Why Gandhi opposed formation of Israel and called the occupation a crime against humanity

By Dr Aslam Abdullah

Mahatma Gandhi, the apostle of peace, wrote a lengthy letter to Jews begging them not to occupy the land of Arabs as their homeland. He called it an unjust and inhumane act.

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. Without hesitation, I venture to offer my opinions on this complicated question.

My sympathies are all with the Jews. I have known them intimately in South Africa. Some of them became life-long 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 to justify the inhuman treatment meted out to them. Apart from the friendships, therefore, there is a more common universal reason for my sympathy for the Jews.

But my sympathy does not close my eyes 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 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 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 happening in Palestine today cannot be justified by any moral code of conduct. The mandates have no sanction but that of the last war. Indeed, 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. If the Jews have no home but Palestine, will they relish the idea of being forced to leave the other parts of the world to settle? Or do they want a double home where they can remain at will? This cry for the national home affords a colorable justification for the German expulsion of the Jews.

But the German persecution of the Jews seems to have no parallel in history. The old tyrants never went so mad as Hitler seems to have gone. And he is doing it with religious zeal. He is propounding a new religion of exclusive and militant nationalism in which any inhumanity becomes an act of humanity rewarded here and hereafter. The crime of a mad but intrepid youth is 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. Therefore, discussing the pros and cons of such a war is outside my horizon or province. But if there can be no war against Germany, even for the crime committed against the Jews, surely there can be no alliance with Germany. How can there be an 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 shows how efficiently violence works when not hampered by hypocrisy or weakness masquerading as humanitarianism. It also shows 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 feel helpless, neglected, and forlorn? I submit there is. No person with faith in a living God must feel weak or sad. Jehovah of the Jews is a God more personal than the God of the Christians, the Mussalmans, or the Hindus, though, in essence, He is familiar to all and one without a second and beyond description. But as the Jews attribute personality 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 may, and challenge him to shoot me or cast me in the dungeon; I would refuse to be expelled or to submit to discriminating treatment. For doing this, I should not wait for my fellow Jews to join me in civil resistance but would have confidence that, in the end, the rest are bound to follow my example. If one Jew or all the Jews were to accept the prescription here offered, he or they could not be worse off than now. Suffering will bring them inner strength and joy, which no number of resolutions of sympathy passed outside Germany can. Indeed, even if Britain, France, and America were to declare hostilities against Germany, they could bring no inner joy, no inner strength. The calculated violence of Hitler may even result in a general massacre of the Jews by way of his first answer to the declaration of such hostilities. But if the Jewish mind prepares itself for voluntary suffering, even the massacre I have imagined could be turned into a day of Thanksgiving and joy that Jehovah had wrought deliverance of the race even at the hands of the tyrant. For to the God-fearing, death has no terror. It is a joyful sleep followed by a waking that would be refreshing for the long rest.

It is hardly necessary for me to point out that it is easier for the Jews than for the Czechs to follow my prescription. And they have in the Indian satyagraha campaign in South Africa an exact parallel. The Indians occupied precisely the same place the Jews settled in Germany. The persecution also had a religious tinge. President Kruger used to say that white Christians were the chosen of God and Indians were inferior beings created to serve the whites. A fundamental clause in the Transvaal constitution was that there should be no equality between the whites and colored races, including Asiatics. There, too, the Indians were consigned to ghettos described as locations. The other disabilities were almost the same as those of the Jews in Germany. The Indians, a mere handful, resorted to satyagraha without any backing from the world outside or the Indian Government. Indeed, the British officials tried to dissuade the satyagrahis from their contemplated step. World opinion and the Indian Government came to their aid after eight years of fighting. And that, too, was by way of diplomatic pressure, not of a threat of war.

But the Jews of Germany can offer satyagraha under infinitely better auspices than the Indians of South Africa. The Jews are a compact, homogeneous community in Germany. They are far more gifted than the Indians of South Africa. And they have organized world opinion behind them. If someone with courage and vision can rise among them to lead them in non-violent action, the winter of their despair can turn into the summer of hope in the twinkling of an eye. And what has today become a degrading man-hunt can turn into a calm and determined stand offered by unarmed men and women possessing the strength of suffering given to them by Jehovah? It will then be a genuinely religious resistance against the godless fury of dehumanized man. The German Jews will score a lasting victory over the German Gentiles because they will have converted the latter to an appreciation of human dignity. They will have rendered service to fellow Germans and proved their title to be the real Germans as against those who are today dragging, however unknowingly, the German name into the mire.

And now a word to the Jews in Palestine. I do not doubt that they are going about it incorrectly. The Palestine of the Biblical conception is not a geographical tract. It is in their hearts. But if they must look to Palestine’s geography as their national home, entering it under the shadow of the British gun is wrong. One cannot perform a religious act 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 spirit, who leads the Jewish soul. They can offer satyagraha in front of the Arabs and present themselves to be shot or thrown into the Dead Sea without raising a finger against them. They will find the world opinion in their favor in their religious aspiration. There are hundreds of ways of reasoning with the Arabs if they only discard the British bayonet’s help. As it is, they are co-shares 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, one can say little 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 to vindicate 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 records 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 out caste 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 acts.


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