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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 August, 2004, 10:24 GMT 11:24 UK
Gandhi's non-violence message to Mid-East

By Soutik Biswas
BBC News Online correspondent in Delhi

A grandson of India's pacifist independence leader, Mahatma Gandhi, is on a mission in the Palestinian territories to preach unarmed, peaceful struggle in the search for reconciliation with Israel.

Arun Gandhi says Palestinians revere his famous grandfather
Arun Gandhi, the fifth grandson of the spiritual leader, is speaking at public meetings organised by a group of Palestinian social and political activists in Ramallah, Abu Dis and Bethlehem that begin on Thursday.

The meetings are being organised by Palestinians for Peace and Democracy which, according to reports, has some 400 volunteers.

For 70-year-old Arun Gandhi, who runs an institute in Memphis, USA, to "examine, promote, and apply the principles of non-violent thought and action" through research and community services, this is his first visit to the Palestinian territories.

During his visit, he is also due to meet Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, visit a refugee camp, and participate in a candlelight vigil in Manger Square, Bethlehem.

I know Mahatma Gandhi has been forgotten in India but not outside. I think he is better known around the world than in India
Arun Gandhi
The former journalist says he will tell the Palestinian people that they should try out non-violent campaigns against the Israeli occupation.

"I am going to tell the people about the value of non-violence. I am going to tell them that 55 years of violence has achieved nothing but more agony and heartaches and that it is time for them to try new ways of dealing with the issue," Arun Gandhi told BBC News Online.

'Safest and sanest'

He feels that the Palestinians have no alternative but to pursue peaceful methods of resistance to Israel in the long term.

"It is the safest and sanest alternative. Violence has not achieved anything. The Palestinians do not have the capacity and the ability to match the weapons of mass destruction that are available to Israel. So it is virtually suicide for them," says Arun Gandhi.

Taking Gandhi's message to Palestinians would not be difficult, he says.

"I know Mahatma Gandhi has been forgotten in India but not outside. I think he is better known around the world than in India. The Palestinians are not only aware of him but revere him," he says.

Mahatma Gandhi believed passive resistance and civil disobedience were the most appropriate methods for obtaining political and social goals.

Non-violence is not alien to the Palestinian resistance, says Mohammed al-Atar, director, Palestinians for Peace and Democracy.

"In the first intifada the Palestinian people called the shots and the occupation reacted to it," he says.

"We boycotted their (Israeli) products. We called labour strikes when we wanted. They closed our schools. We opened our homes as schools. We refused to pay their taxes. We were in charge."

Mahatma Gandhi
Mahatma Gandhi: Revered for non-violent resistance to the British
The idea to pitch for a Palestinian campaign began when a few members of Mr Atar's group went to Memphis and visited Arun's MK Gandhi Institute of Non-Violence.

"We had long discussions and they were impressed and decided that I should be invited to Palestine to speak to the people and hopefully motivate peaceful resistance," Mr Gandhi says.

He is hoping to get in touch with non-violent peace initiatives both in Palestine and Israel during his visit.

Arun, whose father, Manilal, was Gandhi's second son, was born in Durban, South Africa and lived there for 23 years.

Manilal spent some 14 years in prisons in South Africa for campaigning against apartheid.

'Fond memories

"I did not have much of a formal education because of apartheid. I have fond memories of Mahatma Gandhi as a boy of 12," he says.

In 1956, he moved to India and lived there for 30 years working as a journalist with a leading English newspaper. He also edited a Bombay (Mumbai)-based magazine and did some social work among the poor and the Dalits, low-caste Hindus once known as "untouchables".

Arun Gandhi moved to the US in 1987, and launched the MK Gandhi Institute of Non-Violence in Memphis. He has also written extensively on his grandfather, including eight books.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on 2 October 1869 in Porbandar, India. He led India's movement for independence from British rule and is one of the most respected spiritual and political leaders of the 20th century.

Gandhi is honoured by his people as the father of the Indian nation and is called Mahatma, which means Great Soul.

In 1948 he was assassinated by a Hindu fanatic who opposed his tolerance for all creeds and religions


SEE ALSO:
Gandhi grandson visits West Bank
25 Aug 04  |  Middle East
Politician ordered to read Gandhi
18 Sep 03  |  South Asia
Row over Hindu leader's portrait
26 Feb 03  |  South Asia
Picture Gallery: Gandhi's Birthday
02 Oct 02  |  Politics
US company to protect Gandhi's image
08 Feb 02  |  South Asia


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