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Achieving Palestinian Auto-Emancipation

Achieving Palestinian Auto-Emancipation: Renewed Hope through Nonviolent Disobedience

Robert M. Ryder

The Palestinians will achieve auto-emancipation by abolishing the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and replacing it with an organization called the Palestinians for Civilized Disobedience to Israeli Occupation (PCDIO). The PCDIO will be an umbrella organization, like the PLO, but will focus efforts on auto-emancipation via nonviolent means. The purpose of the PCDIO will be to dispel myths about Palestinian tendencies towards violence and aggression and to provide newly elected Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon with no justification for the use of lethal force against the Palestinians. The PCDIO will borrow ideas from the teachings and scholarship of Mohandas Ghandi on the subject of nonviolent conflict resolution.

Before examining the PCDIO, it is useful to briefly outline the nature of Israel’s occupation of Palestine. The British mandates of Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq “required that the mandatory should work towards the independence of the country” (Yapp 124). This rule did not apply for the mandate of Palestine. In 1917, the Balfour Declaration called for “progress to be made in establishing [a] Jewish national home” (Yapp 124). The declaration called “to facilitate Jewish immigration and encourage close settlement by Jews on the land [of Palestine]” (Yapp 124). Zionism, the forceful occupation of another group of people’s homeland, was the principal theme of the Jewish settlement of Palestine. Perhaps the most eloquent discourse of the Zionist idea comes from Leo Pinsker, a Russian man of Jewish descent who lived from 1821 to 1891. Pinsker argued that Jews need a homeland of their own because the remainder of the world is anti-Semitic. He states: “the essence of the problem, as we see it, lies in the fact that, in the midst of the nations among whom the Jews reside, they form a distinctive element which cannot be assimilated, which cannot be digested by any nation” (182). Pinsker further states, “since the Jew is nowhere at home, nowhere regarded as a native, he is an alien everywhere” (187). Because Jews are aliens everywhere, the only environment in which they can prosper are ones in which they are surrounded by other Jews. Pinsker notes: “wherever [Jews] are congregated in large masses, they must, by their very numbers, have a certain advantage in competition with the non-Jewish population” (188). It was this idea that constituted the foundation of the Zionist idea, namely that Jews should be afforded a homeland, and that that homeland should be attained at any costs, regardless of the effects on other people.

The first prime minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, was also Zionist. He became the leader of a labor party known as the Achdut ha-Avodah, and sought to overtake the Histadrut, another Israeli labor party. Ben-Gurion wanted the membership of the Achdut ha-Avodah to grow so much that it would encompass most members of the Histadrut, which in turn would revamp itself into an even larger commune of producers and consumers alike. It would become one entity, directing and handling all nonpersonal affairs of its members, collectively and individually, both in the city and in the country, assuming ownership of all means of production, and taking over all channels of consumption, according to the rule of the socialist state (Teveth 83).

This would allow the state of Israel to grow quickly and unchecked. The massive influx of Jewish immigrants from the Diaspora would quickly outnumber Palestinians, in accord with the Zionist idea. Yapp observes: “the state of Israel had been founded as a Jewish state in fulfillment of the Zionist purpose which was to bring to the land of Israel the Jews of the Diaspora” (281). The sheer number of Jewish people moving into the region is one reason that the Palestinians have resisted Israel.

The term intifada is Arabic for “shaking off.” The Palestinians have had three key intifadas, or periods in which they have attempted to “shake off” Israeli occupation of their homeland. The first intifada took place from 1936 to 1939, the second from 1987 to 1993, and the third from 1999 to the present: Spring 2001. Stein states, “although the 1936-1939 uprising was fought primarily by uneducated peasants, the intifada was carried out by wide segments of a highly educated population in a coordinated fashion” (70). The 1987-1993 intifada was “widespread and difficult to control, [and] involved confrontations between the civilian population at large and the Israeli army and border police within the urban centers” (Hammami et. al. 9). In reference to the current intifada, Hammami and Tamari state, “there are now about 40,000 Palestinian police and security men under arms” (9). Hammami and Tamari also state: “the presence [of police and security men under arms] allows, among other things, for easier justification of Israeli use of military force, despite the fact that official [Palestinian] security forces were involved in clashes in only a very few cases” (9).

Said notes: “after the catastrophic defeat of 1967 it became inescapably obvious that the Arab states could not settle their dispute with Israel militarily” (167). Said also observes, “too many Palestinians, in my opinion, have been misled into believing that the galvanizing energy of the movement was its philosophy of armed struggle” (163). The PCDIO would take a different tactic by invoking a struggle of will, which all Palestinians are fully capable of doing.

Currently, countless Palestinians are killed by Israeli soldiers in their fight for the cause of Palestinian auto-emancipation. Unfortunately, these deaths are in vain because they do not serve the purpose of strengthening the Palestinian cause. The death of a Palestinian acting in a violent and aggressive manner towards an Israeli soldier will be justified in the minds of the general public because the Palestinian was posing a “threat” to the safety of the soldier. This will be the case even if the Palestinian’s weapon of choice is a slingshot, matched to the Israeli’s automatic rifle.

Armed and violent confrontation to Israeli occupation will continue to be completely unproductive due to the relentless desire of Jews to have a homeland. One would think that the very persecution that Jews have encountered throughout history would make them particularly sensitive to the human rights violations encountered in Israel, however, when one reads Zionist discourse about the dire need for a Jewish homeland, it is better understood why many would claim self-determination on the Palestinians’ land and fight for it at any costs. The only way that the Palestinians will be able to break this cycle of forceful and relentless occupation of their land will be to maintain a steadfast, and completely nonviolent stance. Atrocities committed against Palestinians are ignored when they are engaging in acts of violence when killed. If, however, Palestinians are engaged in no violent act of any form when harmed or killed, there is no justification or absolution of guilt for the killer. It is hoped that public outrage to the senseless killing of Palestinians will be able to bolster the support of humanitarian groups capable of beginning large-scale campaigns with the PCDIO that expose the gross human-rights violations in Israel. This tactic shall require that all Palestinians be joined in the cause of civilized disobedience, and no protestor be permitted to engage in any act which might be considered threatening or aggressive by the Israelis. A leader must step forward to persuade the Palestinians that nonviolent disobedience is the best way to counter Israeli use of force to occupy Palestinian land.

Palestinians should be reminded of important quotes from Ghandi, a former expert on the subject of nonviolent confrontation. One such quote is Ghandi’s statement: “let me not be misunderstood. Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will” (Ghandi 50). The Palestinian people have already proven that they have an indomitable will. They must be convinced that expressing that indomitable will through nonviolent means is the only way they’ll achieve success. The PCDIO leadership could also make reference to Ghandi’s quote: “strength of numbers is the delight of the timid. The valiant in spirit glory in fighting alone” (Ghandi 55). This would remind the Palestinian people that they are capable of achieving auto-emancipation despite being outnumbered. Another of Ghandi’s valuable quotes is: “nonviolence and cowardice go ill together. I can imagine a fully armed man to be at heart a coward. Possession of arms implies an element of fear, if not cowardice. But true nonviolence is an impossibility without the possession of unadulterated fearlessness” (Ghandi 44). This quote would go far in reminding the Palestinians that they would not be cowards for adopting nonviolent tactics. To the contrary, they would be intelligent and fearless. Eventually, people within the community of the oppressor and those outside of it will see the oppressor as the true culprit, and public outcry will force the oppressor to discontinue his acts of aggression.

Any attempts at civilized disobedience to the Israeli occupation of Palestine must be accompanied by nonviolent appeals to the American people and Israeli citizens. Of particular note is the great deal of U.S. financial aid that goes to Israel, mostly to support the destructive armies responsible for many of the problems. Yapp notes: after 1967 the United States became a major provider of aid to Israel. Before 1967 U.S. government help had been comparatively small at $50 million a year. After 1967 the contribution rose to reach a level of $3 billion ($1,200 million economic and $1,800 million military by 1986) (282).

Essentially, the word must be gotten out that a great deal of tax payers’ money is going towards Israeli measures to wipe out the Palestinians. Posters such as those depicted in Figures 1 and 2 could be hung at college campuses and other locations to bolster American and Israeli support of the PCDIO as a peaceful and effective means of spreading word about the Palestinian cause.

By taking a nonviolent stance, the PCDIO could play a valuable role towards the auto-emancipation of Palestine. To the contrary of armed conflict, nonviolent disobedience can be adopted by the masses and reveals oppressors such as Israel as aggressive cowards. The myth that Palestinians are prone to violence would be dispelled, and the potential for support from American and Israeli citizens could be strong. Leaders such as Mohandas Ghandi and Martin Luther King benefited from a universally accepted nonviolent stance, and so could Palestinians.