New Delhi,January 29: When the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came to India recently, he was taken to Gujarat by the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Ironically, the itinerary there included a visit to Mahatma Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram. These seemed very odd and hypocritical as Gandhi had been against the establishment of Israel or the forcible settlement of Jews there without the consent of the Arabs, who were long settled there.
Here are excerpts from Gandhi’s writings and sayings on the European Jews’ bid to grab Palestine from the Arabs through armed force, terrorism and Western aid, taken from an article in The Citizen .
“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,” Gandhi wrote.
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 organizational 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.”
(The featured image at the top shows Israeli Prime Minister Bnjamin Netanyahu trying his hand at the Charka at Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram in Gujarat ,watched by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi )