"Individuals have international duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience …Therefore individual citizens have the duty to violate domestic laws to prevent crimes against peace and humanity from occurring"-- Nuremberg War Crime Tribunal, 1950
“Recall the face of the poorest and most helpless person you have seen and ask yourself if the next step you contemplate is going to be of any use to that person.”--Mohandas Gandhi
“Grant me the courage to change the things I can, patience for those I can’t, and wisdom to know the difference” Anonymous
"I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government.... There is something strangely inconsistent about a nation and a press that would praise you when you say, 'Be nonviolent toward Jim Clark,' but will curse and damn you when you say, 'Be nonviolent toward little brown Vietnamese children!' There is something wrong with that press...." Martin Luther King, Jr.
Satyagraha is a concept which has earned a place in history. It was introduced to the 20th century by Mohandas Gandhi (born 2 Oct 1869, also known by the honorific title "Mahatma" meaning "great soul"). The word "Satyagraha" is derived from pairing the Sanskrit words for "truth" and "persistence." Persistence in the truth was the guiding principle behind Gandhi's philosophy of a non-violent revolution against British imperialism in India. The basic assumption of this kind of grass-root activism is that it is possible for individuals to affect change in social affairs. This nonviolent approach is based, not on a concept of passive acceptance but rather on active pacifism. This is an important distinction. Considering the state of our world and the powers of militarism and violence arrayed against us and against other the oppressed people, the principles of active pacifism/non-violent resistance are not easy to sustain or one that all activists for human rights share. The power arrayed against human rights and non-violence is indeed formidable but success is possible with hard work and preparation.
Non-violent resisters, who have been active for many years, say their number one wish is to have more activists engaged. Convincing others to become active and to spend the time required begins with convincing them that activists do make a difference. Apathy as George Seldes reportedly said, “is the curse of civilization.” So in attracting sympathetic people to the task at hand, pacifists should start by pointing out that dramatic change in history happened when ordinary people took the issues into their own hands and effected change.
History is replete with examples of unjust practices giving way to grassroots efforts resulting in reduced violence and injustice, and enhanced and human rights. Here are just six campaigns wherein grassroots work made a difference:
- against British occupation of India (Mahatma Gandhi and others in the 1930s and 1940s)
- against racial discrimination in the US (the civil rights movement)
- against the war in Vietnam in the 1960s in the US
- against Apartheid in South Africa (both within South Africa and outside, e.g. The US especially in the 1980s with boycott campaigns)
- against preparations for nuclear war (in Europe and the US in the 1970s and 1980s)
- against the separation of Germany and soviet control of East Germany (the collapse of the Berlin wall)
All these issues were resolved despite widespread apathy among the people and despite complicity and support of powerful media and governments. Activists in these issues started small but they persistently spoke truth to power. Most of them did not know the word "satyagraha" but they followed in Gandhi's footsteps, nonetheless. Through concerted grassroots actions, it was indeed possible to make a change in these and many other situations. Here in the US, we have gone through over 100 years of accomplishments of the American peace movement starting with the anti-imperialist league of 1989 until todays anti-war coalitions
David Adams. The American Peace Movements (1985 edition printed by Advocate Press, New Haven CT)
Similarly, the inalienable human rights of people including Palestinians were not and could not be left to power politics and violence or even to “negotiations” between governments and entities with power politics clearly biased against human rights and justice. International law justly considers agreements between an occupier and any body in occupied areas to be null and void if they deprive civilians of recognized human rights including the rights to repatriation and restitution. Affecting change in attitudes and policy by non-violent resistance is certainly possible and necessary here and history suggests that it is feasible.
Palestinians have attempted at various stages to resist colonization and occupation efforts by non-violent methods. In 1919, the Paris Peace conference was considering the future of Palestine had no Palestinian delegates or representatives. The Zionists were there, jockeying for implementation of the Balfour Declaration, but British forces prevented departure of a Palestinian group who merely wished the delegates to know of the wishes of the native Arab inhabitants of Palestine. For the following decade, from 1919 to 1929, Palestinians at every level of society entered into the economic and political life of the British Mandate and tried to influence its policies.
Areas of contention included preferential treatment of Jewish immigrants, assignment of land deeds, and fulfillment of the national aspirations of the locals, including the right to self-determination. The British policies at the time were classically similar to those elsewhere in the British colonial world. The wishes of local inhabitants were occasionally given lip service, but were more often ignored (see Chapter xxxx).
Between 1919 and 1936, the ruling British supported unlimited Jewish immigration and unfair practices of transferring land ownership. The process proceeded full-speed. In 1936, Palestinians declared a general strike that lasted many months, basically crippling all commercial activities in Mandate-ruled Palestine. The strike and the popular uprising were eventually crushed, but not before they resulted in the British white paper of 1939, which recognized and attempted to address some of the problems the British had created. Unfortunately, the White Paper was too little, too late to effect a long-term move toward peace, thanks to historical events such as the Second World War and the establishment of the powerful Yishuv (Zionist settlement movement) with British support.
For Palestinians and other Arabs, nonviolent, grassroots action was learned “on the job.” Among the first methods employed in the effort to effect change, and still in use today, were boycotts of Israeli products and of companies that invest in Israel. These tactics have actually grown more widespread over time. Another early approach was tax revolts. In the October 20, 1989 edition of the Guardian (London) Ian Black reported on the tax revolt in Beit Sahour (ed. note: the author’s birth place) as one of the many attempts at nonviolent resistance to Israeli occupation. Here is an excerpt from his report:
"Hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of goods - including manufacturing equipment, domestic appliances, cash and jewelry - have been carted off by Israeli bailiffs escorted by armed soldiers. ... Beit Sahour, a neat and relatively prosperous town of 12,000 in the 'Christian triangle' centering on Bethlehem, has been singled out for economic punishment by the authorities in a controversial operation that now appears to be intensifying. .... The confiscations have become routine: the entire town is a closed military area with nightly curfews imposed and telephone lines cut off. Earth ramparts have been bulldozed into position at the entrances and soldiers patrol the streets. The Israeli Defense Minister, Mr. Yitzhak Rabin, insists that the raids were carried out with full legal authority, although some experts dispute this. .... The latest attempt to crush the Intifada shows no sign of being any more successful than the other punishments that the Israeli authorities have been using in the West Bank and Gaza Strip for the past 22 months.
.... The people of Beit Sahour line the streets and watch anxiously as the Israeli convoys set out from Camp Asaf. Many tell stories of brutal searches and of outright theft by the taxmen...
the pastoral tranquility of the town, with its solid red-roofed stone villas, well-tended gardens and picturesque churches, is a far cry from the dark alleys of the Nablus casaba or the warren-like refugee camps of Gaza. But the tax revolt is Beit Sahour's proud contribution to the uprising. ...Some may well give in under pressure, but the majority, like Nader Qumsiyeh, will probably carry on. 'Taxes are paid by people to their own legitimate political bodies,' a leaflet explained when the Israeli raids began. 'The services provided to the Palestinians are opening new jails and building new settlements.' " ("Israeli bailiffs enlisted to crush Palestinian tax revolt: Refusal to pay rates turns 'Christian triangle' into symbol of resistance." Guardian 10/20/1989)
It is pointless to try to speculate on what would have occurred had: a) these acts of non-violent resistance not existed at all, or b) had they expanded more than they already did. The Beit Sahour events did lead to increased non-violent actions and establishment of the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement Between People (see http://www.rapprochement.org/ ).
We are able, though, to make some predictions based on current circumstances and to otherwise suggest possible future scenarios. The latest uprising started in September 2000. Here are a few of the costly consequences to Palestinians from the uprising’s first 16 months:
- killing of over 900 Palestinians and the injury of over 24,000 others (many with long-term disabilities), of whom 85% are civilians (only 15% of the Palestinian casualties in this period were either members of the Palestinian police or members of militias)
- killing of over 250 Israelis and the injury of over 1500 others, mostly civilians.
- direct economic loss to the Palestinian economy of an estimated $3 billion, and a lower, but still serious, economic loss to the Israeli economy
As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said:
"The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it... Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate.... Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."