Palestinian non-violence

Seth Ackerman SAckerman at
Tue Oct 24 11:34:45 PDT 2000

Who's ever heard of resisting an illegal armed occupation with civil disobedience? Would Brad have suggested the Kuwaitis lie down in the street in front of Iraqi tanks? Or was he in favor of the massive use of force by the United States? Under international law, almost any type of force can legitimately be used against soldiers to resist an armed occupation.


> ----------
> From: Michael Pollak[SMTP:mpollak at]
> Reply To: lbo-talk at
> Sent: Tuesday, October 24, 2000 2:26 AM
> To: lbo-talk at
> Subject: Palestinian non-violence
> Brad DeLong wrote a while ago:
> > This is the non-Gandhi road. It has the normal effects. Given that
> > Arafat's task is to persuade the Israeli electorate that it is
> > worthwhile handing over some degree of sovereignty over parts of East
> > Jerusalem to him, and to persuade the U.S. Congress that he can be a
> > peaceful statesman, the non-Gandhi road is not working.
> Having searched down a few things on the Palestinian debate on
> nonviolence, I have a new take on this question. Is seems that as far as
> the Palestinians are concerned, Arafat did take the Gandhi road -- that
> this is the Gandhi road. But to follow their reasoning you have to accept
> a basic transposition -- that what we think of as violence in middle
> America, they think of as non-violence. That is to say, when we argue the
> merits of violence and nonviolence in an American context, like Seattle,
> we think of non-violence as marching, sitting in, and blocking traffic --
> and violence as throwing stones. When Palestinians argue the merits of
> violence and non-violence, they think of throwing stones as non-violence.
> By violence, they mean suicide bombers. And similarly, where most of us
> would describe Seattle as "almost entirely nonviolent" because only a
> small minority of people damaged property, most Palestinians speak of the
> intifada as "largely non-violent," by which they mean most people threw
> stones, and only a few people stabbed Israelis. And this line of thought
> survives today. Most Palestinians describe what is going on now as a
> "peaceful intifada." There are two quotes to that effect in today's
> (10/23/00) Financial Times ("Arab summit cheers Palestinians" by Roula
> Khalaf, p. 2 in the hard copy):
> "'We got political and financial backing to sustain a peaceful intifada
> [uprising], and the Arabs sent a message to Israel and the US that they
> back our poistion, especially our rights to Arab east Jerusalem,'" said a
> senior Palestinian official."
> "Officals at the summit suggested that Mr. Arafat woudl take away weapons
> from the streets of the West Bank and Gaza Strip to ensure the intifada
> was a peaceful movement."
> i.e., just stone throwing. But just as most Americans consider Seattle to
> be largely nonviolent because stone throwers were a small minority, so
> Palestinians consider the current intifada to be mainly nonviolent because
> only a small minority of them are shooting.
> At any rate, if you accept that transposition -- which brings you into
> touch with the actual debate and, I would argue, the actual limits of
> political possibility -- then the advocates of Palestinian nonviolence
> have not only made the same argument Brad has, but they prevailed within
> Fatah 15 years ago. The were arguing already during the first intifada,
> and even more heatedly during the 90s, that the intifada (their idea of
> nonviolence) was more effective than any tactic that had gone before
> (e.g., the Munich Olympics and Achilles Lauro). And they were right.
> Rabin decided to open the peace process only because he couldn't crush the
> intifada. That was certainly his first course. He was the proponent of
> the infamous "iron fist" policy of dealing with the intifada. And the
> subsequent peace process, flawed as it was, contained more concessions
> than the Palestinians had ever gotten before. The argument of people like
> Said who were against the settlement was that they should've have held out
> longer for a better settlement. But there was a basic agreement on
> tactics.
> If you look at the 90s, there seems to be every evidence that this
> argument was accepted by Fatah. All terrorist bombings during the 90s
> were by Hamas or similar groups who wanted to scuttle the peace process --
> not by Arafat's allies trying to advance his goals of statehood.
> The current mood among Palestinians seems to be that there should be a
> return to intifada tactics in order to get better terms than they were
> being offered for the state they still want. And it is interesting that
> so far, there have been no bomb attacks on Israel. It's very hard to
> believe that Hamas and company would accept over a hundred dead to almost
> no Israelis without retaliating. Unless they accept that this is the
> public mood -- and that terrorist attacks might forfeit Palestinians the
> sympathy they have so far garnered as heroic victims. (Also they might be
> persuaded that it would be more profitable to attack the US again, since
> that's kind of a win-win game for them now. If the US strikes back, it
> fans anti-Americanism. If they don't, it makes the bombers look
> mightier.)
> In short, by Middle Eastern Standards, I think this is a variation of the
> Gandhi road: to make imposing control cost more than it's worth, in part
> through rallying outside support, by provoking and (largely passively)
> enduring a violent suppression. And by publicizing the unjust mismatch of
> force as the brutal and inescapable reality of an unjust situation. And
> yeah, it does work better. But they're not kidding when they say they're
> martyring themselves. 2,000 of Palestinians died in the last intifada, and
> they're dying at a faster clip in this one.
> Michael
> __________________________________________________________________________
> Michael Pollak................New York City..............mpollak at

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