The case for non-violence in Israel-Palestine

 
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By Khaled Diab

Although violence is all too often the path of least resistance, Israelis and Palestinians urgently need to navigate a peaceful path out of the quagmire.

Photo: ©Khaled Diab

Photo: ©Khaled Diab

Thursday 20 October 2016

Two recent incidents in Gaza demonstrated the stark choices being made by those opposed to the Israeli blockade of the territory: the way of the olive branch or of the bomb.

The first involved a group of 13 courageous international peace activists, all of whom were women, including an Irish Nobel peace laureate, a former South African Olympic athlete and a retired American colonel. They were on board a small yacht with the grand name of the Zaytouna-Olivia flotilla, which sought “to break the blockade and celebrate on the shores of Gaza,” according to Wendy Goldsmith, a Canadian on board. Instead, and as was expected, the Israeli navy intercepted the flotilla while it was still in international waters and forced it to dock in Ashdod.

Meanwhile, a previously unknown Salafist group fired a rocket into Israel, which landed claiming no casualties, in the name of their “oppressed brothers and sisters” living under Israeli occupation. As has become routine in such incidents, Israel struck back hard with its superior firepower, bombing numerous targets in Gaza, also with no casualties.

But neither of these incidents would have occurred had Israel and Hamas reached a fair deal to lift the blockade on Gaza.

For all the efforts of mediators and go-betweens and all the reports of planned or indirect negotiations, there has been little or no perceptible change to the status quo since the ceasefire of 26 August 2014, except for the continually deteriorating humanitarian and economic situation in besieged Gaza. War has cost the Strip at least three times its annual GDP and the Israeli blockade has shrunk the economy to a quarter of the size it would have been.

Even these pitiful efforts to carry out a dialogue have been condemned by the hawks, such as far-right Israeli politicians, including current Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and fringe militant groups in Gaza, who prefer war-war to jaw-jaw. Sadly, the ingredients for an explosive new war are packed into a rapidly decaying toxic status quo; all that is missing is the spark.

At the core of the Gaza quagmire is a fundamental misunderstanding of what war and political violence can achieve in the Israeli-Palestinian context. Whenever violence flares up or war unleashes its ugly devastation, Israeli and Palestinian hawks take wing to persuade large portions of their populations that there is no choice but to take up arms and that, this time, a decisive blow, which never actually materialises, will be dealt to the enemy and victory assured.

This attitude is particularly prevalent when it comes to Gaza. For instance, the 2014 war enjoyed almost universal support in Israel, as did the earlier 2012 conflict.

On the other side of the divide, not only did a majority of Palestinians believe, shortly after the end of the 2014 war, the Hamas rhetoric that it had defeated Israel, 86% supported the resumption of rocket attacks if Israel did not lift its blockade of Gaza.

This jingoistic attitude was not just the statistical quirk of overzealous pollsters but reflected a palpable reality. I was taken aback by the antagonism and hostility expressed by normally sensible and moderate Israeli and Palestinian voices I knew, or the wave of attacks my criticism of the war and my advocacy of non-violence provoked at the time.

And these polls hint at one war aim that is never publicly articulated. Both Hamas and the Israeli government may shoot at each other, but these are only proxy targets for the enemy they seem to hate even more than the other side: the Israeli left and centre, on the one hand, and Fatah and the non-Islamist parties, on the other. There’s nothing like a war to silence Netanyahu’s and Hamas’s critics and boost their popularity – at least for as long as the war lasts.

Beyond the cynical manipulation of fear and hatred for short-term gain, there also exists a fundamental misunderstanding of the other side’s mentality – and of human nature itself. There is a widespread conviction among Israelis and Palestinians that the other side only understands the language of violence and, hence, the only way to get them to prick up their ears is to give them a bloody nose, or worse.

But all this achieves is that it breeds a surfeit of bitterness, hatred and outrage on the other side – and the greater the devastation, the greater the resulting determination to seek vengeance. Peaceful resistance and activism, on the other hand, are far more powerful weapons, as was demonstrated by the flotilla.

While the Salafist rocket unlawfully targeting civilians provoked destructive airstrikes and gave Israel a fig leaf for its militarism and unjust blockade, the flotilla caught the entire world’s eye and made Israel look like a bully. This may help explain why some on the Israeli right seem to fear peaceful activism more than violent extremism.

Paradoxically, although this cyclical violence almost invariably fails, its credibility remains undiminished. This is because every shot fired at the enemy eliminates the doves at home who are either shot down in the crossfire or morph into hawks. Bloodshed also strengthens the hands of extremists and fragments the political landscape, until violence becomes the path of least resistance, rather than last resort.

However, if Israelis and Palestinians are to consider abandoning the way of the sword and pursue the way of the word, this moral murkiness and relativism needs to be abandoned by the people who should constitute society’s living conscience.

Just as the ingredients for devastating, outright war are there awaiting yet another spark, the components for navigating a relatively non-violent path out of the impasse are also in place.

Despite the impulse of closing ranks during times of war, a minority of Israeli and Palestinian activists and individual citizens opposed both Israel and Hamas during the Gaza war. Enduring allegations of being sellouts and traitors, not to mention threats to their person, some went as far as to make their criticism public in a number of small anti-war protests.

In addition, movements like Combatants for Peace (which was the subject of a moving documentary), which brings together Israeli and Palestinian refuseniks, reject violence perpetuated by both sides and believe not only that the occupation must be resisted peacefully but that it must be actively opposed by Israelis of conscience as much as it is by Palestinians.

And despite the risks involved and the increasingly shrill opposition to co-operation and co-resistance, Palestinians and Israelis of conscience continue to stand shoulder to shoulder against the occupation in myriad ways, from collaborations to improve daily life to the weekly joint protests in villages like Bil’in.

I regularly pass and, on occasion have joined, the small group of joint protesters in Sheikh Jarrah who come together every Friday, come rain or heatwave, violence or quiet, to oppose in silence the settlement enterprise in East Jerusalem.

So long as these courageous, determined voices remain, no matter how relatively few, hope will continue to flicker. However, I, like so many disillusioned observers, fear that its weak heat may be extinguished, with the worst-case scenario being a multi-fronted Syria-like conflict, involving not just war between Israelis and Palestinians, but also violent civil conflict within each society, as growing polarisation and animosity tears them apart.

Nevertheless, I still hold out hope. As war and violence continue to prove their ineffectiveness, the ranks of those seeking a peaceful alternative path to peace will likely swell over the coming years.  Their power will be unwittingly amplified by the crumbling of the ossified occupation. Although it may appear solid and durable today, the reality of the occupation is more that of a wall of cards than an impenetrable fortress.

As has occurred so many times in the past, once enough people decide, together, to act as a popular opposition, it will be enough to bring the edifice crashing down. This will clear the way for a future founded on, rather than undermining, the potential of two gifted and diverse peoples.

____

Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This article which first appeared in Haaretz on 6 October 2016.

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Israel declares war on peaceful activism

 
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By Khaled Diab

The Israeli government fears and combats peace and rights activists with greater gusto and urgency than armed extremists.

Photo: ©Khaled Diab

Photo: ©Khaled Diab

Thursday 6 October 2016

Anyone who has met the soft-spoken and mild-mannered Brigitte Herremans, the Middle East policy officer at Belgian Catholic charities Broederlijk Delen and Pax Christi, would be confounded to hear her labelled as a threat to public security and order.

But that is exactly how authorities at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport described her as they deported the Belgian peace activist and charity worker –while the founder of the pro-Israeli right NGO Monitor called her a “radical leader of political warfare”.

Like so many times before, Herremans had landed in Israel, earlier this month, to take a group of Belgians on a familiarisation tour of Israel and Palestine, where they would get the opportunity to see, first hand, the situation on the ground and to meet local Israeli and Palestinian peace activists.

But this time was to prove to be different. Following a three-hour detention, including a brief interrogation, Herremans, who had refused to divulge the names of her Palestinian and Israeli contacts, was put on a plane back home and banned from entering Israel for a decade, while the group she had been leading was allowed into the country.

“Unfortunately, I was aware that I might be refused entry to Israel, this time,” Herremans told me following her return to Belgium [see full Q&A here], citing “the Israeli government’s growing animosity towards NGOs and the increasing attacks by groups such as NGO Monitor”.

Established in 2002, NGO Monitor claims to “promote accountability” and “informed public debate” of the activities of international and local NGOs.  But “accountability” seems to mean accepting the narrative and policies of Israel’s extreme right government unquestioningly and uncritically.

NGO Monitor’s charge sheet against Herremans and Broederlijk Delen includes providing miniscule funding to a number of NGOs promoting human and legal rights and allegedly supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), which Broederlijk Delen does not actually do, according to Herremans.

Other presumably insidious and heinous acts exposed by NGO Monitor include organising an expo on the terrifying theme of ‘Peaceful resistance in Palestine and Israel’.

This is something that has long miffed me. The Israeli right repeatedly and harshly criticises Palestinians when they engage in violent resistance and terrorism and claim that their enemy only understand the language of violence.

Yet when Palestinians use the language of peaceful activism and non-violence, a process of deep-seated distrust and paranoia, combined with wilful distortion and twisting, translate these actions into the lexicon of terrorism and warfare.

This is because hitting someone who refuses to hit back exacts a heavy burden on human conscience and makes the hitter look and, deep down, feel like a thug and a bully. In contrast, rocket attacks from Gaza or knifings in the West Bank make it far easier to justify violence and oppression to oneself and the world.

That explains why the Israeli government, like many regimes in the region, fears and combats critical elements of civil society, especially leftist and rights groups, who are armed with little more than their consciences, with greater gusto and urgency than armed extremists.

Even uncontroversial charities, which actually indirectly help Israel by cleaning up the mess caused by its wars and improving the lives of Palestinians have fallen foul of this growing paranoia. For example, America’s largest Christian charity, World Vision, has been forced to suspend its operations in destitute Gaza because its manager there is accused of having funnelled funds to Hamas which are more than double the organisation’s budget there.

On the legislative front, the Knesset recently passed the contentious and controversial “NGO law”, which appears to single out left-wing and rights groups as treacherous agents of insidious foreign powers, rather than expressions of internal dissent and opposition to an unjust and unsustainable situation.

“These efforts are aimed at crippling the activities of and silencing the voices of organisations dedicated to critiquing Israeli government policy and actions,” notes Nadeem Shehadeh, a lawyer with Adalah, the first Palestinian-run legal centre in Israel.

In addition to Jewish-Israeli anti-occupation groups, Palestinian civil society and political parties have been a central target of these efforts, points out Shehadeh, referring to a spate of legislations in recent years, including the so-called “Nakba Law” of 2011 and the raising of the Knesset voting threshold in 2014. This was meant to sideline Arab parties but had the unintended effect of forcing them to unite under the conciliatory leadership of Ayman Odeh.

“The current political environment in Israel suggests that these efforts are not about to subside but are rather enjoying a distinct upswing,” observes Shehadeh. And as Palestinian activists, and their Israeli and international allies, increasingly resort to what has been dubbed “lawfare”, Israel’s clampdowns and crackdowns are likely to intensify over the coming years.

Moreover, years of demonising and stigmatising anyone who criticises or opposes Israel’s occupation and the abuses it leads to, no matter how benignly done, has created an extremely toxic atmosphere in which right-wing radicals and fanatics feel justified in using or threatening violence.

Targeted groups include the internationally respected human rights organisation B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence, which collects the testimonies of Israeli soldiers with the aim of exposing the reality of the occupation.

Palestinian rights groups, such as Al Mezan in Gaza and Al Haq in the West Bank, have also been receiving an alarming level of threats targeted at staff and their families, which have included photos of their houses to flowers delivered to their homes.

Despite the increasing dangers involved, brave Palestinian and Israeli activists continue their efforts to oppose the occupation peacefully and to advance efforts to build a robust and resilient peace, no matter how far off and elusive it seems from where we stand today.

____

Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This article first appeared on Al Jazeera on 29 September 2016.

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Birth behind bars

 
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By Khaled Diab

A new Palestinian film fictionalises the plight of female Palestinian prisoners of conscience: from hunger-striking to child birth.

Tuesday 29 March 2016

The new Palestinian film 3,000 Nights fictionalises a story that has quite literally been told a million times in real life: the experience of being a political prisoner in Israeli prison.

As many as a million Palestinians prisoners of conscience have been detained or jailed by Israel since 1948, according to figures released by the Palestinian Ministry of Detainees, with the majority since 1967.

Directed by documentary-maker Mai Masri, her first feature film brings to light the experiences of women prisoners, the relative minority of detainees, estimated at over 12,000 since 1967.

Through eye-catching and hauntingly beautiful cinematography, Masri brings to life the story of newly wed Layal (Maisa Abd Elhadi) who, in the early 1980s, lands in jail after innocently giving a lift to a young Palestinian who is alleged to have undertaken an attack on an Israeli checkpoint.

She is sent to Ramla prison, where she winds up in a cell with Israeli women implicated in criminal cases, which causes the other Palestinian women to be standoffish towards her and to suspect that she is an informant or collaborator.

It is only when she is transferred to a Palestinian cell and reveals to her cellmates her shocking new discovery, that she is pregnant, that the suspicion begins to disappear. And when she gives birth to the overwhelmingly adorable and irrepressibly joyful Nour (played by Zaid Qoda), her Palestinian cellmates’ hearts melt, as do those of the audience.

Although this seems like a contrived dramatic ploy, there have been real-life incidents of this. A strikingly similar case involved a woman from Gaza whose son spent the first 21 months of his life in prison with her, but she was a member of Islamic Jihad and was arrested for, and later admitted to, planning to carry out an attack.

Despite numerous moving moments, the characters in the film seemed half-formed. Like traditional Arab films which explore a political theme, 3,000 Nights is high on poignant symbolism, but to do so sacrifices too much human and psychological depth.

To transform complex and conflicted individuals, with all the ambiguities that make up human nature, into symbols necessitates a certain simplistic caricaturing. Cinematographically, this is reflected in the Hollywoodisation of the characters.

Pretty much all the Palestinians in the film are beautiful or have gravitas, and both when it comes to the leads. Meanwhile, the Israelis are middling to ugly and ooze hostility, with the exception of the human rights lawyer defending Layal and a Mizrahi Jewish inmate who becomes sympathetic, presumably due to their shared Arab heritage.

That said, based on my conversations and interviews with former prisoners, the film depicts accurately the details of the daily reality faced by Palestinian prisoners, from those tempted to become informants to those who live “sumud” (steadfastness). Some of the film’s most amusing scenes relate to the elaborate methods prisoners use to communicate secretly with each other, including Morse code, sign language, slips of paper secreted on their person and concealed holes in walls.

As illustrated by the recent case of Muhammad al-Qiq, who almost died after refusing food for 94 days in protest at his detention without charge, hunger-striking has been a common tool of protest for Palestinian prisoners of conscience since at least 1969.

Like in 3,000 Nights, Sulaiman Khatib was involved in a mass hunger-strike in the pre-intifada 1980s. “In jail, there was nothing for free,” Khatib told me in Ramallah. “So we had to engage in non-violent activities, such as hunger striking, so that we could improve our daily conditions.”

Given their serious consequences on the prisoners’ health and bodies, hunger strikes were not entered into lightly by the prisoners. Hunger-strikes are a gruelling ordeal on the inmates’ bodies and minds, so they used psychological tricks to endure them.

“Food controls your thoughts and dreams,” Khatib said, as he sipped thoughtfully on his coffee. “There’s a rule for hunger strikers: you’re not allowed to talk about food.”

Another coping strategy was the sense of solidarity between prisoners and with their supporters beyond the prison’s walls. “[This] creates a wonderful and profound solidarity. You become one with the group,” Suleiman observes.

One surprising effect of hunger-striking, I learnt, is that as the body declines, the spirit soars. “You begin to believe you’re a legend, you’re extraordinary, you have superpowers,” Bassam Arameen, who was also a political prisoner in the 1980s, recalled.

Many Palestinians describe their time in prison as a kind of multifaceted school, in which they immersed themselves in reading, learning, debate and reflection. Numerous ex-prisoners I have spoken to also recall how their time in prison radically altered their view of the path to Palestinian liberation and made them regard Israelis more humanely – not in a Stockholm Syndrome, but in a Nelson Mandela, kind of way.

“Before I knew about Gandhi or Mandela, I learnt with the other prisoners that non-violence works because most of our hunger strikes succeeded.” Khatib elaborates.

Today Khatib is a veteran peace activist who believes in the peaceful resolution of the conflict alongside Israeli allies. He is the co-founder of Combatants for Peace, a grassroots group of ex-Israeli and Palestinian fighters who have decided to lay down their arms because they believe that there can be no violent resolution to the conflict.

____

Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This article first appeared in The National on 19 March 2016.

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Starving the body to feed the cause

 
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By Khaled Diab

Hunger striking in prison taught Sulaiman Khatib a lot about his body, his mind and the importance of peaceful, non-violent activism.

Sulaiman Khatib: “Before I knew about Gandhi or Mandela... I learnt with the other prisoners that non-violence works." because most of our hunger strikes succeeded.”

Sulaiman Khatib: “Before I knew about Gandhi or Mandela… I learnt with the other prisoners that non-violence works, because most of our hunger strikes succeeded.”

Wednesday 29 July 2015

Sulaiman Khatib was only 12 when he started throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers in protest against the occupation. This was a couple of years before the image of the Palestinian rock thrower became the iconic emblem of the first intifada.

When Sulaiman was 14, he was involved in the stabbing of an Israeli soldier, for which he received a stiff sentence in 1986. “I was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment when I was 15,” he tells me some three decades later, at a trendy Ramallah coffee shop. “It was like a joke in prison. The oldest in my group was 18 – they sentenced him to 18 years.”

The reality of prison was harsh and a shock to the system for the young inmate who describes conditions in the juvenile wing as worse than for the adults. Pretty soon Sulaiman found himself becoming involved in a new form of protest, hunger strikes.

“In jail, there was nothing for free,” he points out. “So we had to engage in non-violent activities, such as hunger striking, so that we could improve our daily conditions.”

Given their serious consequences on the prisoners’ health and bodies, hunger strikes were not entered into lightly by the prisoners. First, they would try other means, like sending back meals or entering into mini-hunger strikes. When these failed, the prisoners would escalate to an all-out, open-ended hunger strike.

 

Risky enterprise

Hunger strikes have an enormous debilitating effect on the body. At first, hunger pangs are overpowering but these usually disappear within three days. At around this time, when fat reserves have been used up, the body begins to muscle protein to make glucose to maintain metabolism.

After a fortnight, the body is severely weakened, leading to, among other things, difficulty standing up, dizziness, low heart rate and the chills. Low Vitamin B1 levels can also lead to neurological problems, including lack of motor skills and vision loss.

The risk of death relates to the type of hunger strike and the healthiness of the striker. If a person refuses all liquids, death is possible within two weeks. People with health problems can die in as little as three weeks even if they are consuming liquids.

Even with liquids, a healthy person will suffer severe complications within 45 days, at which point it becomes difficult even to swallow liquids and death is at the door at any moment.

Hunger strikes were a gruelling ordeal on the inmates’ bodies and minds. “You get hungry, of course, it’s not easy,” admits Suleiman. “There’s a rule for hunger strikers: you’re not allowed to talk about food,” he notes, quite sensibly.

However, though the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak. “For the first couple of hours we talk about food… During a hunger strike, even the most disgusting prison food which you used to throw away becomes attractive.”

As anyone who has fasted can attest, a hunger striker’s sense of smell becomes acute and every aroma is delicious. “Food controls your thoughts and dreams,” he adds. Fully aware of this reality, the guards would sometimes try to break their resolve by ordering in food and eating it in front of the hunger-striking inmates.

“But you can’t give in,” insists Suleiman. But how do you steel yourself against your most basic instincts and such overwhelming thoughts?

Through a form of secular ego death, Suleiman maintains. “It’s not about you, the individual. In those days of revolution, you didn’t say ‘I’, you said ‘We.’”

This leads to subsumption of the self into the whole. “[This] creates a wonderful and profound solidarity. You become one with the group,” Suleiman observes. “Your ego and your person become less significant compared with the cause – the cause is more sacred and important,” he adds, though he is quick to point out that the prisoners back then were not in the least religious.

Suleiman also notes that the moral support of family, friends and the public on the outside is essential. “Without the small uprisings and solidarity outside the prison walls, a hunger strike is bound to fail,” he insists.

One paradoxical effect of a hunger strike, explains Suleiman and a fellow former hunger striker who has joined us, is that, though it debilitates your body, it gives you a profound sense of power.  “We felt that we weren’t ordinary people,” interjected Bassam. “You discover that you have abilities that you didn’t know you possessed.”

This sense of power resonates to the present. “To this day, it gives me inner strength and fortitude,” Suleiman emphasises.

Hunger-striking and his time in prison also put Suleiman on the path to discovering an alternative route. “Prison opens the way for you to think differently,” he says. “You read a lot about different things, you reflect and this affects the way you think and feel.”

“Before I knew about Gandhi or Mandela,” Suleiman continues, “I learnt with the other prisoners that non-violence works because most of our hunger strikes succeeded.”

Today, Suleiman is a veteran peace activist and co-founder of Combatants for Peace, a grassroots group of ex-Israeli and Palestinian fighters who have decided to lay down their arms because they believe that there can be no violent resolution to the conflict.

 

A brief history of hunger strikes

Palestinian hunger strikes have a decades-long history. According to various sources, perhaps the earliest open-ended hunger strike took place at Ramle prison in 1969, and lasted for 10 days.

According to Suleiman Khatib, the largest ever hunger strike, which he participated in, took place in 1992. This particular hunger strike, which lasted 15 days, extended to almost every Israeli prison holding Palestinian political prisoners and involved a total of some 7,000 inmates.

Getting such a major endeavour successfully off the ground was no mean logistical feat. It required careful organisation and coordination within and between prisons. Sulaiman describes how messages were carefully scrawled by the best calligraphers on to tiny slips of paper, which were rolled up with tape into sealed capsules. At first, these were simply secreted in the mouth, but as prison authorities became more vigilant, they were often swallowed and fished out of the latrine later.

In addition, in an admirable show of democracy, prisoners put everything to the vote. “We had an elected spokesman. You could criticise any of the elected representatives to their face. There was better democracy than outside,” Suleiman explains. “The Israeli minister of police at the time said that the only liberated part of this country were the prisons.”

Today, hunger strikes are still common, and have evolved not just to oppose prison conditions but also as a political protest against individual sentences or the arbitrary practice of so-called “administrative detentions”.

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Palestinian resistance: The gun or the olive branch?

 
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By Khaled Diab

The death and destruction inflicted by Israel’s assault on Gaza point to the futility of Palestinian armed resistance. Peaceful resistance is the way.

Gaza Day poster from 1969.  Source: http://www.palestineposterproject.org/poster/gaza-day

Gaza Day poster from 1969.
Source: http://www.palestineposterproject.org/poster/gaza-day

Sunday 27 July 2014

The war in Gaza has exacted a heavy human and humanitarian toll on the long-suffering civilian population there, especially for children and women. At least 925 Palestinians have been killed, of which at least 676 are civilians, including 206 children, according to UN figures.

The images of the suffering, anguish and pain have provoked an enormous sense of outrage, anger and despair amongst Palestinians outside the strip.

Hamas’s barrage of primitive and puny rockets may have been physically targeted at Israel but ideologically their intended recipient seems to be arch-rivals Fatah, and its negotiated approach to the conflict.

Arafat UNForty years ago, in 1974, Yasser Arafat stood before the UN General Assembly and declared: “I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter’s gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.”

During the intervening years, the PLO packed away its “freedom fighter’s gun” in favour of the peace process. However, the net result has been that the life of Palestinians today is worse than it was when there were no formal agreements between the two sides. Prior to Oslo, Palestinians had freedom of movement across all of Israel and Palestine and were not strangled in by settlements.

It is no wonder that the olive branch looks like it has fallen irretrievably out of the feeble hands of Mahmoud Abbas, whose gestures of peace remain unrequited by the Israelis and whose Palestinian Authority has, in many ways, become a security contractor for the Israeli occupation.

And there is a rising public sense here that armed struggle is inevitable. “Till we have a viable and independent Palestinian state, the Palestinian people have the right to resist the Israeli occupation and domination in any and all ways possible,” contends Imad Karam, a Gazan filmmaker and peace activist currently based in the UK.

“I really dislike Hamas but what they’re doing against Israel is the right thing,” a Jerusalemite friend told me, echoing an increasingly common sentiment.

“Israel has got to feel that there is a cost to its actions. It needs to get some of the same sense of fear and anguish we feel,” another said.

Hamas’s rockets are a “symbolic and radical assertion of an indigenous people’s unbending will to live with dignity in their ancestral homeland,” described Susan Abulhawa, the Palestinian author of the critically acclaimed book Mornings in Jenin, in a public post on her Facebook page. “They are the minimal acts of self-defence of a people against whom unspeakable crimes have never ceased in 60 years.”

Palestine’s increasingly successful peaceful popular resistance movements have also been caught in the crossfire. “This is the most aggressive Israeli war and one which hit families hardest, but we have not seen in the past such Palestinian unity and support behind the resistance,” says Karam. “A sign would be the general mood in both Gaza and the West Bank which is one that is proud and supportive of the resistance and their achievements, despite the hefty cost.”

Some even mock and ridicule the very notion of peaceful resistance. Rana Baker, a London-based Gazan, asked mockingly, in an article for openDemocracy, whether Palestinians “should grab guitars, pianos, and white ribbons, look up at their oppressors flying over their heads in apaches and F16s, and sing a lullaby of peace”.

Baker even justifies the targeting of civilians, which is a war crime, through the convoluted logic that “Palestinians fire rockets into what belongs to them in the first place.” In a show of dangerous self-deception, she even believes that armed resistance must continue “until Palestine is liberated, and by Palestine I mean historical Palestine.”

Such hardening maximalist nationalism in some Palestinian quarters is a product of disappointment and disillusionment at the failure of the peace process to deliver an independent state or even equality, only a state of segregation, settlements and walls.

But can armed struggle deliver justice for Palestinians where negotiations have failed? Judging by the long annals of the Arab-Israeli conflict, armed struggle has been a double-edged sword, with the edge facing the Palestinians digging much deeper and causing more pain.

In fact, in almost every military confrontation the Palestinians and Arabs have had with the Israelis, Israel has come out on top, with Palestinians paying a heavy price for the loss. Yet for advocates of the way of the gun such overwhelming evidence is ignored, or perhaps irrelevant.

“I remain convinced that there is no military solution to this conflict,” says Karam, recognising the futility of armed conflict in the Israeli-Palestinian context. “No matter how hard Israel hits our people, the Palestinian people will simply not give up until our legitimate demands for freedom are fulfilled, and no matter how far our rockets reach in Israel, they will not bring a solution to the conflict.”

'The sole solution'. A 1935 poster by the Irgun group. Source: http://www.palestineposterproject.org/poster/the-sole-solution

‘The sole solution’. A 1935 poster by the Irgun group. Source: http://www.palestineposterproject.org/poster/the-sole-solution

This is a lesson which Israel repeatedly refuses to learn, preferring the so-called “deterrence” of military brutality to the employment of soft power and the tackling of the underlying causes.

Karam still sees a future for unarmed Palestinian resistance, even in Gaza. “In my view, popular and non-violent resistance is the best way forward to achieve our national aspirations, alongside political negotiations,” he asserts. “However, it is difficult to apply this in Gaza which is blockaded and I don’t see an end to armed resistance from Gaza unless at least the blockade is lifted.”

Personally, I am convinced that non-violent resistance need not wait for a lifting of the blockade and, in fact, in a situation where Palestinians are seriously outgunned, peaceful protest can outsmart the Israeli military, leading to the lifting of the siege.

In fact, the most significant gains made by the Palestinian cause came through peaceful means. This is reflected in the first intifdada, when ordinary, humble, unarmed but dedicated Palestinians almost brought Israel to its knees. That the opportunities for peace and justice this threw up were manipulated in ill faith by too many Israeli leaders and squandered by the PLO does not detract from the power of popular, peaceful resistance.

Palestinian peace activist Sulaiman Khatib believes this apparent surge in support for armed struggle is passing and is fuelled by outrage and powerlessness at what is happening to the population of Gaza. “When people see all the images from Gaza, there is a shift in the balance between violent and non-violent struggle. But this is only temporary,” he told me.

“The large disparity in power in Gaza confirms my conviction that violence – or armed resistance – is not the way. The best way to change and combat the occupation is through non-violence.”

Khatib is the co-founder of Combatants for Peace, a group of ex-fighters, both Palestinians and Israelis, who “decided to put down our guns, and to fight for peace”.

This organisation didn’t get off to an easy birth. At the first-ever meeting of ex-Israeli and Palestinian combatants the air was thick with distrust, loathing, disagreement and, above all, fear. The Palestinians and Israelis were both paranoid that the meeting might be a trap.

Today, they are a well-organised and effective, if still relatively minor movement. In keeping with their ethos, they held a joint Arab-Jewish protest, albeit a small one, against the Gaza war. “We also need co-resistance,” emphasises Khatib.

Photo: ©Khaled Diab

Photo: ©Khaled Diab

Last week’s large peaceful protest in Qalandia is a clear sign that unarmed resistance has certainly not yet run its course in Palestine.

And it doesn’t end there. The Palestinian grassroots weave together a long and loose web of activists and groups who employ only peaceful means: from the likes of Bassem Tamimi, the school teacher who became an anti-settlement activist in Nabi Salih to Emad Burnat, the farmer who became an Oscar-nominated filmmaker to protest the Israeli wall in Bil’in.

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Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This is an updated and extended version of an article which originally appeared in The National on 23 July 2014.

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