More Disturbing News from Palestine

From Roi Ben-Yehuda’s latest article on Jewcy:

The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem recently released a video of an Israeli solider shooting a rubber bullet into an Israeli protester at short range. The incident took place during a demonstration against the separation wall in the Palestinian village of Bil’in. The army has said that it is investigating the incident, yet added that since Bil’in has experienced past clashes between protesters and the IDF, “security forces were ordered to employ crowd dispersal means on the demonstrators.”

People have often argued that if only the Palestinians were to use the method of Gandhi and King, then this whole crises would be over and done with. Paul Wolfowitz, for example, said, “If the Palestinians adopt the ways of Gandhi, they could, in fact, make an enormous change very quickly. I believe the power of individuals demonstrating peacefully is enormous.” While I sympathize with the idea of non-violent resistance, when applied to Palestine such thinking tends to ignore or minimize the historical record and the reality on the ground.

When you see videos like Cohen’s, videos that are in accord with the testimony of many eyewitness on the ground, you began to wonder if the likes of Gandhi or King would have stood a chance in the occupied territories in the first place. As the Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh once said, if Gandhi was resisting the French instead of the British he would have given up non-violence within a week – presumably because he would be dead. Surely if the IDF’s de facto position (in contrast to its de jure regulations) is to shoot peaceful protestors, Gandhi and King would have had a very tough time getting their movements off the ground. Moreover, a serious Palestinian effort at civil disobedience will most certainly experience vigorous and violent opposition among Palestinians as well. No members of Hamas and other militant groups will allow their power to be challenged without a fight. And as we have seen in the past, Hamas and their ilk has no difficulty gunning down and eliminating opposition.

Finally, the “Gandhi in Palestine” theory also ignores the reality that the Israeli heart, like an egg in boiling water, has become hardened. It’s not that the Israeli people are lacking in compassion. It’s just that the situation has created more than one wall dividing us from the Palestinians. The only reason we pay attention to this video is because it captures an Israeli solider shooting a fellow Israeli. Were this a Palestinian, we would not have cared. Indeed, it would take a great deal of exposure to lucid raw injustice to weaken our Dershowitzian Super-Egos — those voices inside our heads that have been fine-tuned to explain away and assuage our guilt.

Sorry for the extensive quoting and snipping.

Obviously, the situation is too complicated for one to claim that nonviolent resistance will simply never ever work in Palestine; after all, Ghandi and MLK weren’t exactly fighting benevolent, understanding forces. I think, rather, that this article should serve as food for thought for the people who wonder why Palestinians don’t just lay down their weapons, link arms, and stroll up to checkpoints singing “We Shall Overcome.” I’ve heard many Palestinians say that nonviolent resistance, regardless of how it may work in the abstract, isn’t working now. In fact, emsi306 shares this story in the comment thread:

Just last week I was in a West Bank town when settlers, protected by the army, came to claim an area in the village as the site of a new settlement. Members of the community met to discuss a plan of action to protect their village from a settler take-over. The group, who is constantly committed to nonviolence, decided that a protest with signs and flags would get them nowhere and possibly injured, and so they had to think of creative alternatives to the usual peaceful protest. The group decided to turn the area that the settlers had claimed into a vibrant cultural center. The group painted the walls bright colors, brought in entertainers, set up a market, and projected movies onto a white wall. The goal was to peacefully and in a non-confrontational way tell the settlers that this land was in use and that it was not theirs to take. Unfortunately even such a creative solution showed no effect. The army came and gave the members ten minutes to clear the area or risk being shot or arrested. The group had no choice but to leave, and their efforts went unreported and unnoticed. This the difficulty peaceful Palestinians face, and this is why even Gandhi would have no chance against the Israeli army.

Let me reiterate that I don’t think it’s as simple as “Gandhi would have no chance.” But this is the reality we’re dealing with.

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4 Responses

  1. Something missing, which I think is an important distinction, is that Gandhi and King stood strongly against violence by others on ‘their own side.’ From what I’ve seen, I’ll admit this might be limited, Palestinians who consider non-violent approaches view non-violence as a personal strategy rather than a group strategy. Despite the defense mechanisms Israelis often use to repress knowledge of Palestinian suffering, the Israeli public is still responsive to it. There is vigorous debate, delimited by a privileging of Israeli fears but not limited to the fringes and often based squarely on principle.

    I don’t want to go so far as to blame the Palestinians for Israeli abuses, but I do think non-violence is every bit as capable of working for the Palestinians as for anyone in history.

  2. “I think, rather, that this article should serve as food for thought for the people who wonder why Palestinians don’t just lay down their weapons, link arms, and stroll up to checkpoints singing “We Shall Overcome.”

    That is exactly why I wrote it 🙂 Like you I still believe in non-violence, but I wanted to use the video to give pause to all those people simply who say “If only the Palestinians would ….” I am happy to read your commentary.

  3. Roi, thanks for stopping by! It’s a great essay.

  4. It’s worth remembering that the ANC in South Africa struggled for decades as a non-violent direct action organisation, to no success. Eventually, the ANC reluctantly voted to form a paramilitary wing. The leader of this paramilitary wing, whose purpose was to use sabotage, guerilla warfare, and if unsuccessful, then to escalate to terrorism, was Nelson Mandela. His arrest that led to his long imprisonment, came when he returned to South Africa after visiting a military training camp to receive weapons training.

    While Gandhi and MLK may have been the spiritual leaders advocating non-violence, I think there is no doubt that the violent protests at the same time probably contributed to bringing about change.

    Also, when it comes to a real and physical barrier being put in place, as with the “security fence”, I think peaceful methods alone rapidly lose credibility if the building continues.

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