One of the most boring refrains of liberals on the rare occasions they talk about Palestine is, “Where is the Palestinian Gandhi?”
This tedious argument is periodically dredged up by some clueless know-it-all who seems to think it an original thought.
I think I first came across it in Michael Moore’s 2001 book, “Stupid White Men”. Although the book is amusing in many respects, the chapter in which he lectures Palestinians on why they are not yet free is, at best, an embarrassment.
He wrote that Palestinians should stop using armed resistance and instead adopt the tactics of Gandhi – lying down in front of Israeli tanks and so forth. He says something along the lines of, “many of you will die but the world will be on your side”.
Unfortunately such dross is an all-too-common argument, especially in the US. Leaving aside the sheer grossness of a rich white American lecturing Palestinians on the right way to resist, it is sheer historical ignorance.
The argument is always offered as if Palestinians have never tried non-violent resistance, and put forward as a supposedly new idea.
In reality, Palestinians are in a constant state of using unarmed and peaceful protest against Israel. Non-violent forms of Palestinian resistance are as old as Zionism itself. It could not be any other way – although it may receive the support of popular sentiment (as it does in Palestine) armed resistance is by definition the act of a vanguard minority.
The 1936 Palestinian uprising against British occupation and Zionist colonialism, for example, began as a general strike. It was only later that it developed into an armed guerrilla insurgency, in response to the brutality of the British and their allies in the Zionist movement.
Even after the majority of the Palestinian population was expelled by Zionist militias in 1948, in the aftermath of this Nakba, the first acts of resistance were spontaneous, simple acts of defiance – and they were entirely peaceful.
This was the act of many Palestinian villagers who had been driven out by armed Israeli thugs and made into refugees. Many farmers returned after the shooting died down and crossed back over ceasefire lines in order to tend their farms, fruit groves and orchards. To return.
These places were occupied by soldiers from the new Israel army, who shot these so-called “infiltrators” on sight. The murder of Palestinian civilians is as old as Zionism, too.
In such brutal acts, the seeds were sown for the establishment of the first post-1948 Palestinian armed resistance groups, such as Fatah.
The sad reality of western media coverage of Palestine is that it rarely pays much attention, unless there are violent reprisals by Palestinians. The greater, ongoing, frequent and systematic Israeli institutional violence of the occupation gets far less attention.
Because of this, unarmed Palestinian resistance tends not to get much of a look-in. There are exceptions to this general rule, such as during the First Intifada, when that popular Palestinian uprising briefly broke through – mostly thanks to the sheer brutality of the Israeli response to the protest movement.
But there have been other exceptions over the years. The village of Bil’in in the West Bank for example, has for years been organising weekly protests against Israel’s apartheid wall and settlements, both of which annex village land.
A film maker from that village, along with an Israeli friend, made the film “5 Broken Cameras”, telling the village’s story. The documentary was so compelling that it was nominated for an Oscar, and later won an Emmy.
But over the last couple of months, Israel has arrested and imprisoned some of the people featured in that film.
Teacher and protest leader Abdallah Abu Rahma was abducted by Israeli forces in the middle of the night and then imprisoned without civilian trial for almost a month. It is only the latest such arrest for Abdallah. Charges by Israel’s kangaroo court system against him have included “organising and participating in an illegal demonstration” and “incitement”.
Israel’s West Bank military courts are a travesty of justice, and are inherently racist. Jewish settlers also living in the West Bank – on the rare occasions they are charged at all – are subject to Israel’s separate and unequal civilian court system.
While Abdallah has now been released, others from the village remain imprisoned.
Among them is Ashraf Abu Rahma, a Palestinian leftist who was seized by Israeli troops at the end of October. The International Solidarity Movement is raising funds to help with his release. The group explains that Ashraf was taken “while giving a group of French solidarity activists a tour of the land that his village of Bil’in won back from the nearby Israeli colonial settlement of Modi’in Elite through their creative popular protests.”
Ashraf has been arrested by the Israelis for his non-violent resistance many times over the years. His brother and his sister were both murdered by Israeli soldiers during protests against their occupation of the village.
In 2008, Ashraf’s treatment at the hands of Israeli army thugs briefly caught some media attention. During a protest at a neighbouring village, they bound and gagged him. While so incapacitated, and posing no threat whatsoever, the cowardly Israeli soldiers sadistically shot him in the foot with a rubber-coated steel bullet. But he recovered to continue his contribution to the unarmed resistance.
Free Ashraf Abu Rahma and all Palestinian political prisoners!