Trends in non-violent direct action
Based, then, on the price of violence, and the fact that it does not ultimately yield results, there are reasons to be optimistic about the future of nonviolent grassroots efforts. Nonviolent resistance will grow as more and more Palestinians realize the futility of armed struggle against the fourth strongest army in the world. It the commitment to nonviolence is now gaining momentum, not only among Palestinians, but also among all supporters of human rights around the world. The exhibits show some examples of recent actions and indicate the growth of this movement. It is not only a Palestinian movement, but is a human movement involving Israelis and internationals. The International Solidarity Movement is one good representative facet which indicates how well this nucleus of nonviolence grew (seehttp://www.palsolidarity.org/).
In an article in the British magazine Q News, September issue (http://www.q-news.com) Rhonda L McCarthy and I summarized key features of this movement. We wrote:
When Israel refused the presence of International monitors, civilian activists around the world recognized that they did not need to wait for their governments to take action.
The Palestinian Center for Rapprochement, with the support of Italian activist and European Parliament member, Luisa Morgantini, called for a week of non-violent direct action in mid-April with marches to Israeli military bases near peaceful Palestinian towns. Israeli Occupation Forces were not prepared initially for this kind of resistance. As time passed by, Israeli authorities intensified their aggression even on peaceful demonstrators.
In the U.S. activists began serious work to coordinate mass gatherings of internationals for the purpose of providing tangible support to the Palestinians. Rev. Thom Saffold scheduled a delegation for August. The objectives of this mission were to offer protection, show solidarity, and draw attention to the realities on the ground. Israeli American activist Charles Lenchner gathered a delegation for an overlapping trip. The program, dubbed Olive Tree Summer, specifically recruited Jewish Americans. Both Thom and Charles voiced some concern initially that they may not be fully welcome in their pursuits. Palestinian activists and organizers such as Ghassan Andoni, made it clear that they welcomed this support..
The campaign continued to grow. They protested the closing of the Orient House in Jerusalem, they laid in front of Israeli tanks in Ramallah, they had a presence at the houses being shelled in Bedit Jala, and they harvested olives with residents of Husan. Some were arrested (e.g. August 11, 2001, eleven were arrested, 7 foreign civilians and 4 Palestinians).
Activists on the ground derive strength from support by thousands of individuals all over the world. Those who could not go and join them are working hard in their respective countries to educate people about the violence of the occupation, an occupation that is fast becoming the longest military occupation still standing. On June 8th, women in 150 cities around the world held vigils calling for an end to the occupation. Demonstrations continue to be frequent in hundreds of cities around the world. International networks like the Palestine Right To Return Coalition (http://Al-Awda.org) are expanding in every city, state and country. An intensive International campaign is planned for September (month of solidarity with the Palestinian people). Collectively these international campaigns will continue to grow and accelerate until Palestinians achieve their national and individual human rights. The success of the movement is attested to by the vitriolic attacks it had received from groups like Israel Resource News Agency (David Bedein).
It is truly a grassroots movement for nonviolent resistance to occupation and oppression. As pointed out by many writers: this (is a struggle, and sacrifices will be made. There is every likelihood that nonviolent resistance will be met with violence. History shows this to be the case, and sacrifices under this model may be equal to or even greater than sacrifices under the model of violent resistance to injustice.
Examples of brutal response to nonviolent resistance are far too numerous to list. Here are just a few relevant examples:
- British troop violence in both India and Palestine in the 1930s
- US police and army violence against civil rights demonstrators in the 1960s
- South African Apartheid forces attacking demonstrators in Natal
- Israeli violent attack on Beit Sahour for its refusal to pay taxes in the late 1980s
- Israeli shooting at peaceful demonstrators in 2000 (especially in instances in which demonstrators used no weapons of any kind, not even rocks)
Suffering and pain are facts of life when confronting tyranny and oppression. There are many questions that are raised. Given these facts, how do we respond, and should we try to think and act like the oppressors or should we insist on acting morally and humanely despite the immorality of others? the answer I believe is very clear, based on history: Revolutions that engage in violence, even when they succeed, can only continue a culture of violence and oppression. I will not try, here, to advance all the arguments for nonviolence, or to refute all the arguments for war (including the so-called "just war" concept). There are many books on this topic alone. Instead, I highly recommend that people read them and consider whether war is justified, especially in the 21st century when we can communicate, person to person and people-to-people, across borders, bypassing governments and propaganda. I recommend two good books on the subject:
The Politics of Nonviolent Action, by Gene Sharp (Porter-Sargent, Boston, 1973)
Nonviolence in America: A Documentary History, by Alice and Staughton Lynd (eds.). (Orbis Books, New York, 1995)
In summary, many key lessons have been learned, not only from reading books such as these, but also from participating in hundreds of direct nonviolent actions. Basically, the criteria comprising the most effective nonviolent actions are centered on well-organized coordination and organizers who have done their homework well in terms of detailed planning. This includes:
a) Adequate activist preparation (including organizers): Basic background information should be provided to all key participants. The number of incorrect statements made to media and passers-by by poorly informed “activists” is distressing. As many people as possible should know, in advance, what tasks need doing, what to pay close attention to, and who is responsible for each task or issue.
b) Careful definition of objectives and the audience: A single action is not a panacea for all the injustice in the world, and it is also not a means of venting frustration. The purpose of a single action is to draw attention to a specific injustice. Success is measured by its ability to demonstrate this injustice. Your audience can be passers-by, the "authorities", the media, the public at large, the event participants, or a combination of these. Defining the exact event-specific objectives (what you want the audience and/or participants to know or do after the action that they would not otherwise know or do) is essential. Together with careful definition of the audience, knowing the specific objectives permits a measure of proximal success, as well as fine tuning and productive work to improve in the next event. These events must be viewed as building blocks for the future and parts of a larger campaign. Thus both short-term and long-term objectives (e.g. equality, return of refugees, abolishing unjust laws) need to be defined and understood by the key activists.
c) Maintenance of a perspective which is open-minded, peaceful, and yet direct. our goal is not to "beat the enemy," but to convince even those who oppress us, or oppress others, that there is another way. It is not a zero-sum game where our gains are someone else's losses. Human rights are universal and we must be diligent, open minded, and honest. Gandhi’s attitude vis-à-vis the British points the way: we don’t want to humiliate our opponents. We want to change their minds.
d) Envisioning of the audience, and even the opposition, as allies: No matter how disinterested, or how deeply involved in unjust and violent systems people are, your goal is to raise awareness of wrongdoing, and thus win them as allies. It is difficult to love an enemy, but if you think of all people as potential allies and keep the door open, you are able to transcend the hate (which actually only harms you), and also to give your opponent a way out, in which all will gain (not a zero sum game).