Gandhi comes to West Bank, Palestinians miss opportunity

During the first week of April, the Occupied Palestinian Territories emerged, yet again, as haven for high profile receptions and media frenzies. Palestinians were honoured with the arrival of more Americans public figures. This time the visitors were not merely American politicians — rather they held more influential positions in contemporary American society — they were Hollywood actors. Unfortunately, yet again, the Palestinian people were unable to seize the opportunity and effectively influence the visiting Americans.

Ben Kingsley in Gandhi.

Oscar-winning actor Ben Kingsley, arrived in Ramallah on April 6th to endorse the launching the “The Gandhi Project” — an American funded project aimed at promoting nonviolence and civil disobedience in Palestinian society as a form of resistance against Israel’s illegal military occupation. The project proposes to accomplish its goal by means of screening an Arabic language version of the 3 hour long Hollywood film Gandhi throughout the West Bank and Gaza.

Jeff Skoll

The Gandhi Project entourage, which included kingsley and the founding president of the Internet auction site eBay, Jeff Skoll, held a meeting in Ramallah with various Palestinians and NGOs to rally support for the project. The purpose of this meeting was to provide a forum for Palestinian NGOs to express their thoughts and experiences living under occupation and to establish a partnership between The Gandhi Project and the various NGOs in Palestine.

One would consider this as a golden opportunity for all those that were present, especially the NGOs, who supposedly work for the benefit of the Palestinian people, to take advantage of the presence of these prominent Americans and deliver a direct message on behalf of the Palestinian people. However, doing so would not only require courage, but would risk the NGO’s chances of establishing the partnership offered by The gandhi Project - in other words, it would risk the NGO’s chances of receiving money.

Due to the funds offered by The gandhi Project, it automatically becomes in the interest of the NGOs to see the project succeed, therefore one cannot depend on the NGOs to approach the project with objectivity. Regrettably, this proves to be yet another example of the emerging peace process industry. On that same day, The gandhi Project went on to meet with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and, according to Jeff Skoll, Abbas was “nice to us and supported the project”.

Richard Gere

As it turns out, Abbas was also busy last week meeting with another Hollywood actor. After visiting Israel, veteran Hollywood actor Richard Gere arrived in Ramallah on his quest “to promote peace” and “hear the voices of the people”. As our government does best, they greeted Gere with hugs and kisses, smiled at photographers as they took pictures and then waved goodbye to the cameras.

The Palestinian hired to head The gandhi Project in Palestine, Naser Al-Ardah, confirmed that “no issues were raised at the meetings regarding America’s involvement in the Israel-Palestine conflict. The meetings were simply held to discuss the proposed collaborations with the local NGOs”. This is the real failure, how during the meetings with these influential Americans actors and businessmen, no Palestinians politician, NGO, or individual, had the confidence to directly confront the American actors and tell them that as American citizens, they are held responsible for their countries direct and devastating involvement in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Why was the collective Palestinian voice not raised to suggest to the Americans that maybe their efforts should be directed to promoting change within their own country rather then abroad? If it was not for American tax dollars, there would be no Israeli occupation of Palestine today. No Palestinian even dared to suggest that the root problem of the Israel-Palestine conflict lies not in the Palestinian Territories but rather inside America itself.

No strategies, plans, or constructive ideas were presented or suggested by the Palestinian government that demonstrate how prominent Americans may strategically direct their efforts to influence the American public and civic institutions. Not one individual thought of suggesting to these actors that they should publicly declare support for their fellow American citizens, Craig and Cindy Corrie, who just last months, on the second anniversary of their daughters murder launched a lawsuit inside America against Caterpillar, the American company that provides Israel with the bulldozers that are used to demolish thousands of homes in Rafah.

Rachel Corrie

These colossal human rights violations led to the murder of Rachel Corrie, the daughter of Craig and Cindy, as she valiantly attempted to use nonviolence to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian doctor’s home in Rafah. The gandhi Project promotes non-violence? Then why didn’t any Palestinian present at those meetings suggest that sanctions are a powerful form of nonviolence that can be utilized to insure that Israel abides by international law and ends its crimes against humanity in the occupied territories? The entire world witnessed the power of worldwide economic sanctions against the South African apartheid regime.

America’s sanctions against the South African apartheid regime were the direct result of the actions taken by American civic institutions, which must now be targeted to utilize the same strategy they followed, this time against Israel. Where is the diplomatic and political support necessary to represent an anti-occupation movement in the West Bank and Gaza? One can only be filled with incomprehension when approaching such questions.

On March 15th, when U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan made his provocative and illegal visit to Jerusalem to meet Sharon, he was taken to attend the opening of Israel’s new Holocaust museum. Israel never stops short of reminding visiting diplomats of their victimhood nearly 50 years ago.

When Annan was in the Palestinian territories a day before, he refused to see with his own eyes the destruction caused by Israel’s wall or visit the Jenin refugee camp where war crimes where committed less then 3 years ago. Annan must have therefore left the region with the memory of the Holocaust’s historical victims rather than the Palestinian victims of today.

A Palestinian demonstrator bangs a rock against the gates of the headquarters of Palestinian leader Mahmuod Abbas during a meeting with the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, 14 March 2005. Palestinians were angry that Annan did not go to see Israel’s West Bank Barrier. (Photo: EFE/Atef Safadi)

Reviewing our history books will remind us that the Zionist were able to utilize a small paragraph in a letter, known as the “Balfour Declaration”, written by a British Minister, to rally the support of Britain and the U.N. General Assembly to implement the “Partition Plan”. Today, Palestinians have Security Council resolutions, laws passed by the U.N., international law, and an International Court of Justice ruling. Palestinians have the moral high ground and yet seem incapable of using it.

Khaled Al Sabawi is a 22-year-old Canadian student from the University of Waterloo in Canada. He is currently in Ramallah, on a 4-month work-term. He is a founding member of Students For Palestinian Right (SFPR) at the University of Waterloo.

Related Links

  • Star power deflects attention from ongoing debate, Maureen Clare Murphy, Palestine Report (14 April 2005)
  • Fear and loathing across the Middle East, Hasan Abu Nimah & Ali Abunimah (16 March 2005)
  • Free and Fair Palestinian Elections not Possible Under Military Occupation, Press Release, International Solidarity Movement (5 January 2005) - sidebar features TV advert sponsored by grassroots Israeli-Palestinian peace lobby One Voice featuring Richard Gere.
  • The myth of Gandhi and Palestinian reality, Ali Abunimah (8 September 2004)
  • Richard Gere visits Ramallah under curfew, Palestine Monitor, (4 June 2003)