by Eve Mykytyn*
The Oxford definition of ‘terrorism’ is: “the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.” Although the term could apply to the belligerents in many wars, the term ‘terrorism’ takes on its everyday meaning when violence is perpetuated by the weak in resistance to the powerful.
What other form of resistance is available to an oppressed people? One does not have to search hard to find a Jewish source begging for the peaceful resistance of a Palestinian Gandhi or King.
The request itself is odd, it invites a comparison to the conditions Gandhi and King fought, and is an implicit, although perhaps unintended, admission that Israel represents another oppressive racist regime.
It takes chutzpah to complain about the form of resistance employed by the people you are oppressing. Why are the Palestinians obliged to meet violence with nonviolence? Certainly you have to take your victims as they are.
Gandhi wrote about the uses of nonviolent resistance and King referred to Gandhi’s writings. For Gandhi and King nonviolence was not an end in itself, it was a strategy, a means to achieve a goal. Despite later deifications, neither Gandhi nor King was a saint, they were leaders who employed non violent resistance because it was effective under their circumstances.
Both men were vastly outpowered by the brutal regimes they opposed. Nonviolence did not allow them or their followers to escape injury or death, their battles required at least as much physical bravery as for any soldiers.
Both Gandhi and King deliberately provoked their enemies and then refused either to back down or to physically fight back. The decision to meet violence with nonviolent resistance was a powerful tool used to expose the brutality of the regime. The march to Selma would have amounted to little without the press. What they ‘achieved’ was an unforgettably painful display of violence. To the extent nonviolence succeeded for King, it was because the ‘soldiers’ on the other side gave Americans a clear picture of the savagery to which blacks were subjected. It became increasingly difficult for those who had long averted their eyes to claim ignorance.
One reason the Palestinians are portrayed as ‘failing’ to meet the standard set by Gandhi or King is that their use of the tactic of nonviolence has not attracted sympathetic coverage, it has not been effective enough in exposing Israel’s brutality. There are, of course, numerous examples of peaceful Palestinian resistence. One example is commemorated on ‘Land Day’ remembering the day in 1976 that Israel killed peaceful Palestinian protestors. Another occurred during the first intifada, as Neve Gordon writes in 972, when the “Palestinians adopted massive civil disobedience strategies, including daily protests” against Israel’s occupation. Israel responded with violence and mass incarcerations. While they could easily provoke violence through peaceful protest, the Palestinians could not win the media nor shame the Israelis into change.
This, of course, begs the question of control of the media. King was extensively covered in the media. Do the Palestinians have access to the same? At best, Haaretz might decry the proportionality of Israel’s violence, but will it explore the true meaning of Palestinian protest, both the original and the ongoing taking of their property and destruction of their society? Would the international press do any better?
As I was writing this I realized that Palestinian nonviolent protests in Gaza have had perhaps a small effect on public opinion. The mainstream media in the US is universally favorable to Israel, but although they tried, the media was not entirely successful in creating sympathy for the Israeli snipers. For example, The Guardian, in reporting that one year into the protest, the Israelis had killed 190 and wounded 28,000, noted that, “Children, journalists and medics have been killed, even when they were standing far back from the fence.” Spin that one. Here’s an attempt by Eric Yoffe, a self-described ‘liberal’ American Jew, to justify killing protestors who had not killed a single Israeli. “If 100 Jewish bodies were strewn across southern Israel, would the American left more readily forgive Israel’s defensive actions against an angry mob of tens of thousands propelled by the murderous, anti-Semitic terrorists of Hamas?” This is simply a variation on the “I thought he was going to hit me so I hit him back first” defense. Perhaps the need to resort to such a feeble rationale helps explain why we finally have a tiny Congressional support group for the Palestinians. Seventeen were so daring as to vote against an anti BDS bill.
Further, Israel has shown little sign that it is willing to change its basic oppressive policies in response to any actions or restraint by the Palestinians. This is an interesting video in which Israeli ‘settlers’ are asked if they would move if told to do so by their government and knowing the move would mean peace in the region. Their responses are variations on “No, I would not, it is my land.” Perhaps they are merely following the lessons of their religion.
In the story of Exodus, recounted annually even by many secular Jews at Passover, Moses unsuccessfully begs the Pharaoh for his peoples’ freedom. The lesson to be learned: Jewish liberation comes only after Egyptian civilians are subjected to terrible brutality.