“The war neither began with us nor is it going to end with our lives.”
— Bhagat Singh
On April 13, 1919, in violation of a British colonial ban on meetings or gatherings, peaceful protestors assembled in Punjab, India to object to the recent killing of nearly 30 Indians in a previous protest. Unprovoked and without warning, colonial forces arrived and opened fire on tens of thousands of unarmed, defenseless Indians, mostly Sikhs, indiscriminately killing 379 men, women, and children. An estimated 1,200 were wounded.
The onslaught known today as the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, or the Amritsar massacre to Punjabi natives, is said to have lasted 20 minutes. Yet, despite its brevity, for the move to action it spurred throughout colonial India it remains a seminal event in the fight for Indian independence. One man, 12 year old Bhagat Singh, was especially moved. The massacre planted in Singh’s young mind a longing for the freedom of his people that would propel him forward by any means necessary.
Eventually he would be hung by British colonial authorities for his propensity to fight brutal occupation with every method employed against the Indian people. In the wake of his death, for the majority of the world who does not know or care about the necessity of armed struggle, he has been forgotten. His story, and those like his, has been put on the back-burner while men like Gandhi have been memorialized as the embodiment of what oppressed peoples should do when faced with a conscienceless occupier.
Such is not far from the expectation of Palestinians in the wake of decades of Israeli apartheid and occupation: In one form or another the question has been asked, “Where is Palestinian Gandhi?”
Though, even if ridiculously, it could be speculated as to where Palestinian Gandhi might be — a thought to be revisited later — we ought to ask why anybody would pose this question at all. The reality is asking this question is a sinister method of delegitimizing Palestinian armed resistance and self-defense. It is a tactical ploy to remove the focus from the violence Israel continues to perpetrate against Palestinians in order to place the impetus for peace solely on those suffering most. It is, in its purest form, victim blaming. And it has been incredibly effective.
Gandhi: A Myth to Which We May Not Want to Aspire
“In order for nonviolence to work, your opponent must have a conscience.”
— Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture)
Nonviolence played a significant role in Indian independence, absolutely; but the premise that under the tutelage of Gandhi it was the premier force driving the nation toward liberation is a cherry-picked version of history. It downplays into nothingness the fact that the post-WWII crown could no longer maintain the brute force and financial obligation needed to run a global empire. Indigenous American scholar Ward Churchill in Pacifism as Pathology dismantled the myth that nonviolence effectively acted alone or in a vacuum unto itself:
“…Gandhian success must be viewed in the context of a general decline in British power brought about by two world wars within a thirty-year period. Prior to the decimation of British troop strength and the virtual bankruptcy of the Imperial treasury during World War II, Gandhi’s movement showed little likelihood of forcing England’s abandonment of India. Without the global violence that destroyed the Empire’s ability to forcibly control territories (and passive populations), India might have continued indefinitely in the pattern of minority rule marking the majority of South Africa’s modern history, the first locale in which the Gandhian recipe for liberation struck the reef of reality. Hence, while the Mahatma and his followers were able to remain “pure,” their victory was contingent upon others physically gutting their opponents for them.”
At best Gandhi worship ignores — at worst it erases — the revolutionary actions of people like Bhagat Singh and others who galvanized the resistance movement in colonial India. It removes the context of fear created by armed struggle, a reversal of the fear that underpinned British control of a country where Brits were enormously outnumbered. George Orwell, the famous author of 1984, as a former officer in the Indian police noted:
“Gandhi has been regarded for twenty years by the Government of India as one of its right-hand men… It was always admitted in the most cynical way that Gandhi made it easier for the British to rule India, because his influence was always against taking any action that would make any difference. The reason why Gandhi when in prison is always treated with such lenience, and small concessions sometimes made when he has prolonged one of his fasts to a dangerous extent, is that the British officials are in terror that he may die and be replaced by someone who believes less in “soul force” and more in bombs.”
The material and philosophical reality of nonviolence is one of insufficient means dictating for itself an impossible end. The sectarian nature by which many proponents of Gandhian doctrine preclude or lambaste the use of armed resistance only helps doom a people’s fight for liberation because it effectively counteracts any positive gain they together might achieve. A truly encompassing liberatory praxis must recognize the use of armed resistance as a legitimate and necessary method of achieving liberation. The dismantling of the Gandhi myth is therefore of primary importance in attaining such a praxis.
But what about Gandhi the man himself, his political doctrines aside? Recently feminist writer and activist Arundhati Roy shared her own criticisms of the late nonviolent leader, saying:
“The story of Gandhi that we have been told, is a lie. It is time to unveil a few truths, about a person whose doctrine of nonviolence was based on the acceptance of a most brutal social hierarchy ever known, the caste system. Gandhi believed that a scavenger should always remain a scavenger. Do we really need to name our universities after him?”
There are, of course, more critical views of Gandhi’s personal habits — his methods for testing his resolve for celibacy for instance — but at the core of his legacy lies an irrational, one-sided lore of a man whose message and methods were inadequate, however helpful, and whose moral character was as flawed as anyone else’s. The real reason Gandhi is lauded while revolutionaries like Singh are diminished has more to do with what we do not know and why we are not taught it than with what we think we know.
In other words, if we were taught the truth that armed resistance does bring about significant change, we might be inclined to try it.
Reclaiming Resistance from Israel’s Tactical Propaganda
“Respect existence, or expect resistance.”
Knowing the pitfalls of Gandhi’s character/nonviolence, that in reality his methods could only be successful when buttressed with armed resistance and the bankrupting of Britain’s military and financial prowess, why would anybody ask “Where is Palestinian Gandhi?” Well, it’s pretty simple really: If people buy into the idea that there ought to be a Palestinian Gandhi to do what the myth of Gandhi dictates, then if no Palestinian is successfully doing it the rest of the world can continue to blame Palestinians for Israeli initiated violence instead of holding Israel accountable.
More importantly, if Palestinians deviate from the doctrine of nonviolence and endorse armed resistance, Israel can portray itself as victimized, or at least only retaliating in an “equally” matched conflict. This is tactical propaganda. If looked for, it is openly visible in the current struggle for Palestinian liberation.
Mainstream media has constantly berated fighters in Gaza for using armed resistance in the face of overwhelming occupation. A principle mechanism of this berating has been the method of blaming-both-sides equally, regardless of the lopsided causalities of Israel’s current and past military offensives. Hamas, an entity ironically helped to prominence by Mossad as a counterweight to the PLO, has been dubbed the central objector to proposed ceasefires by Israel, Egypt, and humanitarian agencies despite the fact that Israel has far more frequently been the provocateur. After Hamas does reject any ceasefire terms, the question of Palestinian Gandhi is mouthed ad nauseam.
But there can be no great peace negotiator when every ceasefire calls for the continuation of Palestinian oppression. Such proposals are not negotiations — they are the demands of a wolf clothed in the rhetoric of the sheep to elicit international sympathy. Palestinians know this, and by majority they have claimed acceptance of such a ceasefire would be a condition of living death.
In the film Rang de Basanti,a historical fiction of Bhagat Singh and his comrades’ revolutionary actions, a group of young friends retrace and relive the struggle for Indian independence. In the course of their reenactment they discover the corruption of their own government through the death of a loved one and come to understand Singh’s motivations for armed struggle. When they attempt to nonviolently challenge the corruption that led to their friend’s death, they are met with brutal repression, another of them having been beaten into a coma.
They assassinate the Defense Minister of the Indian government, the man responsible, in response. As the Indian government attributes the assassination to terrorists, effectively martyring a corrupt official, in their last act the group seizes a radio station to finally tell the truth about the corruption they acted against. They, like Singh, willingly die for the people they love.
Whether or not their actions were warranted they did something far too many have not: They realized that in order for nonviolence to work, those trying to kill you have to care about you.
Israel’s Zionist government does not care about Palestinians. The so-called terrorism Israel says it is fighting, in reality, is the armed resistance created by the terrorism it commits. If Israel were really concerned with the alleged “terrorism” of Hamas, its most prudent action would be to immediately cease participating in the terrorizing of Palestinians. Such is the nature of cyclical violence, but by no means is it equivalent when one party has the 6th most powerful military in the world and the backing of United States military power while the other has rocks and homemade rockets.
But this is at the core of asking “Where is Palestinian Gandhi,” to delegitimize Gazan resistance by decoupling the material reality of occupation from the right to self-defense. Jeff Sluka captured it well in National Liberation Movements in Global Context:
“The condemnation of liberation movements for resorting to… armed struggle is almost invariably superficial, hypocritical, judgmental, and unfair and tends strongly to represent another example of the generalized phenomenon of “blaming the victim.” The violence of the situation, the per-existing oppression suffered by those who eventually strike back, is conveniently ignored. The violence of the oppressed is a form of defensive counter-violence to the violence of conquest and oppression. In no armed national liberation movement I know of in history has this not been the case.”
After decades of war on Palestinians, Israel has threaded through itself a clearly defined and widely endorsed, yet often unarticulated, acceptance of violent oppression. It is a fully rationalized phenomenon for its government, with full confidence of Israeli Zionists and their sympathizers abroad, to carry out odious acts of state-sanctioned terrorism against Palestinians. Yet when those murdered, so clearly revealed in the scope of recent events, grow weary enough to fight against occupation, their resistance is totally fetishized, their humanity dehumanized.
As in the lived and cinematic experience of Singh’s life, getting past the Gandhi myth is essential to understanding the material reality of what is happening on the ground in Gaza today. This understanding must lay bare the conditions of occupation, colonization, and apartheid. When we fully grasp this we ought to remember a people’s natural right to armed resistance. Blaming Palestinians for fighting oppression from a racist, Zionist government is outright victim-blaming. It makes us tools of oppression.
If we really must ask “Where is Palestinian Gandhi,” we should realize they likely are buried under the rubble of an Israeli missile.
(Photo Credit: Lucid Strike)
Does anyone know why I is capitalized (as opposed to any other pronoun?)
"“Graphically, single letters are a problem,” says Charles Bigelow, a type historian and a designer of the Lucida and Wingdings font families. “They look like they broke off from a word or got lost or had…
The conflict in Gaza makes me feel so powerless. I want to make a change but as a single, regular person there’s so little I can do.. It just amazes me how people treat each other and how cruel and emotionless they can be. Could you imagine killing somebody? Killing a soul filled with dreams, hopes and wishes? And especially an innocent soul? It just seems so surreal to me.
This report is a year old, but given the constant refrain from defenders of the Israeli government’s policies in the Occupied Territories that civilian casualties in Gaza are due to Hamas forcing people to act as human shields, it seems relevant to the discussion:
(Reuters) - A United Nations human rights body accused Israeli forces on Thursday of mistreating Palestinian children, including by torturing those in custody and using others as human shields.
Most Palestinian children arrested are accused of having thrown stones, an offence which can carry a penalty of up to 20 years in prison, the committee said. Israeli soldiers had testified to the often arbitrary nature of the arrests, it said.
It voiced deep concern at the “continuous use of Palestinian children as human shields and informants”, saying 14 such cases had been reported between January 2010 and March 2013 alone.
Israeli soldiers had used Palestinian children to enter potentially dangerous buildings before them and to stand in front of military vehicles to deter stone-throwing, it said.
"Almost all those using children as human shields and informants have remained unpunished and the soldiers convicted for having forced at gunpoint a nine-year-old child to search bags suspected of containing explosives only received a suspended sentence of three months and were demoted,” it said.
Just so we’re clear, IDF soldiers have, in the past, conscripted Palestinian kids and forced them at gunpoint to enter potentially dangerous buildings, search containers suspected of containing explosives, and stand in front of IDF vehicles to prevent other Palestinians from throwing stones at the vehicles. I wonder if this is what the Israeli ambassador to the United States had in mind when he said that the IDF deserved the Nobel Peace Prize for its behavior in the Occupied Territories.
Resistance is justified when Gaza is occupied
July 29, 2014
As the world reels in horror at mounting Palestinian deaths in Gaza, the Israeli propaganda machine and its willing accomplices in the U.S. mainstream media have issued their customary reply: Blame Hamas.
Speaking with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer,Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu placed all responsibility for Palestinian deaths on Hamas:
We’re sad for every civilian casualty. They’re not intended. This is the difference between us. The Hamas deliberately targets civilians and deliberately hides behind civilians. They embed their rocketeers, their rocket caches, their other weaponry which they use to fire on us in civilian areas.
What choice do we have? We have to protect ourselves. So we try to target the rocketeers. We do. And all civilian casualties are unintended by us, but intended by Hamas. They want to pile up as many civilian dead as they can…They use telegenically dead Palestinians for their cause.
Netanyahu presents Israel as innocently defending itself—and Hamas as inviting Palestinian deaths for propaganda purposes. He then goes on to call Hamas “genocidal terrorists,” stating that they “call for the destruction of Israel, and they call for the killing of every Jew wherever they can find them.”
Thane Rosenbaum, a senior fellow at NYU School of Law, went even further in his July 21 Wall Street Journal op-ed article. Rosenbaum explained that it’s impossible to kill “innocent civilians” in Gaza…because all of Gaza is guilty:
[In 2006], the people of Gaza overwhelmingly elected Hamas, a terrorist outfit dedicated to the destruction of Israel, as their designated representatives…Surely they must have understood on election night that their lives would now be suspended in a state of utter chaos. Life expectancy would be miserably low; children would be without a future. Staying alive would be a challenge, if staying alive even mattered anymore…
On some basic level, you forfeit your right to be called civilians when you freely elect members of a terrorist organization as statesmen, invite them to dinner with blood on their hands and allow them to set up shop in your living room as their base of operations. At that point, you begin to look a lot more like conscripted soldiers than innocent civilians. And you have wittingly made yourself targets.
This reasoning isn’t confined to avowedly conservative publications like the Journal. Bob Dreyfuss, writing for The Nation, made the liberal version of the argument in an article titled “The Palestinians Must Put an End to Suicidal Hamas.” He directs his outrage not at Israel for its genocidal actions, but at Hamas’ “idiotic decision to fight Israel by firing useless missiles against unseen Israeli targets.”
Those who stand for self-determination for the Palestinian people shouldn’t help Israel make its case for shedding Palestinian blood. We should be challenging Israel’s various alibis for its killing fields in Gaza—and that means setting the record straight about Hamas.
Israel claims that if only Hamas were to stop firing rockets, accept a ceasefire and recognize Israel, it would stop bombing Gaza.
But Hamas did precisely that in the year and a half following the November 2012 ceasefire that ended Operation Pillar of Cloud, as Israel dubbed its last rampage through Gaza. In 2013, “Israel had one of the quietest years, if not the quietest year, it had had since rockets started coming from Gaza, which, by the way, began before the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in the fall of 2005,” Nathan Thrall, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, told Democracy Now!
Between November 2012 and today, it was Israel, not Hamas, that more frequently—and far more lethally—violated the terms of the ceasefire, as an infographic at ElectronicIntifada.net shows. During this time, Israel continued to carry out air strikes against whatever targets it deemed legitimate, and Israeli snipers fired on—and killed—farmers if they strayed too close to the Israeli-designated “buffer zone” along the Gaza-Israel border. The terms of the ceasefire also stipulated that Israel would lift its blockade of Gaza—which instead intensified, especially after the Egyptian military took over power after toppling Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi a year ago.
So why don’t the Palestinians employ nonviolent resistance, as so many liberal commentators implore?
The answer is that they do—but Israel, the media and the rest of the world routinely ignore these popular struggles. As Patrick O’Connor explained at ElectronicIntifada.net:
The fact that thousands of Palestinians and hundreds of Israelis are together employing nonviolent tactics similar to those of the U.S. civil rights movement and the South African anti-apartheid movement would come as surprising and welcome news to most Americans. Americans are largely unaware of the struggling but vibrant grassroots nonviolent movement in Palestine, because the U.S. corporate media prefers a simple, flawed story of Palestinian terrorist attacks and Israeli retaliation.
Similarly to U.S. civil rights activists, Palestinians must face tear gas, stun grenades and even live ammunition to take part in such resistance, but still they courageously do.
The nonviolent movement is based in the West Bank because that’s where it’s possible to employ such tactics in confrontations with Israeli security forces. In Gaza, which is hermetically sealed off from the rest of the world by Israel’s total control over all air and sea access—and by Egypt’s collaboration with Israel to keep Gaza’s borders closed—there is no way to engage Israel by nonviolent means. Gaza is an open-air prison, and getting too close to the bars means death by an unseen sniper, a navy boat or a drone.
Day 19: Palestinian death toll passes 1,000 | July 26, 2014
Thousands of Gaza residents who fled the violence streamed back to devastated border areas during Saturday’s 12-hour humanitarian truce to find large-scale destruction: fighting pulverized scores of homes, wreckage blocked roads and power cables dangled in the streets. In northern Beit Hanoun, even the hospital was badly damaged by shelling. Across Gaza, more than 130 bodies were pulled from the rubble on Saturday, officials said. In southern Gaza, 20 members of an extended family were killed before the start of the lull when a tank shell hit a building where they had sought refuge. (Sources: 1, 2, 3)
Pictures from Beit Hanoun & Shejaiyah during a pause in the bombing by Israeli forces:
1. A general view of destruction in the Shejaia neighbourhood. (Mohammed Salem/Reuters)
2. Palestinians carry belongings they find at their destroyed houses in Beit Hanoun. (Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times)
3. A Palestinian man looks staggered after seeing his home destroyed, while visiting the area during a 12-hour cease-fire in Shejaiyah neighbourhood. (Khalil Hamra/AP)
4. Palestinians inspect the damage of their destroyed houses in Shejaiyah neighbourhood. (Khalil Hamra/AP)
5. Palestinians recover the body of a man killed when his home was hit the previous night by Israeli fire in the northern district of Beit Hanoun. (Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images)
6. A mare and her foal walk along the debris of destroyed buildings in the northern district of Beit Hanoun. (Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images)
7. Palestinians survey the damage in Beit Hanoun. (Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images)
8. Children wait for their parents, who collect belongings from their destroyed houses in Beit Hanoun. (Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times)
9. A general view of destroyed buildings after Israeli attacks in a part of the Shuja’iyya neighbourhood. (Oliver Weiken/EPA)
10. Palestinian women react amid the destruction in the northern district of Beit Hanoun. (Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images)#Israel is a War Criminal