Challenging the Dalai Lama on his Views on the Israeli Occupation

On Tuesday 19th June 2012, the 14th Dalai Lama visited the University of Westminster to deliver a lecture on Tibetan Values and Democracy. Having been a naïve supporter of the Dalai Lama in the past, easily impressed by his quotes on compassion and not really having analysed his viewpoints on freedom and democracy, today’s lecture was an eye-opener to the reality of the Dalai Lama’s perspective.

A comment I had come across previously in the Morning Star by the Dalai Lama was “Among Tibetan refugees we are always saying to ourselves that we must learn the Jewish secret to keep up our traditions, in some cases under hostile circumstances,” followed by ‘Tibetans and Israeli’s want to live in peace.’ I wanted confirmation whether this suggested the Dalai Lama to be an Israeli sympathiser. Israel is a blatant poison to humanity whilst it is allowed to exercise its fascist Zionist ideology and breach Palestinians human rights. Given the opportunity by my lecturer Dr Dibyesh Anand, I questioned the Dalai Lama on his views on the Palestinian struggle; grateful for not being silenced in a room filled with a few hundred people including diplomats and media, on an issue mainstream media intentionally fails to cover.

His Holiness, around the time Tibetans lost their rights when they were occupied by China, another nation faced a similar tragedy, the Palestinians. The Israeli occupation of Palestine continues with full support from the United States and the American Israeli Political Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Millions of indigenous Palestinians have been made refugees on their own land and have lost the right to return to their homeland. We sometimes read your statements sympathetic to Israel but not on the suffering of the Palestinians. Could you please enlighten us with your view on the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians under illegal Israeli occupation?”

The Dalai Lama responded along the lines of “I’ve been to Israel a few times. On hearing the Jewish viewpoint, it still looks sort of sub-reasons from  thousands of years old they have certain rights in their place. They themselves in ancient times they became refugees thousands of years ago in different countries. Then on the same occasion, I met some groups of Palestinians and I heard their sort of complaint and they also want rights that the place belongs to them, so it is difficult to judge. The best way is, no matter who they are they should live together and help each other. I’m very much impressed that in Jerusalem where the Jewish community there, their land is much greener and they use every technique, water, trees and grass is much greener. Whereas on the Palestinian side it still remains dry like the desert. It is better to live together and use the Jewish communities skills and in the mean time live together. On my second visit to Tel Aviv, I met a small group of Palestinians and Jewish together, a small group trying to make a bridge and harmony so that is the only way. I think among Israeli’s a number of them are against the government hard line and policy. I know nobel prize Shimon Peres, I think he is very much committed about genuine peace. Sometimes the government is difficult but then the people there show more interaction. In India also, my friends who have some close connections with some Pakistani’s , that is very important. I think after all if both sides stand firm, sooner or later there will be some clash and that will not solve the problem. More clash, sooner or later a clash will not sort the problem but will further any reconciliation. Palestine is an older issue than the Tibetan issue but violence is still involved. It is very sad.”

Dalai Lama showed some encouragement towards a one state solution but the latter comments were very disappointing and disheartening coming from a man who is respected for being ‘compassionate.’ The Dalai Lama holds a neutral view with no real political stance and dismissed the question around the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians but commented on violence, from whom? To be a friend of Israel and not criticize Zionism and what it stands for, to legitimize an illegal occupier and to encourage Palestinians with Israeli identity to normalise and not resist against the crimes against humanity by ignoring the fact Palestinians on the other side of the apartheid wall have no human rights, no freedom of movement, their land being colonised and being dehumanised daily whilst facing Israeli soldiers at checkpoints, to not oppose Israel and demonstrate oneself to be a leader of compassion whilst championing the injustices against Tibetans, is as hypocritical as the Western states the Dalai Lama seeks to sugar coat and gain support from whilst exposing the state crimes of China alone. To defend Shimon Peres who is a warmonger and persecutor of an entire nation and responsible for the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements, responsible for children killed by white phosphorous dropping on their homes in Gaza, responsible for thousands of Palestinians being held in Israeli prison inhumanely in administrative detention without trial, is abominable.

Anyone who is genuinely compassionate can recognise injustice without being obliged to smile and play the violin to it but to have the courage to stand against it, regardless of the lack of support one may receive. Which compassionate individual would join hands with an oppressor spilling the blood of a nation in order to free their people whose blood is also being spilt by a different oppressor? Is the Dalai Lama placing more value on the rights of Tibetans over other oppressed occupied nations? Dalai Lama plays into the hands of Western powers, supportive of states and leaders who are warmongers in different countries which champion imperialism and colonialism. He encouraged 1.3 million Chinese people to know the reality of their state and regarded censorship as being immoral. He praised the Indian government which was contradictory considering they are responsible for the occupation in Kashmir. He admired India for their ‘religious tolerance’, failing to recall the massacre of thousands in Gujarat less than ten years ago. Compassion should allow every occupied nation to unite and confront their oppressors, recognising which nations are the oppressors and which nation is the oppressed which Dalai Lama failed to do so. To stand side by side with the oppressor who slaughters nations but to only comment negatively on the oppressor of your people, does not define compassion but obligation and responsibility. It was already difficult to stomach Barack Obama issuing the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Shimon Peres, but the Dalai Lama praising him metres away from me was even more painful.  Anyone who is legitimately chauffeured around the world to champion the rights of their occupied nation, the agenda and interests of those who support these individuals needs to be scrutinised.

I do not believe the Dalai Lama represents the will or determination of Tibetans who are notorious for carrying out self-immolation in desperation for their rights. Any oppressed nation or representative would be inspired by the non-violent resistance for rights to self-determination and dignity carried out by the Palestinians against the illegal occupation. Dalai Lama himself said the Tibetans want him as a leader but whether they want to listen to him is a different story.

Article by Shareefa Panchbhaya