The question, asked by well meaning liberals and Zionist propagandists alike, has become anathema to those of us with familiarity with the long history of patient Palestinian non-violent resistance. Our emotional responses range from burning frustration to somber resignation. Sometimes the question is asked in ignorance or as a cynical tactic of hasbara. Depending on whether or not we had our morning coffee, we sometimes respond with a fumbling bullet point list of Palestinian villages and their popular committees, and we sometimes respond with eloquent narratives, but we always respond.
We respond because we are asked the question, and we are asked the question because we have courageously put ourselves in the line of well aimed discursive fire, by speaking out against the Israeli occupation.
I think many of us would wish the ‘question of where is the Palestinian Gandhi?’ was never asked. It puts us in the position of explaining a perceived lack, when the reality of the situation is the opposite. We are forced to dig the Palestinian Gandhis out of the rubble of sound byte head lines on suicide bombings and negotiations, and do the jobs of complacent journalists. As of this moment there has not been a single mention of the massive hunger strike started by hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in the New York Times, a tactic used effectively by Gandhi.
Activists and writers recognize that the question is meant to imply a supposed dearth in moral creativity among Palestinians to produce prophetic figures comparable to the great non-violent resisters of history. We know well the image of the conveniently pre-constructed violent Arab figure that is supposed to fill the void.
Yet, despite all of these problem, I propose that the question is actually surprisingly useful…if only we were the ones to ask it: “Mr/Ms Zionist where are the Palestinian Gandhis and what have you done with them?”
I would like to see Palestinian activists and our allies to respond to this trendy query with the same one. Let us put the interrogative light in their faces and hold them responsible for the health, well being, and lack of mass media presence of the Palestinian Gandhis.
Let us make this question a literal one instead of an existential one by demanding their physical location. What prisons and dungeons has the Israeli government put them in? Which solitary confinement rooms are they tucked away in? What grave yards were they buried in because of well aimed tear gas canisters and rubber bullets, or lethal bullets for that matter? What hospital beds are they chained to as they starve for their freedom and if they are not in hospitals why not?
It is time that we force the world to recognize that the Palestinians have been producing Gandhis for decades. There are thousands of them. We should hold the occupiers accountable for them as the world held the British accountable for the historical Gandhi. We should all ask #IsraelWhereAreThePalestinianGandhis?