Al Awda leader calls nonviolence "overrated."
Overstating the benefits of Palestinian nonviolence
By Ali Abunimah
Special to The Daily Star
Wednesday, September 08, 2004
The recent visit of Mohandas K. Gandhi's grandson, Arun Gandhi, to occupied Palestinian areas has sparked new discussion about the role of nonviolence in the Palestinian struggle for freedom. In a speech before the Palestinian Legislative Council, Gandhi called upon 50,000 Palestinian refugees to march back home en masse from their exile in Jordan, forcing the Israelis to choose between relenting to a wave of people power, or gunning the marchers down in cold blood.
In an editorial, the English-language Jordan Times gently endorsed the idea, arguing: "Perhaps it's time for the world to accept that the refugees need to have a say in their own fate. Perhaps it's time for them to make their voices heard. Perhaps they should march." However, the newspaper also warned that such tactics could lead to "losses to the kingdom," and recalled Israel's harsh military retaliation against Jordan and Lebanon when the Palestinian Liberation Organization used those countries as bases.
While one can admire Mohandas Gandhi's nonviolent principles, one can hardly point to the Indian experience as a demonstration of their usefulness in overthrowing a colonial regime. Indeed, Gandhi's concepts of satyagraha, or soul power, and ahimsa, or nonviolent struggle, played an important role during the Indian independence struggle, however the anti-colonial period in India was also marked by extreme violence, both between the British and Indians and between different Indian communal groups. Anti-colonial Indians committed a wide variety of terrorist acts; the British government was responsible for numerous massacres and other atrocities; and communal violence before, during and after independence claimed the lives of millions of people. One simply cannot argue that Indian independence was achieved in a nonviolent context.
Nevertheless, the fact that the Palestinian leadership has never seriously sought to use mass, organized nonviolence is yet another example of its monumental lack of creativity. Imagine, for example, if the Palestinian president, Yasser Arafat, instead of abjectly and unsuccessfully begging his Israeli captors to allow him to attend the Christmas services at Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity last year, had simply announced he would walk there without their permission, and invited all the people of Ramallah, international figures, clergymen, and the world's press, to walk with him? What if Palestinian ministers slept in and defended with their bodies the houses and farms of their people, slated for demolition or seizure by Israel?
We had a tantalizing glimpse of the potential power of such action on the bittersweet day the late minister Faisal Husseini's was buried in June 2001, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians flooded into occupied Jerusalem, and Israel was powerless to stop them. For those brief hours the people made Jerusalem free and whole.
The call for nonviolent resistance by Palestinians has also been taken up in Israel, although more disingenuously. Yoel Esteron, a columnist and former managing editor at Haaretz, lauded Arun Gandhi in a recent column, and wondered, "what would have happened if four years ago the Palestinians had chosen passive resistance?" Esteron lectured the Palestinians: "It is worth it to them to choose Gandhi's way. And it is worth it to us. If the Palestinians stop committing suicide on our buses, this will be a more effective weapon than explosive belts ... Ostensibly, the key rests in the hands of the stronger side. Wrong. If Israel were to lay down its weapons, it would be forced to pick them up again after a few murderous terror attacks ... The key is in the Palestinians' hands."