Why Palestine Can’t Use Nonviolence

I’m sticking with this topic because I was asked, somewhat indirectly, to cover the tactics Hamas has been using. I don’t think I can do that without sounding like an apologist for Hamas- which I’m not a fan of, in spite of my constant proclamations of solidarity with the struggle of Gaza. Still, I wanted to deliver on some level, and the more I thought about it, the more I found myself returning to a quote of JFK’s- that “those who make peaceful protest impossible make violent protest inevitable.”

Whenever any conflict flares up enough in Palestine for the West to take notice, we’re inevitably going to encounter the idea that the Palestinians are to be blamed for not using “peaceful protest”. Such comments usually come from folks who can’t deny the plight of Palestinians but who can’t yet bring themselves to actually take a stand for them- but we’ll get to that in a minute.

At times like these, we tend to cite our own “peaceful protests”, conveniently only talking about the white-washed portions of it. We’ll talk about MLK Jr. all day long, and forget that even such “nonviolent” civil rights luminaries as Fannie Lou Hamer kept herself armed to the teeth. Heck, Hamer herself declared “I keep a shotgun in every corner of my bedroom and the first cracker even look like he wants to throw some dynamite on my porch won’t write his mama again.”

Yes indeed. And only one of many such examples within the “non-violent” movements of the 50s and 60s.

All that’s to say is that really, peaceful protest is rarely so simple, and tends to be pretty dang hard to execute. While its adherents would claim that this isn’t any excuse not to use it, I’d like to submit that effective peaceful protest requires, at the very least, the following key components:

I. Mass Organization

Any effective peaceful protest needs to mobilize millions. This can’t be done because the Palestinians are ghettoized- literally walled into squalid quarters. You can’t travel past one checkpoint (let alone three or four) without weeks of advanced notice, proper papers, and the good fortune not to be “denied” by the guard for any or no reason. This graph below should give a decent picture of the process:

And now let’s imagine that the Civil Administration or the Shin Bet gets word that a couple hundred Palestinians are looking to meet up at once. Not a single one of those would-be peaceful protestors would get through, and chances are their leaders would be rounded up and imprisoned.

If they aren’t already.

There’s the other side of the coin- organization. The would-be leaders of peaceful civil rights movements still get treated as dangerous criminals. Take the case of Shawan Jabarin, the leader of Al-Haq (“The Truth”), one of Palestine’s oldest civil rights organizations. In spite of being Al-Haq’s general director, as well as a high-ranking advocate for Human Rights Watch, Jabarin has been repeatedly jailed without trial, detained, harassed, beaten, and even given a travel ban, preventing him from ever leaving without the permission of the Israeli government and security forces.

How many of you knew about this man?

This man did everything a “good activist” is supposed to do. He writes. He appeals to international law. He waits patiently in prison. He lets his door get smashed in. He coordinates. He negotiates.

And all for what?

II. Media Attention

The world outside- the people who claim that Palestinians would gain legitimacy if only they would put down their arms- they say nothing about Jabarin or any of the countless activists who are using peaceful methods.

When’s the last time you heard about Ayman Sharawna or the other hunger-strike prisoners?

Take for example the stand-ins by the Palestinian villagers of Budrus, threatened with being encircled by Israel’s barrier-wall and cut off from their farmland. These villagers did force the government, over a period of 10 months, to change to direction of the wall, and of course, this was hailed by the pundits and political correspondents of the world as being a major victory.

Oh wait, that didn’t happen.

I mean it did, it just didn’t get covered.

Exactly what is it the media are looking for here? Death? It’s Palestinians we’re talking about. Impoverished brown people consigned to suffering and slaughter- as far as the media’s concerned anyways. We’ve documented countless offenses against the Palestinians, and none of them have been deemed newsworthy by the folks up at the top.

So how many? How many Palestinians are we asking hurl themselves on the sacrificial altar before they can get half an hour of fair coverage? A hundred? A thousand?

Even if we were to mobilize thousands of Palestinians, there’s no guarantee that they’ll even got a moment of notice. Again, they’ll be beaten, jailed, and even killed for nothing.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t ask them to do that. To paraphrase Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, I can forgive the injustices inflicted upon myself, I cannot forgive those inflicted upon others. I can not and will not demand that Palestinians martyr themselves before I take action.

III. A World Willing to Listen

All of this is contingent upon someone having a conscience. So who do we appeal to? Israel? They’re the ones enacting these offenses, and their own population of protestors have themselves been subject to beatings and harassment. America? Between xenophobia, Christian Zionism, and general apathy, that’s a tough sale. Same goes for much of Europe. African, Asian, and South American countries would like to help, but more often than not lack the power to do anything but sympathize, and the Arab world itself sold out the Palestinians a long time ago.

Now all of this sounds despairing- but it isn’t meant to. After all, if there were no hope, why even write this?

I’m typing this out as an explanation- not an excuse, not an apology, not a justification- of why Palestinians use violence. At this point, what else is there? Whether it’s rocket attacks or rock throwing, these are attacks of desperation.

Palestinians do use nonviolence on a daily basis- it’s just that nobody seems much to care. I’d accuse the world of selfishness here- of demanding the Palestinians whitewash their own struggle with their own blood until it becomes something easy to support. I’d do that, but I don’t think it’d matter. Nonviolence here seems like just more smoke and mirrors to dismiss responsibility, to dismiss having to take a stand on behalf of he Palestinians.

It’s not organization, it’s not media, it’s you. You and I are the reason that Palestinians can’t protest nonviolently.

So what do we want? Protest without violence and you get nothing. Protest with violence, and you get called terrorists. To be Palestinian is to protest- a constant reminder of what was, what isn’t, and what could yet be.

Again, what more could I in good conscience ask?

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One response to “Why Palestine Can’t Use Nonviolence

  1. Pingback: Shame Day: Whitewashed Bible Movies and the Christians Who Watch Them | Culture War Reporters

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