Violence or non-violence?

Though Israel presents all its military violence as necessary self-defence, the fact is that the violent occupation has continued apace regardless of whether the prevalent Palestinian tactic has been suicide bombings, rockets, kids throwing stones, or peaceful mass protests, strikes, civil disobedience or refusal to pay taxes imposed by the occupation. Ali Abunimah: “Israel met this challenge not by laying down its arms or slowing the construction of new settlements, but with escalating violence and more settlements.” And the peaceful protests are routinely met by bullets.

Insult and lies are added to injury when troops claim they fired in self defence or crushed  protesters because they were in the wrong place, like the comic-book bully who complains their victim got in the way of his boots. And Israel now even defines any attempts to damage its separation wall as “violence”.

Ali Abunimah: “Palestinian violence included various forms of resistance against Israeli occupation, some legitimate, such as attacks that targetted Israeli tanks and troops, and some illegitimate, such as suicide bombings against noncombatant civilians. However … Palestinian violence occurs within the context of much greater and more pervasive Israeli violence.”

Each side has been marked by loss of life and injury. Israel’s toll of 1000 suicide bomb deaths, proportionate to the population, would translate into around 12,000 in the UK, and maybe 30,000 in the US: that’s an awful lot of Nine-Elevens. The Palestinians suffered five times greater loss of life in the second Intifada, but also continuing daily brutality, bullying, humiliation and some 10,000 political prisoners.

And that’s before you start counting up the war losses.

Violence isn’t just counted in injuries and deaths and acts of war. An army of occupation with its decrees and orders backed up by guns and military hardware is violent in its essence, in its coercive and punitive threat of violence. Sixty women giving birth at checkpoints is violence. And the lawless vigilante settlers are violence. Ali Abunimah asks: “Imagine the success rate if settlers went knocking on doors asking Palestinians to kindly step out of their way?”

Vandalism and damage to property is certainly violence. Hundreds of square Kms of land have been confiscated. Since 1967, over 24,000 Palestinian homes have been demolished, as well as workshops, factories and commercial buildings. Some demolition was directly punitive either against an individual or a whole community, the bulk was for military purposes (or the convenience of the army), and about a quarter on various bureaucratic pretexts (lack of permits which are impossible to obtain) to facilitate settlements, road building and the construction of the barrier wall and fence.

Between 1993 and 2002 (the hayday of promises of a Palestinian state), Israel forcibly confiscated 240 sq km of Palestinian land for settlements and destroyed around a million olive and citrus trees essential to Palestinian livelihoods and culture. Olives are so slow growing that they are planted in each generation for the benefit of grandchildren.

Imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti: “And while I, and the Fatah movement to which I belong, strongly oppose attacks and the targeting of civilians inside Israel, our future neighbour, I reserve the right to protect myself, to resist the Israeli occupation of my country and to fight for my freedom. … I am not a terrorist, but neither am I a pacifist. I am simply a regular guy from the Palestinian street advocating only what every other oppressed person has advocated—the right to help myself in the absence of help from anywhere else.”

If we look at it from the standpoint not of morality but of utility, the questions are different. Violence has been a perfect tool for Israel not only because it has all the hardware and acts with the total impunity bestowed on it by Washington, but also because it is the right tool for achieving its moral and material aims of occupation, expropriation and domination.

But from the victim’s point of view what is it for? A cry for help, an expression of rage, an attempt to retrieve self respect in the face of humiliation, an attempt to “even up the scores”? There is of course the absolute and unquestionable right to self defense, but given the balance of forces, will this be effective in achieving any let-up in violence or oppression, let alone long-term justice?

Striking real fear within Israel has only deepened their prejudices and self-justifications. Every rocket and bomb has been a gift to Israel’s propaganda machine. But every death in its prisons, every video of unarmed demonstrators getting crushed, beaten and shot at, every whistleblower’s report of collective punishments and brutality, sends the lie machine into a potentially fatal overdrive.

In one respect there is a tragically common philosophy and experience underlying “taking up arms” on both sides. The Zionists swore they would never again be herded like sheep to their deaths but would at least die fighting, with a gun in their hands. Even more tragically, this has gone so far that they are now the ones acting as a master race in control of others’ lives and destinies.

It would be surprising if similar sentiments did not motivate young Palestinians, who must bitterly regret their people’s fear and passivity in ‘48 and feel that taking up arms now would put things right.

To return to the question of utility. It used to be said by supporters of Stalinist Russia that the ends justified the means. Or was it that you couldn’t make an omelette without breaking eggs? Either way, it was saying that a few million people being starved or worked to death was a small price to pay for a glorious socialist future.

These days we know that the means and the ends form a unity. The two-state solution, which entails separation and nationalism, jostling for advantage, establishing facts on the ground, is well suited to violent means.

But the single state solution is a proposal of amalgamation, unity, fusion. Accepting that one state is already the reality, the struggle is one for civil and equal rights. It will take some tough negotiation and bargaining but mostly it is about building understanding and fellow feeling, allowing sympathy with the other and not choking it back.

There probably would be some violence during this process: but it will come from the ultra-Zionists who, refusing to accept the will of the majority of their fellow Jews, will unfortunately resort to death threats and worse against those they perceive as traitors.

One Democracy is not a nationalist but a civil rights movement. It recognises that Palestine is not divisible, that one state has been created, and that the answer is not territorial but political. So the “power of the weak”  —  the weapons of civil protest, which the Palestinian movement has practised over and over for the past eight decades or so —  are still its best hope and the means most suited to the best possible outcome. And they are the ones chosen throughout the latest phase of the movement, the brave and apparently unflagging protests in East Jerusalem and against the Separation Wall.

The best way that Palestine’s supporters can make this effective is to step up the boycott campaigns worldwide, and to campaign not just against the injustices but for a society that will have been worth fighting for.

The Palestine National Initiative, founded in 2002, believes that the methods used should be based on a reversal of what it refers to as the “militarization” of the intifada, and a continued struggle by peaceful means. It has no armed wing and does not use or advocate violence, although it states that it supports in principle a right of resistance to occupation.

Its leader Mustafa Barghouti, who received 20% of the vote in the 2005 Presidential elections to the Palestine Authority said in a recent interview that he thought even Hamas has now started to see the power of non-violence:  “There has been a change. I found that, after I and 26 other peace activists took a ship from Larnaca in Cyprus and risked our lives in confronting the Israeli Navy and broke the siege on Gaza, that affected a lot of the people in Gaza by showing the power of nonviolence.” (7-5-10)

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