Why Nonviolent Resistance is Important for the Palestinian Intifada: A Response to Ramzy Baroud

By Huwaida Arraf and Adam Shapiro


Earlier this week, Ramzy Baroud, Editor-in-Chief of PalestineChronicle.com wrote a feature article, Will Nonviolent Resistance Work for the Palestinians?, in which he questions the validity of attempting to establish a nonviolent movement as part of the Intifada.

While we agree with Mr. Baroud that to date the Palestinian leadership and resistance has failed to empower and sustain a nonviolent resistance, we must object to Mr. Baroud's argument and offer an alternative vision and outline for how nonviolence can be used effectively, though not
exclusively, in resisting and overcoming occupation.

To begin, however, we assert our agreement with Mr. Baroud initial points and cknowledgement of history in that Israel has proven time and again its willingness to use military technology and weapons against unarmed civilians to kill and injure. Additionally, not only has Israel managed to carry out such vicious and diabolical atrocities, it has also managed to cover them up or define them in the parlance of "defense" or in the post-September 11th Rumsfeldian world, as "fighting terrorism."

While we do not advocate adopting the methods of Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr., we do believe that learning from their experience and informing a Palestinian movement with this knowledge can be quite valuable and of great utility. Contrary to Mr. Baroud's claim, there is no misunderstanding about the nature of Israeli occupation or violence, not by Palestinian intellectuals, not by activists and not by those who advocate nonviolence. Additionally, Mr. Baroud uses faulty logic when he claims that choosing nonviolence implies that use of violence is a choice, never mind a strategic one.

First and foremost, there is no guarantee that the use of nonviolence as a strategic element of resistance as part of a larger Intifada would end the occupation, deliver justice or resolve the conflict. It is simply a strategy, one that can be employed to attain specific, pre-determined goals.

Additionally, the use of nonviolence is about control and power those who maintain nonviolence and exploit the use of violence by the oppressor maintain control and power, which is something that can be manipulated to present a story, a case or an image.

When Mr. Baroud writes, "the nature of the resistance, its magnitude and duration, is often controlled by the behavior and response of the enemy, its brutality and inhumanity," he gives excuse to those who find it far easier to pull a trigger or shoot a mortar while claiming their rights than to stand up, face abuse, but attempt to exercise those rights. Mr. Baroud shows a clear misunderstanding of the power of nonviolence and gives up all power by claiming that resistance is merely reaction. This is not so. Resistance must be strategic, and as such, is very much in the hands of the resistor, no matter the type, level or brutality of the oppression.

Allow us to interject with an example to explain. Violent resistance is when an armed Palestinian fighter shoots an Israeli who is oppressing him. The Palestinian fighter claims his rights, but in reality does nothing to achieve them. Another dead Israeli does not deliver a single right to a Palestinian. Alternatively, Palestinian Birzeit University students who march through a militarily-occupied area under curfew on their way to school, who confront soldiers and absorb their teargas, sound grenades and rubber bullets, are attempting to exercise their right to education and to move freely. While they may not succeed, their effort is one aimed at directly achieving rights.

The fighter, on the other hand, has used his means (the gun) to achieve his end (a dead Israeli or instilling greater fear among all Israelis) neither rights nor justice nor freedom are a factor in this equation. The students, acting together in a disciplined manner, are directly acting in a way to achieve their rights.

Let us reiterate, we accept that Palestinians have a right to resist with arms, as they are an occupied people upon whom force and violence is being used. The Geneva Conventions accept that armed resistance is legitimate for an occupied people, and there is no doubt that this right cannot be denied. But that does not mean that this right must be utilized. Regardless of what is a right and what is not, the elements that will make any change in the situation are strategy and tactics. To date, the use of violence as part of the resistance has not evinced a strategy. Not in operations against the military or settlers; not in operations inside the Green Line. The choice of using nonviolence would not be effective either if it was not organized strategically.

In actuality, nonviolence is not enough. Rather, what is needed is nonviolent direct action against the occupation. This includes roadblock removal, boycotts, refusing to obey curfew orders, blocking roads, refusing to show ID cards or even burning them. Yes, the Israeli army and settlers will use violence. Yes, people will get killed and injured. They are now also. Hamas claims it has many men ready to be suicide bombers we advocate that these men offer themselves as martyrs by standing on a settler road and blocking it from traffic. This is no less of a jihad. This is no less noble than carrying out a suicide operation. And we are certain that if these men were killed during such an action, they would be considered shaheed Allah. But an action like this cannot happen once and it cannot be the only type of action. Large-scale, mass popular participation must be developed in order for a movement to have an effect.

First a strategy of nonviolent direct action resistance must be developed. Palestinian leadership, civil society and political activists must work together to define such a strategy and then go about implementing it throughout Palestine.

What can this strategy hope to achieve as its goals? We can identify four things, both short- and long-term goals. First, such a movement would encourage all elements of the society to participate and join in the struggle. Yes, today all Palestinians are struggling, but mainly to live. Creating a national struggle to achieve rights would have positive repercussions throughout the community and would establish or enhance unity. Secondly, the adoption of nonviolent direct action resistance would change the image of the Palestinian struggle around the world. While I recognize that it is not the image that determines whether a people live in freedom or not, it is nonetheless important. Why else would Israel and the United States spend so much money and time "spinning" the images the world sees from Palestine and Afghanistan respectively? And this takes us to the third benefit, which is that in changing the image, more foreigners would be emboldened and empowered to speak out and question their governments' policies vis--vis supporting Israel.

Additionally, more foreign civilians would be encouraged to come to work with Palestinians in their legitimate struggle against occupation and injustice, thereby internationalizing the Intifada and bringing more resources to bear on pressuring Israel and the international community to establish a just peace. Finally, Palestinians must consider the long-term, which we realize is quite difficult given the uncertainty and despair today. The prevalence of violence as a heroic form of resistance has long-term implications for Palestinian society and the Palestinian nation. Before the Intifada, automatic weapons were hardly present on Palestinian streets; now, they are commonplace on virtually every street corner. Not that the Palestinians are heavily armed far from it but the weapon has become a visible symbol of resistance, and the only symbol. Kids only play with guns now, and the models being sold in the stores are almost identical to the real guns. The future Palestinian state must not be allowed to be spawned from violence without alternatives, or else it will likely suffer the fate of all other nations that have emerged in this way look at Algeria or Cambodia or Angola.

The Palestinian resistance must take on a variety of characteristics both nonviolent and violent. But most importantly it must develop a strategy involving both aspects. No other successful nonviolent movement was able to achieve what it did without a concurrent violent movement in India militants attacked British outposts and interests while Gandhi conducted his campaign, while the Black Panther Movement and its earlier incarnations existed side-by-side with the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.

To close, we too, as Mr. Baroud did, will quote Malcolm X, "we declare our right on this earth, to be a man, to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being, in this society, on this earth, on this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary." Palestinians too should use any means necessary, and that includes the use of nonviolent direct action. Using a gun does not make one a man, a human being or deliver respect or rights. Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. were gunned down as well, but their deeds defined historical
changes.


Huwaida Arraf (Palestinian-American) and Adam Shapiro are activists living in Ramallah. Both are organizers with the International Solidarity Movement, and have actively taken part in nonviolent direct action against the Israeli occupation.

 

   

2002-International Solidarity Movement-