[News] Nonviolent resistance a means, not the end
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."  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." 
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." 
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
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."  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.  Or recall the
massacre in Rafah in May 2004, when Israeli helicopters fired on a
peaceful march.  Despite the chaotic, bloody aftermath being
captured on film, the most the "deeply troubled" US State Department
could muster was an expression of "concern." 
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."  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? 
"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
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
 Stepha, Maria, "Dropping 'muqawama,'" openDemocracy, 27 September
 http://qumsiyeh.org/palestiniannonviolentresistance/, accessed 10
 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.
 Audeh, Ida, "A Village Mobilized: Lessons from Budrus," The
Electronic Intifada, 13 June 2007.
 MIddle East Policy Council,
accessed 10 October 2007.
 BBC News, "Gaza town in shock at bloodshed," 19 May 2004
and Al Jazeera English, "Isreli forces massacre protesters in Rafah,"
20 May 2004
 US Department of State Daily Press Briefing for 19 May 2004.
 LeVine, Mark, "The Death of Arafat and the Myth of the New
Beginnings," 13 November 2004.
 Allen, Lori A., "Palestinians Debate 'Polite' Resistance to
Occupation," MIddle East Report Online, Winter 2005.
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