Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Do We Need a Palestinian Gandhi or Mandela?

Palestinian Gandhi or Mandela
A Palestinian protester watches a salvo of tear gas canisters fall during clashes with Israeli security forces following a demonstration against settlements in the village of Beita in the occupied West Bank, on October 8, 2021. JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP

Majed Kayali

From time to time, Israeli political propaganda comes up with a question like: “Where is the Palestinian Mandela or Gandhi?” However, this question is an elusive one. It conceals the idea that both leaders loved his oppressor so much that they were ready to forgive and reconcile with the oppressor unconditionally, which is not true at all. The two leaders sought reconciliation, truth, and justice altogether to end the British colonialism in India and the apartheid regime in South Africa.

Meanwhile, many people are tempted to compare the South African experience with the Palestinian one, especially since the two sides faced settler colonialism. However, the Israeli settler colonialism is different. In addition to its ideological-religious character, Israel expels the original population to replace them with Jews.

The significance of the discussion also stems from the differentiation between the two forms of armed and popular struggle, whether the Indian approach or the South African way. As manifested in the Israeli case, the peaceful struggle against racist evacuative settler colonialism appears to be unconvincing and unproductive. A state of such nature, which is established through force, cannot be persuaded with the legitimate rights of the Palestinians through dialogue and peaceful struggle, even if it is only about rights recognized by the United Nations.

The peaceful struggle seems to be just another ideological belief that has nothing to do with Israel, rationality, nor reality. First, Israel wasn’t established through peaceful and democratic means. Second, we are not facing an ordinary state that came into existence due to the development of the Jewish community in Palestine.  Instead, Israel is a colonial state established by a political movement that emerged in Europe. This state brought its society via settlement and imposed itself through the colonial authority (Britain) using military force.

Third, Israel is a settler-colonial state that replaces the natives with immigrant Jews. Such a thing makes Israel even different from the apartheid regime in South Africa. That regime did not expel the original population, attempt to confiscate their history, nor deprive them of their identity. That could explain why Israel sees its conflict with the Palestinians as a “them or us” situation, i.e., as a component of the existential nature of the conflict, which includes the displacement, exile, and erasure from time and place. This means that it is not only a relationship of subjugation, marginalization, and exploitation.

Fourth, Israel is an ideological-religious state, and such states, even if they operate according to democracy, also function in line with the rules of totalitarian regimes based on domination and stereotyping. That stereotyping follows an arbitrary cultural and identity concept.

These rules work effectively in Israel since it is a society of immigrants-settlers united by Zionism, nationalism, and religion. On the one hand, these settlers need state services and privileges. On the other hand, state entities like the army, the media, educational institutions, the public sector, and social security play the role of the melting pot. Based on the determinants that the state has drawn, that pot works on creating a society ideologically aware of itself and others.

That is the situation the Palestinians have been facing for more than seven decades, in an international, regional and Arab reality that favoured the establishment, development, and supremacy of Israel while limiting the Palestinian struggle and existence as a people.

Perhaps such a meaning can be concluded from Hannah Arendt in her saying: “If Gandhi’s successful nationalist strategy, which depended on the principle of nonviolent resistance, found itself compelled to confront another enemy as Stalin’s Russia, Hitler’s Germany or pre-war Japan instead of Britain, the result would never have been decolonizing India. Rather, the result would have been a total massacre and submission.”

On the other hand, there is also naivety, a lack of realism and rationality in believing that only an armed struggle can liberate Palestine or restore the rights of its people. That argument applies to the belief that Palestinians alone can defeat Israel with all forms of struggle. The same applies to believing that Palestine can liberate the West Bank, for example.

It is worth noting that we are talking today about a nearly seven-decade-old experience. With its exorbitant sacrifices, the nature of the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel was not the only thing that changed. The Palestinian society and existence deteriorated from inside and outside. On the other hand, Israel continues to progress and excel in the region.

What should realise here is that Israel possesses a massive military superiority in terms of strength, armaments, and management. Moreover, it harnesses added potency from the avid support of major world powers fighting for Israel’s security and supremacy, especially the United States. In addition to all of this, Israel possesses a massive nuclear arsenal, or what it calls a doomsday weapon.

So, what is the solution?

The first purpose of this discussion is to show that armed struggle alone, without popular and political action, has no meaning as a goal in itself. In this case, it cannot bear any results, neither internally in building Palestinian society nor externally in provoking contradictions in the Israeli society or winning international sympathy.

Secondly, the armed, popular, and political Palestinian struggle needs several changes to bear fruit alone, or at least cause a dent in Israel. That includes changes in the international equations, in the surrounding Arab environment. In addition, we need cultural and political changes in Israel itself. The Palestinian struggle needs at least one of these changes.

Third, Palestinians need to realise the importance of rationalizing their forms of struggle, including their energy. They need to balance their activities between their need for building political, societal entities and institutions and their struggle against their enemy. Moreover, they need to evaluate the forms and levels of their struggle while understanding the international and regional situations. In this way, they would not waste their sacrifices.

Therefore, any comparison with another Indian, South African, Algerian or Vietnamese experience must consider the several variables and circumstances of the Palestinian struggle and the many Arab and international factors.


The opinions expressed in this publication are those of our bloggers. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Fanack or its Board of Editors.

user placeholder
written by
All Dima articles