Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist and former Ferris professor of journalism at Princeton University.
As the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian territories nears the half-century landmark, Palestinians have lost hope in an internationally sponsored negotiated settlement. But this discontent has not turned off their desire for freedom and independence. Instead, more and more Palestinians are using nonviolent acts of resistance to keep the flame alive and to remind the Israelis and the world of the importance of a peaceful solution that will end the occupation.
This week Palestinian nonviolent resistance moved into Israeli jails, where 6,500 Palestinians are being held, including 300 children, 500 prisoners detained without trial on administrative orders and 13 elected Palestinian legislators. Fifteen hundred of the detainees have begun a hunger strike.
Initiated on Palestinian Prisoner day, April 17, and led by Marwan Barghouti, the most prominent leader of the PLO’s Fatah movement and an elected member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, the prisoners are demanding basic visitation rights and an end to imprisonments without charge or trial. Amnesty International has supported their demands, calling on Israel to end “unlawful and cruel” policies against Palestinian prisoners.
This nonviolent resistance is not met with kid gloves by the Israelis, who understand that if Palestinians completely end violent acts and stay committed to nonviolence, they will be victorious. The government of Benjamin Netanyahu has cracked down on the prison leaders. Barghouti, who succeeded in publishing an op-ed in a leading U.S. newspaper, has been put in solitary confinement as Israeli officials have vowed not to give in to the demands of the prisoners.
In the past, Barghouti has supported violent resistance against Israel; he was convicted of murder by an Israeli court. But like his idol Nelson Mandela, Barghouti has repeatedly supported nonviolent resistance while not giving up the option of force, which he sees as the right of people under occupation.
The hunger strike has received widespread Palestinian support, with Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah visiting a solidarity tent Tuesday in the northern West Bank town of Jenin. Lawyers who were not allowed to meet their prisoner clients have decided to suspend appearing in front of the Israeli military courts, and tens of demonstrations in Palestine and around the world are taking place in support of those on hunger strike.
International support for Palestinians already has been on the rise because of the nonviolent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement stemming from a 2005 call by Palestinian academics. Israel has poured millions of dollars into countering this boycott movement and has twisted political arms to obtain legislation in many jurisdictions aimed at stemming the BDS campaign. But legislatures around the world have rejected these measures and have stood up for freedom of expression.
On the ground, regular Palestinian protests of the Israeli occupation and the wall built in violation of international law deep inside occupied Palestinian territories have continued even with the world press losing interest. The Israelis also show little tolerance for these protests.
For example, Mohammad Amira, a 47-year-old science teacher who is known to oppose any violence against Israelis, including stone-throwing, was shot in the head with a so-called sponge-tipped bullet on April 14. He was struck while
speaking through a megaphone to call on Palestinians not to throw stones at heavily armed Israeli security forces. In 2009, Amira organized an exhibit about the Holocaust in his village of Ni’lin with the aim of increasing Palestinian awareness of the Nazi genocide. According to the Israeli +972 website, an Israeli border police officer falsely told the media that Amira was throwing stones despite his well-known opposition to violence and the fact that he was only carrying a megaphone. Amira was photographed handcuffed to his bed in the Israeli Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv, where he is being treated for internal head injuries.
During the first Palestinian intifada, or uprising, Israeli’s then-prime minister Yitzhak Shamir deported an American Palestinian nonviolent leader, Mubarak Awad, in June 1988. Awad had established in 1985 the Palestinian Center for the Study of Nonviolence. Today, some 30 years later, the ideas and principles of the Palestinian Ghandi seem to be taking root despite the harsh response from Israel.
While nonviolence never promises its participants that the other side will refrain from a violent repression, a continuous resistance effort without violence does eventually produce results. Most Palestinians today, including those from the Islamic Hamas movement, are convinced that any solution to the Palestinian Israeli conflict will require a territorial compromise. Such a compromise needs to allow Palestinians to live independently in a free and democratic Palestine alongside a secure Israel. Nonviolent resisters, like the hunger strikers in the prison, are convinced that sooner or later the wishes of both Israelis and Palestinians for such a peaceful outcome will bear fruit.