Gandhi to Israel: ‘Adopt the Matchless Weapon of Nonviolence’

In a 1946 editorial in the Indian newspaper Harijan, Mohandas Gandhi wrote about the complicated situation of Israel and Palestine. Jews had just been systematically decimated in the Holocaust. Many of those who survived fled to Palestine. In 1942, Zionist leaders made plans to found a Jewish state after the war. gandhiIn 1945, Palestinians receive representation in the newly formed League of Arab States. In 1947, the U.N. passed a resolution that would partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states and establish Jerusalem as an international city. In 1948, war broke out in Palestine. 700,000 Palestinians were forced to leave their homes. Israel declared itself a state. Into this context Gandhi spoke:

Hitherto I have refrained practically from saying anything public regarding the Jew-Arab controversy. I have done so for good reasons. That does not mean any want of interest in the question, but it does mean that I do not consider myself sufficiently equipped with knowledge of the purpose. … 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. Their citizenship of the world should have and would have made them honored guests of any country. Their thrift, their varied talent, their great industry should have made them welcome anywhere. It is a blot on the Christian world that they have been singled out, owing to a wrong reading of the New Testament, for prejudice against them. “If an individual Jew does a wrong, the whole Jewish world is to blame for it.” If an individual Jew like Einstein makes a great discovery or another composes unsurpassable music, the merit goes to the authors and not to the community to which they belong.

No wonder that my sympathy goes out to the Jews in their unenviably sad plight. But one would have thought, adversity would teach them lessons of peace. Why should they depend upon American money or British arms for forcing themselves on an unwelcome land? Why should they resort to terrorism to make good their forcible landing in Palestine? If they were to adopt the matchless weapon of non-violence whose use their best prophets have taught and which Jesus the Jew who gladly wore the crown of thorns bequeathed to a groaning world, their case would be the world’s, and I have no doubt that among the many things that the Jews have given to the world, this would be the best and the brightest. It is twice blessed. It will make them happy and rich in the true sense of the word and it will be a soothing balm to the aching world.

The fighting is still going on. Hamas is lobbing rockets. Iran et al are smuggling them better ones. The world’s second best military, the Israeli Defense Force, is indiscriminately bombing Gazans back to the Stone Age. And simple flesh and blood people – disproportionately Palestinians, disproportionately children – are getting blown to bits.

What can we do to inaugurate a cease-fire and pray for peace unceasingly?

The Gandhi Reader: A Source Book of His Life and Writings Edited by Homer A. Jack AMS Press, New York, 1956; pp. 324-326

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