by Nicholas Jahr
This is a revised and updated version of an article that originally appeared in the Spring, 2013 issue of Jewish Currents and was then republished in the Utne Reader.
Photographs by the author
SLOWLY, THE SMALL GROUP of demonstrators approaches the soldiers. Around seventy-five people had turned out for this week’s protest, a mix of Palestinian villagers and Israeli activists, women and children, international fellow travelers, a handful of reporters. The crowd was chanting and clapping as they wound their way down the road leading to the spring the settlers seized; as they came around the last bend before the checkpoint the soldiers came into view, thirteen of them, fitted with rifles and riot gear and spread in a line across the road.
Quiet descends. Most of the crowd hangs back; about a dozen tentatively press ahead. In several weeks of observing these protests, I’d never seen the IDF allow them to come so close.
Then gas and stun grenades go flying, a few of the soldiers break ranks, surging forward, the protesters turning and tumbling back up the road through the detonations and clouds of tear gas. The protestors hadn’t made so much as a threatening gesture.
It isn’t until I watch video of the moment on YouTube days afterwards that I realize the soldiers grabbed one of the demonstrators in the confusion and hustled their prisoner away. Just another Friday in al-Nabi Saleh.
WHETHER IT’S THE CRY that ‘there is no partner’ or the familiar lament, ‘Where is the Palestinian Gandhi?,’ the suggestion that the Palestinians are hopelessly violent can be heard across the political spectrum. In al-Nabi Saleh and many other villages on the West Bank, those complaints seem far less convincing. On the hillsides and in the olive groves, on the roads and in the prisons, a new movement has been struggling for traction, one whose path can nonetheless be traced much further back than is commonly acknowledged. For six weeks in February and March of 2012, I traveled in Israel and Palestine, discussing this movement with Israelis, Palestinians, and the occasional expat, and attending the demonstrations organized every Friday in the West Bank. What follows is a brief overview of that movement’s course.
FIRST THE SETTLERS CAME and seized a swath of al-Nabi Saleh’s land. Then they came for the village’s olive trees, destroying hundreds of them. Then, in December 2009*, they came for the spring many of the villagers relied on to irrigate what they had left. Ever since, the people of al-Nabi Saleh have staged regular protests in an effort to reclaim their water.
“We tried in the first intifada and the second intifada,” Iyad Tamimi says, “we tried many things against the occupation. This time we are trying popular resistance. The people march, singing, shouting against the occupation. But the soldiers [have] not allowed us even to sing. They try to shoot us with tear gas and rubber bullets.”
Tamimi was born and raised in al-Nabi Saleh, and his large extended family has been highly involved in the demonstrations. In late 2001, the IDF claimed someone had shot at settlers from his house, and seized it for 35 days. “I told them if you have charges against me you can put me in jail,” he says, “not to throw my children in the street.” Tamimi’s oldest son was arrested on his way to school. Two of his relatives have been killed during the protests.
That morning in al-Nabi Saleh, the Israeli military followed the initial rout of the protest march by sending in the skunk. A white armored truck with a water cannon on top, the skunk issues a seemingly limitless stream of viscerally repulsive liquid that goes by the same name. Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq describes the liquid as of “unknown composition;” the author of a leaked U.S. State Department cable refers to it as “dirty water… [the] chemically treated water that duplicates the effects of skunk spray.” Once they’d driven the protestors back, the Israeli military moved in, and a prolonged game of cat-and-mouse began.
During a lull a couple of hours later, Tamimi and I sat down on a hill overlooking the settlement of Chalamish, soil his family once farmed. I ask him if he has hope he’ll get his land back. He says yes. As he says it, a dozen tear gas grenades come flying over a small building thirty yards or so in front of us.
“This land, all the time it was green,” Tamimi says. His family planted wheat here. He tried to plant a small vegetable garden – tomatoes, cucumbers – near his house. During one foray into the village, the Israeli military doused his garden with the skunk. “It’s useless after that.”
ACROSS THE WEST BANK, in one village after another, Palestinians have been consistently using nonviolent tactics to confront the occupation for several years now, often below the radar of the international media. When these acts are reported, they’re presented in isolation, and rarely if ever considered as reflecting a larger movement.
Dr. Rateb abu Rahmeh works with the popular committee in Bil’in. Every Friday, he leads a small protest march over the hills outside the village and down to the twenty-foot concrete wall that runs through what were once olive groves. On the other side, the cranes are busy erecting the settlement of Modi’in Illit.
When Ariel Sharon decided to build his separation barrier between Israel and the West Bank, the route plowed straight through Bil’in. According to Rahmeh, the villagers found 2,300 dunams – over 550 acres, about 58 percent of their land – on the other side of the barrier. In February 2005, the people of Bil’in decided they would resist.
“You know, we succeed here,” Rahmeh tells me in his broken English (which is far more articulate than the few words I can muster in Arabic). “Why we succeed in our struggle? We do non-violent resistance in our struggle.” The people of Bil’in repeatedly confronted the Israeli military, but they also chose to challenge the wall legally, filing a case in Israeli court seeking to overturn its route.
For decades, appearing before Israeli courts has been controversial among Palestinians; it arguably meant recognizing the country’s legitimacy. Shawan Jabarin is the general director of the Palestinian human rights organization Al Haq, founded in 1979 by early advocates of negotiation and nonviolence (primarily Raja Shehadeh and Jonathan Kuttab). Jabarin started volunteering for al Haq in 1981, and signed on full-time in 1987 after finishing his legal studies. “It was a big discussion within Palestinian society, within Palestinian attorneys – to appear or not to appear,” Jabarin recalls. “Many lawyers refused to appear.” After trying dozens of cases before Israeli courts, even Al Haq gave up on the Israeli legal system. Jabarin estimates that more than 90 percent of the cases they brought received a negative response. He concluded: “We have no justice system. There is no legal remedy in the occupied territories for Palestinians.”
On September 4th 2007, over two years after the people of Bil’in took the occupation to court, the Israeli High Court ruled that the barrier should be rerouted. It still took several years before the Israeli government obeyed the Court’s decision, and even when they did,
Israeli human rights watchdog B’Tselem reports that 1,500 dunams (370 acres) of Bil’in’s land remained on the other side of the wall. “That is why protests continue,” Rahmeh tells me. Would the committee consider returning to court? “I think no,” he says. “The court is finished.”
“BEFORE BIL’IN there is Budrus,” Dr. Rahmeh tells me. Made modestly famous by the documentary film of the same name, it was this small community southeast of Tel Aviv whose people were the first to throw themselves against the wall. Leading the way was longtime activist Ayed Morrar.
Like his parents and grandparents before him, Morrar has lived in Budrus for all of his fifty-one years. “I don’t know in my family history that we have another place but this,” he says. He started building his two-story home on the town’s outskirts in 1989. Back then the area was nothing but open fields. By the time he’d finished, the village had caught up with him. And then, in November 2003, the bulldozers arrived.
For the next ten months, the people of Budrus staged one protest after another. “Our timer was the bulldozers,” Morrar recalls. “If the bulldozers were working Sunday, we must be in front of them. Monday, Tuesday, in the morning, in the evening, whenever and wherever the bulldozers start working, we must try to stop them, by our bodies, by our children, by our men, by our women, by our old people.”
The documentary captures Morrar’s own daughter as she sits down in front of a bulldozer to prevent it from leveling an olive grove. Faced with such resistance, the Israeli military escalated its use of force. In July 2004, they entered the town itself, and their live fire was met by a rain of stones. The film is unclear, but Morrar insists that the demonstrations ultimately remained nonviolent. According to the film, the villagers held fifty-five protests before the Israeli government retreated.
“Our targets were the bulldozers, not the soldiers,” Morrar says. He and the other organizers would tell people: “Anybody who wanted to target the soldiers, he can find them everywhere. He can find them in the streets and the checkpoints, everywhere you can find the soldier. But against the wall, against the settlements, our problem is the bulldozers, who are destroying the land, and we must stop those bulldozers.”
The barrier’s route was changed; Budrus recovered much of its land. Throughout the West Bank the bulldozers have now finished much of their work, and Morrar is skeptical of the weekly protests. “The Israeli bulldozers [were] working all the days in the week except Friday and Saturday,” he observes. “So why just concentrate on the Fridays? It’s good to send a message. If it’s a media message, it’s good. But what we hope the popular resistance [would] do is to collect all the sources of pressure to put on the occupation, to let them feel that this is a losing project. End stop.”
“It is better than nothing,” Morar tells me as I board a bus to Ramallah. “It is better than keeping silent. But it is not what I hoped for.”
BEFORE BUDRUS, there was Tqu and Qatanna. In 1986, the two towns saw their land seized by Israelis. The bulldozers went to work. For help, the residents approached Mubarak Awad.
Awad’s work is documented in Mary Elizabeth King’s sweeping, challenging reconsideration of the history of the Palestinian national struggle, A Quiet Revolution: The First Palestinian Intifada and Nonviolent Resistance. He first encountered the idea of nonviolent resistance as an undergraduate in the U.S. in the early ’60s. But Awad traces his belief in nonviolence back to the death of his father, shot and killed by a sniper during the 1948 war. His mother insisted more violence could not be the solution.
“They say, ‘The gun, it’s easy.’” Awad recalls over lunch at Japanese restaurant in D.C. “I know it’s easy to get the gun. But how many of you can go and get twenty Israelis and discuss with them? That’s harder than getting the gun. They say, ‘Why are you worried about the Israelis?’ I say, ‘I’m not worried about the Israelis. The Jews in 1948 killed my father. And I don’t want any fathers to be killed.’”
In 1983, after thirteen more years in the U.S., Awad returned to East Jerusalem and began holding workshops on nonviolence. He was assisted by his cousin, Jonathan Kuttab, one of the founders of Al Haq. The two published a short book, Nonviolence in the Occupied Territories, and translated the writings of Gene Sharp, a scholar of nonviolence. King estimates that they disseminated somewhere between 4,000 and 7,000 copies of Sharp’s writings (presumably a rough measure of the reach of their own).
The program of Awad’s workshop articulated a half-dozen crucial ideas, including the fundamental tenet of what is popularly thought of as nonviolence: “Nonviolent resistance requires a willingness to accept suffering without striking back.” King argues convincingly that Awad drew his principles almost word-for-word from Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.
In Tqu and Qatanna he put those principles into practice. By May 1985, Awad and other activists had opened the Palestinian Center for the Study of Nonviolence. Early the following year he was approached separately by residents of the two towns. They wanted to see what all the hype was about. The people of Qatanna had seen the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture’s Green Patrol tear up thousands of the town’s olive trees. Awad organized more than 150 Palestinians, Israelis, and foreigners to plant 500 more in their stead. The settlers tore them out as they did.
As King recounts, a resident of Tqu woke up one morning to find Israeli settlers had simply moved the settlement’s fence, peeling off ten dunams of his land. Days later, Awad led a silent group of 300 Palestinians, Israelis, and foreigners to the plot. As the settlers fired into the air, the demonstrators slowly dismantled the fence. One of King’s sources says the settlers then turned their guns on the crowd, injuring seven young people. The demonstrators continued. Soon the military governor arrived, and declared he would decide between the competing claims at a meeting two days later. Shortly before the meeting, the settlers removed the fence. King’s research on Tqu determined that “In the public record, this was the first time any West Bank village had recovered land that had been appropriated.”
“They think I was crazy,” Awad recalls. “I was going to every funeral. People hate me to be in the funeral. I would tell people we can stop this craziness. And this is the way we have to do it. If we don’t do it, then your children, your loved ones, continue to die. I had difficulty with a lot of Palestinians: ‘You are coming to the funeral of my son and telling me we did something wrong.’ I said, ‘Yes, you did something wrong. We can liberate ourselves without the gun. And you choose the gun.’ So that was crazy.”
Among other achievements, Awad would go on to organize the first legal demonstration by Palestinians in front of the Israeli prime minister’s office. Despite his personal beliefs, despite banning throwing stones and any other violent tactics at protests he organized, many Israelis interpreted Awad as leaving the door open to violent resistance. Even today, Awad can be elusive: he insists that “I can not tell you to be nonviolent. I could teach you, I could tell you examples, but you have to make your choice.” After the eruption of the first intifada, King reports that Israeli officials declared him a fraud; he was said to be “the main brains of the intifada;” he was dismissed by Prime Minister Shamir, who said he was “not a man of peace.” On May 5th 1988, Awad was arrested by the Israeli police; he was deported the following month.
“IN THE FIRST intifada and the second intifada the Palestinian people used guns. Many times.” says Iyad Tamimi of al-Nabi Saleh. He would know; Tamimi has been a member of Fatah since 1985. “We tried to make the picture different from the first one. We are defending our rights to live in peace, to free our lands. So we are using no weapons.”
All three of these villages (and others, such as Ni’lin) have been joined in their protests by Israelis and other international activists. “This non-violent resistance, we thought that it’s a good thing.” says Dr. Rateb abu Rahmeh of Bil’in. “We saw the method of Mahatma Gandhi succeed, the method of Martin Luther King succeed. And we took these methods, there’s a lot of international activists that come here and support us in our struggle.”
The scene in al-Nabi Saleh that morning in March was typical of the five protests I observed (two there and three in Bil’in). While it’s often difficult to be certain who threw the first stone – literally or metaphorically – the Israeli military enjoys a clear superiority of force. Once the Israelis apply that force, the protests I observed fractured, with some of the Palestinian protestors trading stones for rubber bullets and (ostensibly) non-lethal grenades. (Those throwing stones were exclusively young men; the women participating would frequently take the opportunity to rally elsewhere.) On a few occasions, some of those throwing stones have actually been revealed as Israeli provocateurs.
As Ayed Morrar sees it, “The Israeli soldiers managed to kill the structure of the demonstration; always they manage to do that. Nobody can hear Ayed Morrar what he’s speaking in the chaos; nobody will hear another leader, to throw stones or not, because the structure is killed, and the chaos exists because the tear gas and rubber bullets and everything is going on.”
He continues: “The first stone is the declaration of ending the demonstration. Because you’ve sent a message for the Israeli soldiers that ‘Now you can use your rubber bullets.’ By keeping going without stones, most of our activities we manage to stop the bulldozers because we didn’t use the stones, and the Israeli soldiers couldn’t use their killing machines.”
“We want to tell you, we are against throwing stones,” says Dr. Rahmeh. “As a popular committee, all the time we said don’t throw stones against the soldiers. Because this is not violent resistance.” And yet during the three protests I observed in Bil’in, neither Dr. Rahmeh nor anyone else advised the young people ineffectually lobbing stones at the soldiers to stop (nor is it clear the young people would obey if they were told). Struck by the overwhelming disparity between the two sides, few of the Palestinians I spoke with could bring themselves to denounce this tactic.
Sami Awad is an exception. He’s also Mubarak Awad’s nephew; a commitment to nonviolence runs in the family. “I as an individual, we as an organization, we do not promote throwing stones,” he says. Awad is the executive director of Holy Land Trust, which grew out of his uncle’s Palestinian Center for the Study of Nonviolence. “We want to reach as pure an act of nonviolence as we can.” From its offices in Bethlehem, HLT has promoted nonviolence in a variety of ways since its founding in 1998.
“I have many people who come to me and say, ‘The Palestinians are violent because they throw stones.’ When I ask them, well, ‘Did you support the Egyptian revolution against the Army?’ ‘Of course.’ ‘Was that nonviolent?’ ‘Of course it was nonviolent.’ ‘Well, aren’t you critical of the young men who were throwing stones at the Egyptian police? Actually many of them got physically hurt from this.’”
Similarly, during the civil rights movement in the U.S., groups like the Deacons for Defense and Justice stood armed guard during the night while organizers for the Congress for Racial Equality coordinated nonviolent protests by day. The actual history of nonviolent movements is rarely as pure as portrayed in the popular imagination.
THE ACTUAL HISTORY of violence also has its secrets. For all the ink spilled on the first intifada, for all the images burned onto film and broadcast to the world, for all the mad defiance of the children of the stones, the shock of their rebellion arguably blinded people to its nature.
The eruption of the intifada took many of the Palestinians’ ostensible leaders by surprise. They were the outsiders, in exile in Tunis and elsewhere in the Arab world; for the first time, the insiders living in the occupied territories were calling the shots. King contends they were often against taking shots at all.
The Command that emerged to guide the intifada was coordinated by insider representatives of what were then the four major Palestinian political factions (Hamas was only occasionally included). Through couriers and furtive meetings, the Command would debate the direction of the uprising and draft calls to action that were then circulated as leaflets. The first leaflet actually appeared almost a month after the intifada had begun. In King’s assessment, “substantial portions of the leaflets are immediately recognizable from Mubarak Awad’s 1983 booklet.”
The vast majority of the actions called for in the first seventeen leaflets, published over the initial six months of the intifada, are nonviolent. King finds that only five percent of those actions consisted of throwing stones or Molotov cocktails. Over the intifada‘s first eighteen months, “more than 90 percent of the appeals… called for classic nonviolent methods.” Ten, five, even a single percentage point is arguably the difference between principled nonviolence and violent resistance. What that same margin, those defining images of the children and their stones, makes much harder to appreciate, is the restraint demonstrated throughout the intifada.
Even if the Command was a command in name only, their precepts seem to have been generally observed. Although Palestinian militants sometimes shot and killed collaborators, more than 450 of whom were killed (by one means or another) over the first three years of the intifada, B’Tselem records only sixty-three Israelis killed by Palestinians during the same period. King emphasizes: “Not one leaflet bade the destruction of Israel or death to the Jewish people.”
THE FIRST TIME I visited al-Nabi Saleh, on a brisk March morning, the protest began with a memorial service. Israelis and Palestinians alike were holding pictures of a woman many feared would be the next to die: Hana Shalabi, an alleged member of Islamic Jihad who Israel had placed in “administrative detention.” The Israelis inherited the practice from the colonial administration of the British; they claim the right to hold people indefinitely without charge once they are declared a “security threat.” Shalabi had been on a hunger strike for two weeks in protest.
Ten days after the protest in al-Nabi Saleh, the Israeli branch of Physicians for Human Rights reported that Shalabi “could suffer from heart failure at any moment” and was “at risk of death.” She persevered for over forty days before she was finally released and sent into internal exile in the Gaza Strip. It will be at least two more years before she can see her family again, though the Israeli government has refused to honor similar deals in the past.
As a hunger striker, Shalabi was following in the footsteps of Khader Adnan, who singlehandedly reinvigorated the tactic. Adnan, allegedly a “spokesperson” for Islamic Jihad, was also in administrative detention when he began his hunger strike, after allegedly being beaten by Israeli soldiers. After sixty-six days, the Israeli Justice Ministry agreed to release him. Many other prisoners had joined him in solidarity; Hana Shalabi was one of the few who persisted.
Both Adnan and Shalabi had only recently been rearrested after having been released as part of the prisoner exchange in which Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was freed. “Prisoners were expecting that the political channel would bring more changes,” says Sahar Francis, the director of Palestinian prisoners’ rights organization Addameer. “But it failed. Especially those who were rearrested after the Shalit deal, they were hoping that the deal would be the end. If negotiations or political agreement could not guarantee their release, what else do they have?”
Less than a month after Shalabi won her release, more than 1600 prisoners went on a nearly thirty-day hunger strike to protest their treatment. One of them, Akram Rikhawi, held out for 103 days. But Adnan, Shalabi, and Rikhawi have since been overtaken by Samer Issawi, who went 256 days without food (Issawi received vitamins and glucose intravenously during this period; the ICRC therefore considered this only a “partial” hunger strike). His is the longest hunger strike by a Palestinian ever, in this marathon relay race of starvation. There is no end in sight. As of November 4th, Ala’a Hammad — a Palestinian man with Jordanian citizenship serving a twelve year sentence for “resisting the occupation” — has gone without food for 187 days.
When Adnan was on his hunger strike, Sami Awad posted a couple of items to Facebook and YouTube about him. “It was incredible how many people attacked me for doing this,” Awad recalls. His detractors asked: “‘How can you support a person, a militant who was accused of being violent or a terrorist, and promote him or publicize him?’ My response was: ‘When we see signs like this, of individuals that begin to, not just experiment, but go into a deep process — I can’t live two days without eating. For him to do this for sixty-five days… I don’t agree with his past, I might even denounce his past, and at the same time, if he is moving forward in a process that I can encourage him to take even deeper steps in and to come out declaring ‘There is actually real value in nonviolence that I want Islamic Jihad to look into,’ then this is something we need to encourage. Instead of looking at somebody’s past and shutting them off.”
In A Quiet Revolution, King dates the first modern, collective hunger strike coordinated by Palestinian prisoners to Ashkelon in 1970. It lasted for fifteen days, and one of the strikers died. A second strike followed in 1976, this time for forty-five days. In the summer of 1980, a third strike lasted thirty-three days and claimed two lives. By this point a “prisoners’ movement” had formed; according to King, actions were “coordinated across the length and breadth of prisons in Israel” throughout the decade. More hunger strikes were held in 1984 and 1987. Even with the onset of the first intifada, nonviolent protest continued; July 1988 saw a hunger strike by 500 prisoners.
In 1990, a young Israeli gunned down seven Palestinians and wounded scores more. Clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinians followed, leaving at least fifteen dead. Forty-four Palestinians — most of them, King says, leaders of the intifada — began a hunger strike in protest. Feisel Husseini, who joined the strikers, reportedly declared, “This is the last chance to keep the intifada nonviolent.” After a bombing in Jerusalem and an attempted PLO attack on Tel Aviv’s beaches, the U.S. suspended dialogue with the PLO; thirteen days in, the hunger strike was called off. King records that “Husseini told a reporter that the veto of the US, instead of reinforcing nonviolent approaches, had punished its advocates.”
Nevertheless, this wasn’t the last hunger strike of the era. Two years later, fifteen thousand Palestinian prisoners took part in a hunger strike that lasted for just over two weeks. King quotes their leader, Qaddourah Faris, as saying:
Our demands were that we be allowed to kiss our children… that we be allowed to learn [study] while in prison, that we have more time for family visits, better health care, better medicine… and more time outside… for sports, exercise, and to see the sun.
ON NOVEMBER 15th, 2011, a handful of Palestinian activists carried out the first Palestinian Freedom Ride. I met one of the organizers, Fadi Quran, at a cafe in Ramallah. Amidst the smoke and the chatter, he shared his story.
At the time of the Freedom Ride, Fadi was 23 years old. Only a year beforehand, he graduated from Stanford with a BA in International Relations and a BS in Physics. He’s already at work on his next degree. In his spare time, he’s part of what he describes as “a growing Palestinian youth movement that participates and coordinates acts of civil disobedience and protest and popular resistance within the West Bank.”
As Fadi recalls, it “was the fiftieth anniversary of the Freedom Rides, so it was all over the news, especially the American news. And we thought it would be excellent to show people that segregation and inequality still exist. And the type of domination that existed in the Jim Crow south exists in a similar sense in Palestine. One way to clearly show that case is to board segregated settler-only buses. So we planned the Freedom Rides.”
Including Fadi there were six activists involved, all of them Palestinian, all of them in their twenties, except for a 40-something professor from Bethlehem University. They decided to try to board a bus near a settlement located southeast of Ramallah called Psagot.
The morning they’d chosen for the ride, Fadi, with a sharp eye to the optics, put on a shirt with the slogan ‘We Shall Overcome.’ They got the word out to the media and arrived at the bus stop at around 10 in the morning. One bus after another passed them by. “They would see that we were Palestinians and they would just keep going,” Fadi says. Many of the settlers who were waiting were armed; Fadi claims one stepped outside the view of the cameras, unslung his machine gun, and released the safety. “It seemed like he was contemplating, what to do, what not to do.” The soldier did nothing.
After hours of waiting, Fadi and the other riders finally managed to board a bus. The bus driver told them, “’You’re not allowed to get on the bus, go back down,’ so forth.” They walked on board and found seats. The other passengers were shocked. As the bus drove off toward Jerusalem — which Fadi and his colleagues are barred from entering — it was surrounded by four Israeli military humvees. Fadi did a few interviews with the reporters who’d come this far and read Great Expectations.
When they reached the checkpoint, the bus was stopped, and the settlers disembarked. Then the bus was directed to a nearby parking lot, where it sat for about three hours. Fadi thinks the military was attempting to thin the ranks of the media; they began ticketing reporters’ vehicles, waiting for night to fall to make it more difficult to film. Finally, at 8:00, four soldiers boarded the bus and announced “’You are under arrest. You’re not allowed to be on this bus.’”
“We’re not going to fight our being arrested,” Fadi and the other Freedom Riders told the soldiers, “but we’re not going to participate in the act of arrest, and we’re going to remain seated nonviolently on the bus.” One by one, the soldiers hauled them off. As the soldiers carried Fadi, they began hitting him in the back; at some point they dropped him on the ground. He heard his mother screaming as the soldiers brought him out; unknown to Fadi, she had been waiting at the checkpoint. According to him she ran toward him, but was intercepted by soldiers who threw her to the ground. One soldier stomped on her hand, breaking it. Fadi took a punch and a kick to the stomach.
“You’re always afraid,” he says. “The essence of it is what Nelson Mandela said: ‘Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.’ And every step you feel afraid, but you always try to make sure that your courage triumphs over the fear, and doesn’t make you back down. And that fear doesn’t blind you from doing what is necessary to keep yourself safe.”
“WE DON’T DO GANDHI very well,” Israeli Ministry of Defense official Amos Gilad is quoted as saying in a leaked State Department cable. This is arguably an understatement. Aziz Shehadeh, an early advocate of negotiating with Israel, was stabbed to death (his murderer was never identified; his family believes it was a collaborator). Bassam Abu-Sharif, who had been involved in terror attacks but later argued within the PLO for laying down arms, was killed by a letter bomb assumed to have been posted by the Israeli security forces. PLO leader Abu Jihad, according to King, was seen by Palestinian insiders “as a warrior who had accepted the need for compromise with Israel and could persuade the military cadres of that perspective;” he was assassinated by Israeli commandos in Tunis. More recently, Hamas military commander Ahmed Jabari was assassinated in an Israeli air strike while considering the draft of a permanent cease fire. Men like jabari and Abu Jihad are certainly not Gandhi, but they are people the Israelis will need to deal with if they want peace.
The Palestinian Gandhis haven’t fared much better. Mubarak Awad’s first workshop on nonviolence was nearly suppressed by the Israeli authorities. Feisel Husseini, who worked alongside Israeli peace activists and denounced violence, was repeatedly detained. Less prominent activists such as Dr. Rateb abu Rahmeh and Ayed Morrar, or Jad Ishaq, one of the organizers of a tax strike in Beit Sahour during the first intifada, have also done time in Israeli jails. Ayed Morrar was arrested in January 2004, as the movement he helped organize gained momentum; he was threatened with four months in administrative detention, but released after two weeks.
The Israeli security forces aren’t alone in targeting peace activists. There was Dr. Isam Sartawi, a member of the PLO who called for the recognition of Israel and was in communication with Israeli peace organizations, gunned down in Lisbon by Palestinian hard-liners. Said Hamammi, a Fateh official whom King describes as “a pioneer of dialogue with Israel,” was also assassinated by Palestinian militants.
Mubarak Awad, for one, has no doubts about why he was deported. “Because I engaged in nonviolence. Because I was consistent in training Israelis in nonviolence. Because I was consistent in talking to Israelis. I think the Israelis would be more than happy to deal with someone who put bombs, or who killed Israelis, than with me.”
* In a report on the demonstrations in al-Nabi Saleh, B’Tselem states that “In July 2008, settlers (apparently from Halamish) began to use the spring and, in February 2009, started to renovate the area.” Al Haq, in its case study of the village, states “In December 2009, settlers from Halamish expropriated privately-owned Palestinian land around the natural spring of ‘Ayn al-Qaws, transforming it into a park and renaming it Mi’yaan Maer in Hebrew.” These two accounts are not necessarily contradictory, but in this article we have used the date supplied by Al Haq for the formal expropriation of the spring.
Nicholas Jahr is a freelance writer and member of the editorial board of Jewish Currents. He has worked as an election observer in West Africa and Libya.