point that an Israeli would just as soon kill a Palestinian as look at him (and vice versa).
The analogy to Martin Luther King’s non-violent campaign for civil rights is also flawed as I’ve written here before. In that situation, the American South was not a discrete country and so could not go its own way. It was part of a nation that ultimately became horrified by the evil acts of segregationist thugs. The conscience of Americans outside the South eventually impelled national political leaders to act. And the jig was up.
There is unfortunately no longer (if there ever was) an Israeli conscience regarding Palestinian rights or ending the Occupation. The Israeli left is either dead or in suspended animation. The values it used to represent are no longer ones embraced (at least consciously) by most Israelis. In short, it is simply impossible to rouse Israel’s conscience to the justice of the Palestinian struggle. As hard as it is for me as a progressive Zionist to write this, such a non-violent march as the one described by Gorenberg would be met with massive and lethal force. Scores, if not hundreds would die. Demonstrators would be scattered to the winds. The Israeli government would call them rabble-rousing Arab scum who entered a closed military zone in order to deliberately provoke the IDF to act. They’ll say they got what they deserved. And hardly anyone but the usual suspects within Israel will raise a peep in dissent.
The truth of the matter is that there ARE Palestinian Gandhis, peace activists who adopt a non-violent approach to confronting the Occupation. Among the most prominent are Mustafa Barghouti, Sari Nusseibeh, Mubarak Awad (who he mentions), Sam Bahour and many others. But there is no figure comparable in stature or influence to Mahatma Gandhi. And that is hardly the fault of the Palestinians. For the plain fact of the matter is that Israel is no Imperial Britain as Paul Woodward makes clear in his sharp critique:
…The parallels between British India and Israel are beyond tenuous.
Gandhi’s resistance to British rule galvanized the support of a massive population governed by a tiny colonial elite who never had the pretense that Britain was reclaiming a long-lost homeland. To the British, India was a land brimming with resources that could be shipped back to the actual homeland and traded for handsome profits. By the end of World War Two, Britain was bankrupt and in a rush to free itself of what had become its colonial burdens. With or without a gentle shove from the Mahatma, the sun had already set on the British Empire.
As for Gandhi’s nominal success in non-violently waving goodbye to colonial rule, we should not forget that it was accompanied by the horrific failure of partition and a bloodbath in which as many as a million people died.
Returning to the idea that Gorenberg’s notion is “patronizing,” I find it astonishing that I only hear this question raised by liberal or rightist Israel supporters. The assumptions behind it are illuminating. The notion that if only there were a Palestinian Gandhi presumes that Palestinians are a people which has made a conscious, deliberate and intentional choice to embrace violence. It accompanies a whose series of prejudicial notions that Arabs are angry, violent and treacherous. And if only they embraced non-violence, that this would resonate so with the good-will of the Israeli public that the walls of hatred would topple and everything would be for the best in this best of all possible worlds.
Further, let’s turn this notion on its head (some of my thinking on this was inspired by Svend White’s post): where is the Israeli Gandhi? What major Israeli figure has embraced non-violence and come anywhere near creating a viable political movement? Sure, there have been the Abie Nathans and Menachem Fromans and we salute them for their enormous courage. But Israelis view them as Don Quixotes, good-hearted visionaries perhaps a bit soft in the head, rather than as hard-headed, practical leaders able to forge a mass movement like Gandhi or King.
Gorenberg himself seems to recognize the limitations of his enterprise here:
…To imagine Nasser a-Din al-Masri [the Palestinian Gandhi] is disturbing for another reason: This is a fantasy of a political savior who comes from the adversary’s side because one’s own has no answers. Israeli politics has become a junkyard of broken ideologies…We have failed to manufacture hope. Let the Palestinians do it.
In my view, Israeli supporters have absolutely no right to place the onus on the Palestinians by saying: “if only they embraced peace then Israel would surely respond in kind.” This is a hopelessly romantic notion and a deeply deluded and destructive one as well. If we’ve learned anything at all about this conflict and the nature of the two peoples, it is that neither has the right to demand of the other something it can’t or won’t do itself.
So if there is no accompanying movement for non-violence from Israel, there can and should be no expectation of the Palestinians. I also find it immensely hypocritical that a people which has chosen to use massive amounts of force to maintain its evil, illegal Occupation of millions of Palestinians should complain that the other side doesn’t embrace non-violence. I’d say when the IDF and Israeli leaders show they can embrace restraint, that is the moment when we should expect this of Palestinians.
One of the more telling passages in Gorenberg’s piece is this one which attempts to explain why neither Israeli nor Palestinians have ever taken to the path of strict non-violence:
Neither Palestinians nor Israelis are unusual for using deadly weapons to achieve political goals, or for making warriors into heroes. What may make Palestinians and Israelis stand out is the overwhelming place of victimhood in their national memories. In very different ways, the experience of powerlessness made picking up the gun a goal for both–an end, not just a means.
But despite this acuity, he insists on lapsing back into wishful thinking here:
…To conduct negotiations successfully with Israel, the Palestinians need a means other than arms to create pressure and “gravitational pull.” If once-sacred values have failed, the time seems ripe for a heresy. Perhaps, at last, there could be the opening for nonviolence.
Once again, this is a total pipe dream without an accompanying call from Israelis and there is no such call.
In appealing to the “great man” theory of history, Gorenberg, a religious Jew, seems to be appealing to a supernatural or romantic ideal to bring him such a hero to lead Palestinians (and Israelis) out of their valley of despair to the Promised Land of peace:
What is lacking …is a “charismatic leader,” the figure who pulls crowds after him…The great-man theory of history has been maligned, but [it] is right.
This is a cop-out. How often in history do we get Gandhis or Martin Luther Kings (or Obamas)? Putting faith in a great man to get us out of the jam we have gotten ourselves into is a recipe for eternal hopelessness. I’m afraid, imperfect as the rest of us are, we will need to do the job ourselves (or not do it at all).
It is telling and interesting that in his search for the “mythical” missing man, he overlooks someone who is actually a real flesh and blood figure: Marwan Barghouti (“At the end of a search for a missing man, I can imagine him. Earlier in his life, he would have believed in armed struggle. He would have acted on that belief and served time in an Israeli jail–so that he fit the myth before he sought to change it and so that his own life embodies what he asks of his followers.”) Now, I am not saying that Barghouti believes in non-violence or that he is by any means a holy figure or even the perfect leader. All leaders, both Palestinian and Israeli seem immensely flawed.
But Barghouti is someone who could unify both Palestinian factions. Someone who, like Mandela, spent years in the jails of the enemy, who speaks his language, understands his psychological identity, both its strengths and weaknesses. Until he is released from prison, we will not know whether Barghouti is just another corruptible thug, or a powerful leader with a vision for ending the conflict and securing his people’s future.
But the fact that Gorenberg concludes his article imagining a mythical man, when there is a real one (albeit not one committed philosophically to non-violence) right in front of him betrays the severe limitations of his thesis that a solution for the conflict lies only in the hands of an imagined national champion of non-violence.
Finally, and perhaps most decisively, we should remember the fates of both Gandhi and Martin Luther King, who fell to the bullets of those who didn’t quite share their faith in the non-violent ideal. Does Gershom Gorenberg or any Israeli have the right to even suggest that Palestinians should lay their lives down for an ideal not embraced in any significant way by Israelis?
Lest anyone get the wrong idea, I do not embrace or sanction violence. I was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War and detest the notion that violence or war successfully resolves conflicts. My devoutest wish would be for Palestinian AND Israeli Gandhis together to lead such a non-violent protest march ending in a triumphant entry into Jerusalem. But this is a vision for Messianic times I am afraid, and not for the rather horrid times in which we live.
36 thoughts on “Gorenberg’s Fantasy of Palestinian Non-Violence – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم”
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This is a terrific analysis. I’m not sure that Israel would use massive lethal force against nonviolent protest marches, but it is an established fact that it has repeatedly used as much force as it believed necessary–sometimes fatal, usually not– to suppress nonviolent resistance. Moreover, during periods in which Palestinian resistance in fact has largely non-violent, or at least unarmed–that is, between intifadahs–Israel has simply expanded and consolidated its settlements and other manifestations of the occupation. None other than Shlomo Ben-Ami, the Israeli foreign minister under the Barak government, has written that Israel has moved from its intransigence ONLY as a result of wars that have demonstrated the price of continued intransigence has been too high–as in its withdrawals from the Sinai in the 1970s and Lebanon in 2002.
This does NOT demonstrate, however, that continued Palestinian violence is the only way to get Israel to end the occupation today. Leaving Sinai and Lebanon, and even to some extent Gaza was one thing–forcing Israel to withdraw from land it has always regarded as rightfully its own is another. I’m afraid that this leads to the dreadful conclusion that nothing works for the Palestinians: Israel will repress both violence and nonviolence.
Interesting. I read his book “Accidental Empire” and he made the occupation sound relatively benign for the occupied and made it sound as if the building of the illegal settlements was indeed an accident instead of planned well in advance.
It was only when I read Akiva Eldar’s Lords of the Land that it became more truthful.
RE: “What is lacking …is a “charismatic leader,” the figure who pulls crowds after him…”
Hah, good one.
In 1949 George Orwell wrote for ‘Partisan Review’ an article entitled ‘Reflections on Gandhi’. One can find it in the 4th vol. of the paperback edition of his ‘Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters’.
If one looks there for a straightforward answer to the question whether Gandhian methods are effective against repression one looks in vain. Orwell left the question largely open.
He was quite sure, however, that they wouldn’t work in a totalitarian society. He wrote: ‘ …he believed in ‘arousing the world’, which is only possible if the world gets a chance to hear what you are doing. It is difficult to see how Gandhi’s methods could be applied in a country where opponents of the regime disappear in the middle of the night and are never heard of again. Without a free press and the right of assembly, it is impossible not merely to appeal to outside opinion, but to bring a mass movement into being, or even to make your intentions known to your adversary.’
One could contend that, though in Israel Palestinian opponents of the regime do disappear in the middle of the night or, rather, are often liquidated on the spot, there is such a thing there as a free press and that the country is under the glare of international publicity. From that point of view then a Palestinian Gandhi would have a chance.
But here we arrive at another of Orwell’s strictures. He wrote: ‘Moreover the assumption, which served Gandhi so well in dealing with individuals, that all human beings are more or less approachable and will respond to a generous gesture, needs to be seriously questioned. It is not necessarily true, for example, when you are dealing with lunatics. Then the question becomes: Who is sane? Was Hitler sane? And is it not possible for one whole culture to be insane by the standards of another? ‘
This question seems to be particularly apposite in the case of Israel because have some panjandrums there not recently referred to the necessity of their country being regarded as a ‘mad dog’, liable to come up with the most violent reactions if disturbed? And is there much difference between being actually mad or only desiring that one is regarded as such?
For Jews there is a disturbing passage in Orwell’s story. It occurs when he mentions that before and during the Second World War pacifists of a Gandhian persuasion were put on the spot or ought to have been so with the question: ‘What about the Jews? Are you prepared to see them exterminated? If not, how do you propose to save them without resorting to war?’ ‘It so happens’, wrote Orwell, ‘that Gandhi was asked a somewhat similar question in 1938 and that his answer is on record in Mr Louis Fisher’s Gandhi and Stalin. According to Mr Fisher Gandhi’s view was that the German Jews ought to commit collective suicide, which ‘would have aroused the world and the people of Germany to Hitler’s violence.’ After the war he justified himself: the Jews had been killed anyway, and might as well have died significantly.’
“One has the impression’ Orwell continued ‘that this attitude even staggered so warm an admirer as Mr Fischer, but Gandhi was merely being honest. If you are not prepared to take life, you must often be prepared for lives to be lost in some other way. When, in 1942, he urged non-violent resistance against a Japanese invasion, he was ready to admit that it might cost several million deaths.’
To return to the Palestinian cause: it is clear that the measure Gandhi recommended in the case of the German Jews has more the nature of an ethical commandment than that of a political strategy. What is the point of a strategy when you all end up being dead albeit ‘in a significant way’? In the overall scheme of things it might have indeed contributed to a somewhat earlier and clearer view of the nature of the Nazist regime but the Palestinians hardly have to sacrifice themselves collectively to achieve a similar effect in the case of Israel. The regime has already done plenty along that line itself.
Thank you. That’s very illuminating.
But the complication here is that ISRAEL has a (more or less) free press and (more or less) democratic values. But the Territories do not. And our Palestinian Gandhi would not live under the rules of Israel. He would live under the Occupation. He would be subject to all the repression that the IDF could mount. Though the Occupation isn’t precisely the same as a totalitarian society, it’s pretty close. So I think that is another pt. that militates against a Palestinian Gandhi. Though it is true that our P.G. would have some access to Israeli press and the Israeli public. It wouldn’t be the same as if he WAS an Israeli and had direct access to those levers of dissent & political power.
A good counterargument to the Palestinian Gandhi or Mandela demand is that Israel has not had their Clement Attlee or Pieter Willem Botha. No Israeli leader has had a clear “vision” of the fair solution. During the last decades when Israeli leaders have spoken about peace and negotiated with Palestinians they on the same time have done everything that there can’t be a two state solution which includes West Bank.
The notion that Israel is and has been building new settlements and Jews-only roads on Palestinians land because there is no Palestinian “Gandhi” and Palestinians resist sometimes violently the development is hilarious.
SimoHurtta wrote: “A good counterargument to the Palestinian Gandhi or Mandela demand is that Israel has not had their Clement Attlee or Pieter Willem Botha. No Israeli leader has had a clear “vision” of the fair solution. During the last decades when Israeli leaders have spoken about peace and negotiated with Palestinians they on the same time have done everything that there can’t be a two state solution which includes West Bank.”
Actually did you mean F.W. DeKlerk, as it was he who freed Mandela and ended apartheid? Anyway, while the Israelis have not had such a leader who was willing to settle with the Palestinians, suppose IDF forces opened fire on thousands of Palestinians peacefully marching or sitting on the ground blocking destruction of their homes, slaughtering many of them? If this would have made no impression on Israel’s leaders, wouldn’t it have on the American people as it is this country that supplies Israel with $3 billion in aid every year? Wouldn’t Israel’s leaders end up succumbing to pressure from the U.S.? I’m just suggesting this. Maybe such a non-violent movement wouldn’t have worked in this situation.
Richard, this is a very interesting column that you wrote.
if the American public is not roused by 1400 civilians killed, by white phosphorous, by weapons that if they don’t kill cause organ failure, by not allowing medics to get to the wounded, by firing on people with white flags….
By what stretch of the imagination do you wonder if they would be roused by Israel firing on mass demonstrators??
if the American public is not roused by 1400 civilians killed, by white phosphorous, by weapons that if they don’t kill cause organ failure, by not allowing medics to get to the wounded, by firing on people with white flags….
“By what stretch of the imagination do you wonder if they would be roused by Israel firing on mass demonstrators??”
Ellen, Actually public opinion polls did show that the public is about evenly split now because of what Israel did, whereas in the past public opinion sided more with Israel. The recent situation has even had an effect on Jewish-Americans, as it’s been noted even here that a recent J Street poll shows that 69% of American Jews say that there must be a Palestinian Hamas-Fatah unity government and that the U.S. and Israel must talk with Hamas. In my previous remarks, I did say that maybe such a non-violent movement wouldn’t have worked in this situation.
Would this work? I don’t know. But, what is being done right now sure is not working. So, I am not willing to wipe suggestions away.
Wishful thinking or not, what has violence gotten the Palestinians? Really!? Other than an excuse for Israeli atrocities against their people, what do the Palestinians get for their violent resistance. What life has been restored, which childhood, which dunam of land was reclaimed, whose citizenship?
On the other end, one could argue whole sale violence and rebellion has never been tried either.
The mismatched models have been there consistently, violence and peaceful movements together and one cannot make headway for the other. But, will it stop. Well, I have heard tell that Jews say 2 Jews, 3 opinions. Living in a Palestinian family, it is my opinion they are not much different.
What he touches on is right, Palestinians need a leader. Lets be realistic about the IDF’s goals in the territories; it is to hold the land until the state says it is time to relinquish it. The military will do this by every power available to it until that time. This means targeting the structures of Palestinian leadership building that may lead to efforts to undermine their objectives through an organized rebellion. So, are leaders needed? Yes. Is there much that can be done about it? Probably not, unless they are willing to accept from the diaspora. Or, a charismatic leader appears. Is it Barghouti? I don’t know, but he may save Fatah from itself.
I do agree with you that a peaceful march from Ramallah to Al-Aqsa would be challenged. I believe, however, if there was no violence by Palestinians, Israeli’s would not have the mantra of threat to hide behind, and it would hit their asset transfers from the West. Before that would take effect, there would be several blood baths. I equally think that overtime, without violence, Israeli sense of threat will loosen their minds to reflect on their government’s actions in their names within the context of their own religious morality. Once again, that would not be immediate.
If anyone in the Palestine does takes on this idea, I would suggest making sure they invite a high-profile Westerner to walk in front of the line. One that would draw many cameras and that would bring consequences for IDF fire.
In fact, I would say start with a walk from Manger Square to the Holy Sepulcher. Invite the Pope and archbishops of several churches and any other leader/celebrity you can think of. It is a shorter distance, but anyone having to pass the way a Palestinian does, knows it is a big pain. Christianity is a lesser religion there, but it plays to the audience that could put pressure where the Israeli electorate seems unwilling.
I used to believe that. But I’m not sure of your last phrase “until it is time to relinquish it.” Does Israeli policy believe there will ever be such a time? My sense is “No.”
Mr. Silverstein says: ” Does Israeli policy believe there will ever be such a time? My sense is ‘No.'”.
I would agree. But, the state and its policies can change through either constraint of its electorate (in a democracy) or a shift in the nations relative position of power in the international system.
“the state and its policies can change through either constraint of its electorate (in a democracy) …”
I don’t think that continuing to maintain a military dictatorship over millions in your own backyard while stealing their lands is something that falls within the legit realm of democratic decision-making.
Good point. But, your key word was, ” own backyard “. Not inside its social contract, though I do think Israeli Arabs need a civil rights movement.
One could argue as well, that states act within a Hobbesian state of nature. At least, that is the theory. Their conduct toward people in the international system does not reflect their social contract with their citizens or the nature of the internal state workings. Under the current system, if Israeli citizens did decide to end the Occupation, they could do so by voting out the governments in place and voting in those with a committed to ending the Occupation. And, if they see the business where they unilaterally withdraw, like Gaza, but do not meet the legal standards for having “freed” the area, they could punish the government by voting it out. They have not done so. Thus, the government seems to reflect the will of the people at the moment, making it a democracy. Not a very honorable one, but one that meets the measurable standards for it.
I would also note that Israel has very intentionally not given Palestinians of the OCT citizenship so that it can maintain it can maintain being a Jewish state and a democracy. Both would be lost if they gave citizenship to those they control.
It would be interesting to read this article written by Mahatma Gandhi in the year 1938 about Palestine and a Homeland for Jews!
Mahatma Gandhi on Palestine ~ written in 1938
The Jews In Palestine ~ By Mahatma Gandhi
Published in the Harijan on 26-11-1938.
Several letters have been received by me, asking me to declare my views about the Arab-Jew question in Palestine and the persecution of the Jews in Germany. It is not without hesitation that I venture to offer my views on this very difficult question.
My sympathies are all with the Jews. I have known them intimately in South Africa. Some of them became lifelong companions. Through these friends I came to learn much of their age long persecution. They have been the untouchables of Christianity. The parallel between their treatment by Christians and the treatment of untouchables by Hindus is very close.
Religious sanction has been invoked in both cases for the justification of the inhuman treatment meted out to them. Apart from the friendships, therefore, there is the more common universal reason for my sympathy for the Jews. But my sympathy does not blind me to the requirements of justice.
The cry for the national home for the Jews does not make much appeal to me. The sanction for it is sought in the Bible and the tenacity with which the Jews have hankered after return to Palestine.
Why should they not, like other peoples of the earth, make that country their home where they are born and where they earn their livelihood?
Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs. What is going on in Palestine today cannot be justified by any moral code of conduct. The mandates have no sanction but that of the last war. Surely it would be a crime against humanity to reduce the proud Arabs so that Palestine can be restored to the Jews partly or wholly as their
national home. The nobler course would be to insist on a just treatment of the Jews wherever they are born and bred. The Jews born in France are French in precisely the same sense that Christians born in France are French.
If the Jews have no home but Palestine, will they relish the idea of being forced to leave the other parts of the world in which they are settled?
Or do they want a double home where they can remain at will? This cry for the national home affords a colorable justification for the German expulsion of the Jews. But the German persecution of the Jews seems to have no parallel in history. The tyrants of old never went so mad as Hitler seems to have gone. And he is doing it with religious zeal. For, he is propounding a new religion of exclusive and militant nationalism in the name of which any inhumanity becomes an act of humanity to be rewarded here and hereafter.
The crime of an obviously mad but intrepid youth is being visited upon his whole race with unbelievable ferocity. If there ever could be a justifiable war in the name of and for humanity, a war against Germany to prevent the wanton persecution of a whole race, would be completely justified. But I do not believe in any war. A discussion of the pros and cons of such a war is, therefore, outside my horizon or province.
But if there can be no war against Germany, even for such a crime as is being committed against the Jews, surely there can be no alliance with Germany. How can there be alliance between a nation, which claims to stand for justice and democracy and one, which is the declared enemy of both? Or is England drifting towards armed dictatorship and all it means?
Germany is showing to the world how efficiently violence can be worked when it is not hampered by any hypocrisy or weakness masquerading as humanitarianism.It is also showing how hideous, terrible and terrifying it looks in its nakedness.Can the Jews resist this organized and shameless persecution? Is there a way to preserve their self-respect, and not to feel helpless, neglected and forlorn? I submit there is. No person who has faith in a living God need feel helpless or forlorn. Jehovah of the Jews is a God more personal than the God of the Christians, the Mussalmans or the Hindus, though as a matter of fact, in essence, He is common to all and one without a second and beyond description. But as the Jews attribute personality to God and believe that He rules every action of theirs, they ought not to feel helpless.
If I were a Jew and were born in Germany and earned my livelihood there, I would claim Germany as my home even as the tallest gentile German might, and challenge him to shoot me or cast me in the dungeon; I would refuse to be expelled or to submit to discriminating treatment. And for doing this I should not wait for! the fellow Jews to join me in civil resistance, but would have confidence that in the end the rest were bound to follow my example…. …
And now a word to the Jews in Palestine. I have no doubt that they are going about it in the wrong way. The Palestine of the Biblical conception is not a geographical tract. It is in their hearts. But if they must look to the Palestine of geography as their national home, it is wrong to enter it under the shadow of the British gun. A religious act cannot be performed with the aid of the bayonet or the bomb. They can settle in Palestine only by the goodwill of the Arabs. They should seek to convert the Arab heart.
The same God rules the Arab heart who rules the Jewish heart… They will find the world opinion in their favor in their religious aspiration. There are hundreds of ways of reasoning with the Arabs, if they will only discard the help of the British bayonet. As it is, they are co-sharers with the British in despoiling a people who have done no wrong to them. I am not defending the Arab excesses. I wish they had chosen the way of non-violence in resisting what they rightly regarded as an unwarrantable encroachment upon their country. But according to the accepted canons of right and wrong,
nothing can be said against the Arab resistance in the face of
Let the Jews who claim to be the chosen race prove their title by choosing the way of non-violence for vindicating their position on earth. Every country is their home, including Palestine, not by aggression but by loving service. A Jewish friend has sent me a book called The Jewish Contribution to Civilization by Cecil Roth. It gives a record of what the Jews have done to enrich the world’s literature, art, music, drama, science, medicine, agriculture, etc. Given the will, the Jew can refuse to be treated as the outcast of the West, to be despised or patronized. He can command the attention and respect of the world by being the chosen creation of God, instead of sinking to the brute who is forsaken by God. They can add to their many contributions the surpassing contribution of non-violent action.
Sruti, thanks for bringing this important article!
It shows that the Mahatma’s thought’s in 1938 are more relevant and realistic even in 2009, than all present-day “mainstream” pundits.
Welcome, Assaf! I thought it would be good for people discussing ‘Palestine and Gandhi’ to read Gandhi’s writing in 1938 about Palestine and Jewish homeland.
El Papa is going to Israel soon.
If he was to undertake a very public walk from Manger Square in Bethlehem to the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (about 6 miles @ 3 miles per hour = 2 hours), he would expose to the world the whole horrendous and very parochial control the Israelis have inflicted on their indigenous natives.
Perhaps if the Jews had followed Gandhi’s advice and committed suicide, there would be no Israel-Palestine problem, and the world would be at peace. However yu slice it in Gandhi’s formulation, Hitler would be the winner. Perhaps Gandhi thought Hitler was onto something
I must object to your (mis)interpretation of Mahatma Gandhi’s advice to Jews and must request you to read his 1938 letter/article again. He has not the slightest advised Jews to give up or commit suicide or anything remotely similar!
He wrote “My sympathies are all with the Jews. I have known them intimately in South Africa. Some of them became lifelong companions. Through these friends I came to learn much of their age long persecution. ……….. But my sympathy does not blind me to the requirements of justice.”
He was all for Jews gaining their place and rights in their own native countries and disapproved of Jews snatching lands of Palestinians to right the wrong done to them by Europeans!
Marilyn, I also read Gorenberg’s book and he does make it seem that there was a natural growth into the Golan and the rest of the territories taken during the ’67 war. It was very less damning as Eldar’s scathing work.
Richard (S), I also think that Gorenberg’s job wasn’t to write as if the comparison was apt; it clearly is not. The piece was good and it had many flaws also. But the piece suffers from the given fact that Israel is able to gauge its responses when faced with non-violence, when there is ample history that such a tactic has not been met with the same kind. Gorenberg seems to believe that without a unifying voice as the demagogue leading the masses against the occupying forces that the actions that happen daily seems to be futile and useless. Secondly, shaping the equation of what it is to be Palestinian matters so much in this Western-dominated media that even an American woman who was bulldozed in a clear act of non-violent resistance is still being denied justice and in some circles is ridiculed and smeared as a “terrorist sympathiser”.
In fairness, Gorenberg did have a paragraph where he stated that it is unfair to expect such a strategy from the Palestinians. But Gorenberg missed the counterpoints as to why violence has been the fallback position of the resistance movements, despite the fact that such a tactic has not really gained the fruits of freedom that is so expected when the weak take on the strong. Although he did hint at it with Arafat and his PLO taking the reigns through hijacks and terrorism, without it there would have not been a Fateh, the PLO as we knew it (we know it now as nothing) or even if my neighbours across the road know about a Palestine at all.
As Gorenberg’s book even indicates, nothing the Palestinians could have adopted would have prevented an expansionist Israel.
PS There really has not been a total non-violent resistance movement that has been successful. In every example there is always an alternative voice who advocated armed resistance; MLK had his Malcolm X; the ANC had many splinter groups who undertook horrible acts and even Mandela killed a man; Gandhi himself flip-flopped on what type of resistance he wanted to adopt.
To limit the history of post-colonialism to the non-violent movements and totally skip the other violent episodes that made the colonial masters think twice about their enterprise is really doing a massive disservice to accuracy. South Africa only got notice when the Soweto uprisings occured; would the world notice Land Day, or would they notice the Second Intifada?
i challenge you now..show one instance of a peace demostration anywhere in the arab world…anywhere..
go back since the internet started, in 95, and please post here a link any demostration in the arab world calling for “peace”
waiting for your comment
What a patently ludicrous statement. I’ve got better things to do than respond to such nonsense.
So, what does that leave in terms of forcing change?
Do you support the use of international boycotts, sanctions and divestment as a tool to move Israel forward, given that it’s impossible to rouse the conscience of Israel?
Ni’ilin. Every week…. where they are often met with IDF violence.
Richard, what does that leave in terms of forcing change?
Do you support the use of international boycotts, sanctions and divestment as a tool to move Israel forward, given that it’s impossible to rouse the conscience of Israel?
Yes to divestment. Maybe to sanctions depending on what was involved. I’m reluctantly and ambivalently sympathetic to the idea of boycott (sorry for waffling on this).
There is a very obvious solution to this question.
Get a very large number of self-sacrificeable Gazans and West Bankers to march against the fences and break out.
There must be many who would be desperate enough to do this – those who have lost their homes, their families, their livelihood…
Then show the resulting massacre on world TV.
The problem is that Palestinians, through their very culture, cannot bring themselves to do this.
They need a ‘Palestinian Gandhi’ to bring them together, to preach them a nation. They are still very much pre-nation.
But, as someone said earlier, he’s in jail, or dead.
You’re an idiot. The Palestinians are sacrificed every day by Israel and by the World Community, not because they attack a wall, but for the crime of Existing While Palestinian.
To think that Israel would not be gleeful at the idea of having a pretense to kill more Palestinians faster.
what a stupid idea!
It would be a nice idea if some of the Palestinian Diaspora got together and did a reverse remake of the first Zionist Conference.
But they won’t – they’ve got no idea of themselves as a single nation. (Their families extend into Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan).
No self-confessed Palestinian has a right, through his mother, to live anywhere, except where he sits, through thick and thin, on his own land.
The very idea that either an outsider to this dispute or a party to it (Gorenberg’s position seems hard to define preceisely) would simply call on one of the sides (Palestinians) to produce a leader of legendary historical-philosophical hero status such as Gandhi as a condition for seriously engaging Palestinian needs (surely Gorenberg doesn’t suggest any maximal outcome for Palestinians even if Gandhi himself were reincarnated in Jenin tomorrow) is perverse, repulsive even. Gandhi strode forth out of his own superior vision and thought — a triumph of individual will over circumstance. To stand outside of the context in which something comparable might occur, ad simply wish it into being from without, second-person-wise, fundamentally corrupts the very vision set forth in India seventy years ago and taken up in the U.S. twenty-five years later by King. The absence of a Gandhi or a King in history would have done nothing to justify the conditions that brought out the greatness in those men. Yet Gorenberg’s lame lament clearly implies this from the absence of a comparable contemporary figure. It is a singularly dishonest, and distorting line of argument to advance.
Very good point
Gorenberg’s is an exceptional article and thank you Richard for focussing on it and linking to it.
I disagree with you. I don’t think it is not possible to arouse the Israeli ( and diaspora Jewish) conscience with a defined period of strictly observed passive resistance ( non- violent does not mean totally passive). I do not know it a charismatic leader is more necessary than a consensus, unity, agreement.
There may be a growing feeling as well that the answer will not come from the Israeli side. It may come from outside pressures which would increase with non-violent means- especially in today’s interconnected world. I will believe that it will not work when I see that it does not work now after all that has transpired. Looking at historical examples is useful to a point.
At the very least this tactic would have the advantage of uniting Palestinians, which absolutely has to happen anyway.
As well this does not mean that the onus is only on the Palestinians as Richard has taken objection to. I don’t see that. But it is the Palestinians who are suffering and dying, who are most uncomfortable, while Israeli’s like their imaginary status quo.
As well, I don’t see why there must be an accompanying movement within Israel though surely there will be. And since there are those in Israel that are convinced that they already use restraint- we will have starker evidence of the truth or falsity of this claim. At the moment Israeli’s claim that Palestinians are violent and uncontrollable and that the only think they understand is force. This is also what some Palestinians claim about Israeli’s and this is what has been tried on both sides with worsening results.
Gorenberg ends with a quote from Jared Diamond:
It’s worth a shot, seems to me. Not fantasty.
All the chat about “what Palestinians ought to do” raise my hackles.
How many leaders, thinkers, popular heros have been sacrificed already?
Tens of Thousands suffer, been tortured, imprisoned and murdered by Israel occupation. Currently w/the help of US paid/trained fatah stooges (under de facto president Abbas) that ‘policy’ continues.
Thanks Judy for mentioning Nil’in!
And before Nil’in –there were years of Bil’in’s Friday peace marches..and before that Maasha peace camps; and before that how many other unsung efforts? Palestinians along with Internationals like (CPT) Christian Peace Teams, ISM’ers et al, are preferred IOF TARGETS, – beaten, shot, killed for showing peaceful solidarity. Non violent peace demonstrations have been going on for years yet few mention them, and fewer know about them.
If Israel had an iota of conscience –assassination would not be ‘policy’ ;illegal settlements would not have accelerated to 500,000 despite repeated “promises” to stop/dismantle; & calls for ‘carpet bombing’ – mass expulsions would not emanate from their newly elected thuggish ex-Moldavan barroom bouncer cum FM/foreign minister. The solution can only come through international intervention followed by long overdue war crimes trials and implimentation of UN Resolutions (194, 242, et al) which have languished unfulfilled for generations. Not necessarily in that order.