Editorial: Unarmed resistance

IssueJune 2013
Comment by The Editors
The courageous Israeli Jewish journalist Amira Hass recently condemned the phrase ‘nonviolent resistance’ in relation to the Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation. This caused some jubilation among activists concerned with Palestine who are hostile to nonviolence.

Their jubilation may have been premature.

Amira Hass said, in her interview with US radical news programme, Democracy Now!, ‘I don’t like the term “nonviolent resistance”…. because it puts the onus of being nonviolent on the occupied rather than on the occupier. And it has the ring of how we please the West in their demands of how to do [protest].’

Her very next words, however, demonstrated that she actually supported the concept of nonviolent resistance, while preferring different terms — ‘unarmed’ or ‘popular’ resistance.

Hass went on: ‘as we saw with the Second Intifada, armed resistance — or, it wasn’t really resistance, in my eyes, but the use of arms always keeps away the majority of the population. So it’s only — it’s a very masculine, it’s a very macho phenomenon that is — mostly, I say, it is the competition over whose is bigger.’

In another recent article, Amira Hass reported some pertinent reflections by a long-term Palestinian prisoner, Walid Daqa, a 52-year-old Palestinian citizen of Israel, who has been a political prisoner since 1987. Daqa observed that the film 5 Broken Cameras had had a considerable impact on the hyper-masculine and aggressive society of the prison. The film documents nonviolent Palestinian protests against the Israeli separation fence in the West Bank town of Bil’in.

According to Daqa, on viewing the film, the other prisoners have ‘suddenly discovered that the struggle of these “yuppies”, these “spineless” people from Bil’in and Na’alin, isn’t simple at all, but demands faith and sacrifice, and bears with it not a little risk. And suddenly they discovered that standing exposed to the barrel of a rifle, without any means of defence, reflects courage and bravery that are far greater than the bravery required to stand behind a rifle.’

Daqa noted: ‘The movie changed the minds of many of the prisoners regarding the nonviolent popular struggle. From my perspective, the movie could be Israeli or Czech; what’s important is that it shook up the prisoners’ macho culture and militaristic outlook. The question that remains unanswered and that prevents people from adopting the concept of a nonviolent struggle is whether such a struggle can advance [their] objectives and reach [their] goals.’

There is, apparently, a great deal of literature among the Palestinian prisoners that explains and glorifies armed struggle, but there is nothing about Gandhi or the US civil rights movement or other unarmed struggles.

Daqa concludes: ‘If I were in the shoes of the Israeli culture minister, instead of condemning and attacking the movie and the directors, I would fund the purchase of books and studies about nonviolent struggle and flood the libraries of Israeli jails with that literature.’

It may be that the international peace movement could perform this useful service instead.


Revenge attack in Woolwich

The brutal killing and mutilation of an off-duty British soldier in Woolwich, in south-west London, has shocked Britain. The most likely consequence of the attack is an increase in violence against Muslims.There is already a frightening degree of Islamophobia in Britain.

Last October, a YouGov poll found that 57% of people rejected the idea that ‘Islam does not pose a serious danger to Western civilization’; while 48% disagreed with the idea that ‘Muslims are compatible with the British way of life’. Faced with this level of hostility, and the day-to-day attacks on Muslim women documented by monitoring group Tell MAMA, one useful thing non-Muslims can do is stand with Islamic communities in our towns and cities. (By coincidence, immediately after typing that sentence, the two editors headed around the corner to join the PN promotions worker in a solidarity demonstration at the local mosque: ‘Hastings welcomes all cultures’.)

Another way in which people committed to peace and justice can be useful is to challenge denial about the roots of this kind of jihadist violence. One of the attackers made clear his motivations, on the scene, in a speech recorded on a eyewitness’s mobile phone: ‘The only reason we have done this is because Muslims are dying every day. This British soldier is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.’

This is not a justification for the violence, but it is an explanation for where this kind of hatred comes from. The government and the mainstream media have immediately begun the denial process that is designed to remove these words from history, just as they have done with previous jihadist attacks (including 7/7).

Our job, as peace activists, is to argue against wars because they are wrong, morally and legally. It is also our job to challenge lies about Britain’s wars and their consequences.

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