Palestinian Group Advocates Path of Non-Violent Resistance
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Palestinian Group Advocates Path of Non-Violent Resistance
'Sowing the seeds and hoping . . . a Gandhi comes along'
by Sandro Contenta
HEBRON, West Bank - Preaching non-violence to Palestinians isn't an easy sell in this divided city where some of the worst gun battles of the past year have raged and Israel's military siege is as tight as a noose.
Yet it's here that a group of Palestinians are trying to blaze a trail by urging residents to continue their uprising against Israeli occupation with a new tactic - non-violent resistance.
``Gandhi used nonviolence to get rid of British colonialism,'' says Kifah Jabarineh, a member of the newly formed group, invoking the ways of the famous Indian leader.
Jabarineh is sitting in the home of Aida Aisa Joulani, 18, who was watching a soap opera recently when a bullet smashed through her bedroom window and lodged in her neck.
Nonviolent action, Jabarineh tells Joulani, includes mass demonstrations, or women ululating throughout the night, so that heavily guarded Jewish settlers who live in the heart of Hebron can't get any sleep.
``Do you think nonviolence can work against the Israelis?'' Jabarineh then asks Joulani.
``What do we want to use nonviolence for?'' Joulani replies. ``I was being nonviolent, I was almost asleep watching TV, but I was shot anyway.''
Fiddling with the bullet that was extracted from Joulani's neck, her father Abass says nonviolent demonstrations at Israeli army roadblocks around Hebron would only turn Palestinians into sitting ducks.
``If you try nonviolence, you just make it easier for them to shoot you,'' says Abass, a 41-year-old shoemaker.
It's the kind of dismissive response Jabarineh hears every day. She's a member of Library on Wheels for Nonviolence and Peace, a group of nine Palestinians that formed two months ago. They make daily visits to Palestinians injured during the uprising, distributing books on nonviolent action and preaching the ways of Mahatma Gandhi and American civil rights leader Martin Luther King.
``We're sowing the seeds and hoping that one day a Palestinian Gandhi comes along,'' says the group's founder, Nafez Assaily, a 45-year-old sociologist.
The Palestinian uprising, or intifada, against Israeli military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip marks its one-year anniversary on Friday. It quickly escalated from Palestinian youths throwing stones at Israeli soldiers, to gun battles, suicide-bomb attacks by Palestinian extremists, Israeli missile strikes and tank shelling and an Israeli military siege of Palestinian-controlled enclaves.
More than 550 Palestinians have been killed - three and a half times the number of Israelis killed - with thousands wounded, thousands more reduced to living in poverty and 650 Palestinian families left homeless when bulldozers razed their homes.
It's a scorecard of pain that leads Assaily to conclude that the use of violence has brought Palestinians nothing but suffering.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat called for a truce after hijackers slammed passenger planes into New York and the Pentagon Sept. 11.
The tentative truce has significantly reduced armed attacks but most observers expect violence to break out again unless Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon agrees to implement a U.S.-led ceasefire proposal that, among other things, would stop the expansion of Jewish settlements on occupied Arab land.
Arafat's militia leaders are convinced that violence pays off.
Marwan Barghouti, a leading West Bank militia leader with Arafat's Fatah movement, says a significant number of Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank have left their homes because dozens of settlers have been shot dead.
``Israelis have to pay the price for their occupation of Palestinian land,'' Barghouti says.
``It's not easy to convince people that they should take to the streets with peaceful protests when they face missiles from Apache helicopters.''
Yesterday, Israel asked the Palestinian Authority to extradite Barghouti in connection to a series of West Bank shootings. The extradition request came after a Jerusalem Magistrate's Court issued a warrant for Barghouti in connection with the shootings, including the killing of a Greek Orthodox monk in June, the justice ministry said in a statement.
Barghouti denied the accusations.
Most Palestinians believe they tried nonviolence for seven years after the signing of the 1993 Oslo interim accord. But all it got them was prison-like enclaves surrounded by Israeli soldiers and expanding Jewish settlements on Arab land, Palestinian officials say.
If they support violence now, it's because three decades of Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have fueled a ``culture of the gun,'' says Eyad Serraj, a leading Palestinian human rights activist and chief psychiatrist at Gaza's Mental Health Community Center.
Armed Israeli soldiers at military checkpoints have become the model of power, Serraj adds.
``A child who sees his father powerless when facing Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint asks his father, `Where is your gun?' Over the last 30 years, the gun has become the symbol of power and manhood.''
Autocratic Arab regimes in the region, and Arafat's own Palestinian Authority, have reinforced the model of power at the end of a gun by regularly using force against their own people, analysts say.
Serraj, whose human rights activities saw him jailed by Arafat's police several years ago, says other obstacles to nonviolent resistance include a Palestinian leadership made up of life-long guerrilla leaders.
``It's difficult to conceive that at his age and with his experience, Arafat will suddenly turn to nonviolent action,'' Serraj says of the 71-year-old Palestinian leader.
Serraj recently wrote Arafat proposing that he collect all guns from his fighters, hand them over to an international agency and adopt the slogan, ``We don't need guns, we need freedom.'' Arafat didn't reply.
In Hebron, Assaily's fledging group of nonviolent stalwarts vows to keep trying to shed some light on a struggle dripping in blood and hate.
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