Friday, August 27, 2004

Ghandi in Palestine

Well, I finally made it to the West Bank, more or less. This afternoon, the Palestinian co-architect of the Geneva Accords (along with the head of Gush Shalom, a couple of Palestinian activists, some judge who's an Eastern Orthodox priest, etc) hosted a rally in Abu Dis with Mahatma Ghandi's grandson as the featured speaker. If you don't already know (and I didn't), the younger Ghandi is carrying on his grandfather's work at a Ghandi center somewhere in the US; Abu Dis is immediately on the Palestinian side of the Wall, just east of East Jerusalem (well, not really, but that's a whole other story). The rally was a rally; various people made various speeches, mostly in Arabic, but a couple, including Ghandi's, were in English. There were probably a couple of thousand folks participating, mostly Palestinian, but with maybe three hundred internationals and Gush Shalom people. The press was out in force, naturally.

So Ghandi spoke and said Ghandian things about love and understanding and hoping he finds more of both the next time he comes out. He got a pretty good hand, afterwards (more than I can say for the Palestinian VP, who also spoke), and I found myself rather affected. Still, I suspect that the Palestinians were taking his approach with a grain of salt, as well they should.

Ghandian non-violence, or something like it, worked well in India, obviously. It did all right in the US, too, with the civil rights movement. And the incredible transformation of South Africa owed a lot to similar strategies. Unfortunately, all of these movements differed in important ways from the conflict here in Israel/Palestine...{I just deleted a long paragraph on the differences between India and Palestine. It's going to take too long to cover this; please ask me when I get back, if you're interested.} The First Intifada was (at least initially) a very solid, non-violent, mass movement. People forget, however, that it's main source of power vis a vis the Israelis was as a strike of low-wage, manual labor. The Israelis, unfortunately, learned the lesson (at least the superficial one), and have since imported thousands of foreign workers to meet this demand. At this point, it's extremely questionable whether a non-violent, Palestinian movement would have sufficient leverage to force real concessions from the Israelis. Very bad news, for everyone except the Israeli Right (and, depending on one's perspective, maybe even for them).

Increasingly, the South African model seems like the only real alternative. An international boycott probably couldn't realize the Palestinian right of return, but I'm pretty confident it could clear out most (and maybe all) of the West Bank settlements, and maybe a good chunk of the East Jerusalem settlements, as well. I think that there are enough Israelis (both Jewish and Palestinian) who would support a boycott to give it the necessary credibility, but it's hard to say; as we learned with Boycott Colorado, you find out where people really stand when their pocketbooks are going to take the hit. Of course, with the US and Germany as Israel's top trading partners, there will be difficulties, and there are the differences between the labor situations in the two countries to consider, but such is life.