Reflecting on the Elders' visit to Gaza, Ela Bhatt wonders: "How do we make the people with weapons irrelevant?"
I am disturbed by the violence and the fear in this region, as a Gandhian committed to achieving change through non-violent means. This was very much on my mind as we entered Gaza. This place is associated with constant violence and suffering. When we were entering Gaza, I was feeling cynical.
At the moment Gaza is so left out. The blockade, which is itself an act of violence, has trapped the people and is driving them into greater poverty, poorer health and higher unemployment.
Yet I was impressed by their forbearance! The Gazans we met were resourceful and outward-looking. We spoke to young people, businessmen, women, human rights activists, politicians and they are desperate to be part of the world. A policeman even talked to me about Indian cinema – he knew all about it. All are searching for reconciliation and peace.
I have been thinking about how non-violent struggle can help the people of Gaza. It is not easy to talk about this with people who have to face violence every day. There are also vested interests that profit from fighting. But I believe that the people of Gaza will find a peaceful way forward.
I am reminded of Gandhiji who taught us that self-reliance is the path to freedom; if people are dependent on others and believe themselves to be victims, they will be treated as victims.
When India was trying to achieve independence from Britain, Gandhi said to us that India was a sleeping cobra and needed to wake up! He said to India: “The only thing I ask from you is not to bend your knees to injustice.”
I see that Gaza is struggling to wake up; especially the young people. They are starting to think creatively about how to change their lives.
The people of Gaza, of course should resist the occupation, peacefully. I would also like to see Gaza end its dependence on the outside as much as possible. Everything in Gaza comes from outside – the food, clothes, cars and the weapons. Gaza is controlled and ‘assisted’ by powerful outside forces that all dictate what happens here.
I see also that people are bored with so-called “peace”. I am wondering how peace can be put into action. How do we bring our struggles onto a different playing field?
There is too much reliance on politics. There are ways beyond the political – more constructive, more creative, based on meaningful work, development, fighting poverty and lifting people up. How do we make the people with weapons irrelevant?
I am far from advising you – but I am sharing my experience because I am concerned with your suffering.
This kind of struggle is non-violent, but it is not weak. Non-violence needs more hard work than fighting. It needs more courage and it is a force by itself. That much I can say. In facing your oppressor, some people may be injured or even lose their lives – as many have already. But you will show that it is the coward who uses weapons and in the end you will be free.