Non-violent resistance should be non-violent for everyone
The term “non-violent resistance” is recurring in Palestinian media, with many protests and activists being described as “non-violent.” This narrative has had a recent upsurge with the arrests of 17-year-old Ahed Tamimi and social worker Munther Amira, two well-known Palestinians often described as non-violent activists.
The term seems to be used by the media to refer to Palestinians, protests or movements that do not use any form of violence, including stone throwing, against Israeli forces. This label has also been used to denounce the imprisonment of some Palestinian activists, claiming that they are exclusively involved in non-violent resistance and should not be put under arrest.
This reasoning, however, in addition to having no legal basis is problematic, as it fails to reflect the Palestinians’ experience of resistance — namely that they are subjected to violence.
Looking at the so-called Palestinian non-violent resistance from a legal perspective, there are two main applicable frameworks: Israeli military law, the law under which the political arrest and imprisonment of Palestinians take place in the occupied Palestinian territories; and international law, the overarching body of law that regulates the relationships and actions between states and peoples.
Under Israeli law, when analysing Palestinian non-violent resistance, one of the most relevant laws is Military Order 101 of August 1967, which prohibits almost all forms of Palestinian political expression, individual and collective. Under this order, attending or organising a march, vigil or assembly of ten or more people for a political purpose without authorisation from the Israeli military commander is illegal.
Displaying flags, posters or any document of political content without a permit is also forbidden, as well as expressing praise, sympathy or support for the actions or objectives of any organisation deemed illegal as per Israeli law. Under Military Order 101, therefore, simple participation in a march or protest, waving a Palestinian flag or encouraging other Palestinians to protest are forbidden and punishable with up to ten years in jail or a hefty fine.
Many non-violent Palestinian activists, including Amira, have faced charges under this order. If we were to take Israeli military law as the basis of analysis, then it could be argued that the arrests of all these activists are legally grounded. If, on the other hand, it was understood that Military Order 101 and Israeli military law, in general, violate the most basic principles of international law and cannot be accepted as fair, this body of military orders should be discarded from any assessment of Palestinian resistance.
The other framework is international law. In the context of Palestinian resistance, UN General Assembly Resolution A/3070 of November 30, 1973, clearly affirmed the “legitimacy of the peoples’ struggle for liberation from colonial and foreign domination and alien subjugation by all available means, including armed struggle.”
As the above overview shows, the categorisation of Palestinian resistance based on the use of violence has no legal standing under the two relevant bodies of law: the Israeli and the international.
It is clear then that “non-violent resistance” is a concept that arises not from the law but from social perception and should be understood as a descriptive tool. When analysed from a Palestinian perspective, however, it becomes clear that the label is inadequate to describe Palestinian resistance.
When Palestinians protest against Israeli forces in a non-violent manner, they still suffer from violence in all aspects of their life. They are still shot at, whether they throw stones or wave a flag; they are still on the receiving end of live ammunition, rubber-coated bullets, tear gas or violent arrests.
Depicting these actions as “non-violent” reflects the experience of Israeli forces and the military occupation, while failing to capture the Palestinian reality. No matter how Palestinians resist, they are exposed to violence, so why do we call it non-violent resistance? Non-violent for whom? How does describing activists as “non-violent” help depict their circumstances or their struggle?
The “non-violent” narrative is the result of external, mainly Western, perceptions on Palestinian resistance and serves to reflect what Western countries want and do not want Palestinians to do.
If the media want to accurately describe Palestinian resistance, it must begin by looking at the terms used to describe such struggle and find better ways to convey the Palestinian experience. One of the first steps in this process should be to stop using the “non-violent” label to describe Palestinian movements and activists because no matter how Palestinians resist, they are always subjected to violence.