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Reassessing resistance

Reassessing resistance

By force of arms or by force of morals? Palestinians are looking again at the meaning and tactics of resistance, writes Saleh Al-Naami


The Palestinian reporters who went last week to cover the student march against settlement activities on the outskirts of Bethlehem did not expect the police forces of Salam Fayyad's government to be the ones confronting them, assaulting them and preventing them from covering the march. Meanwhile, occupation forces stood by and watched. The reporters gathered at the local office of a media organisation and demanded an explanation from the government and police. But for many Palestinians, the situation did not require any explanation: Fayyad's government is determined to prevent demonstrations and large mass mobilisation against the Israeli occupation.

Senior officials in the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) are not shy about not tolerating a mood of popular action that could trigger a third Intifada. Adnan Al-Damiri, spokesman for Fayyad's security apparatus, justified security intervention to prevent many demonstrations by various popular movements to protest against Israel's actions. Al-Damiri provoked many by banning protests in the West Bank after occupation forces left.

But while Fayyad's cabinet is obstructing such expressions of popular discontent regarding Israel's actions, the prime minister himself, along with several members of his cabinet and leading members in Fatah, is participating in controlled exclusive events protesting against Israel's policies. Critics describe this as selective policy, noting that Fayyad's government has chosen only two locations for demonstrations, namely the villages of Naalyn and Balaayn east of Ramallah. These two protest sites were chosen for demonstrations opposing Israel's construction of the apartheid wall. Meanwhile, any other form of protest is prohibited anywhere else.

Foreign and Israeli peace activists take part in the pre- orchestrated gatherings, as do symbolic figures of the PA. In fact, Fayyad described this as a model of "peaceful resistance" that should be applied everywhere. Gaber Suleiman, however, who lives near Balaayn believes that after more than one year of this form of "resistance" Israel has accelerated its land grabs from villagers with the aim of continuing to build the wall and erect new settlements and extend existing ones.

"What is most discouraging is that some people have advised us to go to Israeli courts as a form of peaceful resistance," complained Suleiman. "But we have found that the Israeli Supreme Court legalises almost everything the Israeli government does."

In Gaza, there have been several attempts to organise such "peaceful resistance" activities; Hamas and Islamic Jihad spokesmen, however, describe the sponsors of these events as working to implement Fayyad's selective agenda. After Israel's war on Gaza ended, some Palestinian circles assumed the responsibility of "peaceful resistance" in some areas in Gaza, including recent protests against Israel's security belt running along the length of the Gaza-Israel demarcation line. The Israeli army is preventing any farmers or residents to come up to 300- 500 metres near the line on the Palestinian side. This area actually represents most of the remaining agricultural land in Gaza, especially that construction has encroached on rural land because of high population density.

Similar to the marches in the West Bank, these demonstrations comprise hundreds of protesters joined by tens of foreign activists who come to Gaza for this purpose. Demonstrators raise the Palestinian flag and chant slogans against occupation, but unlike in the West Bank, this new form of resistance has stirred strong political debate in the Gaza Strip. Some people vehemently support this model, while others are suspicious of the reasons behind this type of resistance.

According to Mahmoud Al-Zaq, coordinator of the Popular Committee to Confront the Security Belt and an organiser of these events, this form of resistance was born after the killing of several farmers by the Israeli army while doing their work. Occupation forces warned farmers not to go to the fields that fall west of the demarcation line between Gaza and Israel. Al-Zaq, who was detained in Israeli jails for 15 years, asserted that Israel's actions have blocked thousands of Palestinian families from accessing their livelihood. He also revealed that the fields have become barren after farmers abandoned them.

Al-Zaq added that he spent a long time trying to convince others to subscribe to peaceful resistance, and that finally a large sector of Palestinian society has come to realise the advantages of this method. Despite Palestinian losses by participating in such resistance activities, Al-Zaq is determined to continue his efforts.

There are other differences among "peaceful resistance" organisers in Gaza and the West Bank. As Al-Zaq put it, this method does not supplant armed resistance, noting that other than Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, all factions support this manner of resistance.

Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the Political Committee in the Palestinian parliament and a leading member of Fatah who is close to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, believes that this is the best mode of peaceful resistance and should be generalised. Abdullah told Al-Ahram Weekly that such demonstrations are much more effective than other forms of resistance, because they reveal Israel as the perpetrator and the Palestinians as the victims of violence. "We will continue this type of resistance until we achieve our legitimate political goals," he stated. "This formula is certain to increase sympathisers for our cause around the world."

Salah Al-Bardawil, member of the Hamas leadership, told the Weekly that his group does not reject any form of resistance, as long as it does not drown out other modes of resistance. Al-Bardawil warned against limiting resistance to this format because it would serve Israel's interests. He accused the parties that sponsor these demonstrations of carrying out Fayyad's agenda, as well as that of Fatah leaders in the West Bank.

Al-Bardawil described this type of resistance as "TV resistance that presents the Israeli army in a civilised light because it shows it employing anti-riot methods used all over the world. Meanwhile, the army uses the most atrocious methods off camera." The Hamas leader makes a distinction between the different modes of civilian resistance, such as marches towards the demarcation line and popular mass resistance through direct confrontation such as stone throwing. Al-Bardawil believes this is selective resistance targeting a specific category and is limited geographically.

Former culture minister in Fayyad's cabinet and political science professor at Al-Azhar University in Gaza Ibrahim Abrash is critical of both the current form of armed resistance as well as peaceful resistance that his former boss is promoting. "Unfortunately, Palestinian resistance is facing a critical dilemma because it is not based on a national agenda that all factions agree upon," Abrash told the Weekly. "When it was purely armed resistance and ignored any other type, it eventually became limited to launching missiles which became a serious problem."

At the same time, he is infuriated with "peaceful resistance" because it is selective. "This is hypocrisy and political manoeuvring," he retorted. "What Fayyad and his cabinet are doing gives a misleading impression that they are resisting." Abrash revealed that Fayyad's government and security apparatus prevent mass participation in demonstrations and marches out of fear that these would become genuine popular resistance. He also rejected the notion of pre-determined locations for protests. "Fayyad is sponsoring this mode of resistance to justify why other types of popular resistance are banned," rationalised Abrash. "But peaceful resistance can be very effective if thousands are participating in it," he added.

Regardless of where they stand on peaceful versus armed resistance, it is clear that the Palestinians are reassessing their resistance modus operandi. The result of that reassessment will inevitably colour developments ahead.

The link: http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2010/993/re2.htm

 

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