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Occupation magazine - Commentary

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Instead of Forceful Repression, Speak to Them!
Amos Gvirtz

In the 1980s I was one of the founders of an organization of Palestinians and Israelis for non-violence. We wanted to introduce the ideas of non-violence into the conflict between our peoples. We hoped that with the aid of non-violence we could contribute our part toward peace and ending the conflict, and if not, that at least we would be able to reduce the number of casualties.

At exactly the same time Dr. Mubarak Awad, a Palestinian living in the United States, wrote a long article calling for a non-violent Palestinian struggle against the Israeli occupation and then established the Palestinian Center for the Study of Non-Violence in East Jerusalem. He of course became a central figure in the organization we established and in its activities. The expulsion of Mubarak Awad from the country in 1988 was a serious blow to the organization and within a few years it ceased its activities.

Fortunately the idea of non-violence gained a foothold in various segments of Palestinian society, and over the years we have seen some important non-violent initiatives on the Palestinian side. For example, the Ship of Return, various non-violent activities during the first Intifada, non-violent demonstrations against the Separation Barrier (wall), the call to boycott Israeli products and products produced in the settlements (BDS), and other activities connected to the occupation. It`s important to note that Palestinian President Abu Mazen is an enthusiastic supporter of popular struggle without violent and opposes violent action against Israel.

Alongside the Palestinian non-violent activity, it`s also important to note the non-violent initiatives on the Israeli side. This is a different kind of non-violence, which I call `preventive non-violence.` Refusal to serve in the army - by pacifists or those opposing the occupation - is a form of preventive non-violence. In addition, Israelis who boycott settlement products or refuse to work in the settlements are engaging in preventive non-violence.

It`s also important to mention the non-violent activists who come from abroad - as a third party, having no enemies in the conflict - who provide non-violent protection to Palestinians from settler and military violence, and in this way encourage Palestinians to turn toward non-violence.

Non-violence also enables joint activities by Palestinians and Israelis against the occupation. Joint olive harvesting, planting olive trees, rebuilding demolished homes, and joint demonstrations are just a few examples of this.

Unfortunately, till now none of this non-violent activity has reached the critical threshold to become a reality changer. After all, what we want is to create a process of `non-violent escalation` whereby the non-violent activities of one side encourage the other side to abandon violence and turn to non-violence, until we arrive at the hoped-for peace.

In this context, I am happy to hear about the initiative coming from Gaza for non-violent actions in support of the Palestinian Right of Return and ending the siege of Gaza. If they succeed in bringing tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees to non-violently march toward the Israeli border and their former villages in Israel, then maybe they will finally succeed in allowing non-violent struggle to take the lead in Palestinian society and help to delegitimize the use of violence. This would be great news for us all. For whether or not we agree with their demands, it is the desire of all - I hope - to cease the mutual killing between our peoples and to find ways of solving our differences without violence.

We citizens of Israel have a security interest in the change a non-violent struggle would bring to the conflict - it would mean the end of the murderous attacks against Israelis. Unfortunately for us, the right-wing Israeli government does not share this view. For the government, the occupation and the expansion of Israeli territory are more important than our security. I therefore fear that instead of turning toward the path of negotiations with the Palestinians, it will demonize their non-violent struggle and send in the army to repress the marchers with force. I hope that there will be enough Israelis who will demand, at last, from our government: Desist from violent repression in the face of Palestinian non-violence. Instead of forceful repression, speak to them!

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