Neve Gordon: Breaking Palestine's peaceful protest





(Neve Gordon is the chair of the Department of Politics and Government, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel, and is the author of "Israel's
Occupation")

"Why," I have often been asked, "haven't the Palestinians established a peace movement like the Israeli Peace Now?"

The question itself is problematic, being based on many erroneous assumptions, such as the notion that there is symmetry between the two sides and that Peace Now has been a politically effective movement. Most important, though, is the false supposition that Palestinians have indeed failed to create a pro-peace popular movement.

In September 1967 – three months after the decisive war in which the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem were occupied – Palestinian leaders decided to launch a campaign against the introduction of new Israeli textbooks in Palestinian schools. They did not initiate terrorist attacks, as the prevailing narratives about Palestinian opposition would have one believe, but rather the Palestinian dissidents adopted Mahatma Gandhi-style methods and declared a general school strike: teachers did not show up for work, children took to the streets to protest against the occupation and many shopkeepers closed shop.

Israel's response to that first strike was immediate and severe: it issued military orders categorising all forms of resistance as insurgency – including protests and political meetings, raising flags or other national symbols, publishing or distributing articles or pictures with political connotations, and even singing or listening to nationalist songs.

Moreover, it quickly deployed security forces to suppress opposition, launching a punitive campaign in Nablus, where the strike's leaders resided. As Major General Shlomo Gazit, the co-ordinator of activities in the occupied territories at the time, points out in his book The Carrot and the Stick, the message Israel wanted to convey was clear: any act of resistance would result in a disproportionate response, which would make the population suffer to such a degree that resistance would appear pointless.

After a few weeks of nightly curfews, cutting off telephone lines, detaining leaders, and increasing the level of harassment, Israel managed to break the strike.

While much water has passed under the bridge since that first attempt to resist using "civil disobedience" tactics, over the past five decades Palestinians have continuously deployed nonviolent forms of opposition to challenge the occupation. Israel, on the other hand, has, used violent measures to undermine all such efforts.

It is often forgotten that even the second intifada, which turned out to be extremely violent, began as a popular nonviolent uprising. Haaretz journalist Akiva Eldar revealed several years later that the top Israeli security echelons had decided to "fan the flames" during the uprising's first weeks. He cites Amos Malka, the military general in charge of intelligence at the time, saying that during the second intifada's first month, when it was still mostly characterised by nonviolent popular protests, the military fired 1.3m bullets in the West Bank and Gaza. The idea was to intensify the levels of violence, thinking that this would lead to a swift and decisive military victory and the successful suppression of the rebellion. And indeed the uprising and its suppression turned out to be extremely violent.

(Excerpt - to continue reading, visit the Guardian website)



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