Nonviolent Palestinian protest

Hussein Ibish writes about the lessons of success in Bilin in the West Bank territory, where the Israeli security wall was moved:

First, the protests have been successful precisely because they are, and only to the extent that they have been, nonviolent. Israel and its supporters have no answer to Palestinian nonviolent resistance to an abusive occupation, except the accusation that it is, in fact, violent. While sometimes the protests have degenerated into stone-throwing by youths, and have often been met by force by the Israeli occupation forces, in fact the demonstrations have been overwhelmingly nonviolent. This is what has given them their power.
To extend and replicate this effective nonviolent approach, serious discipline will have to be developed and maintained to ensure it continues even in the face of military repression. Nonviolence is one of the most powerful weapons of resistance against occupation.
Read on for more.


  1. While I disagree with some of his characterizations, I think Ibish is right overall that nonviolent protest is their best strategy or at least the perception thereof. The problem has been coordination — some try peace and others try violence, all at the same time, even mixed together.

    Then again, I would not have expected them to get nearly as far as they have with violence and PR, so maybe I’m not the best gauger of their strategies.

  2. Kevin, I knew that I’d be hearing from you on this one! I have some other comments from you that I need to get back to you about. Sorry about the delay.

    I agree that Ibish’s characterizations are one-sided and also that nonviolence is going to be the best strategy. Like the US (in relation to the civil rights movement) and the British (in relation to colonial rule in India), the best way to challenge a basically humane society (like those two or Israel) is in through nonviolence.

    Do you think that the Palestinians have gotten far with PR and violence? They had a state (something like half of the Palestine mandate) promised to them in 1947 and their fortunes seem to have gone downhill since then. They haven’t lacked sympathy from much of the world since at least 1967 but haven’t gotten a state. Violent Palestinian groups have convinced many Israelis and many in the world’s most powerful country that Palestinian=terrorist, and that Israel (who conquered and occupies what was supposed to be a Palestinian state) is the defender of freedom and democracy.

    The last half of that sentence is meant to be factual, not a rhetorical condemnation of Israel. There were lots of reasons that they occupied those areas, many having to do with the fact that their neighbors kept attacking them and supporting Palestinian guerrillas. I’m just trying to think about some of the blown opportunities of the Palestinian movement.

  3. Hehe. 🙂 Yeah, you know me well. Looking forward to your comments!

    Well, it has been bumpy and hard on the Palestinians, but PR, violence, “cynical exploitation by desperate Arab dictatorships”, etc. have somehow enabled a continually belligerent people to gradually increase their autonomy and power through one-sided fulfillment of peace treaties. At least with Israel. With Arab countries, that strategy hasn’t worked quite as well.

    Somehow, Israel being attacked by all its neighbors was not a sufficient Arab rejection of the UN partitioning. Consider this: If Israel had lost, would their territory have been reasserted for the Jews? No? But what about the UN promise? Yet somehow, the land taken by Israel to defend itself is not Israel’s. Strange.

    Somehow, Jordan (50-% Palestinian) or even just the East Bank (60+% Palestinian) is not considered Palestine. Somehow, “Palestinian” has been broadly assigned and refugee status is inherited unlike any others so that they are actually a growing group.

    Somehow, Palestinians have become among the most subsidized people on Earth and their standard of living exceeds many of their Arab neighbors. Somehow, a good part of the world believes their PR rather than their violent behavior and internal pedagogy.

    I agree that Palestinians have blown a lot of opportunities for attaining peace and their own state, but maybe that has not actually been their primary goal. Hopefully that is changing now without ulterior motives but I will be skeptical at least until their internal propaganda is rectified for a generation.

  4. Good counterfactual about Israel after the 1948 war. I think that they might have had a good chance of receiving something since I think that international opinion (at least in the West) was still fairly sympathetic. But in the current spot. Probably not, unless there was a UN force that wanted to forcibly reestablish a Jewish state there. I wonder if the UN could have brokered a cease-fire before Israel was wiped out (I can’t remember if they brokered the ceasefire in 1948-49). UN intervention on the side of Israel would not have been as laughable then as it sounds now.

    Interestingly, the original Palestine mandate that the British received after WWI included Jordan as well. It was then split into Palestine (modern-day Israel and the Palestinian territories) and Transjordan (not too many people living there then). Zionists were not happy about this, hoping that all of it could be a Jewish state. Also, Syrian nationalists considered Lebanon, Palestine, and Transjordan as part of Greater Syria.

    The internal propaganda in the Palestinian community is awful, and almost certainly undermines the possibility of eventual peace. As Hussein Ibish has written elsewhere, one of the jobs of both Palestinian and Israeli leaders will be to prepare the people for the sacrifices that a peace deal will entail, and that’s not accomplished by demonization of the other side.

    So here’s something that I’ve wanted to ask you: from a Palestinian Arab perspective, what would a better response have been to the desire to create a homeland for Jews in Palestine and to the state of Israel before 1967? And how about after 1967, when Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza?

  5. Where and from whom do you suppose the Jews would have had a “good chance of receiving something” if they had lost? The absence of a unique culture and nation on that under-developed territory that was coming out of Ottoman ownership, coupled with the incredible motivation of Zionists to reestablish their ancestral homeland was a unique and powerful confluence. I suspect many Zionists would have taken Israel’s defeat pretty hard, the Jewish population might not have even survived, and I doubt their passions could realistically be redirected and unified on another geographic location. And without their pushing, nothing would get done.

    What nation might have stepped up to enforce the UN partition? The US? Even if the military will was there, which I doubt, it’s interesting to consider if they would obtain the veil of a “UN force”. An offensive UN force seems almost oxymoronic; though I guess Korea was an exception. It seems like the UN just plops a willing country’s troops in places that are freshly at peace with the hope that their presence prevents violence. I don’t think they have much authority. I recall reading stories about how UN troops would sit and watch Hezbollah re-arm right in front of them.

    Yeah, Transjordan is what I was referring to. Good observations.

    I have not seen anything comparable on the Israel side to the demonization by official Palestinian public instruction and propaganda. Israeli fringe groups that are marginalized, maybe, but surely not schools and children’s television. I don’t know what Ibish was looking at to level a balanced charge of demonization. Again, proportion is essential. 53% are in favor of teaching songs about hating Jews in Palestinian schools.

    If I were a Palestinian with the benefit of hindsight, I’d either sell my land and emigrate to the US (pretty likely if I disliked Jews and they are surrounding me and a civil war was breaking out) or remain in Israel and do my best to integrate and capitalize on the economic opportunities afforded by the influx of immigrants with money and resources and motivation. In that case, I would not sell or leave my land since it surely became even more valuable.

    So, economic self-interest would be the focus, which would also entail explicit rejection and separation from violent elements. Even now, attacks from the territories do not fully dissuade Israel’s demand for their labor; imagine what could be if they stopped assaulting Israel! IIRC, the majority of East Jerusalem Palestinians, who I think have refused Israeli citizenship, would nevertheless prefer to live in Israel than a Palestinian state.

    I also think Israel is sensitive enough that pacifism would be effective. It still can be if Palestinians can earn trust and expectations of non-violence and cooperation. There’s a lot of Israelis who crave that so much that they have seen it even where it did not exist.

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