ARLINGTON, VA. - Tomorrow, a Palestinian - or several - likely will be shot and killed by an Israeli soldier. The next day, and the day after that, it could be the same. Or perhaps a few days or weeks later a Palestinian might walk into a crowded Israeli restaurant and blow himself up, killing innocent Israelis. It does not have to be this way. There is another answer.
Since the beginning of the first intifada, there have been Palestinians engaged in nonviolent resistance to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. When the Palestinian flag was outlawed, women wore its colors. When schools were closed for several years, children were educated in homes. Those may not be examples of nonviolence that Americans are familiar with, but indeed, they represent the best traditions of Martin Luther King Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi.
Since 1999, with the start of the second intifada, a new movement for nonviolent resistance has blossomed in the West Bank and Gaza. This time it has been more effective, largely because of the participation of a small group of international activists. They protect and empower Palestinians who are frequently shot and killed when they engage in nonviolent resistance on their own.
On Jan. 5, over 200 residents of the West Bank city of Nablus cleared a path through a large earth-and-rubble Israeli road blockade using shovels, picks, bare hands, as well as a bulldozer. More than 30 international activists supported the action. The roadblock removal was an important step because it allowed people access to friends, family, schools, and business. In the words of Saif Salem, a Palestinian activist in Nablus, "This action helped to bring the city to life."
On Jan. 9, approximately 150 Palestinian citizens from the village of Atil joined with 10 international peace activists and 10 Israeli peace activists in a march to protest Palestinian farmers' inability to access their land.
The group stood on bulldozed farmland where the Israeli military is building the notorious wall inside the West Bank. They blocked the movement of contractors' trucks and bulldozers for an hour while attempting to negotiate access to the land. After receiving intimidating shows of force and threats of arrest, the protesters agreed to end the march in exchange for a promise that farmers would be able to gain access and work their land.
On Jan. 14 in Gaza, internationals organized a "medicine" march to Mawasi, a village surrounded by settlements and guarded by a checkpoint that has not allowed Palestinians, food, nor medicine through for two years. The villagers survive on whatever they themselves grow. People who leave have not been allowed back. More than 300 Palestinians marched with about 30 internationals to deliver needed goods. Repeated gunfire eventually turned them back but a smaller group returned the next day and continued until the supplies were allowed in.
While these actions and others have gone unnoticed by the US media, the Israeli authorities are certainly aware of them. More than a dozen international activists have been deported. Many more have been arrested, and quite a few have been beaten. Because of the large numbers that are now coming, Israel has imposed strict new guidelines for internationals entering Israel. It raises the question of why one of the world's most powerful militaries would be frightened of unarmed civilians.
While violent Palestinian resistance certainly brings great tragedy, it is obvious that it is not a real challenge to the status quo in this war. The Palestinians have neither the weapons nor the training to mount a sustained assault. The real battlefield of this war is the conscience of the Israeli people and the conscience of the world. And on that battlefield, resisting brute force with soul force is a winning strategy.
But the international protesters are the key. Without their protection, Palestinians will never get the chance to act nonviolently. They provide a haven in which the movement can be nurtured and it can be revealed that, just as Palestine is more than terrorism, Israel is more than occupation. Nonviolent resistance frees both from the violence that binds them by allowing them to see the humanity in the other.
So when people ask me - as they often do - why the Palestinians don't engage the principles of Dr. King and Gandhi, I assure them that they do. I also suggest that they join them.
David Nassar is an activist for Middle East peace and a political consultant working on various issue campaigns.