Resolving the Israel-Palestine Conflict: What we can learn from Gandhi – by Norman G. Finkelstein

In the Footsteps of Gandhi
India has moved on, but its Great Soul endures, if you know where to look.
By Tom O’Neill
Photographs by Rena Effendi

The date was March 12, 1930. Gandhi and his troops walked for 25 days and 241 miles to the Arabian Sea to defy the unjust British law that prohibited the collection of salt in its colony. Master of the dramatic gesture, Gandhi bent over near the shore and scooped up a handful of salty mud. As illegal salt-gathering spread across the country, arrests and beatings followed. Gandhi was jailed for almost nine months. What authorities had dismissed as a minor act of political theater swelled into a nationwide cry for independence.


The Basic Precepts of Satyagraha

There are three basic precepts essential to Satyagraha: Truth, Nonviolence and self-suffering. These are called the pillars of Satyagraha. Failure to grasp them is a handicap to the understanding of Gandhi’s non –violence. These three fundamentals correspond to Sanskrit terms:
  Sat/Satya – Truth implying openness, honesty and fairness
Ahimsa/Nonviolence – refusal to inflict injury upon others.
Tapasya – willingness to self-sacrifice.

To be specific, in the first place satyagraha is principled nonviolence. Passive resistance, in contrast, is adopted, not on grounds of principle but because one is weak – lacks the means of violence to secure one’s objective – or because one recognises that, in some particular situation, the use of violent means is inexpedient, ie it will not be the most efficient way of achieving one’s objective, and may even be counter-productive. It was this distinction which Gandhi had in mind when he contrasted nonviolence as a creed with nonviolence as a policy, and ‘the nonviolence of the strong’ with ‘the nonviolence of the weak’.

Leading on from this distinction is a difference about the scope of nonviolence. Because the nonviolence of the satyagrahi is principled, for satyagrahis – but not for passive resisters – it is something which they seek to apply to all social relationships, not merely selected relationships. For passive resisters, nonviolence is like a raincoat to be worn or not worn according to the state of the weather. For satyagrahis, it is like their skin, something which is perpetually renewed but never worn out or cast off. Seeking to apply nonviolence to all social relationships, satyagrahis, unlike passive resisters, strongly emphasise what Gandhi called his ‘constructive programme’ – measures or actions of social reform, such as the promotion of khadi and the uplift of the outcastes in India, which, on the face of it, have no connection with the confrontation of the principal opponent.

A third difference may be expressed by saying that satyagraha is truth-oriented, whereas passive resistance is power-oriented. Passive resistance, although an unconventional political technique, belongs squarely in the realm of power politics. It is an attempt to use force, albeit nonviolently, to achieve one’s end. The idea is to direct the power at one’s disposal at the weak points in the opponent’s defences, and to use it with sufficient skill to overcome him, so that he is compelled to stand down, or at least to make concessions. Passive resisters are not concerned with truth: they know, or thinks they know, that truth is on their side.

The Gandhi Foundation

The following article was delivered as the Tans Lecture, Maastricht University, Netherlands on 13th November 2008. The numbers in brackets mark footnotes.

“This lecture will divide into three parts.  First, I will lay out the terms of the international consensus for resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict.  Second, I will sketch Gandhi’s doctrine of nonviolent civil resistance.  Third, I will assess the relevance of Gandhi’s doctrine for the Israel-Palestine conflict.  I will argue that a moral legal consensus is a prerequisite for Gandhi’s doctrine to succeed.  In the case of the Israel-Palestine conflict such a consensus does exist, and consequently those seeking a just and lasting peace might benefit from giving Gandhi’s doctrine a serious hearing.

I.  What is the international consensus for resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict?

One of the best kept diplomatic secrets is that a broad international consensus has long existed on how to settle the Israel-Palestine conflict. (1)  …

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About arnulfo

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