I am usually very skeptical of clever schemes to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict, especially ones promoted by Hollywood stars (think of Jason Alexander and Richard Gere). But I admit to a soft spot for the "Gandhi Project," the brainstorm of actor Ben Kingsley (who won an Oscar for playing the Mahatma in the 1982 movie) and others to translate the movie into Arabic and bring its message of nonviolent resistance to Palestinians, both in the Palestinian Authority and in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. Funded by two U.S. philanthropies (the Skoll Foundation, founded by e-Bay's Jeff Skoll, and the Global Catalyst Foundation of Kamran Elahian), the project offers free screenings and distributes free DVDs of the movie to civic groups. Ben Kingsley himself is spending time in Jerusalem and Ramallah to promote the movie.
Who knows? Politics works in mysterious ways, and perhaps this movie, which relied on the dubbing abilities of 129 Palestinian actors, can inject a new idea into the West Bank and Gaza. That requires the Palestinians to have understood that violence is not working, something harder to convince them of as the Israelis prepare for the trauma of leaving Gaza, but perhaps, just perhaps, there is an underlying sense of this. If not, this is one experiment that cannot do any harm.
Initial reactions were mostly negative, reports Ravi Nessman of the Associated Press. He quotes Dea Opahi, 21, saying that "There are too many differences. If we stopped resisting Israel, it would probably confiscate all the land left to us." Khadga Sharkouyi, 75, "It's too late. Maybe if we had started earlier." But Hassan Hussein, 17, is more hopeful: "For sure nonviolence is the best and Gandhi's experience is a good example." (April 6, 2005)