- Palestinian-Israeli crossfire on
"Violence and non-violence by Palestinians and Israelis”

October 7, 2002 Edition 36

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>< “A question of definition” - by Yossi Alpher
We are dealing with "non-violence" at a philosophical level quite different from the precepts of a Gandhi or a Martin Luther King.

>< “Struggle and suppression” - by Ghassan Khatib

Palestinian's have the right to resist the Israeli occupation. The question is how to resist successfully?

>< “Fighting the tool of control” - interview with Ghassan Andoni
We need to find a way for the Palestinian masses to join in.

>< “It won't happen, and if it does, it is likely to fail” - by Tamar Hermann
Only 9% of Israeli Jews felt it was likely that a non-violent Palestinian resistance movement would indeed emerge.

A question of definition

by Yossi Alpher

Any discussion of violence and non-violence in the Israeli-Palestinian context encounters a serious problem of definition of terms.

First, each side apparently understands its use of violence as a reaction to the violence of the other. In this regard, while Israelis and Palestinians generally agree on a definition of Palestinian violence--from low level stone throwing to suicide bombings--Palestinians define Israeli "violence" in a unique way: occupation, settlement construction, closures, and curfews are "violence", regardless of how and why they came about or whether bullets are fired or people injured.

This brings us to the issue of moral equivalency. In Palestinian eyes, the inadvertent killing by Israeli forces of Palestinian civilians--usually in the course of shooting at Palestinian terrorists--is considered no different at the moral and ethical level than the deliberate targeting of Israeli civilians by Palestinian suicide bombers. While the shockingly high numbers of Palestinian civilians killed during the past two years undoubtedly, in some cases, reflect poor judgment or lax discipline on the part of some Israeli troops, in Palestinian eyes there is no grey area here: all violence is equivalent, whatever the motive and backdrop.

This is one reason why recent Palestinian attempts to project a campaign of selective non-violence are so intriguing. If all violence is equivalent--if a Palestinian civilian killed accidentally because terrorists were using his home as their base is in the same category as an Israeli civilian deliberately targeted in a café by a suicide bomber--then why do Palestinians propose only ceasing Palestinian attacks inside pre-1967 Israel, or stopping only suicide bombings but continuing drive-by shootings? Moreover, when Palestinians advocate stopping suicide bombings because they "do not help our cause" (indeed, they do not) rather than because they are morally repugnant or, say, violate religious precepts concerning the sanctity of life--then we are dealing with "non-violence" at a philosophical level quite different from the precepts of a Gandhi or a Martin Luther King, who believed (correctly) that by placing themselves as non-violent actors on a higher moral plane than a "civilized" enemy, they could oblige it to acknowledge their basic human and national rights.

Were the Palestinian people to adopt the Gandhian approach, Israelis would, in the long run, show greater respect for those rights. True, Palestinians would have to absorb some initial losses, just as the Indians opposing the British and the blacks in the American south continued to bear the brunt of violent police responses during an interim period. But Israelis and their supporters abroad would get the message rather quickly. Recent instances of mass defiance of curfews in West Bank cities, in which Israeli soldiers "backed off", are a step in this direction.

Yet overall, a total Palestinian switch to non-violence is a doubtful prospect. At the societal level it is unlikely that the Palestinian mothers who celebrate the martyrdom of their children in suicide attacks against Israelis, are candidates for genuine non-violent resistance. At the political level we must ask what has to happen for a society that has achieved virtually nothing through violence for over 70 years, in the course of which it squandered endless opportunities for compromise and coexistence, from British partition plans in the 1930s through the 1947 UN partition plan and two "Camp Davids"--to change its mind.

Perhaps the most depressing indicator of the Palestinian approach to violence and non-violence is provided by the arguments of the Palestinian "reform" movement regarding the abject failure of the Palestinian armed forces. According to the reformers these forces, which were originally armed and sanctioned by Israel, disappointed Palestinian society not because they failed to apprehend Palestinian terrorists who were attacking Israelis, but because they failed to defend Palestinians against Israelis. Reforms, such as consolidating 12 disparate security organizations into three or four, are intended by nearly all Palestinians to enhance their self defense capacity against the Israel Defense Forces, rather than their capacity to prevent Palestinian violence.

This is not to argue that Palestinians don’t have the right to personal and societal security, but rather that experience should have taught them long ago that they have no hope whatsoever of achieving that security by challenging Israel through violence, i.e., by endangering Israeli security, and that reliance on a small force designed somehow to deter or delay a military response to terrorism by a military power like Israel is the worst of all possible solutions. On the contrary, Palestinians' best hope lies in a negotiated peace agreement that offers them strong international security guarantees for a genuinely demilitarized Palestine (only law enforcement units) to balance its inevitable geostrategic dependency on Israel, Jordan and Egypt with their far greater military capacities. –Published 7/10/2002©

Yossi Alpher is an Israeli strategic analyst. He is former Director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University.

Struggle and suppression

by Ghassan Khatib

Inside Palestinian circles, the discussion over the use of “violence” versus “non-violence” is referred to as a debate over “methods of struggle,” all of which are aimed at trying to bring to an end the Israeli occupation. That occupation is considered an illegal belligerent military occupation in the eyes of international law, and there are at least two United Nations resolutions that support the Palestinian right to resist the Israeli occupation. The question is how to resist successfully?

That issue has been one of constant debate among Palestinians, some of whom argue that non-violent struggle is more effective simply because Palestinians, as the weaker party in physical terms, must rely on the support of the outside world and Western public opinion. Because Palestinians have already modified their political positions and demands in order to fit the relevant United Nations resolutions, these people argue, also adopting an unarmed resistance strategy would be more acceptable to those outside and consequently more “attractive” to international public opinion. People holding that view point to the Intifada of the eighties as an example of how massive popular non-violent resistance can improve the international image of the Palestinian cause and increase its support.

Others counter that in our particular case, non-violent struggle may bring us some international sympathy, and probable admiration, but will not truly transform the situation on the ground, i.e. end the occupation. Israel has demonstrated that it does not care about criticism from the world, these Palestinians say. They point to instances when Israelis have reverted to their defense mechanism of calling international criticism “anti-Semitism”, returning to a kind of ghetto mentality where the external criticisms have little effect and cannot bring about meaningful and significant political developments.

These people believe that Israel is a pragmatic society and, therefore, only when Israelis are personally affected by the Palestinian struggle will they take seriously claims and positions of the other side. They also shore up their argument by noting that the Israeli occupation itself is violent in nature and therefore should be returned with force. Most of the practices of the occupying Israeli army are carried out through violence. Land is violently confiscated, houses violently demolished, people violently arrested, not to mention the violent killing of civilians that has characterized the occupation not only over the last two years.

Recently, and after roughly two years of armed confrontations that have not brought Palestinians much closer to their objectives, the debate over methodology has become quite prominent. Much of this discussion concentrates on the suicide bombings undertaken largely by Islamic groups that have their own political and ideological agendas.

As this debate continues, however, the aggressive Israeli behavior on the ground supports the arguments for an all-out armed struggle. Indeed, Israel seems to care little about what kind of resistance Palestinians are using; its methods are intended to shut down all dissent. In the first weeks of the Intifada, for example, Palestinian public protests and civilian demonstrations were answered brutally by Israel, which killed tens of unarmed protestors.

But one needn’t return to the start of the Intifada for examples of Israel’s heavy-handed suppression. Just look at the height of the recent siege of President Arafat’s compound, when his life appeared to be in real danger and Palestinians took to the streets in massive non-violent demonstrations. In those unarmed demonstrations, entire Palestinian families could be seen out breaking the Israeli curfew: mothers, fathers and children expressing their dissent.

Still, the Israeli army response was deadly. After not much more than one hour of demonstrations, the Israeli army had left in its wake five dead bodies, three others clinically dead, as well as 67 injured Palestinians, according to Palestinian hospitals.

There are three ways to encourage the use of popular unarmed protest in the Palestinian struggle. The first has to do with Israel’s behavior. If the Israeli army does not differentiate between those carrying a flag or banner and those carrying a gun, then those who prefer violence and the possibility of incurring damage to the other side will always curry favor with the public.

Second, the use of unarmed protests should bear fruit. In other words, the demands and activities of those pursuing this method of fighting occupation should give the impression to the public that their way is getting results. Otherwise, the demonstrations will be neither convincing nor credible nor popular.

Finally, those who encourage non-violent methods of struggle against the occupation must have dialogue and joint activities with Israelis who promote peace and justice in order to back up Palestinian unarmed resistance with Israeli protests against Israeli violence. Such joint activities should also be supported by third parties, including organizations and activists. In other words, there must be a coalition for peace that includes Israelis, Palestinians and internationals that are working jointly to criticize all violence, whether it comes from Palestinians or Israelis. That coalition cannot give the impression that it sees less importance in violence used to kill Palestinian civilians or confiscate Palestinian land than in violence used to kill Israelis, in particular Israeli civilians. The only way to stop Palestinian violence is to simultaneously stop the violence of the occupation.-Published 7/10/02©

Ghassan Khatib is minister of labor in the new Palestinian Authority cabinet. He has served for many years as a political analyst and media contact.

It won't happen, and if it does, it is likely to fail

by Tamar Hermann

Non-violence, unlike pacifism, is not a philosophy that conceptualizes or envisions a harmonious world, as in "and the sheep shall dwell with the wolf." Indeed, this is a political tactic that takes conflict as its point of departure and seeks the advantage over its opponent. The use of non-violence is not simple--it requires the recruitment of large numbers of participants along with operational coordination, all at a level that generally exceeds what is required for violent tactics; hence it also requires leadership of the highest quality. It is easier to recruit a few hot-headed youth who are prepared to blow themselves up in a second and earn the status of martyrs, than to recruit thousands of everyday citizens of all ages and walks of life, to stage a sit-in day and night, fast, or boycott goods and vital services as an expression of resistance to occupation or to some other injustice.

Notably, in the vast majority of cases the weaker party in a force equation opts for non-violent techniques of struggle because it believes that in this way it will gain favorable public opinion in the world or shatter the unity of the other side. The use of non-violent resistance is dependent on context, time and the balance of forces. Accordingly, whoever adopts this tactic in one circumstance is not necessarily obliged, ideologically or practically, to adopt it under a different circumstance. The reverse is also true: whoever opts for violence under one set of circumstances can, when they change, switch to non-violence.

Thus, in view of the increasingly negative reactions worldwide to the use of suicide bombings in the current Palestinian Intifada, together with the tough Israeli military reactions which have in effect brought about a renewed occupation, and the large numbers of casualties—there are growing calls among the Palestinians for shifting the emphasis from violent to non-violent resistance (e.g., the initiative of a-Shafi, Dakkak and Barghouti, the petition by Palestinian intellectuals against suicide bombings, etc.) In most cases this is a call not to cease completely all reliance on arms against Israel, but rather for a partial or gradual transformation of the means of struggle.

What is likely to be the Israeli reaction to such a change? At the government level, we may assume that a significant move to adopt non-violent struggle would be perceived by most decisionmakers as a serious threat to Israel's interests. If indeed suicide attacks were replaced, say, by mass sitdown strikes or by commercial strikes, blocking of roads and the like, then international public opinion, together with decisionmakers in key countries, would presumably welcome such a development and increase their support for the Palestinian cause. Domestically, too, it would be more difficult for the government of Israel to recruit public support for suppressing acts of non-violent resistance than for deploying military force against Palestinian centers of power after bloody terrorist attacks.

Dealing with mass non-violent demonstrations of resistance also demands particularly creative planning in order to disperse the demonstrations on the one hand, but without enhancing the resistance leadership and without losing support domestically and abroad, on the other; it is not at all clear whether the Israeli decisionmaking system as currently constituted is capable of dealing with this challenge. Hence we may assume that the government's response would be to highlight the violent incidents which undoubtedly will yet take place at Palestinian initiative, even if the overall trend on the Palestinian side is likely to be non-violent. Moreover the government would attempt to portray the shift to non-violence as a tactic designed ultimately to defeat Israel by alternative means, rather than as a preliminary step toward returning to sincere peace negotiations.

Some information regarding the anticipated reaction of the Jewish public in Israel to a Palestinian shift to non-violent resistance can be found in the results of a survey carried out recently by the American organization Search for Common Ground. In general the survey's findings indicate that a majority of this public--78 percent--supports the right of the Palestinians to act to achieve an independent state of their own, if toward that end they invoke non-violent means. Sixty-three percent stated that the government of Israel should not try to prevent Palestinians from organizing non-violent mass demonstrations. A majority, 52 percent, also believe that Palestinians have the right to oppose expansion of settlements by non-violent means, and 52 percent argued that if the Palestinians were to employ only non-violence for a significant period of time, the government of Israel would have to respond with concessions in negotiations over the borders of a Palestinian state.

Yet only 9 percent of Israeli Jews felt it was likely that a non-violent Palestinian resistance movement would indeed emerge. In this sense, all these instances of Israeli openness seem more like an abstract intellectual exercise than a solid public stand in favor of Israel responding positively to Palestinian non-violence. Further, in view of the Israeli Jewish public's ongoing stand in favor of the policies of the Sharon government and its deep distrust of Palestinian intentions, an intensive information campaign by the government would likely shift a majority of the public to a position of sharp opposition to a Palestinian non-violent resistance campaign--if indeed it were to be launched.-Published 7/10/2002©

Dr. Tamar Hermann is Director of The Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research at Tel Aviv University. Until recently she was Head of the Department of Sociology, Political Science and Communications at the Open University.

Resisting the tool of control

an interview with Ghassan Andoni

bitterlemons: You recently said at a lecture that “you can’t build a mass movement with the current level of violence.” What did you mean by that and do you think that it still holds true?

Andoni: I think that it is extremely difficult to accommodate civilian mass resistance with a high level of military clashes and violence because it affects dramatically the level of risk people are required to take by just stepping into the streets into a massive civil-based movement. But people who want to engage in the struggle against the occupation cannot just wait for things to be suitable for them and by the book.

bitterlemons: Would you call yourself a supporter of non-violent resistance and why?

Andoni: From the start of this crisis, we have been organizing campaigns including Palestinians and internationals in which we tried to remove roadblocks, defy checkpoints, demonstrate in occupied areas and reach families there. We have been engaged in front of tanks to prevent them from moving. We have been doing protection work by providing human shields for people who are threatened and constantly bombarded. We have people who are now living in homes that are scheduled for demolition by the Israeli army. We try to protect the homes and prevent punishment for the families and try to go with farmers to their fields when it is really risky and dangerous to do so.

bitterlemons: Why do you feel that these kinds of activities are important?

Andoni: We need to find a way for the Palestinian masses to join in, in an active way--not only in remaining steadfast throughout the hardship. We think that having internationals with us will provide a better platform to defy the occupation and to report the truth of what is happening here and to urge the international community to think more about the need to protect Palestinians when brutal war is being waged against them.

We also believe that civil-based resistance can indeed be effective in terms of cracking down on the tools of occupation, mainly the tool of control. We believe that if we grow more massive we can really affect this huge network of roadblocks and checkpoints and force the occupation to rethink its policies in the Palestinian occupied territories.

bitterlemons: Does that mean that you do not think that armed resistance is valid?

Andoni: No, we state clearly that Palestinians have the full right to resist the occupation with means that they think are suitable. We as the Palestinian Solidarity Movement have decided, however, that our tool for resisting the occupation is non-violence.

bitterlemons: How might Israel practice non-violence?

Andoni: Occupation alone is a violent action that touches the lives of everybody who is under the control of the occupier. Recently, I think that the occupation has taken on a new form and now includes direct killing of people, creating war zones and bombarding Palestinian areas. There is no question, however, that the occupation is violent in using all its of its force to crack down on the will of Palestinians to be free and independent.

bitterlemons: What was your impression of the Common Ground poll that questions Israelis and Palestinians on their approaches to non-violent action?

Andoni: On the Palestinian side, I think that Palestinians stated clearly that we are willing to do whatever it takes to get out of this mess. There is a large majority that supports non-violence, but that same majority supports violence as well. That is my interpretation of the results.

On the Israeli side, I think that most of the questions asked were irrelevant. In my understanding, if we are to arrive at peace in this area, we must have an active Palestinian resistance and an active Israeli anti-war and anti-occupation movement. This is the shortest way to conclude this conflict in a peaceful solution.

Therefore, on the Israeli side, I did not see questions such as, “Do you support Palestinian non-violent resistance?” as relevant. The relevant question is, “Would you be engaged in non-violent direct action against your government’s atrocities and violence in the occupied territories?” That is what I want to see the poll results for.

bitterlemons: You sometimes stage joint demonstrations with Israeli left-wing groups. How would you evaluate that experience?

Andoni: I am interested in trying to attract as many Israelis as possible to join in efforts towards ending the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. I consider this important and it has been important in all of the different historic examples where people were fighting against an occupier to liberate themselves on their land.

Secondly, in principle, we are willing to work with Israeli groups who are willing to join active civil-based resistance against the Israeli occupation. In particular, the invitation to the Israeli groups must come from the Palestinian community in which the activity is happening. By doing things this way, we give priority to Palestinian unity over Israeli participation.

Now, this is sometimes problematic because some Israeli groups feel that they are not adequately included in the planning period. But we think our policy in this regard is right.

bitterlemons: How has the Israeli army responded to your joint activities?

Andoni: Evidently, the presence of Israelis and internationals can defuse the ability of the Israeli army to use greater force against protestors and make soldiers think twice before starting to shoot or use force.

But this is not always the case. We have instances where Palestinians and internationals and sometimes Israelis have been shot at or injured and treated brutally by the Israeli army. Soon, we will start a campaign of olive picking, in which Palestinians and internationals and maybe some Israeli groups will join villagers as they work on olive groves that are close to settlements and in dangerous areas. In encounters with settlers, we will have to see how much “protection” internationals and Israelis can provide.-Published 7/10/02©

Ghassan Andoni is one of the founders of the International Solidarity Movement.

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