Hitchens Says Palestinians Need A Mandela Not A Gandhi

New Statesman

My column in last week’s magazine focused on the need for a Palestinian (and an Israel) Gandhi figure, to renounce terror on both sides and end the destructive “cycle of violence” and mutual fear and distrust:

“…neither side has ever come even close to producing viable leaders committed to non-violence and able to articulate an authentically Gandhian vision for ending the conflict. On the Palestinian side, Yasser Arafat’s approach can be summed up in his warning about having an olive branch in one hand but a gun in the other. On the Israeli side, Yitzhak Rabin, the joint architect of the Oslo Accords, will always be remembered by the Palestinians as the man who also ordered Israeli troops to “break the bones” of protesters during the first intifada.Those considered to be peacemakers fall hopelessly short of being a latter-day Gandhi or a Middle Eastern Martin Luther King. Waiting for such figures to emerge, even in the Holy Land, could be like waiting for Godot.”

Now Christopher Hitchens has emailed me to say that I may be focusing on the wrong role model – it is a Nelson Mandela that the Palestinians need, not a Mohandas Gandhi. He writes:

“Edward Said used to talk and write about the need for a Palestinian Mandela. I think that might lead you – and such Israelis and Jews as will listen – in a better direction than Gandhi. But the ANC wasn’t pacifist in name or in fact, despite the Mahatma’s early input.”

The Hitch – and the late Professor Said – have a point. Given his long, and much-deserved, walk to political sainthood, it is easy to forget that Mandela was never a Gandhian pacifist and had militant roots. After the banning of the African National Congress in 1960, it was Mandela who argued for the setting up of a military wing within the ANC.

Is there a Palestinian Mandela today? The one plausible candidate is secular Palestinian politician and former Fatah militant leader, Marwan Barghouti, currently serving five life sentences for murder in an Israeli jail. He is the man who has played a major role in mediating between Fatah and Hamas and he is the man behind the “Prisoner’s Document” which calls for negotiation with the state of Israel in order to achieve lasting peace.

Liberal Jewish blogger Richard Silverstein singles him out for similar reasons:

“Now, I am not saying that Barghouti believes in non-violence or that he is by any means a holy figure or even the perfect leader. All leaders, both Palestinian and Israeli seem immensely flawed.But Barghouti is someone who could unify both Palestinian factions. Someone who, like Mandela, spent years in the jails of the enemy, who speaks his language, understands his psychological identity, both its strengths and weaknesses. Until he is released from prison, we will not know whether Barghouti is just another corruptible thug, or a powerful leader with a vision for ending the conflict and securing his people’s future.”

In January 2007, the then Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres declared he would sign a presidential pardon for Marwan Barghouti if elected to the Israeli presidency. However, since becoming president, there has been no sign at all that Peres plans to fulfil this pledge.

Talking of Israeli politicians, if the Palestinians need a Mandela, who is the Israeli De Klerk? Sharon (and even Olmert perhaps?) could have tried to lay claim to the mantle of the peace-making Afrikaner leader – but Netanyahu? You must be having a laugh…


Filed under Palestine-israel

5 responses to “Hitchens Says Palestinians Need A Mandela Not A Gandhi

  1. Majumdar

    ….it is a Nelson Mandela that the Palestinians need, not a Mohandas Gandhi.……

    Well, if Hitchens sahib had replaced Jinnah instead of Mandela in his above speech, Yasser wud have obtained nirvana.


  2. yasserlatifhamdani

    Let us keep it within the realm of possibility… Mandela is a doable aspiration.

    Had the Palestinians a Jinnah… they would have been an independent state long time ago.

  3. karun

    of Course jinnah of ‘Direct Action’ will have no qualms about the use of violenece

  4. yasserlatifhamdani

    karun mian,

    Yeah… the direct action lie… any Indian- even the most balanced one- is wont to repeat this lie once in a while. So it does not come as a surprise that you’ve thrown up this lie since you can’t be accused of being balanced.

    The truth as it has come out in the Transfer of Power Papers shows a very different story.

    Last weekend has seen dreadful riots in Calcutta. The estimates of casualties is 3000 dead and 17000 injured. The Bengal Congress are convinced that all the trouble was deliberately engineered by the Muslim League Ministry, but no satisfactory evidence to that effect has reached me yet. It is said that the decision to have a public holiday on 16th August was the cause of trouble, but I think this is very far-fetched. There was a public holiday in Sind and there was no trouble there. At any rate, whatever the causes of the outbreak, when it started, the Hindus and Sikhs were every bit as fierce as Muslims. The present estimate is that appreciably more Muslims were killed than the Hindus Lord Wavell to Pethick Lawrence 21st August 1946

    Infact the only thing that may come close to Bengal Muslim League’s “guilt” is the reprimand that its leaders got from Jinnah on the morning of 17th August. At the very least … no historian worth his salt has accused Jinnah of provoking violence. Some fingers have been pointed a Suhrawardy but those too have been baseless.

    There is enough evidence to show that what happened in Calcutta on that day was entirely a well planned Congress and allied activity…. which is why the number of Muslims killed in Calcutta was as many as three times the number of Hindus and Sikhs combined.

    Ironically… Sir Francis Tuker’s account speaks of “Truckloads” of Sikhs being bussed in armed to the teeth. Who sent them there? Please answer this.

    Ofcourse the greatest trick that Indians pull out of their hat is the objection to the term “Direct Action”. Forget that only in February of the same year Nehru had taunted that Muslim League was not “progressive” enough to resort to “Direct Action”. Direct Action is a legally defined term and refers to civil disobedience. Infact under examples of direct action … the names of Dr. Martin Luther King and your own Gandhi figure prominently. But lets continue to lie about Muslim League’s direct action.

    Ironic that Muslim League’s direct action day was peaceful whereever Muslims had the strengths of number… it remained peaceful in Delhi… Bombay… Lahore… these places had strong Muslim presence and the governments were not Muslim League’s… it would have made far more sense to resort to such action there.. but the Indian response- morally bankrupt- to this is that League chose calcutta because it had a government there… ridiculous. It was a cross communal ministry which was to lose out most because of communal violence. The truth is what H V Hodson says … Jinnah’s direct action day was a day of peaceful civil disobedience and nothing else.

    Now coming to the issue of giving the police a day off… police was almost entirely Hindu, deeply communal and Suhrawardy gave it a day off to stop them from persecuting the Muslims. Congress would have done the same thing to ensure its strike to be a success.

    And finally… that DAD somehow ensured Pakistan’s creation. The truth however is that the violence that happened in Calcutta gave Wavell and others (who had otherwise admitted that League had nothing to do with the violence) to beat up on Muslims with this stick. Lord Wavell gave Congress the opportunity to come into power and Jinnah was forced to scale back his demands. So this nonsense about the Calcutta killings helping the League’s cause is another historical lie perpetrated by small minds, narrowminded bigotry and just absolute dishonesty.

  5. Amit

    It amazes me as to how we fight like dogs over the root causes of partition. The way things are going, and they don’t seem to be getting better, I would be inclined towards Jinnah’s theory more than Gandhi. What I have never understood is this messianic image of Jinnah in Pakistan. Is he ever criticized for anything? To be honest, both him and Iqbal are overrated. I think Faiz had more intellectual depth than both of them. Wonder why we hear about him less and less.

    YLH whatever you say about Direct or indirect action day, Jinnah didn’t exactly cover himself with glory in sending tribal laskhkars to take over Kashmir in the aftermath of independence. He has too many contradictions to put him on a pedestal like you guys do. His ideas are very unoriginal.