False Dichotomies

Archive for May 22nd, 2011

On Palestinian Non-Violence

On a windy and rainy Friday last autumn, I participated in a Combatants for Peace protest in the northern West Bank, not far from Nablus. The aim was to help local villagers plant trees in an area that had previously been the target of settler attacks. Like all other Combatants for Peace actions, this was unarmed and non-violent (I hope the reason for this tautology will become apparent in the next paragraph). Unfortunately, violence broke out between some local teenagers and the IDF. Stones and tear-gas canisters were soon being swapped between the two (I would not be able to state with any confidence which group used violence first). Before long, some settlers approached, and one or two fired their guns into the air. CFP’s response was unequivocal: the demonstration was called off, and we all withdrew. After buying us knafeh at a local cafe, representatives from the village apologised for the descent into violence.

As Billy Bragg sang, “The only way to disarm is to disarm.” Non-violence means non-violence. Unarmed means unarmed. If you hurl stones, however pathetic and ineffective you claim them to be, you are armed. A protest where people throw stones is not an unarmed protest. This was my argument earlier this week in a Twitfight with Joseph Dana, an American-Israeli journalist who spends much of his time chronicling the protest movement in West Bank villages that have had their land stolen by the Separation Barrier. This is how Dana describes the protests at places like Bilin and Nabi Saleh: “I go to demos on a regular basis. Sometimes they are violent with stones and sometimes they are non-violent without stones. Always unarmed. To my suggestion that someone with a stone could be considered armed, he replied: “If you think a stone in the face of the world’s 4th strongest army is considered ‘armed’ having an honest discussion is out of the question.” Read more