Khaled Meshal: The most unlikely Gandhi fan

mahatma gandhi

There was much hullabaloo about former Hamas chief Khaled Meshal addressing an online meeting in Kerala during the ongoing Israeli war on Palestine provoked by a Hamas attack on Israel on 7 October, 2023. Hamas is described as a terrorist organization by Israel as well as United States even though it came to power in Gaza through elections. US-Israel refuse to have any dealing with it, instead preferring the relatively moderate Fatah which rules West Bank under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas. US, particularly, must be asked what did it consider Taliban? Why did it engage in dialogue with it in Qatar and why did it hand over Afghanistan on a platter to them without even an election there, going against its stated objective of establishing democracy wherever it invades?

In 2010-11, I was part of a group of about 60-70 people of different nationalities which had travelled to Gaza via a road route facilitated among others by National Trade Union Initiative. Before reaching Gaza we met Khaled Meshal in Damascus, which used to be his home then. Seeing that there were a few Indians among the group he praised Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. Nehru had visited the Palestinians in refugee camp after the 1948 Nakba. When one amongst us asked how could Gandhi be his ideal as Hamas was considered to be a terrorist organization by Israel and US, his reply was that whenever a weak is confronted with a powerful then it is Gandhi who inspires the weak to flight for their rights. He said Hamas’s capacity to take on the military might of Israel was insignificant, yet Hamas continues to fight because, if, Hamas were to not even retaliate to the extent it does then Gaza will be run over by Israel. In the present war that danger is imminent. First Israelis warned Palestinians to vacate North Gaza and when people moved to South it is asking them to vacate South too. Where are the Palestinians supposed to go with Egypt not very welcoming of the Palestinians, given that Palestinians who fled in 1948 still continue to languish with their families in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon based refugee camps?

Mahatma Gandhi, committed to non-violence in principle, has said that if the choice is between cowardice and violence then it may be better to choose violence. If a person is pushed to the corner she has only two choices – either to surrender or resist. Gandhi was against meek submission. If we consider the history of Palestine-Israel conflict since 1917, when first declaration for Israel was first made, Israel has forcibly changed the demography as well as geography of the area as the world stood silent witness to it, including during the present crisis, and brought the overwhelming majority of Arabs to a minority in their own land and restricted them to merely 22% of what was originally Palestine, which is more like an open jail with restrictions on movement in and out, rather than an independent country as envisaged by the United Nations resolution of 1947.

Hamas has calrified that it is not against the Jews but it is against the Zionist project of occupying Palestine. Hamas believes that Israel has misled Palestine Liberation Organisation and all the negotiations brokered by US and other Western powers came to a naught, hence Israel will have to be forced to negotiate peace with Palestine which can happen only if it is perceived as strong. This is their rationale for using violence which may not seem justified to some but there can be no doubt that the violence used by Israel against Palestinians is disproportionately large, like in the present war.

Khaled Meshal once faced a lethal attack on his life. Israeli secret agency Mossad’s agents sprayed poison into his ears in Aamman which caused headache and vomiting and he was  admitted to a hospital. It was only after the Jordanian King Hussein threatened Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with public trial of two Israeli agents by military court and termination of diplomatic relations with Israel that US President Bill Clinton intervened and Israel had to provide antidote to Jordanian doctors which saved the life of Khaled Meshal. This demonstrates the importance of the man. It was under his leadership that Hamas won the election to Palestine Legislative Council in 2006, but got to rule only over Gaza.

It is unlikely that US and Israeli attempt to discredit Hamas or forcefully dislodging it from power will meet with any success given the popular support enjoyed by it among the Palestinians. The Palestinians are a self-respecting non-compromising people who have amply demonstrated grit and determination in their struggle against autocratic and marauding Israel all along. The spirit of resistance is visible as graffiti on the Gaza walls. Palestinians have tremendous resilience and patience. As soon as a building is destroyed they start rebuilding it. To an outsider they want to give an impression that life goes on normal there. But the present war has been devastating.  Over 4,000 children alone have been killed by Israel in brazen attacks including on hospitals. Israel can get away with it because of unflinching shameless support of US and other western powers. Compare the crimes of apartheid government in South Africa and the world response to it. Had it been any other country sanactions and boycott would have been in place against Israel by now.

The world leaders instead of condoing Israeli war crimes must force it to come to the talking table. A sovereign Palestine state needs to come into existence recognized by the UN and other world powers should ensure that Israel and Palestine live peacefully. PLO in the past and Hamas at present is agreeable to the 1967 boundaries but that will require Israel to withdraw its settlements. Question is whether Israel will withdraw or continue to blame the ‘terrorist’ Hamas as an excuse for not arriving at a permanent solution. If Hamas can be blamed for having a vision of Palestine from river to the sea, Israel too can be accused of having a similar design. Peaceful co-existence is the only solution. The sooner it dawns upon Israel and US, fewer more lives will be lost.

Sandeep Pandey is General Secretary of Socialist Party (India).

e-mail: [email protected]


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