Why can’t you Palestinians be more like Gandhi?
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof pondered this question in his July 2010 column. On the other hand, Mustafa Barghouthi, a Palestinian doctor and member of the Palestinian Parliament, says many Palestinians are indeed following in the footsteps of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi. Barghouthi says:
What is needed is a Palestinian version of the Arab revolutions that have swept the region: a mass movement demanding freedom, dignity, a just peace, real democracy and the right to self-determination. We must take the initiative, practice self-reliance and pursue a form of nonviolent struggle that we can sustain without depending on others to make decisions for us or in our place.
Today, Linah Alsaafin, a Palestinian writer, editor and blogger living in Ramallah, shared her thoughts about nonviolent resistance with an audience of about 30 at the offices of the Center for Political Development Studies in Gaza.
What she said surprised me.
First, the term “nonviolent” should be deleted from the vocabulary. Linah recommends that we just refer to these actions as “resistance.” This may be difficult to do since the “elites in the West Bank,” she says, have adopted the phrase “nonviolent resistance” and is supporting it with 100,000s of shekels each year.
Second, resistance should be seen as a means, rather than the goal, which is the liberation of Palestine. Linah distinguished between tactic vs. strategy, and shared several examples from the West Bank where the actions of resistance appeared to be disconnected from a long-term, sustainable strategy.
For example, when activists erected tents on Palestinian land where Israel plans to build more homes (known as E1) just east of Jerusalem, they captured alot of international media attention, such as this piece in the New York Times. The Israeli soldiers removed them on the third day and we haven’t heard anything more. Where was the long-term strategy to make this action sustainable?
Third, International activists and Israelis who want to support the Palestinians need to know their role in the resistance. They should remain on the periphery, not in the center or taking a decision-making role. Linah objects to the Israeli peace activists who want to protest and smell some tear gas to assuage their guilt. The role of solidarity activists is to document, to learn, but not to impose their ideas.
Finally, popular resistance can only be effective if it targets Israel’s weaknesses. We “need to make life difficult for settlers in the West Bank,” she said. And “our actions need to be sustainable.”
After her comments, Linah took questions and that’s where the passion in the room appeared. Even though many of the questions and comments were in Arabic, and I couldn’t understand them, I could tell there were disagreements and people held very passionate opinions about what they were talking about.
I’ve considered myself an activist for most of my adult life, taking my children to protests and demonstrations in their baby strollers. My activism has focused on abolishing nuclear weapons and stopping climate change. I’ve only recently begun learning about Israel’s occupation of Palestine, and the injustices of the siege and blockade of Gaza.
My lodestar for engaging in each of these issues (nuclear war, climate change, Palestine) are the three principles I learned in 1984-1985 in Beyond War.
War has become Obsolete,
We Are One on This Planet,
and Means Determine Ends.
I have found these principles to be life-changing and life-affirming, and NOT at all simple to digest. But the effort of living consistent with my beliefs has probably been the most effective form of resistance I know.