Thursday, May 19, 2011

'Non-Violent Resistance Does Not Work With The Israelis'

By Michael Jansen
This commentary was published in The Jordan Times on 19/05/2011

Protests commemorating Nakbeh in the Palestinian territories and the countries surrounding Israel demonstrated, once again, that the phony “status quo” is untenable.

The “status quo” is false because Israel has long relied on its military superiority to impose stasis on the Arabs while it carries on with its drive to colonise territory slated for the Palestinian state and to ethnically cleanse Palestinians living there.

On Sunday, one Palestinian teen was killed, 182 injured and 149 suffered from teargas inhalation during stone throwing in Gaza and West Bank protests against Israel’s establishment by war in 1948-49. On Friday, another boy was shot dead in the occupied East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Silwan, allegedly by a colonist in an apartment block built without a permit. Such deaths and woundings are common in the occupied territories, but since the second Intifada faded and died, large-scale popular protests have been rare.

Furthermore, in recent years, there have been few major demonstrations along the ceasefire lines and borders delineating Israel.But on Sunday, Palestinian exiles battled Israeli troops at the Lebanese UN-drawn Blue Line fence, crossed into the Israeli occupied Golan, and rallied in the Jordan Valley near the frontier with the Palestinian West Bank. At least 14 people were reported shot dead by Israeli troops, 10 in Lebanon and four on the Golan Heights, recognised by the world as Syrian territory.

Although the Egyptian army prevented 20 busloads of Egyptians from reaching Rafah, in northern Sinai, and marching into Gaza, 80 activists managed to stage a protest at the Rafah terminal and hundreds besieged the Israeli embassy in Cairo. Massed Palestinians braving Israeli military action to walk back into their homeland has long been an Israeli nightmare.

Yoav Limor, military correspondent for an Israeli television channel, observed: “The barrier of fear has been broken.The army has to prepare for a new reality and figure out what to do.”

The Nakbeh, the Palestinian catastrophe caused by the creation of Israel, is neither forgotten nor forgiven. More than 750,000 Palestinians lost their homes, villages and land during the Nakbeh, the majority exiled beyond the recognised borders of geographic Palestine.Seventy-eight per cent of Palestine was occupied by Israel in 1948-49, 23 per cent more than the Jewish state was allocated under the 1947 UN partition plan.

Palestinians’ attachment to their homeland and rejection of exile has meant that no major Palestinian politician has been able to publicly renounce the Palestinian “right” to return to homes and lands from which they were expelled by Israel. While “right” was believed to be specifically laid down in UN General Assembly Resolution 194, paragraph 11, of December 1948, international law also establishes the right of refugees to return to their homes and lands.

While many other refugees have managed to realise their right to return, Palestinians have not because of Israel’s privileged status.

It remains to be seen whether the weekend of Nakbeh observances kindles a third Intifada which could involve Palestinians in the neighbourhood diaspora.

Unfortunately for the Palestinians, it is far more difficult to launch an uprising today than in 1987, when the first Intifada erupted after Palestinians were run down and killed by an Israeli lorry driver in Gaza, or in 2000 when the second uprising was sparked by a visit of Israeli Likud party leader Ariel Sharon - accompanied by hundreds of troops - to the Haram Al Sharif in Jerusalem.

There are several reasons it is more difficult to resort to mass action today than in the late 1980s and early 2000s. While Gaza and the West Bank were, essentially, separate entities during the 1980s and 1990s, Palestinians living in East Jerusalem and the West Bank had considerable freedom of movement, enabling hundreds, even thousands, to hold demonstrations that mounted a serious challenge to the Israeli occupation authorities.

Today, Palestinians under occupation live in three largely separate locations, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. Furthermore, the West Bank is subdivided into more than two dozen enclaves surrounded by Israeli colonies, army camps and territory retained by Israel in spite of its commitment to withdraw under the Oslo Accords.These mini-enclaves, ringed and raided regularly by Israeli troops, can be sealed off at any time. East Jerusalem is similarly divided into pockets, enabling Israel to impose its control on Palestinians who dwell there. This means Palestinians cannot gather in large enough numbers to pose a serious threat to the Israeli security regime by mounting mass action. Consequently, they are confined to home turf and limited to relatively small showings.

When staging demonstrations, Palestinians in the West Bank also face the security apparatus of the Palestinian Authority, which opposes mass action. Hamas is also unwilling to permit large demonstrations in Gaza.

Last weekend, de facto Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh - possibly under pressure from Cairo - even told Egyptian activists they did not need to march into Gaza Strip to display their devotion to the Palestinian cause. Egyptians turned their attention to the Israeli embassy in Cairo where troops fired into the air to disperse a protest.

Neither Fateh nor Hamas wants to risk large-scale demonstrations at this time. Therefore, in contrast to the situation during the first and second Intifadas, there is no national leadership providing encouragement and guidance for the Palestinians seeking to mount protests.

Those organising the latest demonstrations were Internet activists belonging to the March 15th youth movement and their allies on the ground in Palestine.

The Fateh-dominated Palestinian Authority is, in particular, in a triple bind. It has renounced armed struggle and undertaken to use its security forces to prevent attacks on Israel. The authority has taken a lead only in one non-violent campaign: the effort to enforce a boycott of goods and services produced in Israeli colonies.

However, popular pressure for mass action has risen since the fall of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.

The West Bank leadership can no longer afford to ignore the will of the people. This was clearly demonstrated by the belated agreement by Fateh to reconcile with Hamas and form a unity government comprised of technocrats who will have to deal with the situation until elections are held and a power-sharing relationship between Fateh and Hamas is settled at the ballot box. Once a newly elected parliament is in place and a legitimate government is installed, the Palestinian leadership will have to forge a strategy for non-violent resistance, the only alternative to negotiations and armed struggle.

Non-violent resistance has been pioneered by private individuals rather than the authority which, until recently, put all its energies into fruitless negotiations with Israel - which has no intention of allowing a Palestinian state to emerge in the 1967 occupied territories. In 2005, individuals in the Green Line village of Bil’in launched peaceful weekly protests against Israel’s West Bank-East Jerusalem wall and colonies. Other West Bank villages have followed suit, proving that the spirit of resistance remains strong among Palestinians who have local leaders determined to stand up to the Israelis.

Unfortunately, non-violent resistance does not work with the Israelis who always respond with violence to any Palestinian challenge, peaceful or not.

During the first Intifada, this correspondent asked Faisal Husseini, then the senior Fateh figure in occupied Jerusalem, why Palestinians did not adopt a Gandhian strategy. I will never forget this reply: “Palestinians are not Indians, the Israelis are not the British, and we do not have a Gandhi.”

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