Can non-violent resistance gain a foothold in Palestine?

This website has first-hand, up-to-the-minute accounts of the fighting in the West Bank, and it told me something the major media hadn’t told me: that there are free-lance international observers right there in the middle of everything. Apparently they are providing information to the outside world, and to a certain extent using their presence as a shield for the inhabitants of the region. Apparently they have been there at least since December, when IIRC there was an international solidarity march in Bethlehem that got broken up by the cops.

This reminds me of what the Witnesses for Peace tried to do in Central America. If these international observers talk to a lot of Palestinian young men, and sponsor more non-violent protests, what could be the results?

Also, I have heard of Israeli medical personnel who have violated roadblocks and gone into Palestinian areas to treat the wounded. Sometimes they get beaten down by Israeli soldiers at the checkpoints. I have also heard that there are now 1,000 Israeli reservists refusing to serve in the Occupied Territories, and twelve of them are in military jails. Sometimes there are demonstrations of up to 500 Israelis at these jails, which go uncovered by even the Israeli media. All of this seems to suggest that there is an increase in non-violent tactics and cross-cultural solidarity.

(A lot of this information comes from two e-mail listservs in L.A., “actionla” and “peacecenter”, so I don’t know if I can provide any links.)

Michael Moore in his book Stupid White Men advised Arafat to “just sit your ass down” (have a mass sit-in and block all the roads). The day this advice is listened to, the occupation’s days are numbered.

Of course, even if non-violent resistance does become more popular in Palestine, that may not stop all the suicide bombers, just as the presence of Martin Luther King did not stop urban riots. The Israeli military cannot stop suicide bombers. Even Arafat and the PA can’t stop suicide bombers. (Especially since they’re constantly being bombed.) I don’t think anything could stop the suicide bombers except more hope for the future and less despair on the part of the young.

If past experience is any guide, I bet this thread will attract a lot of posts saying, “Nah, never happen, there’s no solution, things will never get better.” I am tired of such unconstructive nihilism. This is a situation that clearly and urgently cries out for a humane and just solution.

There may also be some racist posts that say things like,“Nah, never happen, Palestinians are only capable of understanding violence.” They’re not. Like any other people, Palestinians need to be convinced that non-violence is a viable tactic before they adopt it.

There was a Palestinian gentleman named Mubarak Awad back in the 1980s who was doing exactly what you proposed: nonviolent resistance. He got advice from Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, who had led an Islamic nonviolent struggle in India along with Gandhi. The Israelis expelled Awad from the country. Now he’s in the United States. I wish he weren’t being ignored. Perhaps the whole concept of Palestinian nonviolence is too challenging to everyone’s prejudices.

You can read a recent interview with him here:

MEIR AMOR: How do Sufis argue against the notion of Islam as a religion based on Jihad – Holy War?
AWAD:They interpret Jihad as the evil inside oneself that a person has to fight against.
They say not to harm a tree, an animal, or a person. It’s a lovely notion, similar to the Quaker concept that there’s a part of God
in every person, so you must not hurt a person because you’d hurt God.

Mubarak Awad is an amazing man. It was his intention to instigate the initial intifada as nonviolent protest. Jomo Mojo is correct in stating that Israel will not allow him back into the country. What Jomo is missing from the story, however, is that before Awad left the country (I can’t remember if he was expelled or simply not allowed to return after a trip), most of the Palestinians he was trying to lead in nonviolent protest rejected his peaceful ideals. This statement is not based on prejudice or misinformation. The only cite I need is my own notes from the day I personally interviewed Awad in his home in Washington, D.C. in 1990 after being introduced to him by my professor who was his friend. Thank you for posting the link to his recent interview. After a long, very personal discussion about my views and his, I left his home crying that day. I have been thinking about him a lot lately and wondering what he would say about recent events.

I just finished reading the article. Jomo Mojo, do you know the date of the interview? I ask because when I spoke to Awad in 1990, I asked him at the end of our conversation if he had any hope left for reaching a peaceful solution. He told me no, he didn’t think so, that he just didn’t see how it could happen. Yet, in the article, he mentions several early successes of his nonviolent movement, and at the end he does express his hopes for peaceful resolution. It was good to read, but I wonder when during the current violence it was published.

I read the interview with Awad and was inspired by it. If one man can indigenously arise in Palestine and advocate non-violence, it has got to be possible for that to happen again.

Israel made an egregious error in deporting him. If Awad had been allowed to stay in Palestine, there might be fewer suicide bombings today.

Read my “Israeli refusedniks” thread for a link to an article about Arik Ascherman of the Rabbis for Human Rights. (Thanks to jjimm.) He’s another non-violent hero.

Robert D. Crane (an American Muslim intellectual) is going to speak on “Peace Through Justice in the Holy Land: The Spiritual Jihad of Satyagraha” at the Center for the Study of Islam & Democracy 3rd Annual Conference in Arlington, Virginia, April 6-7, 2002. Link to conference program PDF:

I thought his use of the word satyagraha in connection with the Palestine/Israel problem was interesting. There always was a nexus between Mahatma Gandhi and Islam, obscured as that may be nowadays.

This is a beautiful thing. I do hope some of these ideas could somehow find support. At least there is a splinter of hope in there somewhere. Am I to understand that this man is still alive? Is he still willing and able to undertake this? Someone should arrange for his return if it is a possibility.

How would you feel about an on-line petition to ask the State Department to pressure Israel to let Mubarak Awad come back?

Peaceful resistance is an interesting idea, but you have to use it against appropiate targets. Against the Brits who pride themselves to be civilised, it is very effective. But against some brute like Ariel Sharon, who has no qualms leveling houses in refugee camps, I don’t see how it is going to work.

Considering that Sharon is a) ignoring even US requests b) suppressing the press in the occupied territory, I don’t think he’s interested in peace. Okay, maybe in his kind of peace.

IMO This is why Arafat must go. The hard line guys are unwilling to try anything else, and leaders like Awad have no chance of getting heard. Article 9 of the PLO charter states that violence is the only legitimate method of resistance. If that’s your dogma, anybody who says otherwise is a traitor.

Of course how do you dump Arafat without worsening the problem…

Israel is a democracy, and the vast majority of the people just want peace. Long term, strategically, Sharon is not the Palestinian’s problem.

If everyone would just sit their asses down, there would indeed be a Palestinian state by now.
What has to happen there is a Palestinian leadership that recognizes that militant Islamic fundamentalists are as much a threat to any future Palestinian state as they are to Israel. Like the communists of old, these radicals thrive on instability, and will always look for an opportunity to create some in order to provoke a confrontration.
Arafat has been only too willing to use them as a tool, despite the fact that they would consider him an enemy too if he settled on a Palestinian state within the 1967 defined occupied territories. As one leader of Hamas put it, the Jews could stay, as long as they agreed to live under Islamic law. Hamas and Islamic Jihad (the name says it all) will never go for non-violence, and will never give up trying to drive Israel into the sea.
Until Arafat & co. realize that they are as much their enemies as Israel’s, nothing will be possible. The first thing they have to do is get everyone in the Palestinian areas to boycott Hamas and Islamic Jihad. At that point, the Israelis will finally have a positive action to point to, one that clearly shows a willingness on the part of the Palestinians to live side by side with them.
After that, nonviolence would easily be enough to get them a state and to get the Jewish settlements out of the occupied territories. Men like Sharon have never known and will never know how to react to nonviolence, and that is precisely its strength.
Unfortunately, the same is true of Arafat.

I think, like many other pragmatic Arabs and Muslims, Arafat and co. are real scared of what these terrorists might do to them and their country. They are not exactly sure how much real support the terrorists have relative to them, or how fierce a civil war against them would be. So they would as soon as have Israel be rid of them in order that they aren’t forced to. Only Pakistan’s General Musharraf is bravely fighting them, and that’s only because he is reversing policies of years past.

Thoughtful nonviolence worked for Poland’s Solidarity movement against the USSR.

Thoughtful nonviolence worked for Optor against Serbia’s Milosevic.

My Claim (and Friedman’s): Thoughtful nonviolence would work against Israel should the Palestinians try it.

(Furthermore, any nonviolent movement would have to condemn rock throwing, as it is likely to lead to escalation.)

Which is not to say that nonviolent strategies work against all regimes in all circumstances. But democracies are particularly vulnerable to this approach, more vulnerable than they are to terrorism. It just requires some small amount of discipline.

While it’s true that Arafat is probably afraid of groups such as Hamas, I would say it’s naive to think he is opposed to their goals. Different ideologies (Muslim fundamentalist vs. secular autocratic), same agenda (destruction of Israel). The day Arafat takes the revolving doors out of his “jails for terrorists”, stops gunning down his opponents, orders groups (Al-Aqsa, Tanzim) in his own Fatah movement to stop their terrorist actions, at least against Israel proper, is the day I’ll consider that maybe Arafat might be interested in peace, and would absolutely want Hamas, PIJ, etc. out of his country. Until then, I’d say it’s reasonable to assume that this is the same man who had the Israeli athletes at Munich (1972), two American diplomats in Sudan (1973), and an American Jewish passenger on an Italian cruise ship (1984) murdered; the same man who essentially invented the hijacking; the same man who responded to the most generous peace offer in Israeli history with an intifada.

About the OP, I don’t think it’s wise to say that any significant number of Palestinians will adopt civil disobedience within the near future. Opinion polls show heavy support for openly violent groups, along with Arafat and his crowd, none of whom is a Palestinian version of Gandhi. Despite what the OP says, those of us who argue that it’s not possible are not being “racist” - saying modern Arab culture has a strong tendency towards violence and repression is not equivalent to arguing Arabic genetic inferiority. It is probably not a coincidence, however, that there is not a single Arab democracy, and that America and Israel are in and of themselves targets of a great deal of Arab vitriolic hatred.

On that note, I agree with flowbark that nonviolent resistance would work against Israel since it is a democratic nation with a free press. My contention is that such a movement is not realistically going to happen.

Wow that was wordy.

On a more hopeful note, I might observe that one hundred (say) dedicated Palestinian peace activists, who take steps to condemn killings on both sides (and who, in practice, would probably have to be dominated by Sufi muslims), could conceivably attract a lot of positive international press.

Small concessions from the Israelis might follow. And with that, perhaps greater support could emerge within the Palestine community.

That seems to say something about the USSR and Milosevic then.

On an interesting note:

So is that why Sharon was voted into power, because they wanted “peace?”

No, Sharon was voted into power because every effort at peace by the liberal-dove crown failed. Barak put his ass on the line and staked his credibility on the bringing peace. But Arafat broke every agreement, and the Israeli population concluded that peace was not possible. And if peace isn’t possible, you put a general in office.

Sharon’s no sweetheart, but he’s not going to be a dictator. If there was a stop to PLO violence–and I mean a prolonged stop, not a couple of weeks–and they went to non-violent resistance, popular sentiment would leave Sharon no choice. If he resisted they’d boot him out.

I repeat: The PLO takes it as dogma that violence is the only solution. It’s in their charter. It’s in their schoolbooks. Until that changes – and it will only change with new Palestinian leadership – it will be more of the same.

What you said is contradictory to some of the things I have read on the Web. It is way too easy point an accusing finger at one side and say, “that’s his fault.”

Reality is hardly this black-and-white.

The PLO violence is a reaction to Israeli violence. Wrote Assaf Oron:

Is that true or just something you made up? Assaf Oron thinks the contrary: