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Imagine: Gandhi a Palestinian

June 4, 2010

John Lennon sang “Imagine.” That song always makes me think. The last few e-mails that I received from one of my readers were less than savory – the gentleman called me names. That is not unusual, except that he called Hindus the Jews of South Asia, and he went on to add that Jews were hated all over the world including “my” region. Such hatred from a gentleman who was one of those “liberals” and could even have been an “activist,” surprised me.

My mind went back to all I had read about the history of India – from the earliest times of Mohanjodaro and Harappa to the Age of the Guptas and on to the times of the Turks and the Mughals through to the colonial era of the British. And then the child like face of the Mahatma hovered around my eyes. There is hardly any government office where a picture of the Mahatma is not hung. The old man is so much a part of our daily lives even today. That benign, toothless childlike grin – it says so much. But I can say with conviction that us Indians are surely one of the most placid, harmless people in the world. For one, we have never attacked any foreign land. Yet to say that Indian influence has been limited to our own country will be taking away a lot from the Indian culture. Buddhism and Hinduism has spread all over Asia and now even in Europe and America. This “invasion,” if one may call that, was totally bloodless – we conquered the hearts of the people, not their land.

Another of the e-mails that I received compared the Kashmir issue to the crisis in the Middle East – the Palestinian problem. Suffice to say that like most Westerners the gentleman did not know too much about Kashmir. Again my mind wandered to the Mahatma – it was as if I was searching for some solution. Are we really as ruthless and as heartless as some people portray us? The Indian freedom struggle was an experiment, and a very successful one, about the use of non-violence as a means of protest. The British finally gave up and went back home. The recent killings and counter killings in the Middle East is not how things should be: Suicide bomb attacks followed by Israeli raids to pre-empt any future carnage, in the process lots of civilians getting killed. It is a vicious circle.

There is no doubt that Palestinians have a just cause. They have been thrown out of their land and now live in camps and shanties that they have to call their home. It’s a cause worth fighting for. It made me wonder how it would have been if the Mahatma were a Palestinian. He would have reveled in the opportunity; a just cause, and a just means to the end – a Palestinian state carved out of the philosophy of non-violence. How would he have gone about it? Well, for starters, he would have read the namaz five times a day, like any devout Muslim, and let the world know that he was a namazi. He would have worn a white tunic and carried his staff. He would have let the people know that although a Muslim, he respected all religions, including Judaism. He would have gone to the Mecca on the Hadj regularly. He would surely have traveled the length and breadth of the country talking not only to the Palestinian people but also to the Jews. He would have made friends with the Jews and put forth his point of view without ever raising his voice. He would have never hesitated to laugh, his childlike, toothless laugh that so disarmed his worst critics. And he would have propounded and lived his theory of non-violence with such vigor and conviction that any aberrance would have seen him going on a fast – for “atonement.” He would have been a fakir – a political fakir and would have amalgamated the two so judiciously that he could easily switch from one to the other.

Mahatma Gandhi - Bapu

He would have shunned the extremists like Hamas and Hezbollah. He would have totally rejected them and seen to it that their activities were to the minimum. Maybe he could not have stopped them completely – maybe he would not have wished them to stop completely, but he definitely would have discouraged them so that they would have been marginalized in the society. Gandhi would have demonstrated peacefully, again and again. He would have told the world how the Palestinians were being wronged. He would have asked his people to stage a dharna in front of the houses which were theirs a few decades back – where some of them spent their childhood. He would have exhorted his people not to work for the Israelis, in their shops and in their factories. He would have asked them not to buy anything made by them. A few would have heeded his appeal and left their jobs. They would have been hailed as champions and true patriots. The trickle would have then become an avalanche and there would be mass resignations from jobs and Jewish goods burnt in protest. Not because they hate the Jews, but as a mark of protest for what they believe is right. The Israeli economy would come to a grinding halt.

Gandhi would have harped on the importance of living a frugal life. He would have aimed at making the Palestinian people self-sufficient. He would have asked them to weave their own cloth, and tend their sheep and goat; thus creating an economically independent community. Gandhi would lead by example. He would have walked the streets of Jerusalem with a white flag calling out to all and sundry what he believed in. Inevitably, his demonstrations would have made the Israelis react and if a few of his people were killed he would have made the world know about the callousness of the Israeli security forces. He would never have verbally attacked the Jewish people, only their security forces for their highhandedness. He would still consider Jews as his friends and that would be such a media coup that TV channels and newspapers around the world would be vying to get his views on all and sundry. He would have thrown awry the Jewish game plan so ruthlessly and yet so gently that they would not have known what hit them. He would have been more potent than any atomic bomb. The likes of Ariel Sharon would be sidelined and completely outclassed – reduced to a statistic in the political arena.

He would have made a dent within the Jewish society and that schism would have found Jews calling out for the rights of the Palestinian people. The Knesset would then have passed a resolution for the creation of a Palestinian state. The Mahatma would have been called for discussions on the modalities of it all. He would have put forth his views, but also would have paid attention to the concerns of the other side. Gandhi would not call out for the annulment of the state of Israel, yet he would have carved a country for his people. He would have been magnanimous – something that is so difficult and so rare. For his magnanimity some hard-liner would have felt that he had bartered the country away. He would have been shot and would have died calling out the name of Allah – his mission complete – at one with the Almighty.

Note: I have reproduced this article which I had written for yellowtimes.org sometime in 2002. The issues remain the same and I believe that the only way forward for the people of Gaza and West Bank is to think about making their own lives meaningful and try and become self reliant. The intifada is a dream – a nightmare! There is an unemployment rate of nearly 70% in Gaza. Young men waste away their time waiting for the next tranche of aid.  The focus should be on modern education and small industries, farming and making dairy products. Terrorism is an industry in itself and they will have to change their mindset and begin thinking in a constructive way to be able to assure peace in the region. By all accounts Israel will then react differently and Jewish population will force their government to give Palestinians room to live and prosper.

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