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A summer with potential for non-violence
Gary Fields, USA
July 25, 2004
Among the questions raised in the aftermath of the International Court
of Justice opinion on the Israeli barrier—one that remains hidden but
is no less critical for understanding the next phase of the conflict—is
the impact of the decision on the Palestinian resistance movement
against the barrier.
The fact that Palestinians have organized non-violent protests against
the barrier is rarely covered by the American media preoccupied with
Palestinian violence and corruption. Yet Palestinian resistance against
the barrier is already embedded in a landscape of non-violent protest
operating in the shadow of the barrier that promises to change the
nature of the conflict this summer.
For the past 18 months, non-violent demonstrations have proliferated in
West Bank localities where the barrier threatens to isolate residents
from their land and undermine their livelihood.
This period also has witnessed the growth of a fledgling political
movement operating outside the Palestinian Authority and the various
Islamic parties. Spearheaded by prominent Palestinians such as
human-rights activist Mustafa Barghouti, the movement known as the
Palestinian National Initiative seeks to forge a secular, democratic
resistance to occupation. Together, local organizers of non-violence
against the barrier along with many other Palestinian organizations and
the Palestinian Initiative are planning an ambitious campaign of
non-violent resistance to Israeli occupation with a focus on the most
poignant metaphor of occupation, the barrier.
Dubbed Freedom Summer to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the
celebrated events of the American civil rights movement, this campaign
represents a compelling political turning point in Palestinian efforts
to end Israeli military rule. Organizers of Freedom Summer are
contemplating nationally coordinated non-violent actions at selected
sites in the West Bank, along with a mass march from Jenin in the north
to Hebron along the route of the wall.
As a new and largely untested political force, however, the Palestinian
Freedom Summer campaign confronts two critical issues: whether
Palestinians will respond in numbers sufficient to make the non-violent
campaign successful and whether Israelis will respond to the campaign of
non-violent resistance with lethal force.
Mass action needed
Ghassan Andoni, director of the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement
Between People and a central organizer of Freedom Summer, acknowledges
the importance of a large Palestinian base for the campaign. Mass action
is needed, he said, to overcome the limitations of circumscribed
demonstrations in individual localities. For this reason organizers are
aiming their efforts more broadly, modeling the non-violent campaign
this summer on the historic events in Mississippi.
As to how Israeli army and police units will respond to the events
planned for the Palestinian Freedom Summer, perhaps the best indication
was given June 26 during a demonstration against the wall in the West
Bank town of A-Ram near Jerusalem. When on that day Israeli army and
police units fired an initial volley of concussion grenades at A-Ram
demonstrators, they were clearly sending more than a warning to the
3,000 peacefully protesting the expansion of the separation wall.
Indeed, the explosions that cracked through the afternoon air, and the
violent onslaught unleashed against the marchers by Israeli forces over
the next two hours were intended as an unambiguous message. Peaceful
protest against the wall in the territories occupied by Israel, whatever
the outcome of the World Court decision, will not be tolerated.
Much like the actions coordinated by Palestinians against the barrier in
other localities, the march in A-Ram was organized as a peaceful protest
against what has come to be the most overt symbol of Israeli control
over Palestinian society. That event, however, had three distinguishing
First, A-Ram marked the initial day of activity against occupation and
the wall associated with Freedom Summer. Second, organizers aimed at
numbers not in the hundreds typical of recent demonstrations against the
wall, but in the thousands. Finally, this march was to have a larger
presence of Israelis and internationals joining with Palestinians
against the barrier.
I came to the demonstration in A-Ram with five busloads of Israelis and
internationals who would link up with a contingent of about 2,000
Palestinians. A Palestinian bagpipe band of 50 musicians accompanied
Arabic and Hebrew chants that filled the afternoon air.
The march had been going 15 minutes when Israeli soldiers, without
provocation, charged toward protesters and unloaded the initial volley
of stun grenades at the crowd. In the next instant they fired the first
of hundreds of tear gas canisters. Peaceful protest gave way to the
sounds and smell of violence.
I had been photographing the demonstration near the Israeli barrage and
became engulfed in the initial volleys of tear gas. I ran into a shocked
bagpipe player from the march and cannot forget the bewildered and
dispirited image he presented, his bagpipe still in hand. I also heard
all around me what sounded like rocks hitting the nearby buildings. They
were bullets. Israeli army and police units were firing live ammunition
at peaceful demonstrators!
I watched Israeli forces pummel the crowd for the next two hours with
tear gas, concussion grenades and live fire. I witnessed Israeli special
forces move alongside Israeli army and police personnel, seeking out
demonstrators to beat and arrest. I captured on film the beating and
arrest of Mohammed Mansour, one of the lead organizers of the
non-violent resistance campaign against the wall in the town of Biddu.
After the arrest of Mansour and injuries to 50 demonstrators, the
Israelis finally ended the siege.
Response to force in question
Based on the day's activities and the aims of Palestinian organizers, it
promises to be an intriguing summer. Whether Palestinians will heed the
call by organizers of Freedom Summer to engage in non-violent resistance
in sufficient numbers when confronted by Israeli force to make the
campaign a political success is in question.
Palestinians have a difficult task ahead. They confront an occupying
power with one of the world's most formidable military arsenals, backed
by the world's lone superpower, the U.S. There is hardly a more classic
case of David and Goliath.
On the other hand, the World Court opinion creates an enormous opening
for Palestinians to build a mass non-violent resistance movement to the
wall and occupation. The opinion unambiguously states that the wall is
illegal and calls on the international community to enforce the decision.
As it confronts this new reality, however, Palestinian society hovers in
a pattern of political uncertainty, poised between on the one side a
Palestinian Authority in disarray and on the other side the various
Islamic parties. Barghouti insists, nevertheless, that between these
poles is a huge constituency for a third political force.
How the leadership of this new movement can use the opening created by
the World Court to galvanize a Palestinian public trampled on for the
past four years by Israeli occupiers, and mobilize this public for a
campaign of non-violent protest will be something to watch closely in
the weeks ahead.
Gary Fields, author of Territories of Profit, is a professor in the
department of communication at the University of California, San Diego.
He recently returned from Israel and the West Bank as part of a
delegation sponsored by Faculty for Israeli-Palestinian Peace.
From the Chicago Tribune, July 25, 2004. Copyright © 2004, Chicago Tribune