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Advocate of Non-violence Takes His Message to a Most Violent Area

August 30, 2004
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The silver-haired and soft-spoken Arun Gandhi says his grandfather Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence can be applied even in a conflict as bloody and bitter as the one in the Middle East. “I think there is hope for a peaceful solution, but we need to act quickly,” Gandhi said. “I believe in peace through non-violence. I think it is the only peace that is worthwhile and long lasting.”

Gandhi, who is on a five-day visit to the Palestinian areas and Israel, made the comments to the founders of the “Geneva Accord,” a group of retired Israeli army officers and academics who, along with Palestinian counterparts, drafted a sample peace plan earlier this year.

Gandhi expanded on his ideas in an interview with JTA, speaking of the stereotypes that keep Palestinians and Israelis wary of one another and of the possibility that a modern-day Gandhi might emerge to help lead the sides out of deadlock and violence.

He also told ! of being stopped at an Israeli military roadblock earlier that day. The soldier who asked for his passport did not seem phased when told who he was.

Gandhi grew up in South Africa but spent several months living with his grandfather in India when he was 14 and when India was struggling to free itself from British colonial rule.

Mahatma Gandhi preached non-violent resistance and helped his people overthrow British rule before he was assassinated by an Indian zealot in 1948.

The younger Gandhi is director of the M. K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence in Memphis, Tenn., and lectures across the world about the principles of nonviolence and his grandfather’s legacy. He said he wishes he knew how his grandfather would tackle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“I agonize over that a lot. I wish I had his brains and his experience to find an amicable solution to this. I am sure he would have found some way in bringing the two peoples together to discuss their problem! s and discuss a solution,” he told JTA.

But after being here, Gand hi noted, he saw how hard it is to bring the sides together, saying the divide “shows the division and the depth of the agony.”

Many on both sides of the conflict bemoan what they see as a lack of vision and decency among their leaders. Gandhi said it was a matter of people taking the initiative to become real leaders.

“I think they can come. Gandhi was not born that way, he became that way through experience, through taking the initiative and leading the people. I think people here or in Palestine could become another Gandhi if they try to get involved in trying to lead,” he said. “Everybody says if only we could have a Gandhi or a Martin Luther King, and I keep telling them that both of them were nobodies when they started their movements. It was later that they became so important.”

While here, Gandhi led a demonstration of Israelis and Palestinians in the neighborhood of Abu Dis in eastern Jerusalem near the security barrier that in that area is a concrete wal! l.

Gandhi said he questioned the intention behind the barrier, which Israel built to keep out terrorists. He asked why in so many areas its path cuts off Palestinian towns from each other.

“I was very pained by the wall because. . .it is obvious that this is a wall to strangulate the Palestinian communities and create bantustans,” with the “hope that many will choose to go out and go away,” he said. “Why not have it along the border of Israel and Palestine and not surround all the areas there. Within Palestine people cannot move from one town to the other.”

Israeli officials argue that the fence is a temporary measure and that to build it entirely along the “Green Line” — as the pre-1967 boundary is known — would give de facto acceptance to armistice lines that never had international recognition.

During his visit — which is to end Monday after a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem — Gandhi met with Palestinian Authority President Yas! ser Arafat.

Gandhi said he gave Arafat an outline of his grandfath er’s philosophy of non-violence, and said Arafat was receptive to the idea.

Still, Gandhi said he was disappointed by what he said was a failure on both sides to take a real stand against ongoing violence.

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