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Question for Israel: Where are the Palestinian Gandhis . . . and what have you done with them?

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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?

Sami Suleiman

Sami Suleiman is a graduate student at Brown University and a member of the National SJP Conference Organizing Committee.

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9 Responses

  1. Pixel on April 18, 2012, 9:55 am

    Quite brilliant …and true.

  2. Kathleen on April 18, 2012, 10:00 am

    “Where are the Palestinian Gandhi’s” Israel has been either killing them or putting them in prison

  3. seafoid on April 18, 2012, 10:02 am

    Where are the Israeli Nadine Gordimers?

    “In an autobiographical essay from 1954 she writes about growing up in South Africa:

    For me, one of the confusing things…was the strange shift—every year or two when I was small, and then weekly, daily almost, when I was adolescent—in my consciousness of, and attitude towards, the Africans around me.

    Five years later, she writes about being white in South Africa:

    We do not suffer, but we are coarsened. Even to continue to live here is to acquiesce in some measure to apartheid—to a sealing off of responses, the cauterisation of the human heart.

    Two years later, she is predicting the end of white power: “The white man, as a power, is fast becoming extinct in Africa.”

    Then there are elegies for those who have been destroyed by the system, including as essay written about the black journalist Nat Nakasa in 1966:

    He did not calculate the population as thirteen million or three million, but as sixteen. He belonged not between two worlds, but to both. And in him one could see the hope of one world. He has left that hope behind; there will be others to take it up.

    Then there is a note of exasperation in an essay ten years later:

    With unprecedentedly strong criticism of the government coming from its own newspapers and prominent Afrikaners as well as the opposition, it is baffling to read that at the same time 60 per cent of whites…support Mr. Vorster’s National Party.

    In 1981, she writes about censorship: “I am one who has always believed and still believes we shall never be rid of censorship until we are rid of apartheid.”
    In 1999, with apartheid over, she describes how it is to live under the new freedom:

    I am aware now, every day, in so many ways, big and small, happy and troubling, that I can speak of “our country.” If the air of taking possession can be palpable, I feel it when I walk out of my gate. I hear it in the volume of traffic….It is that indefinable quality called confidence.

    The eighteen years in between and the years after give her the opportunity to write about the new world as it struggled out of its chrysalis, and figures such as Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. An essay from 1990 begins:

    I have just come home from the rally that welcomed Nelson Mandela back to Soweto. It was the occasion of a lifetime for everyone there; including the dot in the crowd that was myself, as one of the whites who have identified with the African National Congress through the years when it was a crime to do so.

    Where is the Israeli Stiff Little Fingers ?

    “An Alternative Ulster
    Grab it change it’s yours
    Get an Alternative Ulster
    Ignore the bores, their laws
    Get an Alternative Ulster
    Be an anti-security force
    Alter your native Ulster
    Alter your native land

    Take a look where you’re livin’
    You got the Army on the street
    And the RUC dog of repression
    Is barking at your feet
    Is this the kind of place you wanna live?
    Is this where you wanna be?
    Is this the only life we’re gonna have?

    What we need is


    They say they’re a part of you
    But that’s not true you know
    They say they’ve got control of you
    And that’s a lie you know
    They say you will never be
    Free free free”

  4. Kathleen on April 18, 2012, 10:04 am

    “It is time that we force the world to recognize that the Palestinians have been producing Gandhis for decades. ” Our dear friend Art Gish used to say this all of the time. Then tell me the names of many of these Palestinian Gandhi’s.

  5. OlegR on April 18, 2012, 10:33 am

    Nope sorry no go it’s a very Jewish trait to answer a question with a question but
    Where is that illusive Palestinian leader widely accepted by his own people with the
    moral, political authority and the tactics of Gandhi.
    The British colonial regime in India was by fare longer and a thousand fold more brutal
    than our occupation and yet the figure of Gandhi has risen so the question directed
    at the Palestinians is valid and has yet been truthfully answered.

  6. montecristo5000 on April 18, 2012, 12:48 pm

    Where is the Israeli FW De Clerke? The man who recognised the manifest injustice of what his people were doing and brought it to and end?

  7. Fredblogs on April 18, 2012, 9:03 pm

    The fact is that non-violence doesn’t just mean “sometimes we don’t attack” or “sometimes we only throw stones”. It means “we reject violence”. The question does not mean “where is the non-violent Palestinian”, because any population will have some non-violent members. The question means “where is the Palestinian who can lead the Palestinian people as a whole (i.e., not merely some of the people) to non-violence”.

    Wow, remember how outraged everyone here was by Israel using white phosphorus in Gaza? Somehow, I doubt anyone here (other than the few Israel supporters) has any objection to Gaza using white phosphorus on Israel.,7340,L-4169835,00.html

    • musamusa on April 18, 2012, 11:58 pm

      Non-Violence is a tactic. Even Ghandi and MLK never adhered strictly to non-violence as a doctrine. To demand the renunciation of violence as a whole robs Palestinians a right guaranteed to them under international law to resist an inhumane and brutal occupation. Attacks on civilians are reprehensible, to be sure, and are not legitimate as a tactic of resistance, but Palestinians have as much right to violently resist the occupation of their lands as any other people on the planet. For some reason, I doubt you would expect Israel to completely “renounce” or “reject” violence.

    • Talkback on April 19, 2012, 12:13 pm

      “The question means “where is the Palestinian who can lead the Palestinian people as a whole (i.e., not merely some of the people) to non-violence”.

      It’s very said that you can’t ask the same question about Jews. Cause without violence they can’t keep Palestinians expelled or occupied.

      But you demand non violence from the oppressed facing violence of the oppressors. Of course only in the case the oppressors are Jewish, cause they are the real victims here, right?

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