quotes Israel, you need a Mandela and Palestine, a Gandhi

29 May 2024
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Updated 29 May 2024

Israel, you need a Mandela and Palestine, a Gandhi

Last Friday, the International Court of Justice demanded that Israel halt all military activities in Rafah due to the unacceptable risk to innocent civilians. Today, the UN Security Council is holding an emergency meeting to look into how dozens of innocent civilians were killed in an Israeli airstrike on a Rafah refugee camp. The world, including even the US, has unanimously condemned Israel’s actions, with everyone except Israel realizing that this war must stop immediately.

What Israel needs is its own Nelson Mandela, and fast. After the unprecedented destruction of the entire Gaza territory and the murder of tens of thousands of innocent Gazan women and children, Israel’s reputation has sunk even further. Only a visionary and compassionate leader like Mandela can reclaim a future for both the Israeli and Palestinian people.

Today, the Palestinian people themselves resemble a Mandela imprisoned for decades. They have suffered tremendously at the hands of the Israeli occupation, yet they must still imagine a future in which they can live in peace beside these same Israelis. To get there, they should take example from Gandhi and his passive or peaceful resistance to the British in India.

By forswearing any violence or retribution, the Palestinians present an overwhelming moral case after having been repressed, dispossessed, discriminated against, and arbitrarily murdered by a vicious Israeli occupier for so long. Those atrocities go back almost 100 years when we also consider the actions of Zionist militias under the British mandate. Passive resistance from the Palestinian people as a whole cannot but turn to powder the hard rocks of hatred and intolerance that Israel has walled itself into.

Once Israel finally understands and chooses to grasp the hand of peace that Arabs have been extending for decades, the Palestinians can then follow the example of Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who together overcame decades of repression to offer forgiveness to their jailers and subjugators. 

When Mandela opened up the skies of forgiveness for all South Africans, they were collectively blessed with showers of hope and acceptance from the heavens. It can sometimes take a very long time to receive justice, but when one receives it, one should also be ready to offer forgiveness, acceptance, and magnanimity.

Tutu’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission was the necessary medicine that brought into the open all the atrocities perpetrated during apartheid but gave South Africans the opportunity to apologize, take responsibility, and forgive. What a powerful example.

To achieve such justice for Palestinians, Israel needs the leadership of a Mandela, a leader with a powerful conscience and the wisdom to overcome the most painful past. South Africa’s system of apartheid was an entrenched rod of hatred passed from grandfather to father to son. A farsighted Israeli leader must rise with the slenderest of twigs, to be planted to grow into sheltering trees of hope and forgiveness.

Israel can also follow South Africa’s example of dismantling all potential nuclear weaponry. South Africa dismantled their six atomic bombs of their own accord, for the sake of coexistence and regional peace. Israel can do even better, helping to establish a Middle Eastern haven of forgiveness, free of all weapons of mass destruction, and opening the doors of trust and coexistence between Israel and all her Arab neighbors. The power of saying sorry is more formidable than the atomic power of hatred. 

It may seem difficult to imagine such a future of forgiveness, acceptance, and coexistence under the terrible circumstances in Gaza today. But perhaps the reality of unprecedented carnage we are witnessing can awaken our common humanity, as the deadly Rafah airstrike has done around the world.

To face these challenges, we must abandon the fuel and matches of hatred and replace them with a torch of hope. We must bury the ashes of hatred and disdain, remembering the message of peace which the prophets of all three great monotheistic religions transmitted to the people of the world and the Middle East. 

I hope I shall not be the only one to shine such light on the path of peace that lies ahead of all of us, should we choose to take it. Remember the decades of intolerable suffering and the imperceptible light of hope that Gandhi and Mandela experienced for so many decades. Despite this, they were able to rise to the calling of history, fighting the battle of peace and mutual acceptance with nothing more than their own compassion, understanding, and forgiveness as weapons.

Let them both be an example to all of us, and in particular to Israelis and Palestinians today, providing them with the opportunity to right historical wrongs and build a bright future of peace and coexistence for all. 

Hassan bin Youssef Yassin worked closely with Saudi Arabia’s petroleum ministers, Abdullah Tariki and Ahmed Zaki Yamani, from 1959-1967. He led the Saudi Information Office in Washington from 1972-1981 and served with the Arab League’s observer delegation to the UN from 1981-1983.