Saturday, August 12, 2006

Palestinian Attempts at Nonviolence
My American friend, Jane, who lives in the West Bank, emailed me this copy of a letter she wrote to the International Herald Tribune.
Steve Chernoski (Letters, Aug. 11) to International Herald Tribune reasonably points out that Ghandian non violent resistance has been a powerful weapon for many people resisting oppression, and asks why the Palestinians have not tried this option. Of course there have been and are now countless efforts on the part of Palestinian civil society, university and high school faculties, village committees, farmers’ groups, churches, students, doctors etc. to use these techniques in their struggle. The problem is that, unlike with the US civil rights or anti war marches in the 60’s, the whole world is not watching, especially the press in the US which rarely if ever covers these events. The other problem is the unremitting violent and immediate Israeli reaction to these demonstrations, which are met with arrests, tear gas, rubber bullets, stun grenades, and clubs.
As an example, there have been weekly demonstrations for almost two years in the small village of Beilin to protest the Wall that has confiscated large parts of the village’s orchards and fields. These marches, with plays, props, songs, chants, are led by village residents trained in, and remarkably committed to, nonviolence as the only solution. The leaders are routinely beaten or arrested during these marches, or on occasion, snatched from their beds by Israel Police the night before. In tribute to their courage, both Israeli and foreign activists have joined in these weekly demonstrations, which has made the marches somewhat safer for the Palestinians, but not safe.
In yesterday’s demonstrations, for example, Israeli soldiers began firing stun grenades and rubber bullets at the marchers before they had even reached the soldiers’ lines, and then attacked them with clubs and rifle butts, wounding 13, one Israeli youth severely enough that he was admitted for surgery to hospital and a Czech woman with a head injury from a rifle butt. Others were struck with clubs. One Japanese journalist, standing clearly to the side and filming, was shot with a rubber bullet. In another nonviolent activity this week, in which volunteers attempted to protect Palestinian school children from attacks by hostile Israeli settlers, two volunteers were seriously beaten and BITTEN by the settlers while Israeli police stood idly by.
We have all seen in the settler rampages against the removal of the Gaza aettlements that the government of IsraelI is much more understanding when the demonstrators are Jewish. The Israeli policy clearly is to stamp out Palestinian nonviolence but it is hard to see how this is of advantage to them. If nonviolence is not an option, where do they turn?


Blogger Steve said...

Ms. Peel,

Thank you and your friend for both of your insight. Your descriptions were eye-opening. It is good to hear some people have championed the cause of non violence, but I fear they get drowned out by extremists on both sides.

I wrote that original letter as a response to Marwan Bishara's article, "(“Three conflicts, two
mind-sets, one solution.”

Anyway, I am a teacher and as one of the things in my curriculum is teaching the students about Gandhi and especially focusing on his elements of 'Satyagraha.'

We focus on 5 points:

The number one thing if you are resisting non-violently for me (just as much a violent resistance would grasp it) is publicity. You state that whole world is not watching, but with media being as changed as it has been in the past 5 years there are many outlets. All it takes is a mini DV camera and a big blog to post it to the net and anyone around the world can view it. If you get to a popular blog, you get more viewers and even more grass roots volunteers like the ones you stated joining the villagers of Beilin.

When I visited Bethlehem and the Dheisheh refugee camp, I saw many people documenting the situation on the wall there. This is where the power continues to lie. Around that time, one of America's most popular writers, Thomas Friedman did a documentary on the wall that got very positive reviews here. He was against the wall, but like many more, supports moderates on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides to reach a peaceful solution. We are hearing here, and yes Americans are more supportive of Israel, but Palestinians have gotten their spotlight that was just not there 15 years ago.

I was just wondering what your thoughts were on the following article:
"Palestinians need a Gandhi, not a new Arafat."

I like how he points out that Gandhi was willing to die, but not to kill. His non violent resisters, like the suicide bombers of today, were willing to die for their cause. Of course that is easy to write from the comfort of someone's home, but that was the solidarity part of Gandhi's Satyagraha. The difference is that Gandhi was not willing to kill. For example, the Beslan school siege probably set back any hope of Chechnyan independence for 20 years at least. Sure we have not seen the bad things the Russian military does to the Chechnyans, but all it takes is a video camera and some brave people and if you can edit it well, you can find an outlet for the media and get people on your side. The moving image of people under oppression captivates any audience, any religion, and any nationality. It takes time though. Gandhi's Salt March was in 1930, India got its independence in 1947. Sure it was not Gandhi alone who caused it. He spent his life trying, only to enjoy independence for less than a year. Better than never.


Steve C.

8:13 PM  

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