The Palestine Telegraph
There are signs of mounting distress among the Israeli police and other security forces in the way they are dealing with the Palestinians who stage weekly demonstrations in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem. These protests, in which Palestinians are joined by foreign sympathizers and activists of the Israeli left, are intended to express opposition to the eviction of Palestinians from their homes, which are then inhabited by Jewish families.
The edginess of the security personnel has spilled over beyond Sheikh Jarrah and become particularly noticeable in a number of villages where protests are held regularly against the separation fence, land confiscations and restrictions on residents' freedom of movement, as is the case in Bil'in, Na'alin, Nabi Saleh and Deir Nitham, in the Ramallah Governorate, and al-Ma'sara, in the Bethlehem Governorate.
What appears to be turning into a source of worry for the Israeli side is the fact that these protest activities are crystallizing into a weekly tradition, and are bound to draw increasingly larger numbers of participants - especially Palestinians who have become fed up, and who see the demonstrations as an opportunity to express their rejection of Israel?s policies of discrimination, persecution and abuse.
In addition to the steady increase in the numbers of protesters, there is also a "qualitative" rise. Among the prominent Israeli figures who joined the Sheikh Jarrah demonstrations in recent weeks were MK Haim Oron, the chairman of New Movement-Meretz. In a statement made at the site, Oron strongly criticized the policy pursued by the Israeli government and the Jerusalem Municipality against Arab residents of the city holding blue ID cards. Another figure is the respected writer and intellectual David Grossman.
As the number of participants in these peaceful demonstrations grows - whether in East Jerusalem or in West Bank villages threatened by the separation fence or settlement activity - Israel's reaction is becoming increasingly tougher. After all, the Israel Defense Forces has long been used to countering Palestinian violence with even harsher and fiercer measures, which it has justified to itself and to the world by saying they were a response to violence. Today, however, with the widespread adoption by Palestinians of peaceful means of protest, the task of repression has become more difficult, with the use of excessive force unjustified and subject to Israeli and international condemnation.
There is a lesson to be learned here by us Palestinians: We cannot quash the Israeli repression machine with violence, because our violence will be used to justify and legitimize the brutality of the strong against the weak. Furthermore, Palestinians need to take into account the fact that they have allies on the Israeli side who share their rejection of the occupation and of discrimination; it is crucial to reinforce and nurture this relationship with them.
Disseminating a culture of passive resistance against the oppression and atrocities of the occupation is the most efficacious method for fighting it: It should be promulgated and its circle expanded. It must not remain restricted to pockets of protest here and there, but should become a generalized modus operandi that encompasses all points of contact with the occupation and the settlements, which are trying to gobble up the land and obliterate all features of Palestinian identity. It must be clearly said that nonviolence is morally superior to force.
Spreading such a culture is not an easy matter: Palestinians have grown accustomed to opting for force in all its forms in opposing the occupation. Some of their actions allowed the occupation to use this violence to tarnish Palestinians? image as civilized and humane people and to portray them as bloodthirsty and given to indiscriminate killings of children, women and the elderly. This eventually turned local and international public opinion against them. Being victims of the occupation and having the legitimate right to resist should not mean compromising on moral values.
In their asymmetric battle with the occupation, Palestinians must turn to peaceful resistance. It is the only way to tilt the balance of power in their favor, by neutralizing the arms of the occupation and its military and technological capacities, while at the same time gaining the respect, sympathy and support of the world for their battle against racial discrimination, the subjugation of peoples and the denial of their freedoms.
This commentary originally appeared in Haaretz. Ziad AbuZayyad is editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal, and a former minister and PLC member in the Palestinian Authority