Palestinians need a Gandhi

International Politics

Maybe it’s because of MLK day approaching, but I’ve had this persistent thought (surely I am not the first to think it) since the latest violence in Gaza that what the Palestinians need is a Ghandi, a Martin, or a Tutu.  I am very sympathetic with their plight, and I don’t think that the violence of the many jihadist groups justify the kind of massacre that is going on now in Gaza and has gone on periodically over as many years as I can remember.  But do they seriously believe that lobbing rockets into Sderot, or blowing up a cafe is going to accomplish anything but more massacres?  Israel has and always has had the upper hand.  They have a military second (or maybe first) only to that of the US, more financial support, are an actual sovereign nation, and have the US vote at the UN.  Palestinians will never, ever, win a physical battle with Israel.  And whatever they might believe, they will also never win enough international sympathy to pressure the Israeli government into credible peace negotiations.

There are very few instances in history when a weaker party has bested their goliath opponent, and only three that I can think of off the top of my head: India’s independence, South Africa’s abolition of apartheid, and the Civil Rights Act in the US.  These three have one thing in common — the employment of non-violent resistance.  That doesn’t mean, of course, that all resistance was non-violent.  In each case there was violence.  But a just resolution did not come from violent uprisings but through non-violent protest and resistance.  Hopefully there is a young man or woman in Palestine right now studying the lives and teachings of the great non-violent resisters throughout history.  Hopefully they will not be killed before they have a chance to lead a movement for peace.



  1. sozobe  •  Jan 14, 2009 @11:36 am

    Interesting! I’d never thought of that before but it makes a lot of sense.

  2. Jo  •  Jan 14, 2009 @11:53 am

    I agree completely, including with your last sentence.

  3. Robert Gentel  •  Jan 14, 2009 @12:49 pm

    I’ve been preaching this for years. If the Palestinians pulled a Ghandi in the early 2000’s they’d have a state now. But it’s also worth noting that moderate Palestinians have been arrested and undermined by Israel in the past.

  4. sozobe  •  Jan 14, 2009 @1:56 pm

    [pedant]”Gandhi”, btw[/pedant]

  5. FreeDuck  •  Jan 14, 2009 @2:34 pm

    Dang it! I knew it didn’t look quite right.

  6. nimh  •  Jan 14, 2009 @8:20 pm

    Seconding Robert’s point: Israel has consistently done all it could to stifle and marginalise those who advocated a non-violent, democratic or even just more moderate strategy – to the point where they seemed to prioritize tackling them over their more radical peers.

    From the point of view of hardliners in Israel, there is a strategic rationale to this: eliminating credible opponents first, forcing angry Palestinians into the camps of insaner groups, stands them a better chance of keeping the sympathy and support of their US and European allies. It works better in terms of casting the conflict as part of the wider War on Terror too.

    But just like the relentless assault on Fatah eventually merely pushed the Palestinians into the camp of the more radical Hamas, the elimination of actual moderates strengthened the hand of both Fatah and Hamas. Plus, it radicalised some of those voices that had started out as moderate alternatives.

  7. nimh  •  Jan 14, 2009 @8:24 pm

    There is a counterexample to Gandhi, Mandela and M.L. King too. The Kosovars practiced an unprecedented (for Europe) decade of non-violent resistance against their Serbian overlords. Instead of responding to police harassment and the majority’s exclusion from the province’s institutions with violent protest, they organised a parallel society, with underground schools, offices and a parallel government.

    What did it yield? Bupkes. Yes, Ibrahim Rugova received plaudits around the world, and policy eggheads spent the same decade warning the politicians of Europe and the US that Kosovo was on the brink, was going to be the next place to explode in the former Yugoslavia, that it wouldn’t be able to hold much longer. Nobody powerful enough to do anything about it heeded the warnings.

    Finally, a minority of Kosovar resisters disillusioned with the decade-long stalemate took to the hills as guerrillas and formed the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). As poorly-armed Davids, all they could do was prod the Serbian army into ever escalating retaliations, until eventually the army and various nationalist Serb paramilitaries unleashed a wave of terror on the province in order to set off a mass exodus of the Kosovar population to Albania and Macedonia, overflowing refugee camps there. Then and only then did the West find the fortitude to do something.

    A couple of years of “heightening the contradictions,” to put it in Marxist terms, turned out to achieve what a decade of non-violence proved completely incapable of. It’s depressing. At least Rugova did get to be President for a bit afterwards, before his death, when his party defeated the KLA’s party in the first elections.

  8. FBR  •  Jan 16, 2009 @7:12 pm

    Isn’t the recent Israeli offensive also an attempt to push the moderate Palestinians into radical positions? Are Israeli politicians naïve to not see that the attack gives Hamas much needed legitimity, or are they shrewd to force the next US President with a situation of “fait accompli”? Does this have anything to do with Rice’s last minute signature of a document further extending US garantees to Israel?

    On the other side, non-violence hardly fits with the Islamic view of the world, and I’m not talking only about fundamentalists? A Palestinian Gandhi would as likely be killed by the Israelis as by his countrymen.

  9. FreeDuck  •  Jan 17, 2009 @7:39 am

    I think every Israeli offensive is an attempt to push the moderate Palestinians into radical positions, and that this one is essentially a land grab. I think they are getting everything they can before a new US president comes into power and before new Israeli elections. Israeli politicians are not naive — the more extreme Palestinian leadership plays to their advantage and to the disadvantage of the Palestinians — which is why I say that they need a Gandhi.

    That doesn’t, of course, mean that I think the Israelis wouldn’t try to kill any non-violent movement, and that they haven’t tried to destroy moderate leadership in the past. In fact they show a pattern of systematically undermining moderate leadership, as Robert and others have pointed out. But none of that changes the fact that it’s the only path to what they want.

    Whether or not non-violence fits with Islamic world view, I don’t know. I don’t think the Islamic religion prohibits it in any way, and I don’t see why the Palestinians would not embrace it as an alternative to this useless cycle of violence which only takes more an more from them.

  10. nimh  •  Jan 17, 2009 @1:14 pm

    FBR’s got a good point. Hamas’s popularity had plummeted in Gaza. (Since this is not my blog post I’m not going to actually dig up the opinion polls showing the way it had sunk over the past year or so, you’ll have to take my word for it :-).) The status quo was arguably rehabilitating Fatah in Gaza, which might have yielded a newly unified Palestinian leadership.

    This Israeli offensive must be guaranteeing that the Gaza population unites behind Hamas anew…

  11. FreeDuck  •  Jan 17, 2009 @7:30 pm

    I agree with FBR’s point. I just think that it’s no accident — that this plays to Israel’s benefit and that they probably expect and intend it to happen.

    From a Palestinian perspective, there really are not very many options. They can attempt to obtain justice through non-violent resistance, they can wait for some third party to rescue them (not going to happen), or they can give up on sovereignty (leave, die, or assimilate into the Jewish state if it allows them).

  12. dlowan  •  Jun 5, 2009 @6:28 pm

    I am really sorry if this is a hi-jack…(I can’t make posts here, of course, but I can’t be beeswaxed raising this on A2k, because of the predictable weary fights)…..but, looking at Obama’s recent speech re Israel and Palestine, I dared to be faintly optimistic re the nuances…particularly appearing to signal to Israel that this administration may be demanding genuine negotiating concessions from Israel and appearing to give legitimacy to the Palestinians.

    Could this be some sort of chance here?