If Jews had paid heed to Gandhi's advice 85 years ago...

Gandhi in 1938 asked Jews and Palestinians to shun violence

Just a decade before the Israel-Palestine conflict would start destablising West Asia, Mahatma Gandhi had strongly advised Jews to choose the path of non-violence while settling in their new home.

In 1938, Mahatma Gandhi advised “Jews to choose the way of non-violence to vindicate their position on earth”, while writing on the issue of the persecution of the community in Germany.

He drew a parallel from the Indian satyagraha campaign in South Africa and said that while Indians had resorted to peaceful protests without any backing from other nations, the Jews in Germany were in a much better position as they had organised world opinion behind them.

Despite his deep sympathy for the Jews, he did not mince words, arguing that “Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French” and that it is wrong and inhuman to “impose the Jews” on the Arabs.

Gandhi’s article was published in Harijan, a weekly magazine, in November 1938, almost 10 years before the Israel-Palestine conflict would start destabilising West Asia.

The latest armed conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, triggered by the latter’s surprise attack on October 7, has so far killed over 1,600 people. And the death count is expected to grow as Israel pummeled the Gaza Strip with airstrikes and sent Palestinians fleeing into UN shelters on October 10.

The Times of India carried a piece titled, “Mr Gandhi on the Jewish problem” in its issue dated November 28, 1939. Edited excerpts:

On the Palestine Issue

Touching upon the Palestine issue, Gandhi wrote that his sympathy for the Jews “does not blind him to the requirements of justice”. “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. It is wrong to enter Palestine under the shadow of the British gun.”

“There are hundreds of ways”, he said, “of reasoning with the Arabs, if they [the Jews] will only discard the help of the British bayonet.

TOI story on Mahatma Gandhi's call for non-violence in 1938

TOI story on Mahatma Gandhi's call for non-violence in 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,” 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. They have been the untouchables of Christianity. The parallel between their treatment by Christians and the treatment of untouchables by Hindus is very close.”

A message to the Jews

“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,” Gandhi asserted.

“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 colourable justification for the German expulsion of the Jews.

“And now a word to the Jews in Palestine. I have no doubt that they are going about it 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...

The mantra of non-violence

“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 overwhelming odds.

“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.

Then and now

The state of Israel was established on May 14, 1948 to serve as an independent homeland for Jews fleeing persecution in Europe. Palestinians lament Israel’s creation as the Nakba, or catastrophe, that resulted in their dispossession and blocked their dreams of statehood.

In the war that followed, some 700,000 Palestinians, half the Arab population of what was British-ruled Palestine, fled or were driven from their homes, ending up in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria as well as in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Israel, a close ally of the United States, contests the assertion it drove Palestinians from their homes and points out it was attacked by five Arab states the day after its creation. Armistice pacts halted the fighting in 1949 but there was no formal peace.

Palestinians who stayed put in the war today form the Arab Israeli community, making up about 20% of Israel’s population.

Major Wars

In 1967, Israel made a pre-emptive strike against Egypt and Syria, launching the Six-Day War. Israel has occupied the West Bank, Arab East Jerusalem, which it captured from Jordan, and Syria’s Golan Heights ever since.

In 1973, Egypt and Syria attacked Israeli positions along the Suez Canal and Golan Heights, beginning the Yom Kippur War. Israel pushed both armies back within three weeks.

Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 and thousands of Palestinian fighters under Yasser Arafat were evacuated by sea after a 10-week siege. In 2006, war erupted in Lebanon again when Hezbollah militants captured two Israeli soldiers and Israel retaliated.

In 2005 Israel quit Gaza, which it had captured from Egypt in 1967. But Gaza saw major flare-ups in 2006, 2008, 2012, 2014 and 2021 that involved Israeli air raids and Palestinian rocket fire, and sometimes also cross border incursions by either side.

As well as wars, there have been two Palestinian intifadas or uprisings between 1987-1993 and again in 2000-05. The second saw waves of Hamas suicide bombings against Israelis.

Peace efforts

In 1979, Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty, ending 30 years of hostility. In 1993, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Arafat shook hands on the Oslo Accords on limited Palestinian autonomy.

In 2002, an Arab plan offered Israel normal ties with all Arab countries in return for a full withdrawal from the lands it took in the 1967 war, creation of a Palestinian state and a “just solution” for Palestinian refugees.

Peace efforts have been stalled since 2014, when talks failed between Israelis and Palestinians in Washington.

Palestinians later boycotted dealings with the administration of US President Donald Trump since it reversed decades of US policy by refusing to endorse the two-state solution — the peace formula that envisages a Palestinian state established in territory that Israel captured in 1967.

Courtesy: The Times of India, dt. 11.10.2023.