Recently, in the mainstream media, stories of the nonviolent weekly protests of Palestinian villages against the Israeli occupation and expropriation of their lands started to appear.
Such articles and news reports hail these protests’ nonviolent nature as the right way forward. But that’s not the problem. The problem is in the misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the origins and causes of such nonviolent acts of resistance and why they are now showing up in mainstream western media.
These increasingly popular, isolated, yet somehow synchronized, protests are portrayed by the media as the Palestinians’ new found weapon. As if the Palestinian – at least in the West Bank – has just decided to exchange the gun for an olive branch.
The use of nonviolent resistance by the Palestinians is not new. In fact, unlike their Israeli counterparts, the average Palestinian has never touched a gun. The first intifada, which was almost entirely nonviolent, is the biggest example. Large parts of the second intifada were nonviolent – although this facet of the second intifada was eclipsed by the rise in suicide bombings which gave the Israeli occupation forces the cover to violently put an end to any form of civil disobedience. The list does not end with the first and second intifadas and is not constrained to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, but also includes Palestinian citizens of Israel.
“Israel’s biggest fear is nonviolent resistance,” you hear in the media a journalist surprised by the power of this new weapon. This is probably true, and I might agree, but I don’t like the tone. I don’t like how it sounds like a game changing revelation. We know that, we’ve known that forever. In the first intifada, Sari Nusseibeh, one of the unsung heros and behind the scenes protest organizers, was considered by Israeli intelligence as “the most dangerous Palestinian.” See, even Israel knew that. The main problem that stood in the way of such protests, especially in the second intifada, was the presence of violent resistance that stole the light and seemed more effective against F-16s. Simple.
After the second intifada died down and Hamas took over Gaza, a sense of calm (calm, not peace) spread through the West Bank. This gave the protests, especially in villages like Bil’in and Nil’in on the path of the apartheid wall, a clear space to be heard. Moreover, the continuous stream of international and Israeli activists has given these protests more attention and definitely a different flavour.
These protests, along with the unified grassroots Palestinian call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, and the the rise in international activism, particularly with international events like Israeli Apartheid Week that have a clearly defined message (BDS), have together worked miraculously to lift nonviolent resistance in Palestine to the centre stage of the Palestinian struggle, and subsequently reshape the Palestinian struggle in eyes of the western observer.
Yes, these protests are gaining more and more (mainly positive except if you’re the NYT) attention. Yes they are well organized, well supported, and increasingly popular. But no, Palestinians didn’t discover nonviolent resistance yesterday.
So praise nonviolent resistance, but don’t talk about it like it’s the latest discovery.