Ghandi on Palestine

jonathan flanders jon_flanders at
Mon Sep 17 21:16:23 MDT 2001

I think this might prove useful in the current situation. From Walid
Khalidi's "From Haven to Conquest", a collection of sources on the Middle
East to which I always return when these crises erupt.

Jon Flanders
The Jews in Palestine 1938

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 agelong 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

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.
The crime of an obviously mad but intrepid youth is being visited upon his
whole race with unbelievable ferocity. 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. But I do
not believe in any war. A discussion :f the pros and cons of such a war is,
therefore, outside my horizon or province.

But if there can be no war against Germany, even for such a crime as is
being committed against the Jews, surely there can be no alliance with
Germany. How can there be alliance between a nation which claims to stand
for justice and democracy and one which is the declared enemy of both? Or
is England drifting towards armed dictatorship and all it means?

Germany is showing to the world how efficiently violence can be worked when
it is not hampered by any hypocrisy weakness masquerading as
humanitarianism. It is also showing how hideous, terrible and terrifying it
looks in its nakedness

Can the Jews resist this organized and shameless persecution? Is there a
way to preserve their self-respect, and not to helpless, neglected and
forlorn? I submit there is. No person who has faith in a living God need
feel helpless or forlorn Jehovah of the Jews is a God more personal than
the God of Christians, the Mussalmans or the Hindus, though as a matter of
fact, in essence, He is common to all and one without a sec and beyond
description. But as the Jews attribute personal
to God and believe that He rules every action of theirs, they ought not to
feel helpless. If I were a Jew and were born in Germany and earned my
livelihood there, I would claim Germany as my home even as the tallest
gentile German might, and challenge him to shoot me or cast me in the
dungeon; I would refuse to be expelled or to submit to discriminating
treatment. And for doing this I should not wait for the fellow Jews to join
me in civil resistance, but would have confidence that in the end the rest
were bound to follow my example..

And now a word to the Jews in Palestine. I have no doubt that they are
going about 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.
The same God rules the Arab heart who rules the Jewish heart. They can
offer Satyagraha* in front of the Arabs and offer themselves to be shot or
thrown into the Dead Sea without raising a little finger against them. They
will find the world opinion in their favour in their religious aspiration.
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 Civilization 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 patronized. He can command the
attention and respect of the world by being man, the chosen creation of
God, instead of being man who is fast sinking to the brute and forsaken by
God. They can add to their many contributions the surpassing contribution
of non-violent action.

Harijan, 26-11-1938

*       From M.K. Gandhi, My Non- Violence, comp. and ed. by Sailesh Kumar
Bandopadhaya (Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House, 1960), pp. 70-72 and
73-74. Copyright © The Navajivan Trust, 1960.
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