For opponents of Palestinian self-determination, one commonly used tactic is to portray Palestinians as a violent and irresponsible people who have taken a moral low-road in their conflict with Israel.
This view has become so pervasive among these adversaries and their sympathizers that it has created a widespread image of the so-called “violence” of the Palestinian political movement, which is almost completely at odds with reality. As if such a person had never existed in their political sphere, Palestinians have been urged to find a figure in the mould of Mahatma Ghandi or Nelson Mandela who would lead a non-violent and inclusive movement for change. In fact, hundreds of Ghandi-like figures have been leading a purely non-violent movement inside Palestine. Today, many of these individuals are languishing in Israel’s military jails for peacefully resisting the Occupation.
This past week, a procession of roughly 500 Palestinian villagers, Muslim and Christian, from the town of Deir Jareer, led a peaceful march toward an Israeli settlement in the West Bank to protest recent attacks by settlers against their community. In the words of one Palestinian, “We’re gathered today to say we refuse to be attacked and driven off our own land….We want their army to pull the settlers out.”
Such settlements are illegal and constitute a war crime under international law. Settlers have also been known to be enthusiastic purveyors of violence against Palestinian communities, often with the tacit acquiescence of the Israeli state. Much of this violence is often known to be driven by religious fanaticism.
Last week the Palestinian response to such violence was peaceful protest and a demand for legal rights. That it was met with military force in the form of soldiers firing tear-gas and rubber bullets is indicative of the impossible situation the Palestinians find themselves in today.
Even during the height of the conflict with Israel, including the years of open armed conflict, the overwhelming majority of Palestinian resistance has resembled the type of civil disobedience expressed by the residents of Deir Jareer.
While Palestinian terrorist groups have committed heinous and inexcusable violence in the past (just as the Indian and South African resistance movements, as well as the Israeli independence movement committed certain excesses), ignoring the courageous non-violent resistance of millions of Palestinians does disservice to the truth about the conflict.
Palestinian Ghandi’s and Mandela’s are here today in numbers. Unfortunately, much of the Western world and media have viewed it as politically expedient to ignore them.