[News] Nonviolent resistance a means, not the end

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Oct 12 12:00:06 EDT 2007

Nonviolent resistance a means, not the end
Ben White, The Electronic Intifada, Oct 12, 2007


In a recent article on the openDemocracy website 
the rewritten Palestinian Authority policy document that replaced 
"muqawama" (resistance) with "popular struggle" was hailed as having 
"the potential to dramatically transform a conflict whose just 
resolution has continually eluded diplomats and militants." [1] The 
writer Maria Stephan may be admired for her optimism about the 
possibility of large-scale mobilization in the Occupied Palestinian 
Territories (OPT) for a program of nonviolent resistance, but there 
is a twofold failure of contextualization that compromises her analysis.

The first problem is that the article does not do justice to the rich 
tradition and contemporary practice of nonviolent resistance, or 
popular struggle, in Palestine. The first intifada and the protests 
in Bil'in are cited, but the Palestinians draw on a far deeper 
reservoir of experience, dating at least as far back as the 1936 
Revolt against British occupation and creeping Zionist colonization. 
As writer Mazin Qumsiyeh has noted, part of the Revolt included "a 
conference of 150 delegates representing all sectors of the 
population calls for a general strike and refusal to pay taxes to the 
British occupation authorities." [2]

Whether under the British, Jordanians or Israelis, Palestinians have 
always frustrated their would-be overlords with non-cooperation and 
resistance. The first intifada is rightly seen as a watershed moment, 
when, as one nonviolence expert has estimated, around 85 percent of 
resistance was of the nonviolent form, including "commercial 
boycotts, labour strikes, demonstrative funerals, the hoisting of 
Palestinian flags, the resignation of tax collectors, and many types 
of political noncooperation." [3]

The second intifada has been noticeably more militarized, but also 
not without widespread examples of popular struggle, from physically 
preventing settlers vandalizing Palestinian farmland to marching en 
masse to "closed military zones" or land marked for confiscation. If 
Abbas and Fayyad are sincere in calling for "popular struggle" 
therefore, we would expect them to have a track record in supporting 
nonviolent resistance to date.

In fact, the opposite is true, and so the second error in Stephan's 
assessment is to misread Abbas' intentions, naively believing that 
the Fatah leadership is interested in pioneering such a strategy. The 
Electronic Intifada published an 
<http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article7005.shtml>interview earlier 
this year with Abd al-Nasser Marrar, a coordinator of the popular 
resistance committee formed to confront the wall in Budrus, who 
complained that "the PA didn't help at all," not even with "the 
simplest thing." [4] Moreover, the PA had "lapsed in its 
responsibilities toward all the villages west of Ramallah generally 
and in fact, in the entire West Bank," a failure he described as 
"abnormal and unnatural." "The PA just doesn't have the interest," 
Abd al-Nasser concluded.

Stephan shows that she is indeed aware of how, post-Oslo, the newly 
formed PA channeled resistance into cooperation, and dynamic struggle 
into corruption and personal advancement. It is not quite correct, 
however, to describe this as a result of the PLO's inability to 
achieve gains at "the negotiating table." The agreements on paper and 
the PA's subsequent disinterest in "mobilizing people to challenge 
the economic, political, and military pillars underlying the 
occupation" were intrinsically related, representing capitulation 
first in word then in deed.

The PA's lack of support for popular struggle at the official level 
is reflected in a general apathy amongst a middle-upper class, who 
are financially prospering and do not wish to rock the boat. This is 
to be sharply distinguished from the multitude of jobless, hungry, 
and exhausted Palestinians, whose "apathy" towards popular struggle 
is the outcome sought by the cumulative effect of the Israeli 
occupation's siege, humiliations and life-draining injustices.

It is not just contentment (for the few) or sheer fatigue (for the 
many) that makes mass mobilization a challenge. Palestinians also 
fear that two critical elements for the success of nonviolent popular 
struggle are missing in their case: international coverage and 
limited repression on the part of the oppressor. As previously 
mentioned, "popular struggle" has always been a part of Palestinian 
resistance to occupation and colonization -- but receives only a 
fraction of the press coverage afforded to violent resistance.

Not only do nonviolent actions get no or minimal coverage, but when 
Israeli occupation forces retaliate with violence, and even deadly 
force, the international outcry barely rises above a whimpered plea 
for "restraint." In the first month of the second intifada, 141 
Palestinians were killed even before Palestinian resistance groups 
had begun serious militarized self-defense. [5] Or recall the 
massacre in Rafah in May 2004, when Israeli helicopters fired on a 
peaceful march. [6] Despite the chaotic, bloody aftermath being 
captured on film, the most the "deeply troubled" US State Department 
could muster was an expression of "concern." [7]

Mark LeVine provides further examples in an article on 
CommonDreams.org, citing the famous forcible deportation of Mubarak 
Awad, founder of the Palestinian Centre for the Study of Nonviolence 
in 1988, as well as the more recent jailing without charge of Ahmed 
Awad, a leader of the "nonviolent Committee for the Popular Struggle 
against the Separation Fence." [8] In a detailed piece in Middle East 
Report in 2002, Lori Allen quoted Elias Rishmawi, "a leader of the 
tax resistance movement during the first intifada," explaining the 
difference between then and now:
Palestinians were able to present the Palestinian nation to the world 
as being a civilized nation applying the human values determined by 
the international community, including the American community. As a 
result, there was clear international sympathy with the Palestinians 
on both the official and popular levels ... [Now] the circumstances 
are driving every Palestinian into a corner. To be realistic, how can 
you think rationally in an irrational situation? How do you expect 
someone being treated worse than a dog to behave? Is he expected to 
send you a kiss? [9]

"Popular struggle," in its broadest possible context, has as many 
meanings as the rich, resolute Arabic word sumud (steadfastness) 
suggests. It is the Palestinian farmer who returns day after day to 
his confiscation-threatened land, works the soil in the blazing heat, 
and lives out his stewardship to the moment when his body lies 
outstretched before the bulldozer. It is also the mother who makes it 
through the checkpoint, over the dirt mound, and sells enough fruit 
at the market to feed and clothe her children for another week. In 
effect, Palestinian popular struggle is a refusal to give up hope, 
and a determination to live life on the land coveted by the colonizers.

More specifically, as Stephan noted, "popular struggle" in Palestine 
is "a method of prosecuting conflict by mobilizing civic pressure 
where the 'foot soldiers' are ordinary civilians and the 'weapons 
systems' include boycotts, strikes, demonstrations, sit-ins, and 
other forms of non-cooperation and organized defiance." She is right 
to stress that "such methods ... do not compromise a meek submission 
to oppression" but rather a way of struggle that "actively challenges 
oppressive practices using widespread civic disruption."

But seen in this light, the essence of Palestinian popular struggle 
is directly contrary to the methods of Abbas and Fayyad -- the way of 
diplomatic privileges, backroom compromises and appeasement of 
Washington and Tel Aviv. Their track record has been to muzzle the 
collectively expressed desires of their people, from Oslo to the 
boycott of the elected Hamas government. Additionally, just as 
popular struggle has nothing in common with the Abbas-Fayyad regime, 
so too the November "peace conference" has little to do with securing 
Palestinian self-determination.

Stephan views US policy towards Palestine/Israel as having shifted 
(temporarily) during the first intifada, inferring that this was a 
result of the Palestinians' embrace of popular struggle. Thus, "a 
similar shift could occur if Palestinians can show that being 
'pro-Israel' and 'pro-Palestine' are mutually reinforcing goals." 
This smacks of Road Map logic; if the Palestinians only "do" enough, 
or jump through the right hoops, then maybe, just maybe, their right 
to freedom and protection under international law might be 
acknowledged and acted upon.

The problem has never been a Palestinian failure to meet the demands 
set by the US or international community, a display of colonial 
arrogance that repeats itself in every successive "negotiation." 
Popular struggle, like violent resistance, is not an end in and of 
itself; it is a method, a strategy. It is the end goal, 
decolonization and liberation from occupation and Zionist apartheid, 
that is ferociously opposed by the self-declared international 
guardians of the "peace process" and their friends in the Palestinian 
elite. The rest is just smoke and mirrors.

Ben White is a freelance journalist specializing in Palestine/Israel. 
His website is at <http://www.benwhite.org.uk/>www.benwhite.org.uk 
and he can be contacted directly at ben at benwhite.org.uk

[1] Stepha, Maria, "Dropping 'muqawama,'" openDemocracy, 27 September 
[2] http://qumsiyeh.org/palestiniannonviolentresistance/, accessed 10 
[3] Gene Sharp cited by Maxine Kaufman-Lacusta, "Some Thoughts on 
Nonviolence and on the 'Imperative of Joint Struggle' Against the 
Israeli Occupation of Palestine," Tikkun, 13 February 2007. 
[4] Audeh, Ida, "A Village Mobilized: Lessons from Budrus," The 
Electronic Intifada, 13 June 2007. 
[5] MIddle East Policy Council, 
accessed 10 October 2007.
[6] BBC News, "Gaza town in shock at bloodshed," 19 May 2004 
and Al Jazeera English, "Isreli forces massacre protesters in Rafah," 
20 May 2004
[7] US Department of State Daily Press Briefing for 19 May 2004. 
[8] LeVine, Mark, "The Death of Arafat and the Myth of the New 
Beginnings," 13 November 2004. 
[9] Allen, Lori A., "Palestinians Debate 'Polite' Resistance to 
Occupation," MIddle East Report Online, Winter 2005. 

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