Nonviolence as a strategy of struggle and method for peace-making

IssueMarch - May 2004
Feature by Zoughbi Elias Zoughbi

Bernard Shaw once said, “If you break a nation's nationality, it will think of nothing else but getting it set again. It will listen to no reformer, to no philosopher, to no preacher, until the demands of the nationalist are granted. It will attend to no business, however vital. Except the business of unification and liberation.” 1

Many Palestinians have conducted a non-violent campaign against the Israeli occupation, on the personal, NGO, political party, community, and country levels. According to Gene Sharp, the director of the programme on nonviolent sanctions at Harvard University's Centre for International Affairs, there are three classes of methods in conducting nonviolence: l Symbolic forms of nonviolent protest l Non-co-operation, l Intervention 2

Nonviolence drew on the first two methods and on the third through international diplomacy, governmental as well as citizen's diplomacy.

There are two major aspects of nonviolence in the Palestinian struggle. First, there is the nonviolence of the Palestinians in Occupied Palestine and the diaspora, and second, there is the political route and the diplomatic channels. Non-violence is a commonly misunderstood term. By non-violence, I do not mean passiveness, weakness, or surrender. Rather, it is an empowerment and an ongoing struggle that requires inner strength and perseverance. An effective strategy In my view, nonviolence is the most effective way of ending the occupation. I can summarise my bias to nonviolence in the following points.

First, as a Palestinian, I believe violence dehumanises human beings. Therefore, through nonviolent struggle, we find the common ground among Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in their belief that human beings are created in the image of God. There are currently four types of violence influencing the lives of the peoples of this land. The most talked about is insurgent violence, carried out by nationalists and others who have opted to revolt against the occupation, siege, and oppression inflicted upon them (for more than 35 years).

But the Israeli government and settlers are carrying out the other three forms of violence against the Palestinians. Structural violence, environmental violence, and state sponsored violence are all part of the system being used to continue to subject the Palestinians to the de facto apartheid that is currently in place. [See Uri Davis's article on p15.] Liberate your enemy Second, through nonviolence we don't only seek the liberation of our nation, but also seek the liberation of our enemy by alleviating Israeli fears of an inevitable Palestinian state. As the educator Paulo Freire says, “Only power that springs from the oppressed will be sufficiently strong to free both.”3When we consider the dehumanising acts the Israeli government has asked its army to perform, such as beating, maiming, killing, terrorising, and torturing, we must think of the repercussions these sanctioned acts will have on the future of Israeli society. What kind of citizens will this generation's soldiers make? And, if this policy continues, how many generations following them will learn to be racist and to deal with fear and anger through violence? We are like sitting ducks in a shooting gallery. I can only affirm what Henri Nouwen says, “our great task is to prevent our fears from boxing our fellow human beings into characterisations and to see them as people.” Futility of arms Third, given Israel's nuclear arsenal, estimated at hundreds of nuclear warheads,and with a very complicated defence strategy, there is little hope of defeating Israel by war. The second Intifada shows the futility of using arms, especially when the Israeli reaction is more brutal and in damaging fashion. But, with a Palestinian commitment to non-violent struggle, there is no way that Israel can maintain the status quo and obliterate the Palestinian national identity. Israelis must eventually accept the inevitability of change. Nonviolence should address these facts in order to pave the way of coexistence by laying the solid foundation of a two-state solution. Nonviolence works Fourth, through the first intifada nonviolence achieved what violence has not been able to achieve. Palestinians have gained world sympathy for their cause, recognition that occupation is no longer viable, and affirmation from more than one hundred nation-states recognising the right of Palestinians to have their own state. Some might argue that the armed struggle of the first decade (1964-1974) of the Palestinian revolution has put the Palestinians on the world map. One cannot deny that historical background. But being on the world political map is not enough. We need to foster our existence on the geographical map, whether the second Intifada echoes the gains of the first intifada is the question that poses itself persistently. Cautiously hopeful Fifth, based on the experience of previous and present popular struggles, I believe that nonviolence will foster our relations with peace-loving people who can be mobilised to support the unarmed oppressed in the light of the atrocities and brutalities of the oppressor.

This simply illustrates our vision of anew world order based on peace, economic growth, social justice and ecological bal ”Because of the Palestinians' unique position, they are able to liberate Israeli society.”

Addressing Israeli society

Sixth, nonviolent strategy can help us address Israeli society by working with those who cannot tolerate the unjust acts of their government. Hundreds of signatories are already on the Ometz Lesarev (Courage to Refuse) declaration. There are different groups who reactivate themselves, like IDF widows, Yesh Gvul, GushS halom, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, Ta'yush and others. Palestinians can raise the awareness of Israelis and break down stereotypes, but only if Israelis themselves can change the policy of their government. Therefore, I agree with Amos Givrtz that Israeli people are advised to be more active in preventive nonviolence. In the midst of rising extremism among the Israeli right wing, Israeli peace activists need to be more affirmative and assertive in their struggle to get themselves rid of being occupiers. Because of the Palestinians' unique position, they are able to liberate Israeli society from learning to dehumanise, abuse, and degrade itself.

World community response

Seventh, we see ourselves as members of the world community and are aware of the international impact of the Israel Palestine conflict. We also realise the need for international support. Opting for non-violence requires the support of others across the world to exert pressure to fulfil our aims. This would complement the local strategies. We need to expose the Israeli government atrocities. The world community needs to act and respond more efficiently. Threatened by thoughts of peace Eighth, we should not be dragged into the swamp of violence into which Israel is trying to put us. Palestinians should heed the words of Napoleon: “Never do what your enemy wants you to do, if only because he wants you to do it.” Through its daily provocations Israel tries to push us to use greater violence, precisely because the Israeli government is well equipped to deal with violence. It seems that the Israeli government is threatened more by thoughts of peace and nonviolence than by war. Their whole system is trained for war; it is not well equipped to face peace.

Waging peace

Let us not postpone the inevitable. I strongly believe that war, violence and negative diplomacy are combinations of arts and actions that delay the inevitable. Inevitability says that we can live together in a two-state solution. This could be a model solution that renders justice, restores hope, alleviates fear, heals trauma, and increases potency for co-existence and economic growth. This inevitability will not occur without radical changes from within our societies and a resound-ing wake-up call. Let me conclude by saying, we need a jump-start to move away from the deadlock of the peace process. This requires three dimensions of joint non-violence struggle: the Palestinians to continue their proactive struggle to get rid of the Israeli occupation; the Israelis to affirm and enhance their preventive struggle to rid themselves of being occupiers; the third party and pro-justice groups to raise awareness among the constituencies, to have leverage on the powers that be to succumb to the international will of resolving conflicts through the channels of government, citizens diplomacy and UN resolutions. The strategy of waging peace should replace once and for all the strategy of waging war.