SHIV NAIDU | 17 JANUARY, 2018
Bibi And PM Modi Pay Tribute To Gandhi In Gujarat, But Here’s What Gandhi Had To Say About The Israel-Palestine Conflict
What were Gandhi’s thoughts on the Israel-Palestine conflict?
NEW DELHI: The news today is dominated by images of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu, as the two leaders arrived in Gujarat and began a road show. The event culminated at the iconic Sabarmati Ashram, with the two leaders paying tribute to Mahatma Gandhi. Netanyahu laid a wreath at the memorial, describing the historic Indian leader as “one of the world’s greatest spiritual leaders.”
While the hashtag #IndiaIsraelDosti trended on Twitter, the irony of the moment wasn’t entirely lost. Protests against Netanyahu’s visit have taken place in several parts of India, with many accusing the Israeli leader of war crimes. Hashtags #BibiGoHome and #NoToNetanyahu also did the rounds, though this writer did notice that the opposition to the Israeli leader has become more and more muted. India, one of Palestine’s earliest friends, has increasingly deserted the nation, with the current government and its vocal supporters extending a warm hug (quite literally) to Israel. Israel’s severely nationalistic and militaristic posturing, combined with its opposition to a Muslim nation, resonates with the majoritarian Hindutva ideal that is currently in flavour in India.
All that aside, the decision to visit Sabarmati Ashram and pay tribute to Mahatma Gandhi is particularly interesting, given what Gandhi actually thought of Israel and the country’s role in the conflict in the Middle East.
Perhaps most famously, Gandhi said: “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... 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.”
In the same article titled ‘The Jews’ and published in Harijan (1938), Gandhi wrote: “The cry for the national home for the Jews does not make much appeal to me… 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.”
In ‘Jews And Palestine’, published in Harijan (1946), Gandhi retained this larger point of Palestine belonging to the Palestinians. "I do believe that the Jews have been cruelly wronged by the world. "Ghetto" is, so far as I am aware, the name given to Jewish locations in many parts of Europe. But for their heartless persecution, probably no question of return to Palestine would ever have arisen. The world should have been their home, if only for the sake of their distinguished contribution to it…. But, in my opinion, they have erred grievously in seeking to impose themselves on Palestine with the aid of America and Britain and now with the aid of naked terrorism."
In addition to these more famous statements, Gandhi spoke and wrote about Israel and Palestine elsewhere as well. In notes in Young India (April 1921), he wrote, “The Muslims claim Palestine as an integral part of Jazirat-ul-Arab. They are bound to retain its custody, as an injunction of the Prophet. But that does not mean that the Jews and the Christians cannot freely go to Palestine, or even reside there and own property. What non-Muslims cannot do is to acquire sovereign jurisdiction. The Jews cannot receive sovereign rights in a place which has been held for centuries by Muslim powers by right of religious conquest. The Muslim soldiers did not shed their blood in the late War for the purpose of surrendering Palestine out of Muslim control. I would like my Jewish friends to impartially consider the position of the seventy million Muslims of India. As a free nation, can they tolerate what they must regard as a treacherous disposal of their sacred possession?”
In an interview to the Jewish Chronicle in 1931, Gandhi said, “Zionism in its spiritual sense is a lofty aspiration. By spiritual sense I mean they should want to realise the Jerusalem that is within. Zionism meaning reoccupation of Palestine has no attraction for me. I can understand the longing of a Jew to return to Palestine, and he can do so if he can without the help of bayonets, whether his own or those of Britain. In that event he would go to Palestine peacefully and in perfect friendliness with the Arabs. The real Zionism of which I have given you my meaning is the thing to strive for, long for and die for. Zion lies in one`s heart. It is the abode of God. The real Jerusalem is the spiritual Jerusalem. Thus he can realise this Zionism in any part of the world”
Gandhi, in fact, spoke and wrote at length about the Jewish National Home, Israel and Palestine. Several Jewish leaders wrote long letters to Gandhi, objecting to some of what the Mahatma said. Here’s a good resource that has the articles by Gandhi, and the objections raised, in full.
Also pertinent here is a conversation between Gandhi and Messrs. [Sydney] Silverman, M.P., and Honick, the President of the World Jewish Congress and the head of its organisational side, on ‘The Jew and The Arab’ in 1946. The questions Gandhi raised are indicative of his thoughts on the matter: "Let me try to understand the question. Why do you want a national home in Palestine?"; “"Are there not waste spaces enough in the world to receive you?"; “Then you mean to say you are not a nation but are trying to become one. What about the Arabs?... "Then you want to convert the Arab majority into a minority?"; "So you want the Arabs to sacrifice something which you want for yourself?"
In an interview with Reuters in 1947, Gandhi was asked about a solution to the Palestinian problem. He said, “It has become a problem which is almost insoluble. If I were a Jew, I would tell them: "Don`t be so silly as to resort to terrorism, because you simply damage your own case which otherwise would be a proper case." If it is just political hankering then I think there is no value in it. Why should they hanker after Palestine? They are a great race and have great gifts. I have lived with the Jews many years in South Africa. If it is a religious longing then surely terrorism has no place. They should meet the Arabs, make friends with them, and not depend on British aid or American aid or any aid, save what descends from Jehovah.”