Good recent resources on Palestinians and nonviolence

Ten days ago I had the pleasure of attending a book event for Mary E.
King, in connection with the recent publication of her book A Quiet Revolution: The First Palestinian
Intifada and Nonviolent Resistance
(New York: Nation Books,
2007).  Mary is a long-time friend and colleague, and this book is
a compendious mine of information on its subject. 

Once I decided to write something here about Mary’s book, I thought it
would also be a good idea to discuss with the people who were my
collaborators and co-authors in the International Quaker Working Party
on Israel and Palestine of 2002-2004, to see if we could also put up
onto the web the great
chapter on Nonviolence in our 2004 book
When the Rain Returns:
Toward Justice and
Reconciliation in Palestine and Israel
So I consulted with Tony Bing, who was the principal author of that
chapter and with the 12 other– mainly Quaker– people who were the
other co-authors of the book project; and now, I am happy to be able to do this.
(Sadly, our friend Misty Gerner, who was a wonderful colleague on the
project, passed away in 2006.  So I consulted with her widower and
literary executor, Phil Schrodt, in her place.)

The good news, therefore: You can now access our Nonviolence chapter here in HTML format and here as a Word doc
Please note the licensing conditions at the top there — as well as the
instructions for how you can order a copy of the whole of our book,
which is certainly still worth reading!

… Mary King brought to her book a long engagement in both the
practice and the study of nonviolence.  Back in the early 1960s
she was one of “a tiny handful” of white women from the northern
American states who traveled to the south to work with the Southern
racial eqaulity movement called the “civil rights movement” that was
led by Martin Luther King, Jr..  Her memoir of those days, Freedom Song, later won the Robert
F. Kennedy Memorial Book Award.  Her second book was Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.,
which surveyed not only the nonviolent freedom movements led by those
two men but also half a dozen more recent nonviolent movements for
radical social change.  Along the way she also got a doctorate in
the topic of the role of nonviolence in international relations. 
She has been closely involved in Middle Eastern issues for many years
and has done numerous projects with President Jimmy Carter’s Carter
Center.  Indeed, Carter contributed a short Foreword to Mary’s
latest book.

Reading the book brought back so many memories for me!  The first
intifada, which ran from 1987 through 1993, truly was a time of
enormous social, organizational, and ideological excitement for the
Palestinians of the occupied territories– as it was, too, for those
Israeli sympathizers who were mounting their own nonviolent actions
within Israel, with a view to “Ending the Occupation” and “Bringing the
Troops Home.”  I spent two periods of time in Palestine and Israel
in those years: one visit that lasted two months or so, as I recall it,
in the summer of 1989, and then a shorter visit in 1992. 
Actually, in 1989, I started off doing some research oin the nonviolent
movements on both sides of the Green Line–  work that was
subsequently published in two articles in the short-lived “Wolrd
Monitor” monthly magazine… (I should really look them out and re-read
them.)  But then I became fascinated with the relationship between
the people inside the OPTs who were running and leading their own
intifada there and the PLO leadership that was stuck in distant Tunis;
and I published an article on that topic in the Spring 1990 issue of
the Middle East Journal.

A couple of aspects of Mary’s book are particularly noteworthy. 
One was the way she was able to convey just how widespread and
all-encompassing the mass organizing was that lay at the heart of the
resilience the Palestinians showed in the first intifada.  For
example, she has a whole chapter on “Women at the forefront of
nonviolent struggles” during the intifada, and another on the
“Movements of students, prisoners, and work committees.” 
Actually, a really good complement to these chapters is Joost
Hiltermann’s classic 1993 book Behind the Intifada which
provided a very rich account of the development of the many kinds of
mass organizations in the OPTs in the years before 1987 as well as (as
I recall it) during the early years of the first intifada.

Another notable aspect of Mary’s book is that at many points it
underlines the huge role that was played during the first intifada by
the activist Palestinian intellectuals who were based in occupied East Jerusalem
Back in those days, the “special” status the Israelis acorded to East
Jerusalem by virtue of their claim that it was “part of” Israel meant
that the city’s 150,000 indigenous Palestinian residents had broad
freedoms to travel, both inside Israel and throughout the West Bank;
and even down to Gaza– that their compatriots in the rest of the
occupied territories did not have.  Because of those freedoms, and
because East Jerusalem really still was in so many ways the historic
business, religious, and educational hub of the whole of the West Bank,
as it had been since the nakba
of 1948, the city’s community leaders played a huge role not only in
coordinating but also in leading the actions of the first intifada.

As I have noted several times before, it was only after Oslo that the
Israelis started erecting a ring of steel around East Jerusalem,
cutting it off in any way they could think of from its historic West
Bank hinterland and forcing many aspects of the city’s life to wither
on the vine.  Since Israel was at the same time also building the
fence that started to completely enclose Gaza, the residents of East
Jerusalem then became effectively shut off from that other main
concentration of the “also-occupied” among the Palestinians. 
Thus, since Oslo, the Jerusalem Palestinians have been cast into a
cut-off form of limbo, and their once-proud institutions have been
either suffocated or– as in so many cases– shut down completely by
the occupation authorities, even while the building of Jews-only
settlements and Israeli ministries and other forms of national
institutions has continued apace within every corner of the city…

So there is a particular poignancy to reading Mary’s account of the
crucial and exciting leadership role the Jerusalem Palestinians played
in the first intifada.

Her book is very broad, very detailed, and meticulously
researched.  I might wish, though, that she had taken the story a
couple of steps further and added a couple of chapters about what
happened at the end
of the first intifada, that is, effectively, what happened with the
September 1993 signing of the Oslo Accord and then, hot on its heels,
the “Return” of the PLO leadership from Tunis to the OPTs.  In our
chapter on Nonviolence in When the
Rain Returns
we wrote quite a lot about that, because we judged it to be an important part of the whole long story of
nonviolence activism among the Palestinians.

Regarding what became of the Palestinians’ use of, and attitudes
towards, nonviolence as the intifada ground on and on, we wrote:

  • … As the intifada dragged on
    into its fourth and fifth years with no respite in sight, the
    Palestinians’ use of physical violence mounted–both against the
    Israelis and to try to resolve differences of opinion inside
    Palestinian society.  National unity
    started to erode, as national exhaustion set in.
  • The activists and leaders of the intifada
    had all along resisted the urgings of Israeli and U.S. government officials
    that they negotiate their own future themselves, without involving the
    exiled PLO.  “Only the PLO can represent
    us,” they stated repeatedly.  In 1993, they
    got what they had asked for: Israel did finally conclude
    the Oslo Accords directly with the PLO.   Once
    Arafat and his colleagues “returned” to the occupied territories,
    however, they proved a hugely damaging disappointment for the people
    there.  Long used to the secretive,
    authoritarian ways of an exile-based underground, Arafat almost
    immediately felt threatened by the network of community organizations
    he found in Gaza and the West Bank.  As Raji
    Sourani reminded us in Gaza,
    Arafat then set about
    working to dismantle the very community-based organizations whose
    grassroots activism had brought him back to his homeland.

We also have a whole section there on the debate that raged inside the
Palestinian movement on the question of nonviolence, in the decade
after 1993.

7 thoughts on “Good recent resources on Palestinians and nonviolence

  1. bb

    Reading the chapter of “When the Rain Returns” reminded me of the moment, back in the late 1980s, when a mainstream Israeli newspaper – as I remember was Ha’aretz – published a ground breaking editorial (in Israeli terms) arguing for an Israeli withdrawal from OT and the establishment of a de-militarised Palestinian state in federation with Jordan.
    To me as a keen but amateur Israel/Palestine observer since 1961 it was the first time this idea had entered the mainstream of Israeli discourse in any substantive way.
    To me it was Hope. At. Last. Better still, hope increasing as this view gradually permeated and took over Israeli policy making, culminating in Oslo. But today, only 13 years later, Palestine is split into two “entities”, one of which is headed for subjection to sharia law, probably permanently. And the Israeli peace movement is long dead and buried. So much for the audacity of hope.
    There were lots of comments and questions that came into my mind when reading the chapter, but in the end the one that has most vexed me from the beginning is this:
    In the Oslo negotiations why did the PLO not make a FREEZE on the settlements a condition of the PLO signing up to a recognition of Israel/two states? Israel committing to a freeze would have at least indicated to the Palestinians and the world that a genuine, believable palestinian state on ’67 borders and withdrawal would be the end goal of the negotiations? It’s easy to see what Israel had to gain by keeping the settlements issue vague, but what was the PLO’s rationale for not insisting on this as the price of recognition when recognition was the best card it would ever have to play?
    In all his books I have read Said doesn’t ever supply an explanation, neither does Abbas in his book on the negotiations. The issue is always skated over. Just as it is in this chapter. Why? And what is the answer?
    btw , I tried to order “When the Rain Returns” but the AFSC apparently doesn’t ship outside US?

  2. John R

    I’d like to second the recommendation of King’s fine book. It is a welcome look at the basically nonviolent and successful first Intifada, the history of which is becoming distorted and forgotten. I agree that the period around the end of the Intifada should have been covered. Because most were written during or immediately after intifada, almost all books don’t cover the end well or at all.
    To give my 2 cents to answer BB’s question, one has to remember that the Oslo negotiations were a secret end-run around the earlier Madrid/Washington negotiations. (one should also recall that the PLO had quite explicitly endorsed 2 states and “recognized Israel’s right to exist in peace and security” in 1988). The Madrid round negotiators were largely people from the territories associated with the intifada like the late Dr. Haidar Abd al-Shafi, Faisal Husseini, Hanan Ashrawi. These were tough negotiators and did not yield on the crucial settlement issues. IMHO this decision to hang tough was the right one and should have continued. But the usual answer is that Arafat in Tunis felt marginalized at this point and made a bad decision, signed on to a deal worse than ones he had rejected earlier from the Carter administration, (cf Said or Helena’s PLO book) in order to return to center stage. Many sources contend that the “Tunisians” (excepting Abu Jihad, earlier assassinated) were astoundingly clueless and hardly understood the importance of the settlements, already at that point not just one, but by far the greatest, obstacle to peace.
    The Gulf War and the PLO position toward it, the end run around Madrid and worst and suicidally stupidly, the dismantlement of the First Intifada organizations were catastrophes that tremendously weakened the Palestinians. After these (and the Rabin assassination) the surprise is that Oslo got as far as it did, not that it failed.

  3. bevin

    bb I’m not sure that there is such a thing as sharia law, but if there is it is unlikely that Hamas, which is a rather outward looking organisation (it evidently has reasonable relations with Iran for example), would “enforce it.”

  4. Salah

    Helena,
    Reading your post head of “Palestinians and nonviolence), although I admire your consistency of promoting nonviolence acts in the red zones around the world. as for Palestinians case here they are left with no options to get their land back from aggressive occupier who humiliating them, who calling them “Terrorists”, who refusing or forgetting and swiftly pulling from all peace talks in different ways and different claims.
    As of today case of Gaza recent actions of killing and military intervention in Gaza make Palestinians with no choose just to return the fire back with their limited and basic tool “Qassam”.
    If we keep asking Hamas or Fatah or Palestine for nonviolence way to solve the conflict, I think this is not the matter of Palestinians can hold responsible and account for when the other side of conflict should be asked and forced to agree to come down form their horse with real well to solve long lasting conflicts.
    While the other side give himself the rights in violence way from targeting assassinations, restricting and humiliating Palestinians through their public service from power and water, Jobs, also collective punishment.
    What Palestinians seen and experiencing now Abu Mazin approach which is with the line of US/ Israel, Hamas hardliner scenarios in both approaches Palestinians got the worse from Israelis no matter what they trying to offer Israelis.
    So the question is what the world need to do to convincing Palestinians how to believe of nonviolence approached will brings them the peace from wide doors?

  5. azazel

    I have a couple of other questions for Bevin.
    To begin with, I wonder what exactly you mean in saying that you’re “not sure that there is such a thing as sharia law.” The sharia boards and sharia courts of various countries would be very surprised to learn this. Do you mean that there are many different conceptions of Islamic law – which is of course true, but irrelevant to the point under discussion – or that Islamic law doesn’t exist as such? And if the latter, what is the basis for this somewhat unorthodox belief?
    Also, why would having good relations with Iran be inconsistent with a desire to enforce Islamic law or, for that matter, any other attitude toward Islamic law?

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