I've just been reading a post at Mondoweiss (Why Don't Palestinians Adopt Gandhi's Methods?), which describes one of the practical reasons - i.e. Israel's (mis)use of the law enforcement and judicial system - why Palestinian non-violent resistance has not been effective in the way that those who lament the lack of a "Palestinian Gandhi" imply that it should be.
I should start out by saying that personally I am not convinced that most of the people who lament the lack of a Palestinian Gandhi do so sincerely. What I mean is, non-violence might well be an effective means of realizing Palestinian rights, but I do not believe that the people who criticize Palestinians for not adopting it are necessarily interested in seeing the Palestinians realize their rights at all. I don't think for a minute that Israel and its supporters would treat - or would ever have treated - the Palestinians any better had the Palestinians gone quietly. Zionism's problem with the Palestinians is not that they are terrorists. Zionism's problem with the Palestinians is that they exist. The Palestinians have to be forcibly displaced, dispossessed and disenfranchised not because of anything they do, but because that is the only way to create a Jewish state in a land where there is a pre-existing indigenous majority population that happens to be overwhelmingly non-Jewish. Even if every single Palestinian became a pacifist right now, Zionism would still have no room for them: Israel would still be colonizing the West Bank, and still depopulating East Jerusalem of residents who happen to have the wrong ethnic-religious background. It takes a special kind of nerve to embark upon a project - Zionism - that can be fulfilled only through the violent destruction of another people, and then criticize the people you are destroying for their failure to adopt non-violence.
But even if we suspend our disbelief about Zionism's willingness to respond to Palestinian non-violence, and assume the very best about Israel's intentions, it still strikes me as a little odd that any Zionist would use the moral authority of Mahatma Gandhi as a line of attack against the Palestinians, seeing as Gandhi himself was very opposed to Zionism:
Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. …Surely it would be a crime against humanity to reduce the proud Arabs so that Palestine can be restored to the Jews partly or wholly as their national home. The nobler course would be to insist on a just treatment of the Jews wherever they are born and bred.
… I am not defending the Arab excesses. I wish they had chosen the way of non-violence in resisting what they rightly regarded as an unwarrantable encroachment upon their country. But according to the accepted canons of right and wrong, nothing can be said against the Arab resistance in the face of overwhelming odds.
-- The Jews In Palestine, by Mahatma Gandhi; The Harijan, 26 Nov 1938.
From a Zionist perspective, Gandhi apparently has enough moral authority to be called upon when he criticizes Arab violence, but not enough to be listened to when he condemns the underlying injustice against the Palestinians that gives rise to the violence in the first place.
One of the commenters at Mondoweiss cited a quote from Gandhi, lamenting Zionism's reliance on terrorism to impose itself on Palestine. I looked for the context to the quote, and found the source article, in which Gandhi had this to say about the use of terrorism to establish a Jewish state in Palestine (click images to enlarge):
-- Jews and Palestine, by Mahatma Gandhi; The Harijan, 21Jul 1946. (via The Gandhi Reader).
And that strikes me as the biggest irony of all. Here in the U.S., where Zionism is the default perspective for viewing the Middle East, people look at Palestine's confrontation with Zionism and ask: Why can't the Palestinians adopt Gandhi's nonviolent methods? But when Gandhi himself looked at Palestine's confrontation with Zionism, the question that occurred to him was: Why can't the Zionists adopt my nonviolent methods?
Photo: Backdropped by a section of Israel's separation barrier, Israeli troops fire rubber bullets at Palestinian stone throwers, not seen, during clashes in the West Bank village of Kalandia between Jerusalem and Ramallah, Friday, Feb 9, 2007. (AP/MUHAMMED MUHEISEN)