Jordan Times Review
Book Review: Millions of Heroes
by Sally Bland, Jordan Times 14 February 2011
Popular Resistance in Palestine: A History of Hope and Empowerment
Mazin B. Qumsiyeh
London/New York: Pluto Press, 2011, 290 pp
Combining historical research with first-hand experience, Mazin B. Qumsiyeh of Beit Sahour fills in the blanks of standard historical accounts with thousands of actions initiated by Palestinians in defense of their land and rights. His book is especially timely in view of today's precarious situation where Palestinians, in the absence of a viable leadership of consensus, have reason to fear that their fate will be sealed behind closed doors, devoid of principles of justice or their own input. This has been the case at critical junctures in the past, when "the grassroots movement was co-opted by self-serving elite leaders." (p. 88) The remedy for helplessness, and the catalyst for hope and empowerment, according to Qumsiyeh, is escalating the forceful but nonviolent popular resistance in Palestine, coupled with intensifying BDS--the global boycotts, divestments and sanctions campaign.
While Zionist-inspired media has singled out spectacular armed operations, Qumsiyeh's historical review from Ottoman times until the present shows that the overwhelming bulk of Palestinian resistance over the years has been nonviolent. This is the author's preferred option and he argues eloquently for it, but without being dogmatic, for, as he points out, all liberation movements have taken both violent and nonviolent forms.
Also refuting typical media discourse that posits the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as exceptional or too complex to be solved, Qumsiyeh frames it in a universalist, humanist perspective that should find resonance with all readers except the most ideologically blinded. In his view, the conflict is simple: Palestine, for centuries a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society, came under attack from the Zionist movement supported by the Great Powers. "In a tortuous history over many decades, the area was transformed from majority Muslim and Christian Palestinians to having millions of Jews gathered from around the world in a militarized and economically advanced, yet highly unstable state. The well-organized and well-financed process led to many wars and the creation of the largest current refugee population in the world." (p. 14)
Yet, this transformation did not go without being challenged. The crux of "Popular Resistance in Palestine" is bringing to light thousands of examples of the Palestinians' creative and persistent resistance from demonstrations, petitions, civil disobedience and revolts, to the steadfastness of farmers picking their olives in violation of Israeli prohibitions, and shepherds grazing their sheep despite settler attacks.
The book is divided chronologically into different phases, each punctuated by major Zionist attacks and Palestinian responses: the British Mandate period, the Great Revolt of 1936-39, the Nakba, the 1967 war, the two Intifadas, etc. The overall political context of each period is clearly outlined, supplemented by brief biographies of important personalities of each period, and quotes from the masters of nonviolent resistance, from Gandhi and Martin Luther King to the numerous Palestinians who have tailored this method to their own conditions. Yet throughout, the emphasis is on the people's initiative and the lessons that can be gleaned. Qumsiyeh presents detailed accounts of lesser known phenomena such as peasant revolts against Ottoman rulers, Robin Hood type actions against early Zionist land grabs, the expansive mobilization of the 1936 general strike, Palestinians' attempts to defend their villages in 1947-48, and peasants returning to cultivate their land after the 1948 occupation, many of whom were shot as "infiltrators". His account of the gradually accumulating resistance that culminated in the First Intifada is particularly well described, and narration of today's struggles against the Apartheid Wall, closures, house demolitions and settler encroachments in the West Bank, are animated by his own active participation in the movement.
While many of the incidents recorded here will be familiar to those who have followed the conflict closely, there is great value in having this vast documentation handy in a single volume. For those who only know the headlines, this book will be an awakening—and hopefully a wake-up call. Of particular note is Qumsiyeh's coverage of the 1929 Al Buraq uprising, which erupted in response to the Jewish Agency's partitioning off a section of the Haram Al Sharif (Temple Mount). Qumsiyeh's account is a sober antidote to the usual telling of these events which read something to the effect that "angry Arab mobs attacked and killed Jews in Hebron." All-in-all, the information presented serves to document Qumsiyeh's contention that "Palestinians as a people who refuse to die give us millions of heroes." (p. 247)
(c) Sally Bland and Jordan Times