The Choice of Non-violence: Our Strategy for Palestine

By Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi

Sixty years after the Nakba, the catastrophe, Palestinians are still without a state. They are living under occupation, many are in refugee camps, others are scattered around the world, and a part of the Palestinian people are no more than second class citizens in Israel itself.

The Palestinian struggle to achieve freedom and independence is therefore firstly a struggle to exist as a people. In this endeavour, resistance is essential. Resistance through memory, resistance through unwavering demands for their rights, resistance against open or covert attempts to displace them and take their land from them.

But what sort of resistance?

Armed resistance to occupation is legitimate and legal under international law, under the strict condition that it does not target civilians. But as someone who truly believes in the sanctity of human life, and as a doctor who always puts human life first, I have an inherent belief that non-violence is a fundamental philosophical choice.

Besides this, in a more practical way, I think that armed resistance is a narrow and elitist approach, involving only a select few and leaving the rest of the people out. And it is based on the assumption that armed force is the only force that exists in the world.

This is wrong. The decolonisation struggle in India and the fight against the Apartheid regime in South Africa clearly proved that non-violence is a force too, and a much more powerful one. When a whole people moves, it is an irresistible force.

And this is our choice for Palestine.

I lead the Palestinian National Initiative (Al Mubadara), a political party and social movement dedicated to involving people – all people – in a mass, popular, non-violent resistance movement to obtain our rights as Palestinians.

This choice may seem utopian after sixty years of conflict and so much violence and bloodshed. But this is only an appearance, because the media only reports on acts of violence, creating the misleading impression that violence prevails. This is exacerbated by the dominant Israeli narrative which consistently portrays Palestinians as aggressors and not as a people under occupation struggling for freedom, justice and independence.

In truth, Palestinians are masters of non-violence. They have been resisting the all-pervasive violence of a forty-one year old military occupation every day since it began. Forty-one years of resilience, of silent and stubborn efforts to live a normal life, to work, to raise children, to love and to exist, simply to exist, despite the hundreds of checkpoints, the incursions, the arrests, the killings, the house demolitions, the land dispossession, the discriminatory laws, the arbitrary and unjust actions of the Israeli military.

In such a situation building a school, choosing to become a doctor, cultivating your ancestral olive grove are all acts of resistance.

The Palestinian people made the strategic choice of non-violence decades ago. Now they need a leadership ready and willing to fully embrace this strategy, to capitalise on past experience and achievements in order to bring this formidable popular commitment to the next level: to switch from passive to active resistance; to start again a fully fledged, popular, mass non-violent resistance movement like the one that existed during the first Intifada.

To achieve this goal, we need to engage with people, to convince and mobilise them, to reach a critical mass. And we need to defeat our greatest enemy: hopelessness. But we have a strategy.

The Palestinian National Initiative bases all its work on four pillars: 1 – Involving and organising the people at the grassroots level. 2 – Helping people to stay where they live, providing support to their resilience and giving them the means to continue to resist in this most fundamental way, that is, to exist on their land. 3 – Working hand-in-hand with a strong international solidarity movement, which provides practical support and more importantly, moral support and hope. 4 – Working for a unified Palestinian leadership.

Today, in 2008, Palestinians are facing one of the most difficult periods in their history. The Gaza Strip is under a relentless and inhuman siege which began in January 2006, after Hamas’ electoral victory in free and fair elections carried out under international observation. And Israel has been tightening this siege ever since, pushing the people of Gaza into an artificially created humanitarian catastrophe with the silent consent of the international community. The West Bank is more divided than ever, with the Apartheid Wall and settlements swallowing more and more Palestinian land. East Jerusalem is under threat of being entirely cut off from its Palestinian hinterland by new Israeli settlements carefully thought out to achieve the illegal annexation of the city.

And the Palestinian leadership, weakened and divided, could not react to the Annapolis meeting in any constructive manner. Palestinians are now engaged in an Israeli-controlled peace process which justifies holding 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza under siege, lacking electricity, fuel and even food. What kind of peace can this produce?

Today, Palestinians need your solidarity. The vocal few who have chosen non-violent resistance and the silent majority who have made the same choice, but are too exhausted, dispirited or weak to actively involve themselves in the struggle, both need your support. It is time for the people of the world to make their voices heard.

Expressing solidarity with the Palestinians who have chosen non-violence comforts them in their choice and strengthens their conviction. Your active solidarity means that you too are choosing non-violence.

Together, let us build a just and lasting peace for all, Palestinians and Israelis alike, based on justice, democracy and respect for human rights.

-Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi is the Secretary-General of the Palestinian National Initiative. He lives in Ramallah.

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