Israel is escalating its quiet campaign to round up and detain nonviolent Palestinian protesters, from leaders to children, in nighttime raids. And although these protesters remain committed to nonviolence, the world continues to believe the Palestinian struggle is mainly based on violence.
Israeli authorities have been detaining nonviolent protesters for years under the media’s radar, so it’s not commonly known that nonviolent actions happen every day or that Palestinian nonviolent resistance has a long history dating back to the early 1900s.
Recent remarks made by Bono, New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof, and President Barack Obama, stating they hoped Palestinians would find their Martin Luther King, Jr. or Gandhi, highlights the presumption that the Palestinian struggle is mainly violent.
This presumption is inaccurate and the dismissal of the people who have sacrificed time, money, and even their lives to fight injustice with nonviolence is callous.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Palestinian refugees from camps in foreign countries, seeing no resolution after decades of displacement, chose armed struggle. More recent suicide bombings in Israel reinforced the perception of violence.
Despite the continued use of nonviolence by different sectors of Palestinian society, several factors have hindered a cohesive civil disobedience movement from blooming.
Israeli policies are repressive and brutal. The use of live ammunition, beatings, destruction of property, rejection of building permits, constant threats, repeated administrative detentions, and the escalation in arrests is discouraging and has been effectively obstructive.
Members of foreign nongovernmental delegations who are perceived as critical of Israel or sympathetic to Palestinians are increasingly denied entry or proper work permits for the Occupied Territories.
Sami Awad, Coordinator for the Holy Land Trust, a not-for-profit community support organization committed to nonviolence and the teachings of MLK and Gandhi, says “Nonviolence is not something that happens overnight. It’s not a means to end the conflict tomorrow. It’s something that evolves over long periods of time.”
Complicit too is the media’s tendency not to cover nonviolent actions that completely ignores the vital nonviolent struggle and committed activists.
Palestinian leaders like Ghassan Andoni, Mustapha Barghouti, Jamal Juma’, Abdallah Abu Rahme, Mohammed Othman, and Jean Zaru, among others, continue to speak publicly and organize actions to nonviolently protest injustices.
Israeli and Jewish activists join Palestinian initiatives regularly. Neta Golan, Jeff Halper, Rabbi Arik Ascherman, and Ezra Nawi are just a few. “Internationals” from other countries also participate, facing beatings, arrest, bullets, and teargas from Israeli forces.
Many Palestinians have been killed while taking part in nonviolent protests. Basem Abu Rahme, a charismatic and popular leader, was killed during a protest in Bil’in. Foreign protestors have also been killed, such as Rachel Corrie from Olympia, Washington, and Tom Hurndall from Great Britain. Israeli soldiers killed them both in Gaza during two separate nonviolent actions. Tristan Anderson, an American from Oakland, California, lies in a coma.
Navigating children through militarized checkpoints, attempting to harvest crops while being attacked by Israeli settlers, and living in a tent near the home recently taken over by settlers are all forms of nonviolence resistance or as the Palestinians call it, “sumoud,” meaning “steadfastness.”
The millions of Palestinians who struggle against daily obstacles peacefully, choosing blogging, boycotts, and creating YouTube videos to nonviolently protest, should not be discounted.
To find the Palestinian Gandhi or MLK, the first step is to look in Israeli detention centers. The next step is to let them out. A sustainable peace is only possible when it is based on respect for each other’s humanity. Nonviolent protesters recognize this fact and may be the catalyst to a long term solution.