In social movement theory and research, we find the key to why international solidarity and political work is so important for attaining Palestinian goals. Simply put, there are limits to which tactics the Palestinians themselves can use successfully in a nonviolent campaign.
Some of the tactics, goals and insights of non-violent actions are widely agreed upon. As the leading scholar on the topic Gene Sharp so often reminds his readers; trying to weaken one`s adversary`s pillars of support is or should be one of the main focuses of most non-violent campaigns, in one way or the other. Or as the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict puts it: “to undermine an opponent's sources of power”. Another key insight is that any power held in a society, be it by institutions, companies or dictatorial systems, is held as a result of the consent and/or obedience of that society`s population. These are two of the main talking points repeated again and again in classes, seminars and discussions on nonviolent conflict. And this is where a major problem for the Palestinian population comes into play (specifically the Palestinian population situated in the occupied territories).
As inhabitants of an occupied territory, a territory that the Israeli state is not dependent upon for its economic success or security, the population has only the potential to minimally affect these pillars of power by disobedience, disruption or withdrawal of consent. There is no way to effectively affect industry, economy or infrastructure inside Israel proper through noncooperation from such a position. They can go on strike as much as they want inside Gaza and the West Bank, without much disruption to the Israeli economy. They cannot stop factories, disrupt telecommunications or make serious dents in the Israeli economy through boycotts. There have been attempts at disrupting transportation between the illegal Israeli settlements inside the West bank, an attempt it would be very interesting to see an expansion of, but this is not of crucial importance to the Israeli state as such. Among the widely used and very successful 198 methods of nonviolent action compiled by Sharp, there is simply a huge number that cannot be effective for the specific case of the Palestinians. I would estimate that some 75% of them would have little or no successful application. These methods are assembled under the following rubrics:
- Methods of Social Noncooperation
- Methods of Economic Noncooperation (Economic Boycotts and Strikes)
- Methods of Political Noncooperation
- Methods of Nonviolent Intervention
A third key point, much described in Chenoweth and Stephan`s brilliant “Why Civil Resistance Works”, is the importance of security or army personnel defections. This has proved to be of utmost importance in many nonviolent campaigns. But this is also very difficult to achieve for the Palestinians. The security forces are in this case not of the same society as the opponent. The Serbian protest movement OTPOR could tell the police that they were of the same society and had the same goals; this would prove more difficult for the Palestinians to do effectively. In this case, a soldier’s father or mother will not show up to protest at a rally that the security forces are to disband. They will not be forced to arrest their own neighbors or colleagues, as could be the case in the Philippine or the Soviet era movements. And where should they defect to? Should they move into the Palestinian parts of the West Bank? Hardly likely. The brilliant group Breaking the Silence is the closest we come to “defection” in this case. This group of ex-soldiers spends their time explaining what it is like to be an Israeli soldier in the occupied territories, and what kind of work they have been set to do. They have been effective in this work, and demand respect for their difficult actions.
The best arrow in the quiver of the Palestinians with regards to tactics is to expose the brutality and unfair nature of the occupation, as so many Palestinians bravely do and have been doing for a long time. Under this headline, there are a multitude of options. Marches, sit-ins and disruptions within the occupied territories and on settler land being among them. And this may be the most important nonviolent weapon available in this situation, as it slowly eats away international political support for the occupation. The reactions to the treatment of Palestinians in general, and especially in periods such as the mainly nonviolent First Intifada, demonstrate this. The brutality of the Cast Lead “operation” and the boarding of the Freedom Flotilla, of which I was a part, have been key in raising protests and changing the international political climate in recent years. Sadly, it demands the focus and unbiased conduct of the media. This latter part is not in place at the moment, even though signs of improvements can be seen. There are also many films coming out of the Palestinian community right now, bypassing the sensationalist nature of most news media. Some of them are very effective, and the digital fight being waged on media like twitter, Facebook and YouTube is being fought extensively. The resources available are off course, when compared to those of the Israeli state, minimal. But it is safe to say, both taking the long view and considering developments in the last few weeks, that political feeling about the situation has changed in most Western countries over the past decades, and this is largely due to the Palestinian people’s ability and passion in explaining and showing their plight. But exposing brutality can be painful and dangerous, as you have to expose yourself to that brutality to show it. This was in the forefront of the thinking behind the American Freedom Rides project, as they knew what was waiting for them in the Deep South of Mississippi and Alabama.
The problem here is off course that the main pillars of power for Israel are situated inside Israel proper and in the financial and political ties between Israel and the EU and the US. In the UN Security Council, The US has vetoed no less than 32 resolutions potentially affecting Israel, and the financial aid from the US is about 3 Billion USD every year. Exports from Israel to the European Union are about the same as to the US. How can the Palestinians, situated as they are, affect these pillars? How can they affect them with strikes, sit-downs, withdrawal of support or political and societal noncompliance? This is a very tough question to answer, and it would prove difficult even with large strides in effectiveness of leadership and training in nonviolent tactics. So the main reason for this piece is to demonstrate the importance of international activism in solidarity with the Palestinian people, and the crucial work that has to be done to affect our own governments, as we as activists have better access to these pillars. We can disrupt industry, we can affect media presentations, we can put political pressure where it should be applied. Any fight for freedom is best fought by the affected people themselves, and the nonviolent work being done on the part of the Palestinians is effective and courageous. But in this case I think it is safe to say that we need to step up to the plate and help pull the wagon along.
Just to make two things very clear; this is not to advocate violent resistance as a substitute for nonviolence. The moral justification for violent defense on the part of an occupied population can of course be discussed and/or defended. But as a tactic, it holds little promise of success in this case, and I hope it will diminish. In my view, the gradual, never ending Israeli takeover of Palestinian territories depends very much on the perception that there is a violent opponent to deal with, and it would be a good thing if this excuse could no longer be used. In affecting the pillars of support, namely the West, this is a key point. This and the exposing of the situation that only the Palestinians can give us to work with against our own governments. Neither am I advocating Palestinian inaction, even though I know I may sound pessimistic in what I write here. And I`m sure there are many, many things that can be done that have gone untested. Either way; if this situation will ever find it`s solution, it will be done with Palestinian political and grass roots based work front and center. And please remember the words of IDF Major-General Amos Gilad: “We don`t do Ghandi very well”. Samoud!