How obsession with “nonviolence” harms the Palestinian cause

Palestinians do not have to tailor their resistance to the liking of the oppressor class and their supporters.

Mahfouz Abu Turk APA images

In recent years, western discourse surrounding the Palestinian cause has employed a few new — and superficial — adjectives to describe Palestinian resistance: Palestinian “nonviolent” resistance, Palestinian “peaceful” resistance, Palestinian “popular” resistance, Palestinian “unarmed” resistance. And the ever so popular Palestinian “Gandhi-style” resistance.

This discourse has been adopted by the Palestinian popular struggle committees, born after the success story of the occupied West Bank village of Budrus that embarked on popular protests and managed to regain 95 percent of its lands that were expropriated by Israel’s apartheid wall in 2003. However, the obsessive, fetish-like concentration on a specific type of resistance has in one way or another contributed to the delegitimization of other forms of resistance, while simultaneously closing off open discussion on what popular resistance actually is.

An historical overview of Palestinian resistance would testify to its use of different forms, although they were not viewed separately by Palestinians themselves. Palestinians were aware of their rights being stripped from them and confronted their occupiers.

There were the 1929 Wailing Wall/Buraq Wall demonstrations against the domination of the site by Jews who were backed by the British Mandate that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Palestinians and Jews; the 1935 armed uprising spearheaded by Izz al-Din Qassam against British soldiers; the six-month trade strike against the British Mandate and Jewish colonialists the following year; and the subsequent three-year uprising brutally crushed by the British.

During the outbreak of what became known as the first intifada, in 1987, the iconic image of a Palestinian rock thrower facing a fully-armed, sophisticated army “redeemed” the Palestinian resistance of hijacking planes in the 1970s.

No need to explain

Nowadays, Israelis and internationals and unfortunately even some “enlightened” Palestinians champion “nonviolent resistance” and consider throwing a rock to be a violent act. The argument goes that throwing rocks tarnishes the reputation of Palestinians in the western world and immediately negates the “nonviolent/peaceful” resistance movement. This argument falls into the trap of western- (read, colonizer) dictated methods of acceptable means to resist.

Oppressed people do not and should not have to explain their oppression to their oppressor, nor tailor their resistance to the comfort of the oppressors and their supporters.

The last time we truly had a genuine, grassroots popular resistance movement in Palestine (before the protests against Israel’s apartheid wall in the West Bank village of Budrus in the early 2000s) was during first three years of the first intifada.

In 2005, people in the village of Bilin began their weekly protests against the wall Israel built on their land. The Popular Struggle Coordination Committee (PSCC) was formed in 2008, touted as the rebirth of popular resistance as more and more West Bank villages started their own weekly protests and were effectively swept under the wings of the PSCC.

Mohammed Khatib, one of the founders of the PSCC, told me in an interview that the committee “sought to undertake creative direct action as a result of the low numbers in the protests.”

Bailed out by PA

The model of the PSCC is built around generating international support and media awareness, and on this front it has proven to be highly successful. Yet the use of the term of “popular resistance” is unfair and quite simply an inaccuracy as these demonstrations are built around no mobilizing strategy or goal, do not include the majority or even half of the villagers, and some of those who do take part prevent their wives and daughters from joining in.

The structure of the committee is built on an undemocratic basis, with self-appointed figures from the various villages fulfilling the leadership roles. The unelected Palestinian Authority prime minister, the darling of Europe and the US, Salam Fayyad funds the committee with more than half a million shekels ($125,000) each year.

“Since October 2009, we have been getting 50,000 shekels per month from Fayyad,” Khatib said. The money ostensibly goes to paying the bails of Palestinians arrested during the protests, logistical needs and administrative purposes.

“The financial costs could not be covered except from the support and donations of official bodies,” Khatib explained. “During one month in 2008, fifty Palestinians were arrested from Bilin. Fifty people needed to be represented by a lawyer and have their bail paid. Donations from supporters were just not enough.”

Fayyad carries an agenda with him, which he has no qualms in making public. During the seventh annual Bilin conference in April this year, he spoke about how these “popular protests are the steps toward an economically independent Palestinian state on the 1967 borders.” This is in stark contrast to the popular chants at these same demonstrations of “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

More concretely, of course, Fayyad nominally commands the security forces that work with the very same Israeli occupation army that is carrying out the theft of land from the villages.

Khatib is aware of the criticisms relating to an alleged popular committee accepting funds from politicians. “I’ve personally met with Salam Fayyad several times since April 2011 and told him that the popular committees do not want his money, but he didn’t listen,” Khatib added.

The PSCC is also funded by nongovernmental organizations who come in with their own schemes and plans. For example, the Spanish group NoVA seeks, according to its website, to “offer support for civil society in conflict areas in the field of violence prevention, peace building, mediation and nonviolent conflict transformation” (

NoVA supports a study program called the Executive Diploma for Leading Change. According to participant Beesan Ramadan, the Spanish deputy consul Pablo Sanz was brought into one of the classes to lecture about the “proper way to resist” and then proceeded to say that Palestinians should be “pragmatic” and to consider not throwing rocks in protests. Sanz argued that it makes the consuls’ jobs harder if they encounter rock throwing when they attended protests with European officials.

Mired in apathy

This is the root problem for the protests that internationals and Israelis so love to participate in. The PSCC is not reflective of Palestinian society, one that is mired in deep apathy due to a number of factors: the dependency of large numbers of people on loans from banks, the illusion of a “state” as introduced by Fayyad’s neoliberal agenda of “state-building,” the high cost of sacrifices already made and the exhaustion of 64 years of increasing and incessant occupation and colonization.

Overshadowing all of it are the Oslo accords of the 1990s, which only legitimized and entrenched the Israeli occupation instead of getting rid of it.

A need for mobilization

Meanwhile, efforts are made to bring in European and international delegations and show them around the villages engaging in the weekly protests, and in establishing solidarity links that lead to speaking tours during which leaders of the popular committees talk about “nonviolent resistance.”

However, equal effort is not made toward mobilizing Palestinians. The failure to do so is indicative of the prevalent attitude in Palestinian society, one that hasn’t changed since Bilin’s first protest in 2005. Seven years of weekly protests and the general attitude is again one of apathy, contempt for “Fayyad’s resistance” and despair regarding the uselessness of it all, of how the youth are bravely risking their lives week in, week out and how that won’t change the status quo.

By criticizing this model of protests, I am in no way seeking to belittle or cast doubt on the courage of men and women who protest against the occupier, or the sacrifices made by numerous villages, particularly by those whose sons and daughters have been martyred or injured by the Israeli forces.

The psychological and physical stresses that villagers suffer from frequent night raids on their homes, multiple arrests of their family members, and the helplessness of not being able to give their children a better future are all to be taken into consideration, as well as their admirable steadfastness and conviction that these protests are an effective means to challenge the occupation.

No such thing as “joint struggle” with Israelis

In addition to questions about the strategy behind and efficacy of these forms of protests, the participation of Israeli activists is certainly a topic of great debate. Today’s dynamics of “Palestinian resistance” have drawn more and more Israelis to the protests and made it an attractive prospect, almost like a tourist destination.

Unless explicitly stated by villagers or the Palestinian community involved in demonstrations, no one is refusing to allow Israelis come to the protests. With that in mind, it is also helpful to acknowledge that the majority of Palestinian society does not trust Israelis from the outset. So what exactly should the role of Israeli activists be?

It goes without saying that Israeli activists must never take a decision-making or leadership role in the Palestinian struggle, but instead must remain on the periphery. In my experience, most of the Israeli activists already know and understand that. Once establishing their presence in Palestinian protests, their primary responsibilities are documenting the Israeli occupying army’s crimes, facilitating legal proceedings in the case of Palestinians getting arrested by the Israeli army and diverting arrest, which means placing themselves in front of Palestinians who are about to get arrested to allow the Palestinians more time to escape arrest.

Eltezam Morrar from Budrus, who led the women in her village to protest against the occupation army, shared her fear that the present-day reality is not totally led by Palestinian voices.

“Any international or Israeli who wants to join us in our demos is welcomed,” she told me. “But as my father once said, we are the ones who put the agendas for the resistance and the Israeli or international supporters follow it. Nowadays I am not really sure if the agendas are 100 percent Palestinian.”

This issue is exacerbated by the absence of a truly representative Palestinian leadership able to lay out a strategy for resistance and mass mobilization, instead of busying itself with creating a police (non)state in the West Bank bantustans, or autocratic rule under Hamas in Gaza.

Some Israeli activists speak explicitly of a “joint struggle” between Israelis and Palestinians (see, for example, Noa Shaindlinger’s 24 June article “Thoughts on a joint, but unequal struggle” on the website +972).

But to put it bluntly, there is no such thing as a “joint struggle.”

Israeli anarchists, many of whom attend the Palestinian protests and who are perhaps the closest to understanding the Palestinian struggle, don’t even identify themselves as Israelis to begin with, so the term doesn’t make much sense anyway. There must be an understanding of what the Palestinian struggle is about, specifically so that liberal Zionists won’t waste their time coming to protests all in the name of “peace” and “the two-state solution.”

There can be no peace without justice, and justice means decolonization, allowing the implementation of the right of return for Palestinian refugees, and obliterating all the racist laws and policies of Israeli apartheid and occupation. That means no Jewish state, no supremacist laws and no different systems for people of different ethnic backgrounds.

No symmetry under occupation

The term “joint struggle” implies a degree of equality or at least symmetry, and that is definitely not the case between Israelis and Palestinians, even if they are dodging the same rubber bullets and inhaling the same tear gas.

Israeli activists are solidarity activists, just like their international counterparts. There is no clear role for solidarity activists precisely because there is no clear Palestinian resistance strategy within Palestine.

If there was an aim to the protests, then solidarity activists would join the villagers from, for example, Nabi Saleh and trek down the hill to where the stolen village spring lies, instead of habitually hanging back and philosophizing on the inhuman nature of the occupation soldiers.

The fact that Israeli activists live on Palestinian colonized land spurs them to want to do more and be considered as more than solidarity activists, as they claim that they are connected to the Palestinian cause, which is true enough. The problem lies with what sort of actions are implemented, and what these Israeli activists can do to chip away at the occupying, colonizing system.

Israeli activists should focus on changing their own society

Israeli activists must work within their own societies and communities. Of course this will be a very difficult and even dangerous task, as one would expect in a society where racism and fascism are so institutionalized.

To Palestinians, that would make the difference, not swamping weekly protests that don’t hold much credibility with Palestinians in the first place, and sometimes even outnumbering the Palestinian participants.

Complaints from some Israeli activists of how horrible they are treated and of the persecution they receive at the hands the army can come off as self-indulgent, especially when arrests or injuries of Israelis and internationals are already far more likely to be widely reported anyway than the routine and horrifying abuses suffered by Palestinians on a far larger scale.

Israeli activists sometimes despair about how pointless and ineffective their efforts are in creating more awareness about the realities of the occupation within their own communities but that should only spur them to be more creative in coming up with strategies to confront and challenge their society.

For now, Palestinians must also work within their own societies in order to mobilize and inject the society with the spirit of volunteerism and social community that is now fragmenting due to neoliberal economic policies that widen inequality, aid dependency, debt and consumerism.

No one is rejecting Israeli anti-Zionists, but simply calling yourself an anti-Zionist, and even coming to protests is not enough. Israeli activists who do so claim, for the most part, to understand the privileges they enjoy due to being white and Jewish in a colonial situation. But it is not always clear that they understand in practice how these privileges continue to manifest themselves in their interactions with Palestinians.

Toward a truly popular resistance

Despite the good intentions of the internationals and the Israelis who come to protests, their presence can also buttress the notion that Palestinians need someone to speak in their name. Not only is this model of resistance hugely ineffective in terms of outcome and mobilizing Palestinians, it also helps maintains the status quo that both Israel and the Palestinian Authority strive to protect.

Bassem Tamimi, one of the leaders of the popular struggle committee in Nabi Saleh, acknowledged that the reality on the ground is not a popular resistance.

“We are still in the preliminary stages. I would even say the stages behind the preliminaries behind the first step to be taken toward a popular resistance. There are a lot of faults with the current model. When we first started out on these weekly protests we used the term ‘popular resistance’ as a way to mobilize so that in the near future, it could be just that. Now we’re at a stagnation point.”

Building from the ground up

Revolutions and successful resistance do not take place overnight. It takes months, years for a movement to establish itself. The struggle must be brought back to the Palestinians themselves, and one sure way to mobilize is not through protests or speeches, but through social community work (which incidentally is what made Hamas so popular from its establishment, especially in the refugee camps).

Get to know the people on the street. Ask them what they need, what they are suffering from. It could be a broken roof or not having enough money to pay their daughter’s university tuition. Trust begins to be built up in different communities, and with that awareness and the spark to rekindle a true resistance movement on the ground.

As Paolo Freire rightly pointed out, “No pedagogy which is truly liberating can remain distant from the oppressed by treating them as unfortunates and by presenting for their emulation models from among the oppressors. The oppressed must be their own example in the struggle for their redemption.”

Linah Alsaafin is a recent graduate of Birzeit University in the West Bank. She was born in Cardiff, Wales and was raised in England, the United States and Palestine.

Editor’s note: This article was amended on 12 July to remove a quote for which the writer had intended to seek permission to use but had not obtained by the original publication time.




If Palestinian activists list clear goals of their resistance and decide the roles of participants, supporters and officials; then the resistance will be organized even if no leaders are appointed and that what would make it popular. "Finding the Will to Resist" starts by connecting every act, regardless how little its impact, to the goals.
Resistance should not be stopped until achieving all goals. Partial victories must not drive us crazy or lazy. They have to motivate us to work harder.


This is something that has needed clearly articulating for some time. The fetishisation of 'non-violence' is something colonialistic; the debate over violence/non-violence needs to be tactical not a matter of appealing to international movements. A much needed piece.


Yes. This idea of appealing to the "international community" is a joke which will never work. Norman Finkelstein's fetishization of "international law" and the "two state solution" strikes a similar chord for me.


There is indeed an obsession with preaching nonviolence from the West which is deeply hypocritical when its political and economic supremacy has always depended upon a vast military industrial complex, which of course includes the IDF.

Still, some of the Palestinian advocates of nonviolence I've met would argue that the choice of nonviolence is not just about their rights or about 'strategy' (PR vis a vis the west), but about the role violent struggle plays in self-formation of the armed resistor and his or her family and community: that hating to the point of death makes someone permanently dependent upon a state of conflict for their psychological equilibrium. They might point to the divided communities of South Africa, or indeed the twisted militarism of Israeli society, and say 'we can do better in Palestine'. This takes a considerable amount of vision, hope and moral courage.

This is of course an analysis which many won't sign up to, but it's a voice that sometimes gets lost in the conversation about rights and tactics.


Completely agree with the commenter's observation of the psychological effect of violent organizing.

Furthermore, while violence cannot be completely eliminated in response to a violent Occupation regime, I would like to see the author and other Palestinian purists who love finding faults with non-Palestinian partners, say out loud what they think about militant groups ***that target civilians on purpose.***

Anyone following the past 12 years in Israel-Palestine, cannot escape the conclusion that Palestinian terror attacks on civilians have been the Occupation's greatest ally. Continuing to call them "resistance" and deflecting attention to "a nonviolence fetish", is a great act of hypocrisy and cowardice - of which the author, I am afraid, for all her youth and bluster, is guilty here.

And finally: had Mandela et al. told their South African white anti-Apartheid allies that "there is no joint struggle" - then who knows, maybe he'd still be rotting in an Apartheid jail today.


Last time I checked the tiny minority of them was against aparteid, just like with Israel Jews. The end of aparteid in SA was brought by struggle (including armed one) by non-whites and by international solidarity. Whites were COERCED into stopping being "master race".


It is about time this necessary argument is brought to the fore. 'Non-violent' resistance is but one tactic and its fetishisation only serves to bind our Palestinian brothers & sisters further into the chains of western colonisalism. As this article recognises, it also limits the work which must be done to build a genuine liberation movement where diversity of tactics are an essential ingredient of the Palestinian-led struggle.


The problem is collaboration. We need numbers,more specifically we need %. Nonviolence is the only tool that is effective in the short-term and the solution in the long-term. Overflow with numbers the checkpoints. Walk over the 'denied' roads. Nonviolent noncooperation with the occupation...i could go into more detail if anyone is interested...


1. "Israeli activists who do so claim, for the most part, to understand the privileges they enjoy due to being white and Jewish in a colonial situation. "

You DO know that not all Israelis are white, right? Hell, not even all Ashkenazi Jews are white.

2. "That means no Jewish state"

So I guess you want us to go back to being minorities in other countries, right? Gee, that worked out REALLY well for us for the past 2000 years, didn't it? And yet, you all seem to have no problem with a "Muslim state" (i.e. the rest of the Middle East) or any other state that was created in a similar fashion (USA, Australia, Canada, etc). Give me a break.


1)Obama is whiter than Bush, so to speak.
2) It is not about "Muslim state", it is about the colonization. Rhodesia is no more and it was "white state" in the same meaning as Israel is "Jewish state".
Anyway, do not steal others' land to build "your own" racist state.
3) 2000 years is a myth. Jews for almost all this time were not a people but religious groups. So, they had no more right to their own state on others' land than China Buddhists on "their own state" in India, with ethnic cleansing of natives.


1. What the hell are you talking about?

2. But it was our native land too. http://blogs.discovermagazine....

3. It doesn't matter how the native European gentiles saw us, the fact is we were brutally persecuted for more than 2000 years. To deny this fact is not only foolish, but highly offensive. Zionism was built as a solution to this, and Israelis will largely continue to oppose you until you are willing to show as much sensitivity to our plight as you are to that of the Arab Palestinians. Qaddafi's solution makes the most sense to me:


1) I do not ask for "respect" from the racist talking about "gentiles".
But I still answer because it could be useful for others.
The "whiteness" is not all about of skin color, it is about privilege. Jews in Israel are privileged against Palestinians never mind their skin color, even though sometimes Zionist Jewish racist make mistakes like this
The reaction of racist Jews is telling by itself - some of them are ashamed because "A Jew does this to another Jew".

2) Even if for SOME Zionist Jews Palestine was their land 2000 years ago (not very probable) it is not the reason to "come back" as colonizers and rob others' land. Zionists themselves were willing to rob another natives - in Africa or Latin America, for ex. They wanted to be "white men" on others' land, period.

3) the same as 2) Rhodesia demise is a future for Zionist

By the way, I was born a Jew by Halaha, I just am anti-Zionist. Dan the respectful racist made the same "mistake" as Zionist Jewish racist policeman attacking "another Jew"


"Zionism was built as a solution to this, and Israelis will largely continue to oppose you until you are willing to show as much sensitivity to our plight as you are to that of the Arab Palestinians."
Yes the child of a rape has the right to exist, but not the right to oppress. Your "plight"? Oh I forgot, you are always the victims, even when you are violently oppressing, plundering and stealing.
There will never be peace until you get your head around the fact that human rights are for Palestinians as well. How about you face reality and try to think the unthinkable: that Zionism is your brutal persecution transferred onto another innocent, and that it needs to stop its criminality and seek reconciliation?


Give you a break! While you spout the same old Zionist excuses: why don't you go and protest about human rights violations somewhere else; or, Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East; or,we had a hard time in Europe so we have the right to be fascists in Palestine. You DO know that Israel is a racist state in contravention of a long list of international laws and UN resolutions, right?


Understand what's meant by no Jewish state. Palestinians cannot recognize a Jewish state. That would mean they endorse a state where only Jews have rights. It doesn't mean ship the Jews back to Poland or wherever -- unlike the Zionist occupiers whose plan is a Palestinian "state" in Jordan.


Is the author out there weekly protesting against the IDF in Bil'in? It's easy to comment about non-violent resistance sitting cosily at home with your laptop. When Palestinians throw stones, this act is the first thing picked up by the media and used to belittle them. Plainly, it doesn't look good.


Yes, the author is out there weekly protesting. By the way she was there in Nabi Saleh when Mustafa Tamimi was killed by the IDF !
If you don't know Linah Alsaafin, maybe you're the one who sits cosily at home !
"Plainly, It doesn't look good": on you tv-screen ?


I don't know whether I'm Israeli or not (my passport claims I am; I don't really feel like I am). But I agree with every word.


"Israeli activists sometimes despair about how pointless and ineffective their efforts are in creating more awareness about the realities of the occupation within their own communities but that should only spur them to be more creative in coming up with strategies to confront and challenge their society."

I am sorry, but it is an impossible task. Zionist Jews in Israel are not interested in being made "more aware about the occupation." After all, most of them serve the same occupation. They only want Palestine for themselves, and usually only differ by what method it should be done.

A tiny minority of Jews in Israel could be against Zionism, but there is no reason to believe their numbers could multiply. Very few people are willing to go against their wested interests, and wested interest of Zionist Jews are Palestine without Palestinians.


In my view, in order for the Palestinian freedom movement to defeat the atrocious Israeli-goverment-imposed apartheid, numerous Israelis will need to be persuaded to join or at least accept the Palestinian cause. Thus any tactic, including rock-throwing, needs to be evaluated for whether it helps or hurts this cause.

The author sniffs that "simply calling yourself an anti-Zionist, and even coming to protests is not enough." Forgive me, but that's not the slogan of a political movement that aims to win.


What about the BDS chatter? Violence by Palestinians delegitmizes any boycott attempts. In fact, this article delegitimizes EI. The use of violence by Palestinians will only help Israel's arguments, and will cause lots of casulties to both sides, but especially the Palestinians. Anyone who says otherwise hasn't experienced the horrors of the 2nd Initifada and is only seeing the turn of events from the past few years when the conflict in the West Bank has been similar to Disneyland relative to 10-15 years ago.


Media worldwide looks to define for all of us what constitutes "acceptable" forms of protest and what doesn't. Demonstrations everywhere get hi-jacked and turned into riots, after which the media hectors us about troublemakers and their unacceptable behavior. We are all Palestinians now.


The British High Commissioner in India scoffed at Gandhi and muttered, "How can you possibly defeat the British Occupation of India, why you don't even have an army?" To which Gandhi replied, "We will withdrawl support and non-cooperation so completely and thoroughly that you will be unable to administer the Occupation at all, and you will realize yourselves that it is in your own best interests to pick up and leave." Right On!


So much frustration put in so many words !!!

Overcoming this frustration in the daily practice of creative resistence is one way of liberation - as shown by
the Popular Struggle Committee and by the Freedom Theatre.


why we are always deconstructivist? a question which I always face whenever I read or hear people talking about a sucessful Palestinian story. on the contrary of what the author says the popular resistance actors are democratic and there is a high level of participation, the Bilin case demonstrated this several times. if the author was interested in enhancing and developing the struggle techniques maybe she should have written her article in Arabic, in this way at least people suffering and fighting daily can read and maybe discuss with her future tactics and strategies. but what she did is what she accuses them of doing, "addressing the International comunity". all the people involved in the popular non-violent resistence recognise the right of the palestinians to engage in all possible kinds of struggle, but they themselves choose the non-violent one. if you wish to engage in armed resistance everybody will respect you and you are free to do it but don't give lessons to those who enter once a month or two in the Israeli jails and get toutured.


The benchmark is the second intifada which was a purely Palestinian enterprise engineered and executed by a wholly grass roots, home grown leadership working from the bottom up without any involvement from Israelis or outside dictates. That didn’t end well for Palestinians and a future Palestine. One of the problems in Palestinian resistance as opposed to Jewish resistance in the creation of Israel is that the Palestinian refusal to welcome in parties of influence and the refusal for compromise and recognition of a Jewish state has resulted ultimately in a constant degradation of Palestinian national interests and consequently any form of statehood. Post intifada, we are now witnessing some forms of an early but broad consensus which enhances the cause beyond Palestinians themselves and within the progressive thinking Israeli public and abroad.
The extreme right in Israel and the conservatives within the international community will therefore welcome the above treatise in this article by correctly seeing it as the seeds for yet another Palestinian hara-kiri initiative in self-destruct.


A simplistic analogy filled with worn out prophetic platitudes and with no original insight belittles the article itself, never mind the comment. Hopefully this nonsense holds no real influence in Palestinian strategy.


who know better what really "Jewish state" means, but at least some Westerners.
Sure the Zionist could not refute the notion of "Jewish state" being a colonial entity on Palestinian land with "Palestine without Palestinians" as a prime goal. So, the Zionist instead used very worn out names-calling :)


pretending to care for Palestinians - to cite "extreme right in Israel" only, as if "left" Zionists are not foes of Palestine. Meretz support all Zionists crimes, including against Gaza, they just have some minor tactical objections.

Every time I read about "Likudniks" or "Zionist rightwingers" instead of simply "Zionists" I know that author tries to dupe readers.


If I am getting this right, the author is expressing her concern about possible co-optation of palestinian struggle by an obsession with a fetishized western concept of nonviolence, setting it as a standard of “please play nice” to live up to and thus delegitimizing other forms of resistance, resulting in a reduction in effectiveness and results.

I also understand the author is expressing a fear that concepts that “look good”, such as nonviolence and Palestinian/Israeli joint resistance, might be also costing the struggle its effectiveness and results, which the author describes as the recovery of justice for Palestinians, something she thinks would require many aspects of the current reality to change at a high cost for Israeli Jews.

If I understood correctly the intent of the author, I must say this intent resonates a lot with my beliefs.

I worry about the clarity of the meaning though, since there is always space for interpretation and assumptions that might go unnoticed. As I understand it, nonviolence has to go both ways. If Palestinians are protesting in a way that is not working for them, not bringing results or change, that is violent towards them. What doesn’t work can be a fetishized understanding of both “violence” and “nonviolence”. Violence might work sometimes to express frustration, anger and indignation, but it will only “work” (and we have to question the meaning of “work”) if its impact effects a change - either it draws the attention that is needed to have other actors exert enough pressure for change, or in itself there is enough power to force the opponent to change. Many of the Israeli and Diaspora Jewish activists believe they are taking “nonviolent” action when approaching the general Jewish public, however, they are perceived as aggressors.


I like what approaches that teach “authenticity” bring to the mix, such as NVC (Nonviolent Communication), where differently from what sometimes people understand, that it would be some kind of a “speaking softly” approach, it is actually focused on helping the other WANT to hear the most difficult messages, and moving away from a concept of punitive justice towards one of restorative justice, even in the most violent, urgent situations.

Another approach worthy of mention is strategic nonviolence and its success rates. A study of 323 violent and nonviolent campaigns, from 1900 to 2006 shows violent campaigns succeed 26% of the time and nonviolent campaigns succeed 53%. (Stephen & Chenoweth, “Why Civil Resistance Works”, International Security, Summer 2008).

I would much rather see the discussion around what would nonviolent campaigns need to look like in Palestine in order to be more effective in making human suffering stop and bringing about a shared sense of justice, than to risk a flat-out judgement that nonviolence is the problem.


The most important contribution by this article is not, which the title may imply, that the Palestinians should return to the armed violence. Rather, its true value is in drawing attention to the fact that International NGOs and Western donors should not be allowed to define the way in which Palestinians resist occupation, especially "popular resistance." When those donors come to Palestine, preventing their NGO employees from participating in the basic right to political participation (i.e. protests) and discouraging Palestinians from engaging in resistance activities, they are simply reinforcing the occupation and making it more affordable, indirectly helping the Israelis to "pacify" the Palestinian population.

That is of course one of the main purposes for Western donors, who fear the effects of further Palestinian resistance on stability in the Middle East, and the increased costs of oil that affect their own economies. And as Shir Hever points out, the military costs of providing security to the settlements in the oPt may be triple the already high costs of subsidies for settlers. Therefore, a pacified Palestinian population reduces the costs for Israel of occupation, of Western economies through regional stability, and in the long-run foreign aid to Palestinians if aid grants can be reduced due to stability in the occupation.

Armed resistance has moral questions and anyway failed the Palestinians during the Second Intifada. However, Palestinians should not let Western donors define their form of popular resistance, because they in no way have the Palestinian's best interests at heart (or Israelis, at that). Rather, those donors want to normalise the occupation as fast as possible and to make it as cheap as possible. Those donors are actually subsidising the Israeli military-industrial complex engaged in an occupation that tramples every Palestinian right imaginable.


I agree with almost everything you said, and want to comment on the subject of "no joint struggle". I totally agree with you that the Palestinian anti colonization struggle in the west bank should be led by Palestinians, and Israelis only demonstrate in solidarity.
but I think the difference between the right place for a solidarity only movenent and the place for a joint struggle is in the solution to the colonization condition. the zionists used colonial practices all over Palestine. a solidarity struggle inflicts that the future is Palestinian independency. I have no say in the Palestinian struggle because it's your struggle, for your society.
In Israel of 48' the hope is for a joint Arab - Jewish society and state, which will be mine just as my Palestinian friends'. In this struggle the fact there's no equality between us just strengthening the need of Jews who will be willing to fight and lead a call to end to zionism, for a new future society for both people. When I talk about my joint society I am a partner, not a stranger who shows solidarity.
If you oppose the 2 states solution, you wish to have a joint society and joint state with me. and if that's so, why shouldn't I have a say about its future?


So it's not OK for others to tell how Palestinians should protest, but it's perfectly fine if the author does it?

Makes perfect sense.


Of course it makes sens. Linah Alsaafin is Palestinian, and she's talking to and about her fellow Palestinians !


...the author telling anti-Occupation Israelis how, where and to whom they should address their activism.

Which she does without breaking a sweat.


Your perspective and reflections are very worthy of our attention as we as Americans consider our options in the face of the continuing colonization and ethnic cleansing of Palestine taking place under our noses and with the diplomatic and financial support of our nation. I just came across this 1964 statement by Nelson Mandela quoted in Thompson’s history of South Africa:

“…fifty years of non-violence had brought the African people nothing but more and more repressive legislation, and few and fewer rights…[I]t would be unrealistic and wrong for African leaders to continue preaching non-violence at a time when the Government met our peaceful demands with force.”

I have become increasingly aware of the limits — indeed the pernicious effects — of many of the approaches or so-called actions of “liberal” or “progressive” elements in our own civil society, often related to combatting “the occupation” but in fact serving to shore it up. One example is the resort to “positive investment” in the Palestinian economy as a counter to moves to divest church pension funds from companies like Caterpillar, Motorola and Hewlett Packard who are profiting from Israel’s illegal activities. Another gambit is the move to boycott “settlement goods,” now gaining in popularity as an alternative to the call for a comprehensive economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel. This serves to separate “occupation” from the Israel/US colonization machine, as if the settlers were not the creation of the state and could exist without the state’s support. Of course, these strategems serve to provide comfortable alternatives for liberals and progressives still not willing to run afoul of Zionist advocacy groups. The South African government in the late 1980s sought reform in the shape of economic investment in the Homelands. It’s interesting that you note how some Palestinian nonviolent resistance efforts have been co-opted by the client government working for the occupation powers.


Nonviolence and organized mass action are the Palestinians best chance to win western attention and opinions. Just an American observer here... my own government is responsible for funding this mess, which disturbs me, but I also know most Americans are blindly pro-Israel and that will never change unless there is at least some coherent solution to come from the Palestinian side AND one that isn't derailed by terroristic violence. But what do I know?


There are many valid points raised in this article. However I caution against the concept of, "Oppressed people do not and should not have to explain their oppression to their oppressor, nor tailor their resistance to the comfort of the oppressors and their supporters." Getting beyond the rhetoric of the statement, this concept is often used to stifle thoughtful discussion and suppress disagreement. It is also similar to an argument that one hears angry Israelis make against Jews from the diaspora who have differing opinions.

Consider that if someone from one nationality has information on a medical technique the issue of who the advice is coming from and who it is given to is not usually part of the discussion. I suspect that if I had invented an interesting new weapon (Ba'al forbid) which I wanted to supply to some oppressed group which believed in armed struggle, they would probably take my advice on how to use it regardless of the fact that I have the citizenship of the oppressor country. It is legitimate for someone from Japan to advise a Palestinian on how to best make a case in the Japanese media. Since this conflict is driven so much by misinformed American opinions it is reasonable that Americans have ideas on how best to influence those opinions.

Friends give advice to friends. Friends listen to friends. Palestinians come to America and give us advice. Foreigners who go to Palestine may have some ideas. Theses ideas may be uninformed drivel, but they should be addressed and refuted for their content, not because they came from the "oppressor." I have seen discussions where this line is used to stifle opinions unreasonably.

In other words, if I give input in a meeting that is unsound, then reject it for being unsound, and I will be open to understanding why it is unsound. But the meme of "you are from the oppressor nation and have nothing to tell us oppressed people" is self destructive and can cut off vital information.


The author makes valid points about unsavory patterns in the Barrier protests (the co-optation by Fayyad, the "Bil'in tourism" phenomenon) - then twists them to reaffirm a worldview and message that are, unfortunately, so 1970.

" put it bluntly, there is no such thing as a “joint struggle.” WTF?
Most progressive analysts, *regardless* of nationality, agree that the regime between the Jordan and the Sea has long ago become a single entity. It binds together under it privileged Israeli Jews, less-privileged Israeli Jews, Palestinians suffering various levels of discrimination and oppression, and foreigners imported as cannon fodder.

Is this what the fresh young voice from Bir Zeit telling us now? That people from the various groups under this regime *cannot* join hands to defeat it? Why, exactly? And how can BDS, for example, ever be anything except a joint struggle?

Of course, the opposite happens all the time. Fayyad and other Occupied Palestinians are roped effectively by the regime to help maintain it. But you want to fight this well-oiled well-funded regime, with an arm and a leg cut off and with your finger poking your own eye. Good luck.

Then the entire "nonviolence fetish" argument. Again starting from valid point and overplaying it to absurdity. Yes, oppressors and their enablers have no right to lecture the oppressed. But has Alsaafin wondered why in the late 2000's, "nonviolence fetish" has spread? Perhaps it has to do with the tactics that Palestinian militant factions and public have embraced and placed front and center earlier that decade?

Lashing out against a "nonviolence fetish" - even as nonviolence is scoring Palestinians some victories at long last - without saying a word about the "violence fetish" that has buried Palestine ten feet under, sends a troubling message.

Nonviolence offers a proud effective alternative to murderous revenge and collaboration. Alsaafin tries to tarnish it, without offering anything else.


Looking at the video of these protests they look more like a weekly staged show for tourists than an effective protest, especially with the wall in place. Violence creates a cycle that is unpredictable and best avoided.

I think you guys need to get creative with the protest in order to get more interest video which is perhaps the most useful output. Maybe it is time to build a Trogan Horse?