[excerpt]In 2001, Thomas Friedman of The New York Times, who had called for Israel "to deliver a military blow that clearly shows terror will not pay", suggested that the Palestinians deserved something of what they were getting because they had not tried non-violent resistance. Malcolm X, an African-American leader from the 1960s, wondered why people were so interested in teaching African-Americans non-violence instead of teaching white Americans in the police or the Ku Klux Klan non-violence.... One of the main reasons a non-violent strategy has not been adopted (and there are others) is that the costs of such a strategy have been unsustainable for Palestinians. The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) has opened fire on non-violent demonstrators and on children throwing rocks at tanks (which, given the threat to the soldiers in the tanks, could be construed as a strictly symbolic, nonviolent action). That kind of violent repression is a closure of the political space for non-violent resistance. Palestinians are working with solidarity activists from outside Palestine through the ISM and trying to reopen that space....The alternative to such developments is a continuation of the slow asphyxiation of Palestinian society, punctuated by murderous incursions and, less frequently, by suicide bombings. Such an escalating spiral of state terror and retail terror entails expanding risks for people throughout the world. As a consequence, the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict is one that should concern all people of conscience.
Frontline (India's National Magazine from the publishers of The Hindu)
August 17-30, 2002
OCCUPATION AND RESISTANCE
The Israeli-Palestinian scene: surveying the present and evaluating the future.
By JUSTIN PODUR
"STAND here," the Israeli soldier said to the crowd at the Qalandya
checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem. He pointed to the ground,
indicating an imaginary line, while another soldier looked on, smiling. The
group of Palestinians, of both sexes and all ages, tried to crowd back behind
the imaginary line. "No, here," the soldier said, moving the line. The crowd
struggled. The soldier who was looking on laughed. It was hot, getting on
towards noon, and the checkpoint offered little shade - there was only barbed
wire on either side and armed men in front. It was Friday. Those Palestinians
who were hoping to get to Jerusalem for morning prayer at al-Aqsa were
disappointed. So far, there was nothing unusual about the situation.
HILL DEBBIE/ GAMMA
Israeli soldiers and a Palestinian woman at a security point.
Neta Golan had had enough, however. She is an Israeli-Canadian who is very
active in the movement against the occupation. She is so active precisely
because she has had trouble quietly watching the daily affronts and
indignities of the occupation. After worrying briefly about whether we were
risking closing the checkpoint altogether and making the situation worse for
the people waiting, our group approached the soldiers. Neta asked the soldier
why they were taunting the people. "They're animals," he said. "Really? Is
this woman here an animal?" "No, no, it's not like that it's just when
they're all in a crowd..." "...They're in a crowd because you're not letting
them through." "They're terrorists. They just let off a bomb in Jerusalem."
"These people here? This woman here is a terrorist? This child?"
Neta pointed out that she was Jewish too, and that she wished the soldier
would understand the lessons of what happened to their people. She meant, I
assume, that it would be a tragic irony if the people of Israel ended up
inflicting something like a genocide on the Palestinians, after having
suffered a genocide themselves. The soldier, however, missed the point. "What
happened to our people will never happen again," he said.
It is precisely communalism that renders people able to feel only the pains
of their group, to have aspirations only for their group, to believe that
only their group has rights that deserve protection. But communalism is not
the only problem in Israel-Palestine. It is also Israel's power to let its
communalism run rampant over every aspect of Palestinian life. It is this
daily, physical, spatial oppression that feeds Palestinian communalism and
sends its children to blow themselves up in the most vindictive, criminal,
and counter-productive form of revenge.
As Palestinians have been confined to ever smaller spaces, their tactical
avenues for resistance have been systematically closed off by repression so
that the most spectacular tactic of resistance is now the one tactic that has
the effect of unifying Israeli society, rather than finding and pushing
divisions that might exist in that society. A small, but growing,
international movement in solidarity with Palestinians is trying to change
that: to protect Palestinians from the worst repression and widen their
options for resistance.
The physical reality of occupation
As we left the Qalandya checkpoint that day, we saw Israeli soldiers deal
with a Palestinian parking violation - by slitting the tyres of the illegally
parked car. As we left that scene, we happened to witness a soldier casually
toss a sound grenade (a non-lethal 'crowd dispersal' weapon designed to
create a loud noise that stuns those near the explosion) into a van. The
passengers leapt out of the van before the explosion, then hopped back in and
drove off as quickly as they could.
Checkpoints have more effects than just humiliation. They have thoroughly
disrupted Palestine's education system. At the Surda checkpoint, north of
Ramallah, a student from Birzeit University talked of the scheduling problems
caused by checkpoints. "We study one month on, one month off, and it's going
to take me six years to finish my three-year degree in civil engineering. A
single soldier has the power to close a university of 5,000 students."
All aspects of the economy are affected as well. At Surda, a tailor talked of
how he sleeps in the office in Ramallah, "as do all those who have the
opportunity". His home town is 11 km from Ramallah, and would take no longer
than 15 minutes to travel to by car. Surda checkpoint turns it into a
three-hour commute in each direction, and introduces a random element (will
the checkpoint even open at all?). He visits his family on weekends.
HILL DEBBIE/ GAMMA
At a checkpoint, Israeli soldiers and a Palestinian.
The medical infrastructure is also affected. At the maternity hospital in
Jenin, a pharmacist described the supply situation thus: "We have IV
(intravenous) fluids; but we don't have antibiotics, analgesics, maternity
supplies. The wholesalers are in Ramallah - and they have to get through
checkpoints for months our X-Ray machine has been broken, and maintenance
people can't get here from Bethlehem."
At the checkpoint between Nablus and Jenin, travellers must get out and walk
and cannot take the same vehicle from one point to another. "You can't move
by car between Nablus and here," the pharmacist said, "so how can you carry
equipment, X-ray equipment? Donkeys?" One method that soldiers use to control
people at checkpoints is to take the identification cards of all the people
waiting to cross, and then hand them back one person at a time. The ID cards
are applied for at 16 years of age, and if they are lost, Palestinians are
unable to travel for months.
Gaza and settlements
The Gaza Strip takes the checkpoint system to its logical conclusion. With
the sea to the west, an electric fence to the east, and Israeli control over
both the Egyptian border to the south and the only exit into Israel in the
north at Erez, the 360 sq km Gaza Strip is the world's largest prison. The
prison population is 1,250,000 and has 58 per cent of the land or 210 sq km.
Israeli settlers number 4,000 and have 42 per cent of the land, or 150 sq km,
including most of the coastline and the best agricultural land. This means
that the population density for Palestinians is 6,000 persons a sq km; for
the settlers it is 27 persons a sq km, with each settler having 226 times as
much land as each Palestinian.
Most Gazans have not been able to leave the strip since the intifada began in
2000. Most Gazans used to be employed in Israel and commute. This means that
the majority of Gazans have not had any work in nearly two years - the
unemployment rate is estimated to be 67 per cent. Gaza is (barely) surviving
on a tradition of hospitality and foreign aid.
Within Gaza, checkpoints have ensured that people cannot travel from the
north to the centre, from the centre to the south, or in the reverse
direction. Checkpoints are located near settlements, that have their own
roads, water, and electrical infrastructure so that when power supply to
Palestinians in Gaza is cut off (as it is for several hours each day), it is
not cut off to settlers. Settlers even have their own licence plates:
Israelis have orange plates, Palestinians have green. A frequent sight at
checkpoints is a long queue of green-licence-plated vehicles even as an
orange-plated vehicle zips through without any problems.
'Protection' of settlements by soldiers at checkpoints reaches absurd levels.
Amira Hass reported the killing of 10-year-old Abd a-Samed Shamalekh, in
Ha'aretz on July 2, 2002 in what seems to be a reprisal for a makeshift
rocket attack by Palestinians against a tank near the Netzarim settlement.
Earlier, on June 28, 2002, Ibrahim Lalooh was shot from a tower near his
home, which happened to be near the Fardalom checkpoint and settlement, when
he was moving some laundry. After the shooting, his wife went to investigate,
and was shot dead.
The economic and educational strangulation is more extreme in Gaza than in
the West Bank. At the Palestinian Technical College, the Dean described an
institution dying a slow death. "The college started in 1996. Graduate
employment steadily increased, until the intifada. Now it's gone down, and is
plummeting. Part of the problem is the economy - students can't pay for
transport to and from school. With supplies, we have had some help from
France; Jordan promised equipment for labs but this has stopped. The
countries are afraid they'll be accused of terrorism if they supply our
Enrolment is dropping. "We had 700 new students last year, 400 this year, and
expect worse numbers next year. Our new students are coming from central Gaza
only, because students from the north or south don't want to try the
checkpoint every day. Our planning horizon shortens to trying to get home
In the July 10, 2002 issue of Ha'aretz, Amira Hass reported the statistical
reality of Gaza's dying economy: "In April 2000, 3,773 trucks brought goods
worth some NIS 97 million into Gaza from Israel. In April 2002, that figure
was down to 979 trucks carrying NIS 27 million worth of goods. In May 2000,
5,087 trucks brought NIS 126 million worth of goods and in May 2002, only
2,309 trucks entered the Gaza Strip from Israel with NIS 66 million worth of
goods (5 NIS approximately equals $1)."
If the checkpoints are slowly choking the Palestinian society and economy,
and the settlements are slowly stealing Palestinian land and resources, it is
the daily incursions into communities in places such as Jenin, Nablus,
Bethlehem and elsewhere that are the most visible and murderous part of the
In Jenin, for example, residents watch television the night before to find
out whether there will be curfew the next day (there usually is). The curfew
timings are announced on television. Will it be from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.? Will
it be after 3 p.m.? During curfew, tanks and armoured cars drive around the
city shooting from machine guns at anything that moves.
After the Israeli army, and the tanks, moved on.
Sometimes the army will wait until curfew is lifted and people come out
before they start shooting. This occurred several times in June, resulting in
a number of deaths. On July 11, 2002, journalist Emad Abd al-Aziz, a
journalist working for Reuters, was shot from a tank-mounted gun at a
distance of about 4 m in Jenin. He died the next morning. As the
International Solidarity Movement's (ISM) July 12 report indicates, this
attack was a 'collective punishment' for the Israeli Army's own blunder in
Jenin: "An Israeli armoured personnel carrier (APC) intentionally drove into
an electricity pole, knocking it down and subsequently causing the live wires
to land atop the APC. Soldiers in accompanying tanks and jeeps then opened
fire on crowds in Jenin, which were out stocking up on food during the
lifting of curfew. Now, the Israeli Army is 'retaliating' for its own blunder
by imposing a 24-hour curfew and threatening to 'shoot to kill' anyone who
steps outside. Seven civilian homes have been occupied in the city and four
homes have been blown up by the Israeli military."
The "operations" conducted during these incursions often involve some form of
reprisals against the families of militants or suicide bombers. Such
reprisals include house demolitions and arrests of family members. This is
clearly illegal and against fundamental legal principles, but the Israeli
government goes still further, killing bystanders who range from clearly
marked journalists like Abd al-Aziz to a seven-year-old like Bassam al-Sahdi,
who was killed on June 26, 2002 by gunfire from a tank in the Jenin camp.
Bassam's crime was one that many children in Jenin and elsewhere in Palestine
are guilty of: being in the vicinity of a tank.
The closing of political space
In 2001, Thomas Friedman of The New York Times, who had called for Israel "to
deliver a military blow that clearly shows terror will not pay", suggested
that the Palestinians deserved something of what they were getting because
they had not tried non-violent resistance.
Malcolm X, an African-American leader from the 1960s, wondered why people
were so interested in teaching African-Americans non-violence instead of
teaching white Americans in the police or the Ku Klux Klan non-violence.
Here, too, one wonders why Friedman is so much more interested in teaching
the Palestinians non-violence, rather than teaching the Israelis
non-violence. Certainly, it is the Israelis who kill more people and hold
vastly more power over the life and death of Palestinians than vice-versa.
Still, a non-violent strategy could work for the Palestinians. Israel sees
itself as a democracy, indeed as 'the only democracy in the Middle East'
(West Asia). Sharon and his supporters depend on terrorist attacks from
Palestinians to win them the support that they need for their own terror
campaigns in the Occupied Territories. One of the main reasons a non-violent
strategy has not been adopted (and there are others) is that the costs of
such a strategy have been unsustainable for Palestinians. The Israel Defence
Forces (IDF) has opened fire on non-violent demonstrators and on children
throwing rocks at tanks (which, given the threat to the soldiers in the
tanks, could be construed as a strictly symbolic, nonviolent action). That
kind of violent repression is a closure of the political space for
non-violent resistance. Palestinians are working with solidarity activists
from outside Palestine through the ISM and trying to reopen that space.
Neta Golan talked about the role of the ISM: "What we want to do with the ISM
is keep an avenue for popular struggle open. When we accompany Palestinians,
because of the racism of the whole system, the army doesn't treat us as
targets the way they treat Palestinians. We want to expose the racist nature
of the conflict by doing this, and also simply try to protect people so they
can try to resist politically."
In the city of Rafah in southern Gaza, for example, internationals formed a
cordon around workers as they repaired a broken sewer. The sewer had been
damaged by Israeli bulldozers, and when workers tried to repair it they were
fired upon by the IDF. It was becoming a public health problem and the
workers asked for help from the ISM. The action succeeded and on June 27, the
sewer was repaired. With larger numbers of internationals, campaigns to
dismantle checkpoints or block incursions could succeed. Another initiative
of the ISM is a 'buy Palestinian' campaign. An alternative to a mere boycott
of Israeli goods, it would provide consumers with information on how to
support the Palestinian economy while also applying pressure on Israel.
Such tactics need international support and solidarity to succeed. There are
actually a number of scenarios that could lead to a just outcome in
Palestine, and they would be expedited by the adoption of such strategies by
Palestinians and internationals.
The first scenario is the emergence of a massive movement in Israel that is
serious about peace with justice and is willing to make major concessions. In
order to continue, the occupation needs a substantial amount of support among
the Israeli population; and an Israeli movement that could wither away that
support would be enough to end the occupation. The "Courage to Refuse"
movement, in which over 400 conscientious objectors in the Israeli military
have refused to serve in the Occupied Territories, is an encouraging
development in this regard.
The second scenario is the emergence of such a movement in the United States,
strong enough to force changes in U.S. policy towards Israel: as the patron
of Israel and its provider of unconditional military and diplomatic support,
the U.S. could make Israel go along with a sensible solution. Such a policy
is not in the interest of U.S. elites, however, and would have to be forced
upon them by U.S. citizens.
The third scenario is one in which international pressure from the grassroots
up, in countries not limited to the U.S., leads to an international
intervention of some kind. Robert Fisk suggested this scenario in May 2002:
"So I'll make a rash, fearful prediction. After Bosnia and Kosovo and East
Timor, we have grown tired of regional wars. And I think that, in time, we
will close down the Middle East war. With Russian and E.U. and U.N. support,
there will, eventually, be American and NATO troops in Jerusalem. There will
be a Western protection force in the West Bank and Gaza - and in Israel. The
Israeli and Palestinian armies will have to return to barracks. Jerusalem
will be an international city. The Palestinians will have security. So will
the Israelis. Yes, it will be a form of international colonialism. Yes, it
will mean foreign occupation for both sides. But it will put an end to this
The alternative to such developments is a continuation of the slow
asphyxiation of Palestinian society, punctuated by murderous incursions and,
less frequently, by suicide bombings. Such an escalating spiral of state
terror and retail terror entails expanding risks for people throughout the
world. As a consequence, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one that should
concern all people of conscience.
Justin Podur visited the West Bank and Gaza under the auspices of the
International Solidarity Movement in June-July 2002.