The grandson of the Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi has urged Palestinians to rise up peacefully to demand an end to Israeli occupation, and said freedom was close.
Arun Gandhi said yesterday that non-violence would increase world sympathy for the Palestinians. It was not too late to start a non-violent movement in the West Bank and Gaza, captured by Israel in 1967, he said, and he condemned a barrier Israel is building in the West Bank as an "evil thing".
"I know your day of freedom is very near," he told thousands of flag-waving Palestinians in the West Bank city of Ramallah after meeting Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian president.
Mr Gandhi visited the West Bank from his American home but despite a genial half-hour meeting with Mr Arafat in Ramallah, his pleas largely fell on deaf ears.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie (C) holds hands with Arun Gandhi (L) the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and a priest during a protest against the controversial Israeli security barrier in East Jerusalem August 27, 2004. The grandson of slain Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi urged Palestinians on Thursday to rise up peacefully to demand an end to Israeli occupation, and said freedom was close. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic
"We can only achieve peace through non-violence," Mr Gandhi told The Independent. "When we respond to the oppressor the way the oppressor has done - with the use of violence - then we lose our moral strength."
He described his conversation with the Palestinian leader as very fruitful. "We couldn't take any decisions in half an hour, but he agreed in principle that non-violence was an option. I intend to keep in touch with him."
Some Palestinian commentators have started questioning the wisdom of the four-year intifada, which has only increased Palestinian suffering. "There is a trend which believes in non- violent struggle," Ziad Abu Amr, a former minister said, "but I don't think the Israelis are interested in it ... It is very difficult to copy the types of struggle which occurred in India in the context of the Israeli occupation."
Eyad Sarraj, a leading Gaza psychiatrist and human rights campaigner, doubted whether it was a starter. "There's so much hatred, so much thirst for revenge. It would be very difficult to channel this anger into a non-violence path."
London-trained Dr Sarraj said the perceived failure of the intifada made it less likely than ever. "Arab culture is about an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, especially so now. People feel they have not achieved victory by violence. Going for non- violent resistance would look like a form of surrender."
Palestinians at the rally were split on the idea of non-violence. "The peaceful resistance he talks about is better than what we have here," said Mohammed Saber, 25. But Mahmoud Suleiman, aged 15, said: "There must be armed and peaceful resistance - armed is more important."
© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd