From a former student and real activist

September 8, 2010

In News The Israel-Palestine Conflict

by: Shirien D.

The first statement to come out of the meeting between President Obama and Israeli PM Netanyahu last week was Obama’s condemnation of the deaths of four Israeli settlers in Hebron, who were shot by Palestinian snipers. Hamas’ military wing, Al-Qassam Brigades, claimed responsibility for the deadly shootings. But so did an unknown group, the Haq Brigades. The official Hamas political party insisted it played no role in the shootings and claimed that the shootings and the talks are not related. [1] Who is to blame and whether or not it has to do with the renewed peace talks remains unclear, although the Palestinian Authority has been cracking down on Hamas supporters in the West Bank and arresting Palestinians en masse for the crime.

“These people have no respect for human life and trample human rights into the dust and butcher everything they oppose,” said Natanyahu, standing alongside Obama at a White House press conference. Rhetoric by Obama and Natanyahu point to one thing that many American politicians and mainstream media pundits have been saying for decades: peace won’t happen until the Palestinians denounce violence.

These out-of-context statements are problematic and make many baseless assertions. One is that if there is no peace, the blame lies squarely on the shoulders of the Palestinians. Because apparently, Israel is doing everything right. Secondly, they ignore the fact that Israel has murdered and committed human rights violations against Palestinians throughout the history of the conflict, at a far greater proportion than any Palestinian has. Mr. Netanyahu, did you forget the systematic ethnic cleansing and massacres done by the State of Israel itself? Maybe it’s just me and Goldstone, but personally, I don’t think dropping white phosphorus chemicals on Palestinians in Gaza is in accordance with human rights. Oh, and what about the daily murders, beatings and harassments of Palestinians by Israeli settlers? Yeah, the settlers that are illegally settling Palestinian land. Mr. Netanyahu, I encourage you to take a good, long look in the mirror before you speak of human rights. But then again, you’ll probably become a self-hating Zionist.

U.S. politicians and media commentators occasionally ask “Where is the Palestinian Gandhi?” That’s easy, Israel expelled him. In 1988, Israel forcibly exiled Palestinian activist Mubarak Awad, who advocated the use of Gandhian-style resistance to Israeli occupation[2]. There have been countless others like Awad. In fact, Palestinians have been using organized non-violent resistance in different forms since the 1930s[3]. The First Intifada is a case in point. Violent resistance became more prominent during the Second Intifada in 2000. However, since then, violent tactics have been disappearing, as non-violent resistance has become the preferred weapon of choice in Palestinian society. Today, demonstrations, hunger strikes and sit-ins occur on a weekly basis across Palestinian towns and villages like Bi’lin, Ni’lin, Silwan, Shiekh Jarrah, Budrus and Beit Omar, just to name a few. Hell, even Hamas, notorious for preaching violence, is beginning to embrace non-violent tactics [4].

Jody McIntyre (left) with Rani Bornat (right) at a demonstration in Bilin. Photo by: Hamde Abu Rahme

Israel is cracking down hard on this non-violence, often physically attacking and detaining demonstrators. Last month, when I visited Palestine, I met Musa Abu Maria, a non-violent activist of the Palestinian Solidarity Project. This peaceful, humble and soft-spoken man was arrested and tortured numerous times for organizing protests to protect the crops of Palestinian farmers. Many other leaders of Palestinian NGOs are harassed and arrested frequently by the IDF; it has become expected.

The fact of the matter is that non-violent struggle is a far greater threat to Israel than any violent resistance. Non-violent resistance is a powerful tool, gaining respect and support internationally. So it comes as no surprise that Israel responds with violent military action to suppress it. This past May, the Mavimara flotilla full of international peace activists delivering humanitarian aid to Gaza was an innovative, creative and symbolic non-violent act of resistance. When Israel decided to massacre these unarmed civilians in international waters, it opened people’s eyes. Those who died on the Flotilla certainly did not die in vain. Their brave actions had a huge impact by showing the world just how inhumane Israel can be. Non-violent techniques are much more effective than the armed resistance that gives Israel the excuses to disproportionately massacre thousands. Palestinian violence does wonders for Israeli PR, and Palestinians on the whole are certainly aware of this. The recent actions of these snipers do not represent the largely non-violent Palestinian movement that is thriving today.

Israel doesn’t want non-violent resistance. What Israel really wants from Palestinians is pacifism and submission. That’s the only way to continue the occupation. U.S. politicians and media commentators asking the question “Where is the Palestinian Gandhi”? not only discounts the indigenous non-violent resistance movement of Palestinians, it also screams hypocrisy. The U.S. government gives billions of dollars in military aid every year to help Israel continue its occupation, but turns around and tells Palestinians not to fight back with violence. U.S. leaders advocating non-violence is like the Tea Party preaching tolerance. It’s just ironic.

To those who preach non-violence to Palestinians, I encourage you to visit Palestine. You will see the daily assaults by the IDF and the Israeli settlers that Palestinians must endure without returning the same violence. Palestinians don’t need the U.S. to tell them how to react to Israeli occupation. Given their circumstances, they have been handling themselves just fine. What they need most from the U.S. is to stop supporting and sending the weapons to the country that murders, imprisons, tortures and occupies them, committing human rights violations everyday. If Obama really wants a change, maybe he should start the next meeting with such a statement.