flotilla of ships currently on its way to
Gaza, loaded with relief supplies, is not big
news in the U.S., yet. But it's making headlines in Israel and causing plenty of concern
there. So this seems like an especially good time to continue the
about strategy among those of us working for a just peace between
Israel and Palestine.
In a recent
column I asked, "How long will it be until the
American left figures out how turn angry verbal outbursts [against
Israel] into useful political
action?" The "freedom flotilla," which may well be a useful political
puts that question in a new perspective.
spokesperson for the flotilla was quoted
in the Israeli press saying, "We are a humanitarian group without
aims." That may very well be true.
But humanitarian actions can have great political consequences,
they are planned with an intelligence worthy of Gandhi.
this is one action Gandhi would surely have admired, because it
does just what a smart act of nonviolent resistance should do. It does
compel the oppressors to do anything in particular. But if refuses to be
coerced by the
Thus it creates a new situation where none of the options serve the
interests, yet they must make a choice.
options does the Israeli government have? It could do nothing.
But then it would have to admit that its blockade of Gaza had been
inviting others to bring in more aid by sea. And the government of Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would suffer a blistering attack from the
Israelis could negotiate with the flotilla leaders. In
fact the Israelis say they've offered
a compromise: Land the goods in Israel, and then they'll be brought into
Gaza via land.
But it seems that the offer has been made to governments of nations
goods have been loaded, not to the flotilla itself. To negotiate
flotilla leaders would give them a stature the Israelis are determined
the leaders' perspective, to accept the Israeli offer would
appear to legitimize Israeli control over what gets in and out of Gaza
-- a control that
violates international law, they say. So the flotilla continues on its
Now the Israelis say
they'll take the most confrontational approach -- using their Navy to
the ships from reaching Gaza, by any means necessary. The
Israeli peace group Gush Shalom
the obvious danger for their government here: "The State
of Israel has no interest in
flooding the international television screens with images of Israeli
naval commandos violently assaulting hundreds of peace activists and
humanitarian aid workers, many of them well-known in their countries."
That would call attention to an ongoing
Israeli injustice that has largely been ignored in the world media, and
dramatize the violence Israel uses to inflict its injustice.
make matters more difficult for the Israeli government, there's
also a counter-flotilla of right-wing Jews sailing out to confront the humanitarian relief convoy. What
will the Israeli
Navy do? If it allows the two to meet, it's bound to look bad for
Israel whether the Navy stands by and
watches the confrontation or joins in on the right-wingers' side. If the
keeps the two apart, again the Israeli right will cry foul.
Netanyahu has only two choices: suffer politically at home, or
suffer diplomatically and in the court of public opinion abroad. A
strategist watching the drama unfold would say that the pro-Gazan
politically, no matter what happens.
salute all the brave people, including the American activists, who are on the "freedom flotilla." Rather than
using shrill, angry
words, they are resisting with calm, highly organized, systematic
hope Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who supports the
flotilla, captured their spirit when he said, "Acting calmly is necessary
rather than raising already heightened tensions. The blockade on Gaza
should be lifted. We don't want new tensions."
That's disingenuous in one sense. Nonviolent resistance always raises
tensions. It's supposed to. But as Martin Luther King, Jr., explained,
the resistors do not create the tension. They merely shine a light on the
tensions that are already there. They "seek so to dramatize the issue that it can
no longer be ignored. ... A community that has consistently refused to
forced to confront the issue."
another sense, though, nonviolence is a calming act. King called
it "an object lesson in power under discipline." This is the genius of
nonviolence, as described by the great feminist writer Barbara Deming.
Nonviolence resistors "have as it were two hands upon [the
calming him, making him ask questions, as the other makes him move."
added that the calmness of nonviolence affords the resistance
another great advantage: an emotional balance that allows thoughtful
action. In the heat of anger,
people may not always get violent (though they are more prone to
they will almost always be rash and impulsive, lashing out at the target
undisciplined ways. So they're less likely to achieve long-term
when they come up against disciplined people who are carefully following
counterproductive effect of raw anger was the thought uppermost
in my mind when I complained that those who won't call their elected
and work through "the system" have no alternative strategy that has a
success. Many of the comments to
that column, and a previous column,
scoffed at my support for a letter in the House of Representatives,
Obama to work harder for Mideast
was the general consensus of those comments. "It won't do any
good." OK. Maybe not. I know there are good arguments both for and
working through "the system." And I
know that there are good arguments for, as well as against, working
system. The Gaza
flotilla is one example.
boycott/divest/sanction (BDS) movement being directed against
Israel is another way anti-Israel
anger is being channeled into organized action outside "the system."
It's not as
obviously constructive as the humanitarian aid to Gaza efforts, but it
may turn out to be a smart
long-term strategy. It's too soon to tell.
all that said, though, it does strike me that in the 75 or more
comments to my two previous columns, the Gaza efforts and the BDS
not mentioned very often at all.
And I still think that reflects a basic problem in the current
progressive discussion about the Israel-Palestine conflict. We've got
raw emotion and too little disciplined, organized effort; too much heat
We've also got too much self-righteousness (which I'm
guilty of sometimes, myself); too much insistence that our own approach
issue is the only right one, while all others are not merely wrong but
and destructive. So we spend too much time criticizing each other for
"wrong" approach to the goal we all share in common: a truly just peace
political movement needs a whole spectrum of strategies, from
the most "insider" to the most "outsider," if it's going to be
Thoughtful debate about the pros and cons of various strategies is
the movement has a much better chance of success if all the parties to
debate respect each other's contributions to their common cause.
my plea today is not for any particular strategy. But it is for
strategy of some kind -- well thought out, well organized collective
rather than mere cries of rage and frustration, and for ongoing fruitful conversation among people pursuing a variety of strategies.
brave folks on those boats in the Mediterranean are an inspiring
example. I would wish them
success, but they don't need my wish. Whatever happens, they have
succeeded. They've taken their anger, which they might have simply
into the universe, and turned into a calm, discipline, organized act of
resistance. That in itself is a