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Countering Bias and Misinformation mainly about the Arab-Israel conflict

Correspondence with Arun Gandhi (Mahatma's grandson)

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About Maurice Ostroff

An Open Letter to Mr. Arun Gandhi
from Maurice Ostroff
August 28, 2004

Dear Mr. Gandhi,

In Hebrew we have an expression “kol hakavod” which literally means all honor to you. It is used when one wishes to encourage someone for doing something admirable. And I am writing to say kol hakavod to you for establishing the Gandhi Institute to honor the memory of your revered grandfather Mahatma Gandhi.

No doubt, you follow your grandfather’s devotion to truth, as expressed in his autobiography “Story of My Experiments with Truth”. I trust therefore that you will welcome a few observations about the truth of the Israel Palestinian conflict.
 
In an article on your web site “The World After 9/11” you wrote "Palestinian young people are not sacrificing their lives simply because their religion tells them to, nor, as the American media will have us believe, because they are told they will enjoy luxuries and sex with beautiful women in heaven." As this appears to be one of the basic premises governing your outlook on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, I hope that, as a devotee to truth, you will agree that its veracity  deserves critical examination.

The cycle of violence commonly quoted in the media is: suicide bombing - Israeli response - retaliatory suicide attack and so on. But this simplified sequence omits the essential initial motivating factor, viz. incitement. To break the cycle, it is essential to remove this obvious root cause.

While the PA sends "messages of peace" in English, it continuously incites its people in Arabic to "Kill and be killed”.  PA television spots urge young people to seek a martyr's paradise. It shows a child writing a farewell letter saying "Mother, don't cry over me, be joyous over my blood." Small children, wrapped in mock explosives participate in public parades and are taught to use murderous weapons.

The undeniable truth is that naive young people are in fact being lured by religious exhortations, glorifying death as 'Shahids', and sent to certain death by cruel, cynical recruiters. Yes! cynical. No son of an Arab politician or religious leader has ever blown himself up.

Your description of Israel’s anti-terrorist barrier (ATB) as an apartheid wall, as headlined in The Times of India (Aug. 27) is particularly disconcerting. You are quoted as saying “the barrier, which Israel calls its bulwark against suicide bombers but Palestinians see as a bid to annex occupied land, might isolate Palestinians but not silence them just as apartheid rule failed to suppress blacks in South Africa”. The Times provided some balance by adding, “Israel denies any such intention and rejects comparisons with apartheid South Africa. It says the barrier could be torn down and negotiations on Palestinian statehood could proceed if Palestinians ended attacks on Israelis.”

The irony is that while you obviously intended your  rally against the ATB to spread a message of non-violence, it ended with Palestinian youths hurling stones as graphically illustrated in an AP picture.

The truth is that the ATB against which you are protesting has prevented the killing and maiming of countless uninvolved persons including the elderly, the infirm and infants, Jew and Arab alike. It was surely not your intention, but many see your much-publicized protest against the ATB without a simultaneous, highly visible condemnation of Palestinian incitement and terror, as support for that terror. It is difficult to see any resemblance between this rally, which ended in stone throwing, and your grandfather’s famous non-violent Salt March to Dandi.

It is sad that as a lover of peace and truth you appear to have been influenced by abusive labels invented by propagandists, which, though inaccurate, are nevertheless propagated as catch phrases by uncritical media. The appellation of apartheid to Israel is as unjustified as it is offensive. The abhorrent South African apartheid system not only denied the vote to Black citizens, it legislated to force discrimination in almost every aspect of daily life while Israel’s Declaration of Independence specifically "ensures complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race, or gender”.

The truth is that it is Israel’s Arab neighbors, which enforce gender and religious apartheid. The truth is that Israeli Muslims, Christians, Druse and other minority groups enjoy exactly the same civil and political rights as Jews. The truth is that they serve in the Knesset and speak freely against the government. The truth is that Israel is in fact, the only country in the Middle East where voting takes place in a truly democratic manner.

Your revered grandfather wrote:
"When in despair I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won; there have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall."
If we seek the truth, let’s avoid propaganda and fearlessly examine factual history no matter where our enquiry leads. Then let us decide who are the tyrants and murderers and against whom the protests should be directed.

About your visit to Chairman Arafat, you have been quoted as saying "In principle, he agreed to non-violence, but we couldn't come down to any brass tacks. I couldn't pin him down to any action. In an half-hour discussion, I won't change his opinion".

Looking at the half full glass perhaps we should be optimistic about your further statement  "The fact that he agreed in principle is a first step. Hopefully we can work on him to move further".

You can help break the cycle of violence if you can persuade the PA to replace the lethal incitement programs, which their kids now receive, with the constructive
educational programs they deserve. This would enable the negotiations to resume. What is more, the ATB will become unnecessary and can be torn down, to the great relief of Israelis as well as Palestinians. And you, sir, will be able to extend your peacemaking efforts to regions in dire need, such as Darfur where it has been estimated that 1,400  people are dying daily.

Mr. Gandhi's response

Sender: gandhi@cbu.edu
From: "gandhi" <gandhi@cbu.edu>
Subject: Youth Violence
Date: Sun, 05 Sep 2004 20:21:25 -0500

I agree with you that inciting youth to such violence is totally unethical.  This is the result of a culture of violence. One thing leads to another and violence escalates to unimaginable proportions. I told Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Assembly in no uncertain terms that this kind of violence is unacceptable.  My whole purpose there was to convince the Palestinians that by pursuing the road of violence they are falling deeper and deeper into the hole of devastation and losing the sympathy of the world. That they will never gain anything from such senseless violence. But the situation is as I said earlier. An atmosphere of hopelessness pervades the Muslim world -- in most parts due to their own oppression and in Palestine because of bad policies and precedents. How do you convince a hopeless person that his life is worth living? That is the dilemma I face and all those who believe in nonviolence face.  It is upto the powerful to give them some hope and not to crush them further. I hope this makes some sense. Good wishes. -- Arun Gandhi

Arun Gandhi M.K.Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence
650 East Parkway South Memphis, TN 38104 gandhi@cbu.edu

Further response from Maurice Ostroff

September 6, 2004

Dear Mr. Gandhi,

Thank you for your letter.  I appreciate it and I appreciate your efforts to teach non-violence. Thank you too, for your open minded approach to debating this important subject.

I do not know if your letter is in response to mine of August 28, or to the email I sent last night containing the report by Palestinian Media Watch, with film clips of Palestinian kids being indoctrinated to look forward to a violent martyr's death.

You write of your dilemma, asking  "How do you convince a hopeless person that his life is worth living?"  I assume that when you visited Mr. Arafat with this dilemma in  mind, you were not aware of the full extent of the incitement to violence encouraged by Mr. Arafat's PA. Now that you have seen the film clips of the obscene indoctrination these kids are receiving, you surely must agree that this is the very opposite of what you are trying to achieve. I believe you must agree too, that unless you address this problem vigorously, there cannot  be any meaningful progress towards your laudable objectives.

Surely you must agree that the answer to convincing a hopeless person that his life is worth living,  lies in  ensuring that part of the large amount of funds donated to the PA, is applied towards providing these kids with a decent education and health care, instead of being diverted to incitement and funding of the logistics on which terror depends.

And now that you are aware of the very depravity of this phenomenon, and its antithetic effect on your objectives for non-violence, I ask in all earnestness,  whether you will consider organizing non-violent protest marches  against this incitement on the same scale as your protest against the anti-terrrorist barrier which, after all,  is an indirect result of the incitement.


Sincerely

Maurice Ostroff. 

 

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