Breaking Palestine's Peaceful Protest

"Why," I have often been asked, "haven't the Palestinians established a peace movement like the Israeli Peace Now?"

question itself is problematic, being based on many erroneous
assumptions, such as the notion that there is symmetry between the two
sides and that Peace Now has been a politically effective movement.
Most important, though, is the false supposition that Palestinians have
indeed failed to create a pro-peace popular movement.

September 1967 - three months after the decisive war in which the West
Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem were occupied - Palestinian leaders
decided to launch a campaign against the introduction of new Israeli
textbooks in Palestinian schools. They did not initiate terrorist
attacks, as the prevailing narratives about Palestinian opposition
would have one believe, but rather the Palestinian dissidents adopted
Mahatma Gandhi-style methods and declared a general school strike:
teachers did not show up for work, children took to the streets to
protest against the occupation and many shopkeepers closed shop.

response to that first strike was immediate and severe: it issued
military orders categorising all forms of resistance as insurgency -
including protests and political meetings, raising flags or other
national symbols, publishing or distributing articles or pictures with
political connotations, and even singing or listening to nationalist

Moreover, it quickly deployed security forces to suppress
opposition, launching a punitive campaign in Nablus, where the strike's
leaders resided. As Major General Shlomo Gazit, the co-ordinator of activities in the occupied territories at the time, points out in his book The Carrot and the Stick,
the message Israel wanted to convey was clear: any act of resistance
would result in a disproportionate response, which would make the
population suffer to such a degree that resistance would appear

After a few weeks of nightly curfews, cutting off
telephone lines, detaining leaders, and increasing the level of
harassment, Israel managed to break the strike.

While much water
has passed under the bridge since that first attempt to resist using
"civil disobedience" tactics, over the past five decades Palestinians
have continuously deployed nonviolent forms of opposition to challenge
the occupation. Israel, on the other hand, has, used violent measures
to undermine all such efforts.

It is often forgotten that even
the second intifada, which turned out to be extremely violent, began as
a popular nonviolent uprising. Haaretz journalist Akiva Eldar revealed
several years later that the top Israeli security echelons had decided
to "fan the flames"
during the uprising's first weeks. He cites Amos Malka, the military
general in charge of intelligence at the time, saying that during the
second intifada's first month, when it was still mostly characterised
by nonviolent popular protests, the military fired 1.3m bullets in the
West Bank and Gaza. The idea was to intensify the levels of violence,
thinking that this would lead to a swift and decisive military victory
and the successful suppression of the rebellion. And indeed the
uprising and its suppression turned out to be extremely violent.

But over the past five years, Palestinians from scores of villages and towns such as Bil'in and Jayyous
have developed new forms of pro-peace resistance that have attracted
the attention of the international community. Even Palestinian
Authority prime minister Salam Fayyad recently called on his
constituents to adopt similar strategies. Israel, in turn, decided to
find a way to end the protests once and for all and has begun a
well-orchestrated campaign that targets the local leaders of such

One such leader is Abdallah Abu Rahmah, a high school
teacher and the co-ordinator of Bil'in's Popular Committee Against the
Wall, is one of many Palestinians who was on the military's wanted
list. At 2am on 10 December (international Human Rights Day),
nine military vehicles surrounded his home. Israeli soldiers broke the
door down, and after allowing him to say goodbye to his wife Majida and
three young children, blindfolded him and took him into custody.
He is being charged with throwing stones, the possession of arms
(namely gas canisters in the Bil'in museum) and inciting fellow
Palestinians, which, translated, means organising demonstrations
against the occupation.

The day before Abu Ramah was arrested,
the Israeli military carried out a co-ordinated operation in the Nablus
region, raiding houses of targeted grassroots activists who have been
fighting against human rights abuses. Wa'el al-Faqeeh Abu as-Sabe,
45, is one of the nine people arrested. He was taken from his home at
1am and, like Abu Ramah, is being charged with incitement. Mayasar
Itiany, who is known for her work with the Nablus Women's Union and is
a campaigner for prisoners' rights was also taken into custody as was
Mussa Salama, who is active in the Labour Committee of Medical Relief
for Workers. Even Jamal Juma, the director of an NGO called Stop the Wall, is now behind bars.

night arrests of community leaders have become common practice across
the West Bank, most notably in the village of Bil'in where, since June,
31 residents have been arrested for their involvement in the
demonstrations against the wall. Among these is Adeeb Abu Rahmah,
a prominent activist who has been held in detention for almost five
months and is under threat of being imprisoned for up to 14 months.

the strategy is to arrest all of the leaders and charge them with
incitement, thus setting an extremely high "price tag" for organising
protests against the subjugation of the Palestinian people. The
objective is to put an end to the pro-peace popular resistance in the
villages and to crush, once and for all, the Palestinian peace movement.

my answer to those who ask about a Palestinian "Peace Now" is that a
peaceful grassroots movement has always existed. At Abdallah Abu
Rahmah's trial next Tuesday one will be able to witness some of the
legal methods that have consistently been deployed to destroy it.

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

© 2023 The Guardian