Brief History of Palestinian Nonviolence

The massive displacement of Palestinians has left them feeling that Israel has the upper hand in the conflict and not much can be done to realistically or diplomatically combat this power.

When examining the non-violent struggle within Palestine, one must first look at the 1930s as the first stage. This was a great period of civil unrest made famous by the Great General Strike in 1936 that involved mass demonstrations, lobbying, marches and strikes lasting six months. This strike in '36 led to a slow-down of the Palestinian emigration as greater pressure was put on Britain to halt the policy of Palestinian land transfer. It became apparent that Palestinians were not going to so easily leave their land, and Britain had to act accordingly. In fact, one of the first laws created after the Occupation nullified the British law blocking the transfer of Palestinian land to the Jewish population. However,the achievements of the 1930s were not sustained. The momentum gained during this period of popular civil unrest was lost and needed to be rebuilt over time.

The Nakba of 1948 will be touched upon at points throughout this discussion, but the next period worth highlighting in the Palestinian non-violent struggle is 1967 – the beginning of the Israeli Occupation of Palestinian, Egyptian and Syrian land. However, in 1967, for Palestinians the results were different, possibly because the Palestinian experience of 1948 prepared Palestinians for 1967. For instance, 800,000 Palestinians fled to other counties in 1948, but 300,000-400,000 Palestinians left in 1967. The population remaining in Palestine after 1967, in itself a non-violent resistance to the Occupation is probably the one reason Israel did not establish a state in the whole region, including the West Bank and Gaza.

Israeli policy towards Palestinians and their land between 1967 and the mid-1980s was one of colonization and aggressive expansion typified by the establishment and growth of Israeli settlements throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The policy during this time was established because Israelis were under the impression that settlements would help to eventually take all Palestinian land and keep better control of the Palestinian population. Israelis most likely believed that settlement expansion would provide more security for their state.

When looking at the period leading from 1967 to the 1980's, one could call the Palestinian resistance to the Israeli Occupation as passive steadfastness instead of an active resistance. An active resistance did develop, but it developed outside of Palestine.

Groups of Palestinians forced from their land began to provoke a fight with Israelis by fighting for a right to return to "lost paradise". Added to the aggressive, expansionist Israeli policies of the 1980s were an increase in internal conflicts between displaced Palestinians and their Arab neighbors. The PLO was kicked out of Jordan during Black September in 1971 and civil war erupted in Lebanon in 1975 due to the Palestinian refugee problem. This internal Arab conflict was perhaps one reason that resistance to the Occupation came in the form of individual acts and not a collective, organized resistance. In addition, the PLO, the supposed representation of the Palestinian people, was fighting to exist rather than defend or gain Palestinian rights.

The lack of active resistance within the Occupied Palestinian Territories during the first twenty years of the Occupation allowed Israel to claim an Enlightened Occupation." They were telling the world how much the Palestinians enjoyed the Occupation because of the lack of tangible acts resisting the Israeli presence. However, there are several key facts disputing this claim of "Enlightened Occupation that cannot be ignored. The Israelis reported 600,000 Palestinian prisoner cases during these twenty years of limited resistance. Factoring in multiple imprisonment cases and age statistics, this figure could easily equate to every young Palestinian male being in prison at least once in this time period. Also, statistics show that approximately 20,000 Palestinians left the Territories each year – 400,000 people between 1967 and 1987.

Many of the people that left during this time never returned due to the economic opportunity present in other neighboring Arab countries. The numerous imprisonment cases and continued emigration illustrate the Palestinian aversion to the Occupation.

During the 1970s, NGOs began developing in Palestine. Establishment of Palestinian NGOs began the creation of a legitimate Palestinian civil society – a Palestine without Israel. The creation of different Palestinian political parties also created a sense of autonomy and nationalism during this time period. The formation of basic civil society within Palestine was a major catalyst for the first Intifada (1987-1993) – the first Palestinian resistance to the Occupation with a national dimension.

The first Intifada appeared to be a surprise Intifada; no one knew why it began. However, the resistance during this period was popular and massive in scale. Again, the organizational advancements made prior to the Intifada with NGO establishment created the atmosphere for this popular, national resistance.

The early years of the Intifada were mostly civil-based non-violent acts of resistance and disobedience with the occupying power. The only act of violence seen was stone throwing. Examples of civil-based non-violent resistance during the early part of the Intifada include the disposing and burning of Israeli issued identification cards and permits, the refusal to pay taxes to the Israeli government and the opening of schools despite military imposed curfews and orders to close schools. These acts of non-violent resistance eventually turned into acts of violence and militancy. In spite of this increase in violent activity, the first Intifada managed to make several advancements. For instance, the PLO was officially established as the political voice of the Palestinians. Whether this was a positive outcome of the Intifada or not is up for debate. More importantly, the first Intifada illustrated to the world that the Occupation needed alternatives – it was not sustainable. The Palestinian struggle received political support from outside countries and made it more difficult for Israel to continue its discriminatory, imperialist policies of the Occupation without world criticism.

However, the advancements made by the first Intifada also suffered with the Oslo peace process. The attempt during Oslo to quantify Palestinian advancements of the Intifada led to much frustration and disappointment. Compromises were made that seemed to nullify the progress made by the popular Palestinian resistance, and the popular resistance appeared powerless with the creation of an official political entity to represent the Palestinian people. In addition to the frustration over Oslo, the resistance movement again lost its momentum because of fatigue and lack of continuity within the movement. The organizational collapse of the resistance after the first Intifada again exemplified the generational nature of resistance within Palestine. Strong efforts are made to resist Israeli Occupation, but the effects are left and forgotten, and usually co-opted by politicians. The generation leading the resistance fights with everything it has and then burns out without having transferred any knowledge or building any culture of resistance. If you look at the current Intifada, the young leaders of the resistance today were the 6-7 year old boys of the first Intifada. Having seen nothing but disappointment, militancy and repression since the first Intifada, it is no surprise that the current leaders of the Intifada are angry and frustrated and quickly resorting to acts of violence and militancy.

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