By Theresa Wolfwood
(Qumsiyeh, Mazin B. Popular Resistance in Palestine: A History of Hope and Empowerment. 2010. Pluto Press. UK &USA)
‘…the reality is that popular resistance in Palestine developed indigenously, organically, naturally and beautifully. And it has accelerated in the past two decades.’
Qumsiyeh is a committed activist and academic in Palestine; this is his third book. I know of the many activities he organizes and participates in; his energy is amazing. Grounded in the present situation of struggle against the occupation, he also has the scholarly skills to present an excellent history of the role of non-violent struggle in Palestine’s continuing journey to freedom and self-determination, along with examination of present and past actions. Non-violence is crucial to that journey; it is both path and destination.
In contrast to the need for strong leaders and limited consultation resulting in secretive elitism required for armed resistance, non-violent resistance is open and widely supported with an informed and empowered constituency. Organized non-violence by its nature is inclusive and democratic, providing a model for participants and observers. It also provides a model for governing with participatory democracy. The building of strong social movements can be seen both as encouraging for local and global resistance and as dangerous and threatening to entrenched elite political powers that are intent on maintaining their power by whatever means, including any kind of violence, they can muster.
Qumsiyeh has compiled a unique record from a much-needed Palestinian perspective. The often ignored role of citizen groups, labour unions, communities in non-violent resistance is part of the story; he also places violent resistance and its failure in the record of failure and success of non-violent struggle against a century of occupiers, betrayal by other nations and international bodies up to the present brutal occupier, Israel. His record continues through significant segments of Palestinian history to the present – a steadfast resistance ignored by Israel and the world; often attacked in order to provoke the resisters into violence.
We who are not Palestinians have much to understand and regret; one of our most important roles is to change public opinion and political policy in our own countries leading to change in our lawmakers and our law. We have to organize global power against Israel’s military occupation of Palestine and to support for Palestinians – the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign is a very important strategy to help achieve Palestinian self-determination. Qumsiyeh gives an excellent coverage of this important campaign initiated by Palestinian social movements and calling on supporters everywhere to act, publicize and organize BDS wherever we are. He also lists some of the many organizations that promote Palestinian exports: buying them not only shows solidarity but also supports Palestine’s fragile economy. This strategy goes along with political pressure, network building, attending and supporting gathering like the Bil’in conference on non-violent resistance and organizing groups who go to Palestine and participate with Palestinians in the struggle from everything from olive harvests to risking ourselves, as Palestinians do regularly, at demonstrations against the occupation and the wall.
While I worked on this review I learn that the author was arrested in a non-violent action in Walaja where this village is soon to be completely enclosed by the Wall. (See my report on bbcf.ca: Resistance Renewed: Return to Palestine.) This year the anniversary of the NAKBA, 63 years ago, was marked by renewed and widespread actions all over Palestine, in Israel and the world. In spite of the brutal response to these actions, Qumsiyeh’s words remind us, “Ultimately, surrender is not an option and the Palestinians’ will can never be broken.”
In his last chapter, Conclusions and Outlook for the Future, he reminds us that, “the colonization of Palestine was baptized in blood and tears; it continues to be maintained by Israeli military forces unchallenged by supine Western governments.” (Reviewer’s note: I would say, “actively supported by”.)
The author writes that in his survey of resistance he has not been able to cover international resistance by exiles or other groups in solidarity and that there are only a few examples of resistance by cultural means but he does provide extensive notes and quotes which the reader can follow up on.
“…we have tried to give some insight into the energy and vitality… but we did not want to reduce a popular resistance to the actions of one or a few people. Popular resistance by definition involves social movement not necessarily led by charismatic or effective leaders. The most effective forms are those carried out by teamwork….Other books…are needed. I think good books can also be written about popular resistance by Palestinian women, Palestinian students and faith-based popular resistance…We could write volumes about resistance by simply living, eating breathing in a land that is coveted. We resist by going to school by cultivating what remains of our lands, by working under harsh conditions and by falling in love, getting married and having children.”
Qumsiyeh reminds us that Israel may have a powerful military and it has nuclear weapons, but it is as vulnerable as South Africa was with dependence on exports and foreign investment and financing. He believes that with identifiable products and capital sources that the BDS campaign has a vital potential to weaken Israel. Again this is where international supporters have an important role.
Particularly since the invasion of Gaza and the piracy against the Free Gaza flotilla, new rapprochement with a new Egyptian political reality, Israel’s global image is tarnished and as he writes,
“Israeli arrogance and over-reach has resulted in increasing resistance. Palestinian popular resistance hastens the inevitable demise of an unsustainable colonial settler project. The growth of the movement is staggering.”
We only need to look at the May, 2011 Nakba actions to see the evidence of growing widespread popular resistance. Although he recommends that solidarity workers come to Palestine and participate in the struggle and that those who can’t spread their knowledge, he believes that Palestinians can and will act for themselves as all active participants in causes must.
“If we believe that we must wait for others to do something for us, we are doomed to fail, not as ‘Palestinians’, ‘Israelis’ or ‘Americans’, but as human beings…History will not be kind to any of us if we do not do all we can to accelerate the inevitable arrival of justice which carries with it the sweet fruits of peace.”
I recommend Qumsiyeh’s book to all new and seasoned activists. It is one of the most important current books on Palestine: an authoritative work on a history that includes the people most affected by conflict and occupation. It also contains vivid reports from resistance on the frontline by countless thousands in the Palestinian struggle that will surely bring freedom and self-determination to these persistent and steadfast, in Arabic, ‘sumoud,’ Palestinians.
– Theresa Wolfwood is a Canadian writer and activist. Her articles, reports, book reviews, poetry, photographs and artwork can be seen on www.bbcf.ca. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.