Peaceful resistance is the Palestinian answer to Trump’s ‘deal of the century’
International law states that a people under occupation are entitled to use all means of resistance — including armed resistance — to end the occupation. In their quest for freedom, justice and equality, the Palestinian people have used a multitude of forms, including armed resistance and continue to keep their options open.
However, facing an Israeli propaganda machine, which has largely succeeded in characterising both military and non-military Palestinian resistance as “terrorism,” the Palestinians have explored other means that may bring greater support internationally and embarrass Israel when it deals violently and disproportionately with Palestinians.
The first intifada was a case in point. It started in 1987 and was peaceful. However, Israel dealt harshly with protesters, who were unarmed, at most throwing stones or Molotov cocktails at Israeli forces operating in their illegally occupied areas. Israeli troops killed more than 1,000 Palestinians during the intifada and images of Israeli brutality were flashed on TV screens across the world.
The uprising introduced the word “intifada” into dictionaries but importantly led to the Madrid conference in 1991 and the start of the peace process between Palestinians and Israelis, which led to the Oslo Accords. The peaceful nature of the uprising brought great sympathy for the Palestinian cause from across the world. Who can forget the image of Israeli troops attempting to break the bones of young Palestinian protesters with rocks?
The second intifada started in September 2000, triggered by visit to al-Aqsa Mosque by former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. It was much more violent, resulting in heavy casualties on both sides. This brought less sympathy for Palestinians and Israel used the death of civilians to demonise Palestinians as a violent people.
In a variation on peaceful resistance, Palestinian activists established villages on strategically located, privately owned Palestinian land in defiance of the escalation of illegal settlement construction. Israel demolished them and evicted the activists. This included Bab al-Shams, which was established and demolished days later in 2013.
The summer of 2017 saw Israel seal al-Aqsa Mosque following an attack on troops and the subsequent stand-off between the state and Palestinians who refused to go through electronic gates it installed to “enhance security.” The peaceful protests succeeded in the gates being removed.
The recent Great Return March and the protests to save Khan al-Ahmar, a Bedouin village due for demolition by Israel, have shown that peaceful popular resistance can cause Israel great embarrassment and put a spanner in the works of the US plan to settle the conflict through the “deal of the century.”
Whether Khan al-Ahmar is demolished or not, the planned demolition and the popular resistance that brought Palestinians to the village to stand up to the bulldozers elevated the issue on the international agenda, bringing enough pressure on Israel to postpone the demolition.
British Middle East Minister Alistair Burt recorded a video message from the village in which he appealed to Israel not to demolish it and that if it moved its residents elsewhere it could be considered forcible transfer and thus a possible war crime.
Strong words indeed.
The United Kingdom was not alone. All but the most ardent state supporters of Israel — such as the United States — tried to convince it that this was a step too far.
Perhaps the Great Return March and the Palestinians’ demand to return to the homes from which they were expelled, starting in 1948, played a role in delaying the release of the ultimate deal. The scenes at Khan al-Ahmar may have played a part in reminding foreign diplomats that the Palestinians are not going anywhere soon.
It is true to say that Israel meets even peaceful Palestinian resistance with brutal force and that any wins for Palestinians carry with them a heavy cost in lives and injuries. However, lacking military power to evict Israel from the occupied territories, peaceful popular resistance has its place in keeping the cause alive and visible to the international community.
The Palestinians can make this more effective. For that to happen, a national Palestinian strategy is needed, one that shows the Palestinians have learned from previous attempts and build on this.
It must be designed to raise the cost of the occupation on Israel both financially and politically.
The Palestinian Authority and all Palestinian factions must seize this opportunity, harness the successes and empower the people to escalate it. Let it focus on disrupting the lives of the settlers in the West Bank through protests and blockades that stop them moving around freely. Alerts about potential demolitions should bring hundreds — if not thousands — to the site to force the occupiers to stop.
While some Palestinians see the Palestinian Authority and Hamas as part of the problem, a unified strategy combined with supporting the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement and ending the security cooperation with Israel could give them hope that their leadership is moving closer to supporting them in their daily peaceful struggle.
The Palestinians may well find that as the growing support for their struggle escalates, the more peaceful their resistance and the more brutal Israel’s response.