By: Jeremy Edwards
The road map to peace in the Middle East has long since blown out the window. This weekend, in response to yet another horrific suicide bombing, Israel launched a missile strike against an alleged terrorist training camp in Syria. Whichever direction it is to peace, we’re now headed the other way at a hundred miles an hour.
It’s perhaps understandable if Israel wants to respond to Palestinian suicide bombings with security fences, crackdowns and bombings of their own. But on the other hand, given Israel’s brutality and oppression in the occupied territories and its repeated human rights violations, it’s perhaps understandable if some Palestinians think terrorism is their most effective weapon.
While these tactics might help one side or the other feel that they’ve gotten their revenge, violent tit-for-tats will never lead to peace. At best, they will only perpetuate the grim status quo.
In recent years, some American authors including Michael Moore and Tom Clancy have wondered in print if the Palestinians couldn’t break the cycle of violence by changing tactics. Instead of terrorist bombings, they say, why not use non-violent civil resistance, as practiced by Mohandas Gandhi in India and by Martin Luther King Jr. in the United States?
And indeed, the Palestinians have thought of that, too. The Palestinian non-violence movement goes back at least to the beginning of the Intifada in 1987. Palestinian-American sociologist Souad Dajani has written that, despite some violent episodes associated with the Intifada, the movement was conceived (and generally executed) as a form of non-violent civil resistance complete with strikes, rallies and other non-violent demonstrations. However, the Intifada was abandoned in the early 1990’s, and Dajani writes many Palestinians were left with the sense that non-violent methods had been tried and found ineffective.
But the Palestinian non-violence movement is still breathing. A group called Holy Land Trust has begun sponsoring non-violent resistance workshops in the occupied territories. The San Francisco Chronicle recently quoted Sami Awad, the program’s director, saying that “the majority of Palestinians aren’t involved in acts of violence and armed resistance against the Israeli occupation … A growing majority is calling for non-violent resistance.”
Both Awad and Dajani say that the non-violence movement’s biggest hurdle is to convince Palestinians that non-violent resistance is not surrender. The goal – as in Gandhi’s and King’s movements – is to make Israel respect the human rights of Palestinians and treat them fairly – suicide bombings only get in the way of that goal.
Of course, Israel has its own role to play in ending the violence. Americans rarely hear about it, but there is also a tenacious non-violence movement inside Israel, too.
In September, 27 Israeli pilots issued a petition stating that they refused to fly any more missions over the occupied territories. Only nine of the pilots are on active duty, so they may not be reducing the actual violence against Palestinians by very much. But they’ve made an important statement which may inspire others.
In fact, these pilots are not the first Israeli soldiers to object to serving in the Palestinian territories. A group called “Courage to Refuse” includes soldiers from all branches of the Israeli military, and claims 550 conscientious objectors. Another prominent group, Yesh Gvul, provides support to these soldiers and their families, since Israeli conscientious objectors often end up in jail.
And the Israeli non violence movement goes beyond refusenik soldiers. A group called PEACE NOW has been organized since 1978 to pressure the government to end its occupation of Palestine and negotiate a peaceful coexistence with Arab states in the Middle East.
Given the persistent-and escalating-violence in the region, it’s hard to tell if these peaceful movements will achieve their goals. But the fact that they exist at all is like a ray of sunshine in an otherwise bleak landscape. In the absence of a workable road map to peace, they’re doing the only sensible thing: Starting from peace and working their way back.
Edwards is a journalism graduate student.
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