Arun Gandhi, descendant of the man who loosened Britain's grip on the Indian subcontinent, said on Thursday that non-violence would speed the growth of international pressure on Israel and sympathy for the Palestinian cause.

"I know your day of freedom is very near," he told a crowd of thousands of flag-waving Palestinians in the West Bank city of Ram Allah after meeting President Yasir Arafat.

"Insist on your rights and demand your freedom peacefully ... Let the voice of reason and compassion stand up again," said Gandhi, president and founder of the US-based MK Gandhi Institute for Non-Violence.

In an interview with Aljazeera on Thursday night, Gandhi said the conditions of the Palestinian prisoners currently on hunger strike in Israeli jails was deplorable.

"I think it is very sad and discouraging ... this inhumane treatment," he said of Israel's rejection of the prisoners' demands for better jail conditions.

 

"There should be international pressure for Israel to alleviate the plight of the Palestinians," he told Aljazeera.

Suggestions

Condemning the separation barrier Israel is building in the West Bank as an "evil thing", Gandhi gave some suggestions for a new non-violent movement in the West Bank and Gaza - territories captured by Israel in 1967.

Many Palestinians attended the
rally with photos of jailed relatives

"Imagine yourselves marching by the thousands behind your leaders to the checkpoints and the roadblocks demanding your free passage and the right to be treated as human beings," he said.

"Sit at the roadblocks and sing your songs. March to the wall and dance your dances," he added, referring to the wall that is being built on confiscated Palestinian land.

Reaction split

But Palestinians at the rally were split on the idea of non-violence, with teenagers apparently unimpressed. A 15-year-old, Mahmud Sulaiman, said he doubted non-violence could win Palestinians a state, even though he welcomed Gandhi.

"It won't work. There must be both armed and peaceful resistance, and armed resistance is more important."

But older members of the audience, such as 25-year-old Muhammad Sabir, were more impressed.

"The peaceful resistance he talks about is better than what we have here. We should be a symbol of peace to the world. In the end we are with Gandhi. We need to be better than them."

Salima Ayat, holding a framed picture of her jailed son, said: "We want peace. We want to live as they live. Isn't this our right? We want peace by any means."