Saturday, March 28, 2009

One of the best kept secrets in the Occupied Territories

To read either the corporate media or the mainstream US bloggers of just about any political stripe, one would be led to believe that nonviolent Palestinian resistance against Israel's genocidal ambitions [1] is practically nonexistent. Matt Yglesias seems to be just one of many who have fallen for the myth. There's certainly some truth that nonviolent action can be quite effective, and Yglesias extolls some of the noteworthy nonviolent actions that have succeeded in the past century. That's all well and good. What's missing is actually not the current crop of nonviolent resisters in what remains of the Occupied Territories, but rather tangible media coverage of that nonviolent resistance. I've tried to highlight some coverage of Palestinian nonviolent resistance over the past several years. See Third Intifada: Nonviolent Resistance In Action, Palestine's Gandhi: Naim Ateek, and The struggle continues: Israeli genocide and Palestinian resistance in Gaza. Just this week, in Common Dreams, there was an article on Palestinian nonviolent resistance. The phenomenon is hardly novel (nor is it an artifact of the 1980s) and betrays the myth that of the indigenous Palestinian Arabs as inherently violent and uncivilized that typically is promoted by pro-Zionist pundits and apologists. I actually see some appeal to making the nonviolent actions occurring in Gaza and the West Bank as public, as visible as possible:
What makes someone like Ateek so threatening to the status quo is his steadfast refusal to play the role assigned to him, and in fact vocally exhorts his peers to do likewise. He neither meekly accepts his status as a "defeated" and "inferior" person, nor does he fight the organizational and structural violence perpetrated on him and his peers with violence - although doing so would be understandable given the circumstances. The potential for an organized nonviolent resistance would present the Israeli government and its apologists with a conundrum: violently crack down and risk whatever good will might still be extended to it by the US, or stand down and lose authority. It's damn difficult to frame a resistance movement as "savage" and "terroristic" if its members are refusing to fire a shot. I'm not exactly a pacifist (I do see nonviolence as the preferred route and violent resistance as strictly a last-resort), but see plenty of potential for what Ateek advocates to work. Nonviolent resistance gives its practitioners a moral high ground, in the process placing the practices and policies of their oppressors in sharp relief. One could argue that moral high ground doesn't buy much if you end up six feet under. Indeed, the main reason for shying away from such resistance would be fear of death. However, one could readily counter that oppression kills and that merely accepting oppression will not prevent death, but actually accelerate individual and social death. There is precious little to lose, and so much to be gained.
Or as I put it a year ago:
When dealing with a genocidal regime hellbent on destroying a people or peoples, one might ask if nonviolent resistance could work. I'll keep repeating that nonviolent resistance can and should be part of our arsenal, and that it is relevant wherever there is oppression. Check out the good folks at the Albert Einstein Institute. While you're at it, an acquaintance of mine completed a nice series of diaries back in 2006 that go into various facets of nonviolent resistance (see Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), including a rather thorough debunking of the misconceptions that many have with regard to nonviolence (based primarily on the work of Gene Sharp). Naturally, it is worthwhile to check into the work of one of Sharp's protégés, Robert Helvey, while you're at it. I'm fond of referring to the Zapatistas from time to time, largely because their insurgency - although initially fought with guns - has relied primarily on nonviolent action (Subcomandante Marcos has stated from time to time that "our words are our weapons"). The neoliberal mindset that produced such catastrophes as NAFTA have been no less genocidal (especially in terms of social death) than what is going on in Gaza at the hands of the Israeli government. That the Zapatistas have had some success in attaining a level of autonomy - albeit fragile - lends some weight to the notion that one can fight with palabras (i.e. words), fight without so much as firing a rifle or rocket launcher, and still have a positive impact. Hopefully our friends in Gaza have been following the Zapatista movement and gained some ideas that can be tweaked to fit their specific situation. One thing about nonviolent approaches is that its practitioners have to prepare themselves for the long haul - this isn't an immediate gratification approach to fighting for social change. Then again, if one really thinks about it, there really aren't any immediate gratification friendly options available even for those who prefer more violent means. Either way, the bad guys are going to do what they do best - intimidate, coerce, kill. After all, they have a lot to lose.
Keep in mind that I tend to view nonviolence as one of numerous options to be considered and used by those who are oppressed. I would probably not recommend it as the one and only option, and I would be equally suspicious of calls for oppressed groups to utilize only nonviolent action when those calls are made by the oppressors (or the enablers of those oppressors). As I've said elsewhere, I am as a general rule opposed to holocausts, and believe it is best left up to the targets of holocausts to decide for themselves how to defend themselves against physical and social death - lecturing the victims regarding their "insufficient" nonviolence is something I find abhorrent. I tend to agree with one of Yglesias' commenters that both nonviolent and violent forms of resistance will succeed or fail for the same reasons, and another commenter who notes that nonviolence will require a great deal of tangible international support (one thing to keep in mind with the Zapatista movement, for example, is that their efforts have garnered a great deal of international publicity, and also that the Zapatistas always have their guns at the ready if necessary). One must also keep in mind the investment that the oppressors have in perpetrating their inhumane actions. In the case of Israel, there is a great deal of investment by the Israeli general public in perpetrating the current holocaust, coupled with minimal international pressure to stand down.

[1] Note that you would be equally hard-pressed to find a mainstream US blogger or media pundit refer to Israel's actions in Gaza and the West Bank as genocidal. There are several reasons for this omission, including ignorance, ideological myopia, and/or dishonesty.

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