Palestinians this week celebrated “Earth Day”, usually observed by them on March 30 in an expression of solidarity with their brethren in upper Galilee who lost 11 martyrs gunned down by Israeli police several years ago.
Solidarity marches took place in Jordan and Lebanon to express support to the Palestinians. In this respect, one has to remember Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouthi’s assertion that any attempt at working out a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian problem will not work and a new wave of civil resistance is the only means to pressure Israel into accepting the inevitable.
“The launch of large-scale popular resistance at this stage serves the cause of our people,” Barghouthi said in a statement marking the 10th year of his imprisonment by Israel.
“Stop marketing the illusion that there is a possibility of ending the occupation and achieving a state through negotiations after this vision has failed miserably,” he added in the statement.
Barghouthi, who is serving a string of several life-terms in prison for leading resistance to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, is one of the most respected Palestinian leaders. His leadership was the driving force behind the Palestinians’ last Intifada against the Israelis, launched in late 2000.
Barghouthi enjoys wide support from all Palestinian groups. Despite the prison sentence, it is widely expected that Israel might at some point release Barghouthi, who is seen as a potential successor to President Mahmoud Abbas. Therefore, his new call for civil resistance in the decades-long Palestinian quest for statehood, and for severing all ties with Israel will find listening ears among the Palestinians.
However, Abbas is in no position to cut off the Palestinian Authority’s relations with Israel since that would signal the collapse of the PA. Without the PA, there will be no international assistance for the Palestinians, whose economic growth has been stumped by the more than 60 years of Israeli occupation.
While Abbas could keep his job as chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, he would lose the PA as the platform for maintaining and building relations with world governments.
But the Palestinians could wage an intense war of civil resistance against the occupation forces. An example was set by Dr Mubarak Awad, a naturalised American of Palestinian origin, in the early 1990s when he introduced to the Palestinians the concept of non-violent resistance. Among the tactics he advocated were planting olive trees, silent sit-ins, non-payment of dues to the occupation authorities and boycotting Israeli products.
Awad, as founder of the Palestinian Centre for the Study of Non-violence in occupied Jerusalem, in 1983, did not realise how much his campaign had alarmed Israelis because they did not know how to deal with it. All they could was to accuse him of violating Israel’s residency laws (which could not actually be applied to the occupied territories, including Arab East Jerusalem) and deport him in 1988.
He returned to the Palestinian territories after Israel and the PLO signed the Oslo agreements, but could not reinvigorate his campaign for non-violence.
Some speculated that the Palestinian leadership under the PLO chairman, Yasser Arafat, was fearful that Awad could emerge as a rival political leader although Awad never stated any political ambitions.
Recently, Palestinians were shown how to successfully use non-violent means as a weapon, when detainees in Israeli prisons staged hunger strikes to protest against Israel’s use of an “administration detention” law to keep Palestinians in jail for indefinite periods.
It is along those lines that a reference should be made to Zachary J. Foster, a researcher at Princeton University, who recently suggested that the Qalandia checkpoint on the road between occupied Jerusalem and Ramallah has “tremendous transformative potential to create the critical mass of non-violent resistance necessary to end Israel’s occupation”. It could even be the Palestinian version of Cairo’s Tahrir Square, he says.
Foster notes that Qalandia has been the site of a series of non-violent protests, some of them fatal since the Israeli army’s response has not been non-violent.
Foster is calling for “a sustained, weekly demonstration at Qalandia: one that counts in its ranks the full gamut of non-violent Palestinian resistance tactics against Israeli policies of violence and control”.
“Qalandia has a unique geographically central location. It lies at the centre of the massive urban landscape of North Jerusalem, which is easily accessible to Palestinians from ‘East Jerusalem’, as well as Ramallah, Al Bireh, and Al Ram,” he notes.
“Imagine, for instance, activists descending on Qalandia from all corners of Palestine to protest an end to the occupation,” Foster says.
“Indeed, the fact that hundreds of merchants and taxi drivers base themselves at the Qalandia checkpoint has already created some of the features that would prove necessary for it to become the ‘Palestinian Tahrir Square’, including the ability to support the sustained presence of tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands of people.”
According to Foster, the Qalandia checkpoint “has major symbolic importance as it represents many of the Israeli occupation’s harshest realities: the arbitrary division of Palestinian communities, the prohibition of Palestinian movement, the separation barrier and part of the “voyeuristic, panoptic production of Israeli presence in Palestinian spaces”.
He cites several other factors to support his theory, including the fact that the Qalandia checkpoint is located in the centre of Israel’s separation wall in the West Bank.
“For all of these reasons then, Qalandia is the scariest site for an Israel bent on policies of divide, conquer, and separation. To target this innermost vertebra of the separation policy at Qalandia is to target the occupation at its weakest, and therefore, its most vulnerable link,” Foster concludes.
One thing is clear: Israel is more terrified of non-violent resistance to its occupation of Palestinian lands because its strategy against the Palestinians is based on the use of violence. The Israeli military and police are simply incapable of handling non-violent demonstrations. There will be an immediate reaction if the Palestinians were to set up their own Tahrir Square in Qalandia.