Non Violence and the Right to Resistance

By Mohamed El Mokhtar

Engaging in non-violent acts as a means of resistance to tyranny and injustice is certainly a noble and dignifying attitude. It is historically best epitomized by the Christ’s attitude of offering the second cheek in response to an act of violence or provocation. The concept of non violence is, therefore, laudable in many aspects. Though seldom an efficient arm against the wrath of injustice or the cruelty of oppression, it, nevertheless, remains, and for good reasons, a gracious act of revolt and a noble expression of dissent.

Not only for the reason that it is morally superior and humanely preferable to violence but because of the dangerously unpredictable, and inherently vicious, nature of violence itself. Given its very nature .i.e., an impulsive outburst of anger and emotions, violence tends so often to breed only more violence; thus creating a chain of reactions and counter-reactions which, in turn, lead to a vicious cycle.

In fact, it is has been proven, again and again, that the random use of violence has frequently led to the exact opposite of the initial act of revolt: more deaths and chaos instead of self-determination and freedom. Because of the subsequent hazards it potentially entails, the choice of violent or armed resistance must always be carefully thought out beforehand. It ought to be, preferably, of a last resort. It has, most importantly, to be properly regulated for it to achieve its (original) aim and the ultimate goal of militancy: liberation. 

Since violence nurtures itself, the use of caution is of great importance. In fact, to be fruitful, an armed form of resistance needs to be wisely directed and efficiently controlled. It needs a clearly defined and realistically achievable objective to be able to succeed in fine. The indiscriminate use of violence is neither right nor helpful. It leads to nowhere but anarchy and self-destruction. It reflects a lack of moral scruple (random killing) and an absence of tactical purpose (targeting the wrong people). Also, it wrongly bolsters the claims of the oppressors, as is the case in Israel for example, and unnecessarily tarnishes the image of the victims (e.g. Gaza). It can even inadvertently contribute in deforming the reality of their struggle.

Human decency imposes certain ethical behavior, even to the most abused victims of injustice. In other words, there are limits to everything, including the most legitimate of human rights: the right to self-defense.

Having said that, one needs to understand that non-violence is not synonymous of amorphous passivity either, much less abdication. Human beings tend naturally to yearn for freedom. They want, in essence, to be free. They want to live in peace and dignity. They want to be able to freely seek happiness. They are, more than ever before, aware of their natural rights and want to protect them. They deserve freedom and justice. Therefore, any illegitimate restrictions to that natural endeavor (seeking freedom) or God-given right (being born free), be it a brutal foreign occupation (e.g. Palestine) or a domestic domination (Arab autocratic regimes), ought to be dealt with, sooner or later, one way or the other: Either by virtue of peaceful means (civil disobedience, demonstrations, strikes..) or by way of force, i.e., violent insurgency, acts of sabotage, armed resistance etc.

It is the nature of the context itself that will ultimately determine the shape and form of resistance, not the other way around. Therefore, any type of resistance is, in sum, the idiosyncratic product, the outcome of a given context. Every situation, every form of oppression generates its own rebellion, its own form of resistance, hence the difference in approaches, hence also the irrelevance of certain comparisons.

In this regard, the colonization of the Palestinian territories is quite different from that of British India for instance. The dispossession of the Arabs in Palestine is a notably enduring experience. An experience that is more insidiously violent and disruptive that the exclusion of the Blacks in the South under the Jim Crow regime. It is also different in terms of suffering from the ordeals of the blacks under the Apartheid regime in South Africa.

For one thing, Soweto has never been blockaded and economically strangulated as Gaza has been. The Blacks in South Africa were harshly mistreated indeed and discriminated against but, unlike the Palestinians, they remained for the most part in their native country. No Aliya, or right of return, continuously threatened their very existence nor did a pervasive law (The law of the land) prevented them from buying real states in their scattered Bantustans. They were not as geographically squeezed as are the Palestinians today and they had an overwhelming advantage in terms of demography.

Moreover, neither Botswana, independent Namibia or Mozambique were signatories of a Camp David-type of Peace Accords with the enemy (legally) preventing them from lending a helpful hand to their brethren in South Africa as is, alas, the case with the police state headed by Mubarak. Instead of trying to help as did Mozambique, with its far limited means, Mubarak’s Egypt is, today, actively involved in the quarantine of Gaza, insidiously stocking up the chauvinistic sentiments of its (brainwashed) populace against their Palestinian neighbors in Gaza depicting them, in its media, as a threat to its national security.

Finally Benyamin Netanyahu is not Lord Mountbatten nor is Shimon Perez or Ehud Barak comparable to Lyndon Johnson or Frederick W. De Klerk.

But to say that a stone-throwing child or a marching procession cannot not drastically affect the mindset of a fascist like Avigdor Lieberman is not the same thing that advocating the blowing up of civilian buses or the bombing of kindergartens. The barbaric nature of the Israeli occupation does not, and should not excuse, the excesses of those resisting it.

The evil of the aggressors does not absolve the indecency of the victims. By virtue of their conditions, the Palestinians hold a higher moral ground. They should not clumsily jeopardize that position. Despite the enormity of the imbalance of powers, they have greatly demonstrated an imaginable force of resilience. Unlike their foes who generously benefit from the support of the West and the complacency of its medias, they resisted and stood firm despite the odds, i.e., the isolation and scarcity of means.

In fact, outside of the US and certain corners of  Western Europe, Israel is universally seen for what it really is, i.e., a brutal occupying state unwilling to give up territories it  illegally seized by force and its army, the IDF, an invasive destructive force.

In fact, contrary to its blatantly deceptive acronym of IDF (Israeli Defensive Forces), that army has rarely shown any sense of decency or high moral standards.

I still vividly remember the disgust and emotions spurred in the innocent toddler I was, curiously glued to the small screen, by the long and dreadful shelling of Beyrouth in 1982. The massacres of Sabra and Shatila and later Qana and Jenin and before that Dar Yassine are standard operating procedures for Tsahal. They are not an exception. They constitute, in sum, the norms of its professional behavior. They are the rules that epitomize its sense of scruples and express its “moral standards”.

The sanitized version of its cruelty, so often aired in western media, and cynically presented by good-looking females dramatically performing the spin, with an American accent, as the designated spokespersons of the IDF, is not a mark of sophistication. It is the ultimate proof of the viciousness of the propaganda machine at work. One should not forget that the act of inception giving birth to Tsahal itself is the merger of a collection of Zionist terrorist groups (Irgoun, Haganah, Stern..). No high professional standards can ever be built on such morally rotten grounds, much less be an example to follow. 

That said, I would like to refocus on the primary object of this essay: non violence as means of resistance.

Reading the articles of Ray Zwarich and Ramzy Baroud on the subject, I could not but remember the case of South Africa and the resistance of the black people there against the regime of Apartheid.

The leader of that struggle, Nelson Mandela, is universally recognized, and rightly so, as a great visionary man. A man who has been hailed, everywhere, as an iconic freedom-fighter, becoming an almost mythical figure symbolizing, for many, the fight for freedom and equality. And yet the man so widely admired, never, as a matter of principles and conviction, renounced, not even once, the use of force as a justified means in the fight against oppression and injustice.

Not only the African National Congress or ANC, today in power, and its worldly leader, never abdicated their inalienable rights in resisting tyranny but their militants often engaged in acts that, in some cases, outweighed the actions of Hamas or Islamic Jihad.

It is worth noting that the  military wing of the National African Congress called Umkhonto we Sizwe or Spear of the Nation (abbreviated to MK) was created in 1961 following the massacre of Sharpeville. It certainly was not born in a vacuum.

Although repeatedly criticized by western governments who shared the South African government’s characterization of the group as primarily a terrorist organization, the ANC’s willingness to fight for its rights never faltered. Instead of allowing itself to be cheaply co-opted, like the Fatah of Yasser Arafat, it allied itself with all those who sincerely shared its ultimate goal of liberation, like the communists for example.

Though a Pentagon report of the late 1980s described it as "a major terrorist organization, the ANC continued, nevertheless, its struggle for liberation without ever abdicating. But as it gained, in strength and momentum, in its struggle against the racist regime, it fine-tuned its strategy of combat without renouncing to its legitimate rights to fight and resist its oppressors.

The electrifying music on which the President Zuma happily danced few weeks ago, after the elections, defiantly echoed the melody reminiscent of the martial hymn of MK. The mood of defiance was spectacularly heightened, that day of victory, by the rebellious swagger of the Zulu warrior; hardly an attitude a la Gandhi.

The MK carried out many attacks, some of which spectacular, in its many years of "operational" activities or combat. Although, initially geared towards sabotage, its violent attacks eventually expanded to include urban guerrilla warfare. The most spectacular  were the 8 January 1982 attack on the Koeberg nuclear power plant near Cape Town, coinciding with the 70th anniversary of the formation of the ANC, the Church Street bombing on 20 May 1983, killing 19, and the 14 June 1986 car-bombing of Magoo’s Bar in Durban, in which 3 people were killed and 73 injured. The total number of people killed or injured in the 30 years of MK’s campaigns is not exactly known or publicly revealed.

MK suspended operations only on 1 August 1990 in preparation for the dismantling of apartheid, and was finally integrated into the South African National Defense Force by 1994.

Defeat is always a bitter pill to swallow. The winners are, almost, never vilified. They easily impose their views and direct the march of history. But when you lose, the world crushes you and imposes on you its biased view of history..

Although no decent person would today advocate the indiscriminate killing of innocent people or the random use of violence, no one, morally honest or simply intelligent, would blame a bleeding victim of rape from defending herself against the wrath of her abuser(s).

Without suggesting that Fatah should blindly copy the ANC’s tactics of terror (neckalcing the adversary with burning tires …), I have to say, though, that it has a lot to gain in learning from the ANC’s steadfastness and overall strategy of resistance.

Like the regime of Apartheid in South Africa, the Zionist project is a prima facie case of colonial domination. It reels off the same hubris of bigotry and racial superiority. It has comparable flaws and structural defects. It has to be vigorously fought and confronted with in the same manner and with the same means.

– Mohamed El Mokhtar Sidi Haiba political analyst. He contributed this article to

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