Palestinian Christians Offer Non-violent Strategy

JERUSALEM, May 10, 2002--Two prominent Palestinian Christians have issued a
call for a non-violent resistance strategy that is circulating throughout
the West Bank and Gaza.

The proposal seeks massive political involvement by all Palestinian people
as well as international support from other Arabs and from the world
Christian community.  The goal of the non-violent action, according to the
two peace activists, is an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank
and Gaza and the dismantling of settlements.  They support a two-state
solution to the present crisis.

One of the authors of the document is Jonathan Kuttab, Esq., a
widely-respected human rights lawyer in Palestine who has earned a
reputation as a lay theologian as a member of Sabeel, a movement for
Palestinian liberation theology.  Kuttab is an Episcopalian who is part of
the Arabic-speaking community at St. George's Cathedral in Jerusalem.

The other author-advocate is a Bethlehemite who directs Nonviolence
International.  He is a Baptist.  Both have extensive contacts in the United
States and Europe.

Their document follows:

A Call for a Non-violent Resistance Strategy in Palestine

1. Overview

The Palestinian people have a genuine chance to achieve their national
goals, in spite of the enormous gap between them and their foes, if they
pursue a conscious, organized strategy of non-violent resistance to the
occupation on a massive scale.  Such a strategy would provide a role for the
entire Palestinian people, both inside and outside of Palestine, and would
include the Arab world, the international community, and even genuinely
peace-loving Israelis.  It would focus the energies of the entire nation and
move the struggle into an arena that maximizes our natural advantages and
neutralizes much of the power of our opponents.

For this strategy to succeed, it must be adopted on a massive scale by large
segments of the Palestinian population and by the Palestinian National
Authority (PNA) itself.  It must involve a strategic, long-term commitment
and not simply be symbolic or episodic in character.

To achieve this commitment, we need broad public discussions involving
unions, students, civil society institutions, and the local Palestinian
media.  Political discussion within the community must be revived so that
participation is universal and everyone has a voice instead of a gun.

To this end, we must call for immediate national elections, even if it means
that Hamas and other extremist groups win many votes.  The armed factions
must be transformed into political parties, and a new Palestinian Social
Democratic Party must be established to provide a political home for those
who are dissatisfied with the current factions.  Elections have to be
planned and carried out regularly, instead of being one-time affairs as in
the past.  If the Israeli authorities try to block such elections, the
elections themselves will become a battlefield for the non-violent struggle
as the Palestinian's peaceful struggle for democracy, is pitted against the
might of the occupation's war machine.

2.  International Support

The role of the Arab and Muslim worlds is crucial.  Non-violence, in the
form of boycotts, protests, and diplomatic pressure, must be applied to
translate their support into concrete pressure on Israel. Fiery speeches and
futile threats of war against Israel are counterproductive.  A principled
campaign of non-violent support, however, can bear results.  Massive marches
toward the borders in support of the Right of Return must be planned.  While
the governments in neighboring Arab states can easily prohibit armed
incursions across their borders, they would be very hard pressed to stop
Palestinians from attempting to peacefully return to their homeland.

The international community, especially churches, should be enlisted in the
struggle, focusing on the settlements and the occupation.  The Palestinian
cause is just and is based on morality and international law.  Every
opportunity should be taken to frame the question in these terms and to
challenge the illegal nature of the occupation.   The past year has yielded
numerous instances of war crimes for which Israel and specific commanders
should be held accountable before war crimes tribunals.   We must insist
that the UN take action on these issues.

Those who support occupation and its crimes must be shamed and challenged
everywhere.  This creates a worldwide arena for a non-violent struggle based
on morality and international law.  South Africa's apartheid regime faced
such a fight and ultimately collapsed.  Israel is far more vulnerable
because it is highly dependent on the rest of the world, particularly Europe
and the United States, and cannot afford to ignore these voices.

Massive boycotts of Israeli products and services, as well as cultural,
sports, educational, and diplomatic activities, should be conducted.  These
protests must be linked to specific individuals or to specific policies.
Each activity or event can become a focus for protest and a pressure point.
Broad general  boycotts that oppose all Israelis are unfair and unworkable.

Such a campaign would set the struggle in its proper context and enlist the
participation of people of goodwill all over the world, including many Jews
and others who would support Israel as a victim of violence, but contest its
oppression of Palestinians and its occupation and settlement policies.

3. Obstacles to a Non-violent Approach

One problem with convincing Palestinians to adopt non-violence is the
"Hezbollah argument."  Under Hezbollah, the Lebanese resistance successfully
ended the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon by armed resistance, which
made the continued occupation too costly for Israel.  Hezbollah's satellite
television channel Al Manar constantly reminds Palestinians of this success
and urges them to follow Hezbollah's example.

However, the Israelis never considered south Lebanon part of Israel and they
did not settle it.  For them, the occupation of south Lebanon could easily
be abandoned once the cost in lives was too great and outweighed the
military benefits of its continuation.  On the other hand, the Palestinian
armed struggle is often interpreted as a threat against Israel itself, and
not only its occupation and settlements.

When the issue is the existence of the state of Israel itself, Israelis and
their supporters abroad will present a united front and fight with no regard
to cost and the number of casualties.

However, if the issues are the settlements and the occupation, more than
half of the Israeli population may be flexible.  Only 30 percent of all
settlers are ideologically motivated.  The other 70 percent are attracted to
the financial advantages of settlements.  A fight against the hardcore 30
percent of settlers is winnable, but a fight against all Israelis, afraid
that their very existence is being threatened, may not be.

Some may argue that the goal of armed resistance is not to destroy Israel,
but to end the occupation, but that is unconvincing to Israelis,
particularly when average Israelis are being killed and wounded, and when
military activities spill over into Israel itself.  In contrast, a
non-violent struggle cannot be misunderstood as a physical threat to Israel.
Large masses of Israelis who truly yearn for a just peace can be enlisted in
a non-violent struggle against occupation and settlements, while there is
almost no chance of enlisting them in any armed Palestinian activity.

It must be understood that Palestinians would ultimately choose non-violence
as a practical and useful tool to fight occupation and not in order to
appease Israeli liberals or the United States.  Although Palestinian armed
struggle against the occupation is both morally and legally legitimate, it
may be ineffective, futile, and counterproductive.  If Palestinians choose
non-violence, it would only be because they are convinced that it can
achieve results.  It must be engaged in as a serious, militant, and
difficult choice in favor of resistance and struggle.  Submission to
occupation and surrender is not an option for us.

What are the chances that such an approach will work?  There is no more
assurance of ultimate victory in a non-violent struggle than in an armed
struggle.  However, in an armed struggle, the Israelis have overwhelming
military superiority and would restrict the battle to the military arena,
far away from the limits imposed by law, morality, and principles.  The
Israelis know how to fight against an armed antagonist, but have no
understanding of how to deal with non-violent resistance. They expect, and
need, the Palestinians to be either submissive or violent. A non-violent
approach would neutralize much of Israel's military might.

--- Background on proponents:

In the early 1980s, Mubarak Awad was able to convince many Palestinians as
well as other Arabs and Muslims that non-violence can work and that it is
more powerful than any other weapon we have. Because of his work, the
Israelis considered him dangerous and he was arrested and subsequently
deported.

Nonetheless, there continues to be a great interest in non-violence.  What
is lacking is an overall strategy and commitment to do it on a massive
scale.  People are still trapped in the rhetoric of armed struggle, and
many, especially abroad, would rather applaud the armed struggle from afar
than actively engage in non-violent struggle and take responsibility for the
future.

Jonathan Kuttab is a Palestinian human rights lawyer and peace activist.
Mubarak Awad is director of Nonviolence International.  The above text may
be used without permission but with proper attribution to the authors and to
the Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine.  This Information Brief does
not necessarily reflect the views of CPAP or The Jerusalem Fund.