What Israel Fears
Q. What major obstacles will Palestinian nonviolent resistance face?
R. Israel will try to use the violent acts of anyone even remotely related to the protestors’ side to shift the focus away from its own brutality. There will be major setbacks along the way as a result. The Israeli army will also try to provoke demonstrators and observing crowds into aggressively reacting back. This is how Israel has thwarted peaceful forms of Palestinian resistance in the past and how it will attempt do so in the future.
Israel also will most likely pass reforms designed to quell Palestinian nonviolent resistance but then either refuse to enforce the laws or obstruct them with administrative obstacles. The oppressor does not easily give up his advantage. This is true of nonviolent movements in general. For example, southern states in America used poll taxes, literacy tests and extremely slow registration procedures to prevent African Americans from being able to vote even after the United States had passed voting laws granting them this right.
It also takes time for nonviolent resistance to succeed. The public may become impatient when they see the high costs and setbacks that must occur first before gains are made. They may become even more impatient when the gains that have been made are not enforced properly.
The Palestinian population can overcome all of these obstacles if they understand how nonviolent resistance works, are aware of these obstacles in advance, and are prepared to persevere through them. The Palestinians should not stop this movement until they are all given the full-unhindered right to vote in actual practice.
Palestinians face overwhelming conditions right now. But I believe that they will be able to regroup in the near future and will be capable of using this strategy on a large scale.
Q. What about the great danger to the protestors themselves? An international peace activist, Rachel Corrie, was recently killed in Gaza by an Israeli bulldozer.
R. This is an extremely horrible tragedy. This peace activist had taken all proper precautions and was not involved in risky behavior. She was deliberately killed.
Actual photos show that she was well trained, properly equipped, and highly visible. She was standing in clear sight of the driver, was wearing a very bright fluorescent orange jacket, and even had a megaphone. Furthermore she was not a threat to anyone. She was trying to protect a peaceful civilian’s house from being demolished, not a militant’s house. There is absolutely no excuse whatsoever for this brutal crime by the Israeli army.
Nonviolent resistance is most effective when the crowd of demonstrators is visible enough to gain public attention. Protestors should demonstrate in large numbers whenever possible and protest each issue that they are focused on for at least one-month minimum. The army can attack a few peaceful people at a time with fewer repercussions because the army can claim that each attack was an isolated incident and even an accident.
The goal of nonviolent resistance is to shut down and expose the regime, not to sacrifice the lives and welfare of demonstrators. Nonviolent resistance will be extremely painful against such a lethal occupying army that kills innocent civilians regularly.
Q. How can we be sure that Israel’s support will be undermined if its brutality is graphically exposed in the media? Israel’s supporters and their media have not been sympathetic to the Palestinians or even to others in the region. Israel brutally destroyed Jenin and this was televised all over the world. The Israeli army has killed many Palestinian civilians. And American leaders are ignoring massive world opinion in order to attack Iraq.
R. Israel and America try to hide as much of their own aggression as possible from their supporters. They try to explain away the features of their aggression that they cannot hide. They try to package their aggression as a reaction to an outside threat and present it in terms of self-defense. And they try to distance themselves from aggression that cannot be packaged in this manner by stating that it is either an isolated accident or an abnormal individual’s error.
Nonviolent resistance forces the media to clearly display the regime’s brutality by making it so blatant, chronic, and clearly unprovoked that it can no longer be hidden or explained away. This is what separates well-coordinated ongoing nonviolent resistance from specific abuses that have been shown in the past but explained away by the regime.
Q. Isn’t nonviolent resistance limited in how much of Israel’s oppression it can expose? The media can show Israel’s brutal treatment of protestors but it may not clearly show the land that has been confiscated, the settlements that have been built, the plight of the refugees and the heavy bias in resource use.
R. Nonviolent resistance has a two-pronged approach. Shut the regime’s restrictions down and expose the regime’s brutality. The protestors can directly challenge each restriction by refusing to cooperate with them, including restrictions that Israel has placed on the use of resources. The media exposure can overwhelm the regime’s ability to react to the resistance.
Nonviolent resistance may not be able to display certain features of Palestinians’ poor treatment, such as the plight of the refugees. But it can graphically show that many Palestinians are being brutally deprived of their rights as citizens and demand these rights. Palestinians will be able to correct these other injustices once they all gain their right to democratically determine the laws that govern them because they are the majority. For example, Palestinians in a single state democracy can reform the Law of Return and make it apply to Palestinian refugees. This would allow the refugees to return to their homeland.
Q. How is a peaceful demonstration ever going to encourage Israel to give the Palestinians the right to vote in a single democratic state? Wouldn’t Israel oppose this quite militantly?
R. Nonviolent resistance is based on an ongoing massive refusal to cooperate with the ruling regime’s oppressive restrictions. Nonviolent resistance makes it impossible for the ruling regime to use coercion to effectively rule over the population under it. And this form of resistance does this by constantly focusing on many concrete issues in a manner designed to overwhelm the regime.
Nonviolent resistance makes it quite clear that the only way to solve this crisis is by replacing coercion with voluntary participation. The media exposure illustrates the brutality and immorality of coercion.
Q. How can one be sure that the public will support this strategy? Palestinians may not agree with its pacifism and many Jewish peace activists are focused on a two-state solution.
R. Palestinians have tried many peaceful forms of resistance and are still trying them, such as demonstrations, strikes and boycotts of Israeli products. The Palestinian public may try this strategy of coordinated nonviolent resistance on a very large scale once the majority of the people recognize that violent strategies are not succeeding.
This is why it is absolutely crucial for the Palestinian public to be fully aware of how nonviolent resistance works and to realize that it is an option that is available to them. The key is to show the public that nonviolent resistance is based on an extremely active confrontation with injustice and is not a form of passive acceptance.
Radical Jewish activists are very sympathetic towards Palestinians and I believe that they will passionately join peaceful Palestinian demonstrations for a single state democracy once this strategy is implemented. That is because this strategy presents the issue in terms of Palestinians’ basic dignity rather than geographical boundaries and emphasizes the intention of both groups to live together peacefully. Radical Jewish activists will most likely come around on their own.
MILITANT STRATEGIES’ SHORTCOMINGS
Q. What violent strategies are currently being used?
R. Militant groups are trying to wage a war of attrition. They are trying to increase the costs of occupation by increasing Israeli casualties. They claim that increasing the costs of occupation encouraged Israel to withdraw from southern Lebanon.
Militant groups also believe that a war of attrition may destabilize Israel itself. They claim that high costs from casualties may cause Israelis to pack their bags and leave. And they point out that some Israelis have left already. They also claim that Israeli society will not be able to cope with the losses economically or socially. There is strong debate over whether this war of attrition should be limited to the Occupied Territories or extended into Israel itself.
There are major tactical as well as moral problems here. The analogy between Lebanon and the Occupied Territories is extremely misleading. Israel believes that Lebanon is a foreign country and was there merely for pragmatic reasons. Israel believes that the Occupied Territories is part of its land and that Palestinians are threatening contestants for all of its land. Israel isn’t only occupying the Occupied Territories; it is colonizing them.
Israel receives billions of dollars in aid from the United States and has a huge military advantage. Israel can inflict far greater damage in return in such a conflict. Violent forms of resistance strike at Israel’s strengths rather than its weaknesses.
Furthermore this strategy does not present an essential understanding of how its adversary functions and is amazingly flawed as a result. The toll will not make the majority of Israelis pack their bags and leave any more than it would make the majority of Palestinians voluntarily leave. Nor will economic difficulties. People do not function this way when they believe that their own land is at stake. This may burden Israel but it will by no means make it disappear. Civilians on both sides have paid the highest price for this strategy’s major tactical flaws.
This violent warfare has not only been ineffective, it has severely backfired. Israel has confiscated even more land, destroyed more Palestinian villages and killed more Palestinians in response. 1 It has also fueled Israeli support for hardliners such as Ariel Sharon that have brought a great deal of death and destruction upon the Palestinian people. Israel actually depends on its opponents being violent. Israel publicizes violent attacks against it in order to package its oppressive rule as a form of self-defense and boost its support.
I personally believe that it is extremely morally wrong to deliberately harm civilian men, women, and children, regardless of whether they are Jewish, Christian, or Muslim. It is horribly tragic whenever any little child is killed, Jewish and Palestinian. Moral and humanitarian considerations must be a basic feature of any strategy.
Q. Aren’t there major differences between the Palestinian struggle and the struggles faced by Martin Luther King and Gandhi? The Palestinians are facing a colonizing, occupying army that is confiscating their land, destroying their homes, replacing the original population with its own and killing them every day. Martin Luther King and Gandhi weren’t facing this. What about the question of self-defense?
R. There are many similarities as well as differences between these struggles. Nonviolent resistance believes that injustice contains the seeds for its own downfall. All of these struggles deal with regimes that have to convince their supporters that they are democratic when they truly are not. All of these struggles deal with regimes that are based on contradictions that cannot stand up under scrutiny when exposed.
Israel is even more extreme in this case than the others. The Jewish people have faced horrible forms of discrimination for centuries and their culture heavily emphasizes this. Israel cannot afford to have its brutal oppression of others so clearly exposed to its supporters. This is Israel’s ultimate weakness.
All of these struggles also deal with regimes that have an overpowering military advantage. Nonviolent resistance is effective because it opposes its adversary in areas where the adversary does not have such a great tactical advantage. Martin Luther King opposed violent resistance because he was a stark realist, not just a visionary.
Israel also has an overpowering military advantage even in regards to matters of Palestinian self-defense. The occupying army is not afraid of a few civilians with rifles. In fact, this gives the army a further trumped-up excuse to massacre even more Palestinians a few at a time. The occupying army is not even afraid of a town with arms. Israel was quite brutal in its reaction to Jenin’s armed resistance.
Martin Luther King pointed out that his movement’s enemies were not afraid of a few people with arms. His movement’s enemies were far more frightened of a large mass of peaceful demonstrators. This also applies to Israel today.
The Palestinians can defend themselves by making large-scale civil disobedience against repression another part of a large well-coordinated strategy of nonviolent resistance. This would make self defense a part of the overall strategy to counter, expose and shut down the oppressive regime. Israel will find massive peaceful demonstrations of Palestinians, internationals, Jews and cameramen against its bulldozers horrifying if these demonstrations are part of an ongoing massive exposure of the regime.
Q. How can we be sure that Palestinians and Jews will live together peacefully in a single democratic state? Wouldn’t there be clashes over the land, especially by Palestinian refugees?
R. The land where the refugees come from is sparsely populated. 78 percent of the Jews in Israel live in only 14 percent of Israel, the majority of the villages where the refugees were expelled from in 1948 still lie vacant today, and over 90 percent of the refugees can return to empty sites. 2, 3 There is absolutely no reason why the refugees should not be able to return to their homeland. Jews and Palestinians can live together as friends in a single democratic state where all people have their fundamental basic rights.
A single state democracy can flourish if it works to correct economic as well as political injustices. Palestinian refugees should be able to return to their homeland, discriminatory laws should be reformed and all citizens should have equal access to important resources such as water.
A reconciliation program that establishes dialogue between Palestinians and Jewish people in Palestine and around the world should be setup once such a state is formed. Dialogue allows people to empathize with another as human beings rather than as adversaries. Dialogue also allows people to deeply relate to the difficulties that their neighbors have faced. It would put a human face on the difficulties both Jews and Palestinians have faced in a manner that would be impossible to gather from mere statistics.
A two-state solution is far more volatile. Israel will believe that it needs to keep the neighboring Palestinian state dependent on it militarily, politically, and economically in order to prevent the Palestinian state from becoming a threat to it. Palestinian refugees will still oppose Israel because they will not be allowed to return to the land where they were expelled.
The problems that we are seeing today are not a fluke. Palestinians will still not be treated as equals and violent clashes will still continue under a two-state solution. One group will try to militarily control another unless all people are given their full set of rights in a single democracy. The public and its leaders need to recognize this basic fact in order to truly solve this conflict.
Q. What about the charge that criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic?
R. Martin Luther King stated ‘The Negro must convince the white man that he seeks justice for both himself and the white man.’ 4 Likewise, this movement seeks justice for both Palestinians and Jewish people. This racist regime has made the world a far more dangerous place for both groups. A peaceful, just coexistence between Jews and Palestinians is the greatest hope for both people.
A single state democracy in Palestine needs both groups in order to flourish. Jewish people are heavily involved in academics. They can offer a tremendous amount in science and technology. Palestinians can gain the good will of the whole region. They should both work together to build their futures up rather than tear them down. There have been no real winners in this conflict.
Q. What about the question of an Islamic state? Why should Palestinians trust any democracy when we have seen the harm that Israel and America have done to people in the region?
R. Most Palestinians do not have control over the laws that govern them. As a result, Israel is able to badly abuse them. Palestinians would not allow Israel to restrict their building permits, bulldoze their homes and confiscate their land if they did.
Palestinians can gain a strong influence on the laws that govern them if they are all given their basic citizenship rights and allowed to directly vote on the laws in a single state. This is because Palestinians are the majority.
The whole public may then be able to debate about what type of features the government should have once the public finally has an influence on it. The people will then be able to decide whether the government should be secular or theological, socialist or private market, protectionist or free trade.
Palestinians cannot afford to cloud this issue. They are being oppressed and even ethnically cleansed. 5 Israel will use added Palestinian debates in order to further complicate the issue of Palestinian rights so that it will not have to give most Palestinians any influence on the central government at all.
The Israeli Apartheid state is out to complicate and conceal. You must clarify and expose. You must demand your basic rights now. Palestinians need to win their basic rights immediately to stop the ethnic cleansing.
Q. You claim that violent strategies have severely backfired. But what guarantees do we have that nonviolent resistance will work?
R. We do not have guarantees that nonviolent resistance will work. Israel has major military, political, and economic power that it will use to try to thwart any strategy that is used against it. But it is the most realistic option that the Palestinians have because it strikes their adversary in areas where he does not have as great of a tactical advantage.
Israel has received hundreds of billions of dollars in aid from the United States over the years and its military advantage is immense. 6, 7 But it is still based on a lie nevertheless. It is an extremely racist tyranny that says it is a democratic civilized country.
Nonviolent resistance targets Israel’s weaknesses, not its strengths. It is tactically far superior to other strategies that do not.
Q. Isn’t this strategy very risky? Demonstrators will be brutally treated by the Israeli army for refusing to cooperate with it. You even state, ‘Nonviolent resistance will be extremely painful against such a lethal occupying army that kills innocent civilians regularly.’
R. Palestinians do not have the option of surrendering to the occupation. They are treated worse than second-class citizens and Israel is colonizing their land. Nonviolent resistance is based on a disciplined refusal to cooperate with injustice. Palestinians must refuse to cooperate with Israel’s unjust, racist, Apartheid laws if they ever would like to have a chance of winning their most basic rights. Anyone that would blame peaceful demonstrators for being abused by the Israeli army would also blame the victim for being robbed by the thief.
Nonviolent resistance can achieve the greatest gains with the least amount of losses for the Palestinians. Nonviolent resistance effectively resists the oppressive regime’s restrictions in a manner that is not militarily combative. As a result, it can bring about major changes with far fewer casualties than is possible in violent clashes.
Violent resistance brings on far more severe responses that can be hidden or explained away in a manner that is not possible against coordinated nonviolent resistance. Israel has responded to violent forms of resistance by killing Palestinians in military incursions and destroying their infrastructure.
Q. What are the main sources that you base this strategy on?
R. I have based this strategy heavily on the works of Martin Luther King. These letters draw heavily on these sources:
- A Testament of Hope. Martin Luther King, Jr. Edited by James M. Washington. Harper Collins. New York, NY 1986
- Strength to Love. Martin Luther King, Jr. First Fortress Press. Cleveland, Ohio 1981
These chapters are extremely insightful: The death of evil upon the seashore, Our God is able, Antidotes for fear III, Loving Your Enemies
- ACT UP Civil Disobedience Index
This web site contains sections that discuss the history, theory, and practice of civil disobedience. Many sections were taken from the ‘Handbook for Nonviolent Action,’ which is available from the War Resister’s League.
- ‘Nonviolent Resistance in Palestine: Pursuing Alternative Strategies,’ Mubarak Awad and Jonathan Kuttab, Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine, 3/29/02
Q. What is the most important theme of these letters?
R. ISRAEL’S SUPPORTERS ARE HORRIFIED OF THE MEDIA EXPOSING ISRAELI SOLDERS ATTACKING COMPLETELY PEACEFUL CROWDS OF DEMONSTRATORS.
THEY FEAR THIS MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE.
THIS IS WHERE PALESTINIAN RESISTANCE NEEDS TO STRIKE.
1. ‘Destruction and The Wall,’ Palestine Monitor staff, 1/14/03
2. ‘Return of Refugees: The Key to Peace,’ Dr. Salman Abu Sitta, Middle East Insight, April – May 2001
3. ‘Implementing the Palestinian Right of Return,’ Susannah Tarbush, Saudi Gazette, 9/28/01
4. ‘Strength to Love.’ Martin Luther King, Jr. First Fortress Press. Cleveland, Ohio 1981 Page 121
5. ‘Palestinian Village Faces Annihilation,’ Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, 1/14/03
6. ‘Economist tallies swelling cost of Israel to US,’ David R. Francis, The Christian Science Monitor, 12/09/02
7. ‘United States Aid to Israel: Funding the Occupation,’ The Palestine Monitor, 11/27/01