On November 26, 1938, Mahatma Gandhi published in his paper The Harijan, a historic statement: ‘The Jews in Palestine’. Some excerpts from his somewhat longer statement are presented here but the complete text can be accessed on the internet (http://www.countercurrents.org/pa-gandhi170903.htm). He wrote: “Several letters have been received by me, asking me to declare my views about the Arab-Jew question in Palestine and the persecution of the Jews in Germany. It is not without hesitation that I venture to offer my views on this very difficult question. My sympathies are all with the Jews. I have known them intimately in South Africa. Some of them became lifelong companions. Through these friends I came to learn much of their age long persecution. They have been the untouchables of Christianity. The parallel between their treatment by Christians and the treatment of untouchables by Hindus is very close.
Religious sanction has been invoked in both cases for the justification of the inhuman treatment meted out to them. Apart from the friendships, therefore, there is the more common universal reason for my sympathy for the Jews. But my sympathy does not blind me to the requirements of justice. The cry for the national home for the Jews does not make much appeal to me. The sanction for it is sought in the Bible and the tenacity with which the Jews have hankered after return to Palestine.
Why should they not, like other peoples of the earth, make that country their home where they are born and where they earn their livelihood? 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. What is going on in Palestine today cannot be justified by any moral code of conduct. The mandates have no sanction but that of the last war. 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. The nobler course would be to insist on a just treatment of the Jews wherever they are born and bred. The Jews born in France are French in precisely the same sense that Christians born in France are French.
If the Jews have no home but Palestine, will they relish the idea of being forced to leave the other parts of the world in which they are settled? Or do they want a double home where they can remain at will? This cry for the national home affords a colourable justification for the German expulsion of the Jews. But the German persecution of the Jews seems to have no parallel in history. The tyrants of old never went so mad as Hitler seems to have gone. And he is doing it with religious zeal. For, he is propounding a new religion of exclusive and militant nationalism in the name of which any inhumanity becomes an act of humanity to be rewarded here and hereafter...If there ever could be a justifiable war in the name of and for humanity, a war against Germany to prevent the wanton persecution of a whole race, would be completely justified.
And now a word to the Jews in Palestine. I have no doubt that they are going about it in the wrong way. 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. They should seek to convert the Arab heart.
There are hundreds of ways of reasoning with the Arabs, if they will only discard the help of the British bayonet. As it is, they are co-sharers with the British in despoiling a people who have done no wrong to them. I am not defending the Arab excesses. I wish they had chosen the way of non-violence in resisting what they rightly regarded as an unwarrantable encroachment upon their country. But according to the accepted canons of right and wrong, nothing can be said against the Arab resistance in the face of overwhelming odds.
Let the Jews who claim to be the chosen race prove their title by choosing the way of non-violence for vindicating their position on earth. Every country is their home, including Palestine, not by aggression but by loving service. A Jewish friend has sent me a book called The Jewish Contribution to Civilisation by Cecil Roth. It gives a record of what the Jews have done to enrich the world’s literature, art, music, drama, science, medicine, agriculture, etc. Given the will, the Jew can refuse to be treated as the outcast of the west, to be despised or patronised. He can command the attention and respect of the world by being the chosen creation of God, instead of sinking to the brute who is forsaken by God. They can add to their many contributions the surpassing contribution of non-violent action.”
It should be crystal clear that Gandhi expressed profound sympathy for the historical mistreatment of Jews in Europe. He expressed unreserved condemnation of Hitler for his rabid anti-Semitism but such denunciation did not entail betraying the rights of the Palestinians to their homeland. The above statement was issued before World War II and the holocaust. In the aftermath of that great tragedy, hundreds of thousands of traumatised, dehumanised Jewish survivors arrived in Palestine in search of safe haven. The holocaust transformed the nature of that conflict and I am sure Gandhi must have taken notice of that. I have not been able to trace any subsequent statement of his on this issue. He was assassinated on January 30, 1948 and Israel declared itself independent on May 14, 1948. Next week I will try to present a Gandhian conflict resolution model that can be realistic and fair as was his stand on the partition of India once Pakistan came into being.
The writer is a visiting professor, LUMS, Pakistan, professor emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm University, and honourary senior fellow, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. Latest publications: Winner of the Best Non-Fiction Book award at the Karachi Literature Festival: The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed, Oxford, 2012; and Pakistan: The Garrison State, Origins, Evolution, Consequences (1947-2011), Oxford, 2013. He can be reached at:email@example.com