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Arun Gandhi, the grandson of the late Mahatma Gandhi, yesterday pitched the legendary Indian leader's non-violent creed to thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank, calling on the parties in the Middle East conflict to resolve their differences through peaceful means.

"You have fought for the Holy Land, but God said there is nothing holier than people's lives," he told 5,000 Palestinians who gathered in al-Bireh's football field.

Most of whose participants arrived in buses from Ramallah and villages to the north and at first the rally looked like a large demonstration in support of the hunger striking Palestinian prisoners.

It was held about 300 meters away from the solidarity tent, which the parents, friends and children of the prisoners visit daily. From here they express to the world the violation of their right to visit their relatives and the children's right to hug their imprisoned fathers.

The rally was the first of three planned to broadcast the message of popular struggle against the occupation. They were organized by a group of Palestinian activists, some of whom support the Geneva Initiative.

The ads said the rally would be in solidarity with the prisoners, some of whom are sentenced for using weapons and attacking Israeli citizens. The "popular struggle" Gandhi is advocating refers to resistance not carried out by armed individuals. Some even see it as criticism on the use of weapons, which has damaged the Palestinian cause more than helping it.

But this criticism was not spoken directly at the rally. On the 14th day of the hunger strike, no Palestinian can express any political message that does not include love and support for the prisoners and detainees.

Gandhi tried to persuade them that an unarmed, popular struggle could succeed. He said he knew that what was happening under the occupation was a violation of basic human rights, denounced it, and denounced the wall being built on the Palestinians' land and the violence against them. However, he also denounced the Palestinian violence against Israelis.

Our choice is peace, he told the crowd, who listened patiently in the scorching sun. The audience applauded when he announced that today, Friday, he would fast in solidarity with the prisoners and their peaceful struggle for their rights.

A few women who arrived from a village near Tul Karm were asked what they thought of Gandhi. They said they were pleased with his support of the Palestinian people and the prisoners. Asked for their opinion on his message for nonviolent battle, they replied, "Nonviolent? Do the Israelis recognize such a thing as nonviolence?"

"The philosophy of nonviolence applies in every part of the world and I think the time has come when we need to look at other alternatives," Gandhi told Army Radio. "The world has become a very violent place everywhere we use military force to resolve conflicts and that hasn't really helped anybody anywhere at all."

Gandhi said defeating terrorism could not be achieved militarily but only by "addressing the problem from the root." He said Israel and the Palestinians have no alternative other than to partition the land.