Palestinian non-violent resistance
Joseph Dana, Jerusalem-based freelance journalist writes in the Huffington Post about Another Palestinian Gandhi Crushed by Israel; and Ofer Neiman, in Mondoweiss provides a Note to Kristof: Palestinians don’t need Israeli tutelage with nonviolent protest
Few people other than Palestinians visit the Ofer Israeli military prison in the West Bank. Part military prison and part military courthouse, the Ofer prison complex feels like a desert version of Guantanamo Bay. Palestinians families wait for hours inside the prison walls while their loved ones stand trial in makeshift courthouses before military tribunals. The soul crushing layout of the courtrooms mimics the architecture of the occupation itself: intimidating, segregated and devoid of contact between Israelis and Palestinians. On the 7th of July 2010, five Palestinians from villages throughout the West Bank stood trial for the involvement in unarmed struggle against Israel’s continued military occupation. Those on trial had been snatched from their beds in the middle of the night, accused of stone throwing or participation in an illegal protest and interrogated in unnamed Israeli military bases . They are the latest to be caught in Israel’s recent wave of repression directed at the popular unarmed resistance in the West Bank.
The names of the Palestinian detainees never came up in the recent talks between Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and President Obama. However, Palestinian society is intently focused on the fate of the most prominent figure on trial, Adeeb Abu Rahma. Abu Rahma is a resident of Bilin, a West Bank village that has been a nexus of unarmed resistance to the Israeli military occupation for over five years. Bilin’s struggle began as reaction against the construction of Israel’s separation wall, which will annex significant portions of the village’s agricultural land if completed. Thousands of Israelis, Palestinians and international supporters including former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson, Desmond Tutu and Naomi Klein have joined in Bilin’s weekly demonstrations since they began. The village’s struggle is the subject of a riveting documentary, “Bil’in, Habibti,” by Israeli filmmaker/activist Shai Pollak.
The American media has largely ignored the widespread unarmed Palestinian campaign of resistance, preferring to cover continued Israeli defiance over the creation of new settlements throughout the West Bank. If it were to examine Abu Ramha’s case, the mainstream American press would quickly discover a truly Kafkaesque system of laws governing the Palestinian population in the West Bank which contradict Israel’s bluster about upholding democratic values in a sea of tyranny. Indeed, the creation of settlements is less of issue than the maintenance required to control the Palestinian population. Instead of focusing on the settlement issue as the main threat to the so-called peace process, the Obama administration should begin establishing some degree of justice for average Palestinians. The White House could start by denouncing the increasing repression of grassroots unarmed Palestinian resistance.
Adeeb Abu Rahma’s story offers a stark view of the bureaucracy of occupation. A taxi driver and father of nine who has been active in the unarmed resistance in Bilin from its outset, he was arrested in Bilin on July 10, 2009 while taking part in one of the weekly Friday protests. The Israeli army accused him of participation in ‘violent demonstrations’ against the Israeli separation wall, presence in a ‘closed Israeli military zone’ and disturbing the public order. Abu Rahma’s conviction relies heavily on coerced testimony gleaned from four teenagers arrested in a night raid in Bilin on charges of stone throwing. Following their arrest, the teens were interrogated late at night, under harsh conditions and without their parents or lawyers present. According to the Israeli army’s version of events, they eventually declared that Abu Rahma told them to throw stones during a protest in Bilin.
The popular struggle committee of Bilin, of which Abu Rahma is a member, officially discourages stone throwing at protests, preferring to encourage non-violent demonstration. During Abu Rahma’s trial, the teens insisted that their testimony was illegitimate and coerced. In addition to the coerced testimony, Israeli military prosecutors argued that they had videotape footage of Abu Rahma directing stone throwers at a protest but when asked to release the footage to the court, the tapes were mysteriously deleted. Despite the questionable legal application of all of the testimony presented by the prosecution, the court accepted the testimony and ‘footage’ as legitimate in the persecution of Abu Rahma.
On July 7, 2010 Abu Ramha was sentenced to one year in prison which he had already served. Israeli military prosecutors quickly filed an appeal against the verdict, calling it “too lenient” and asking that Abu Ramha remain in custody until the appeal process is finished. Their request was granted by a military judge named Lieutenant Colonel Benisho from the military court of appeals. Benisho argued that “this appeal fails to set the proper punishment in a unique case in which a general punishment level which has not yet been set.” In other words, the judge argued that there was no legal precedent to help him decide whether Abu Ramha should remain in prison during his appeal period. However, the judge’s statement was discredited by previous legal precedents in similar cases in which defendants received harsher punishments than Abu Ramha. Abu Ramha will have to remain in prison for an unknown amount of time while the appeal is filed despite already serving his sentence.
According to the Israeli lawyer Gaby Lasky, who represents many of popular struggle leaders in Bilin, Abu Rahma is the latest example of Israeli military efforts to completely repress any popular unarmed resistance to Israel’s occupation and separation wall. The maintenance of occupation and continued settlement expansion have forced the Israeli military to target nonviolent Palestinian leaders and use occupation law to incarcerate them for long periods of time. Amnesty International has said in a recent statement regarding Abu Rahma’s case that, “The broad scope of Israeli military orders mean that Adeeb Abu Rahma could be imprisoned solely for legitimately exercising his right to freedom of expression in opposing Israeli policies in the West Bank… If this is the case, we would regard him as a prisoner of conscience who should be released immediately and unconditionally”
Commentators of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict often complain that there has not yet been a legitimate Palestinian Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. to emerge from within Palestinian civil society. The reality is that there are many Palestinians engaged in popular unarmed resistance to the Israeli occupation, preferring organized demonstrations in the West Bank to suicide bombs in Tel Aviv. Common people like Adeeb Abu Rahma could become the non-violent leader everyone claims to be waiting for. However, the Israeli government seems to recognize how much damage such a figure could do to their international image and to the occupation they will defend at any cost. And so hundreds of Palestinian Gandhis are brought before draconian Israeli military tribunals each year, only to face long sentences that nearly ensure that the world will never learn their names.
by Ofer Neiman, July 9, 2010
Ofer Neiman is an Israeli citizen who participates in Sheikh-Jarrah solidarity actions. He is a co-editor of the Occupation Magazine.
A popular colloquial expression in Hebrew regards the futility of “selling ice to an Eskimo”. Perhaps the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof should take note. In a recent blog entry, Kristof wrote that “Israeli civil society promotes democratic values in Palestinian communities”, and that “…the weekly Sheikh Jarrah protests in East Jerusalem, in which Israeli Jews play a major role, offer a useful model of peaceful protest”. Unfortunately, Kristof presents a patronizing and misinformed view of the history of the Palestinian struggle against Israel’s policies of land grab and occupation.
It is true that some Palestinians, especially former prisoners who have risen to leadership roles, openly state that they have learned a lot about Israeli society during their imprisonment, and these people sometimes praise the Israeli elections and the parliamentary debates which they have witnessed. But their keen observation of Israeli political processes is by no means a starry eyed appeal for an Israeli education on human rights and non-violent civil disobedience. There are several reasons why they do not need to hear the Kristof line from us. The main reason, and one wonders whether Kristof is at all informed on this issue, is the fact that inspirational non-violent Palestinian campaigns against Israel’s policies have been around for years, and these campaigns have been initiated and led by…Palestinians!
Palestinian community leader Dr. Haidar Abdel-Shafi, a respected Gaza based physician needed no peacenik-Israeli guidance in 1967 when he voiced his opposition to the Israeli occupation of the Gaza strip. Moshe Dayan, Israel’s Minister of Defense at the time, arrested him and then expelled him from Gaza to Sinai and then to Lebanon (such deportations are prohibited according to the humanitarian principles of the Geneva conventions, by which Israel has promised to abide). Abdel-Shafi was not alone in his actions. A non-violent Palestinian effort to protest against Israeli repression was met with military brutality: “As General Shlomo Gazit, the Coordinator of Activities in the Occupied Territories at the time, points out in his book The Carrot and the Stick, the message Israel wanted to convey was clear: Any act of resistance would result in a disproportionate response, which would make the population suffer to such a degree that resistance would appear pointless.” (Quote taken from Dr. Neve Gordon’s recommended article from December 2009)
Another important episode in the history of Palestinian non-violent resistance was the campaign led by International human rights and children’s rights activist, Dr. Mubarak Awad, a Palestinian living in exile in the US. Nicknamed “The Palestinian Gandhi”, Awad established the Palestinian Centre for the Study of Nonviolence in 1985, after returning to the Occupied Territories on an Israeli tourist visa. Among the tactics employed by Awad and his fellow Palestinian activists was the planting of olive trees on proposed Israeli settlements, asking people not to pay taxes and encouraging people to consume Palestinian products (an action which even the co-opted Palestinian Authority has now embraced to some extent, by banning the selling of settlement products). And what was the fate of Awad? In 1988 he was detained and then deported. Israel’s High Court of Justice, a beacon of justice and democracy in the eyes of some prominent US jurors, approved the decision. Even the NY Times got it right at the time:
For moral and practical reasons, it is regrettable that Israel’s High Court of Justice could find no reason to overrule the deportation of Mubarak Awad, a Jerusalem- born American citizen. The ruling suggests that Israel, made frustrated by the uprising in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, is having trouble drawing the line between civil disobedience and armed rebellion.
Another inspiring Palestinian campaign was the May 1988 tax revolt in Beit Sahour, under the most American of slogans, “No Taxation without Representation”. The revolt, a courageous act of non-violent Resistance, was brutally crushed by Israel. Residents were beaten, detained without trial, households were raided and their content was confiscated (Israel’s way of collecting tax…). The goods, including children’s toys, were auctioned off in Israel. Israel’s Defense Minister at the time (his name, by the way, was Yitzhak Rabin) said that he would break the Beit Sahour tax revolt at all costs, even if it meant keeping the town under curfew for two months. Without taking away from the efforts of a few respectable Israeli NGO’s and some dedicated Israeli activists, who tried to assist, finding a mainstream Israeli leftist (of the Peace Now type) in uniform, patrolling the streets of Beit Sahour (albeit reluctantly), was more probable than finding him standing at the entrance to a house, trying to prevent the state sponsored plundering which was taking place.
Palestinian non-violent resistance is alive and kicking today as well, in the struggle against the construction of new settlements and the rapacious separation wall built by Israel to grab as much land as possible (Shaul Arieli of the Geneva initiative has demonstrated that a alternative path that does not cut through Palestinian land would have been much easier to construct, and just as suitable for Israel’s proclaimed security considerations). And at this moment, as Kristof speaks and writes, Palestinian grassroots activists are paying a very heavy price for their efforts. More and more Palestinians are joining various demonstrations and actions against the occupation, but the risks are high, including the risk of injury or even death at an unarmed rally. It seems safe to assume that grassroots Israeli actions to stop this policy and bring the perpetrators to justice will serve the campaign better than telling the Palestinians what they already know.
Israelis should not go to Sheikh-Jarrah in order to educate the “heathen” as to the merits of civil disobedience. Israelis who attend protests at Sheikh-Jarrah, are privileged citizens in an apartheid state, and they are simply following the elementary dictates of conscience. The Palestinians have no need for Israeli civil disobedience tutoring. They are in need of Israeli solidarity with their just struggle.