The Power of the Palestinian People

By Paul Larudee

On June 1, 2001, tens of thousands of Palestinians attended the funeral of one of their leaders, Faisal al-Husseini, in Jerusalem. They came from all over Palestine. They did not ask for a permit to enter Jerusalem. They did not show their ID cards at the Jerusalem checkpoints. They simply walked past the obstacles in their way. No one was harmed.

On January 23, 2008, Hamas destroyed the forty-foot wall dividing the Palestinian portion of the city of Rafah from its Egyptian half. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians poured across the international border. They did not show passports or ID cards. No one was harmed.

One month later, on February 25, 2008, thousands of Palestinians in Gaza answered the call of Jamal Khudary and the Popular Committee Against the Siege to form a human chain along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel. Despite the most extreme threats from the Israeli army, no one was harmed.

There are many other examples of Palestinian nonviolent resistance, including crowds of unarmed civilian volunteers who congregate at targeted homes to deter Israeli attack, villages whose populations defy the confiscation of their land along the wall by Israeli forces, and Bedouins who repeatedly rebuild their villages in the Naqab region, no matter how many times Israeli forces destroy them.

These actions demonstrate the principle that if people are willing to face the consequences of their actions, they can defy any order and any government, as proven in India, Poland, the Philippines, and, most recently, Tunisia and Egypt. The Palestinian situation is different in that they are dominated by another power, but they have shown that they can do the same. If hundreds of thousands of them were to simultaneously exercise their right to visit the holy places in Jerusalem, for example, who could stand in their way, regardless of checkpoints, borders and walls?

By such methods, India won its independence, South Africa its liberation from apartheid and African-Americans their civil rights. Palestinian resistance cannot match Israel in arms, but it can make Israeli arms irrelevant by refusing to acknowledge Israeli authority – or indeed any authority that might try to oppress them. The U.S. civil rights movement is particularly instructive, because it shows that a people can win its rights even if they are a minority of the population.

As with other resistance movements, Palestinians are also not alone in their struggle. The international community and small but determined Israeli human rights groups have shown that they are ready to participate with Palestinians in these actions. Volunteers of the International Solidarity Movement, Christian Peacemaker Teams, Free Gaza Movement, Anarchists Against the Wall, Viva Palestina, Ta’ayush and many other solidarity groups have participated in challenging Israeli human rights violations.

It is said that Gandhi made it impossible for the British to govern India but possible for them to leave it. If so, it may be said that Mandela made it impossible for apartheid to function in South Africa but possible for it to be peacefully dissolved. So also with Martin Luther King, Jr. and the segregationist laws in the U.S.

Palestinians, too, have the power to make themselves ungovernable, as they did in the general strike of 1936, and the first and second intifadas, all of which began as nonviolent actions. Although armed resistance is one means of defying authority, it is by no means the only one, and not necessarily the most effective, depending upon the resources of the movement. Simple defiance of authority and refusal to obey unjust laws and regulations has often proven to be even more effective, and it is a means that can never be taken away by seizure of arms, imprisonment, or assassination.

A glimpse of this power can be seen in an obscure, brief video of a common encounter between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint in the West Bank. It can be viewed here. It begins with a very mundane and typical harassment of Palestinian bus passengers. Initially, the passengers comply with the humiliating and interminable instructions from the soldiers. As the procedure becomes more abusive, however, they begin to refuse, and ultimately challenge the soldiers to use their guns. This act renders the soldiers momentarily powerless, because they have no other means of enforcement.

It is only a glimpse, but the visible shift of power can be seen and it shows that the ones with the guns have no power but that which is given by the intimidated, themselves.  When intimidation fails, regimes fall and history is made. This power is within Palestinians and indeed any people, and it can be exercised whenever they refuse to comply with their oppressors and instead defy them.

– Paul Larudee is an organizer and volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement and one of the founders of the Free Palestine Movement and Free Gaza Movement, whose boats broke the Israeli siege of Gaza in 2008. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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