Sunday, February 24, 2008

Breaching the other border: on non-violent resistance and mass mobilizing in Gaza

As gas ran out over the weekend in Gaza again, Haaretz reported "fears" amongst the Israeli military establishment of a mass civil protest, this towards Gaza's border with Israel.

The Army apparently "beefed up troops along the border with Gaza, fearing thousands of Palestinians may march on the border in protest Israel's economic sanctions."

Many people have been calling for such a mass march, seeing it as the most effective way to break the blockade and draw global attention to the plight of Gaza.

Apparently, so does Hamas now.

Some 40,000 Palestinians are expected to march along the Gaza Strip's border beginning at 10 A.M. on Monday, including women and children.

The felling of the Rafah wall was powerful, but just a temporary respite and ultimately a distraction from the underlying issue; Gaza cannot continue to hover just above the brink of disaster, surviving from truckload to truckload of aid, from trickle to trickle of fuel; and even if it does, it does not change the fact that the occupation is still in place; that the "status quo" of "accepting a harmless slavery, in fullest liberty!" to quote Mahmoud Darwish, is no longer acceptable.

And unless it can be followed through with international action and a change in government policies of major powers, so too will a mass march towards Erez. However I still feel such a march has enormous symbolic power. I think perhaps the Israeli army would fear such an act of massive civil resistance more than anything, because it is not something they can easily "retaliate" against without drawing global criticism (though the world has largely been ok with the genocide Gaza is being subject to so far).

I often get asked why there is not more "non-violent resistance" in Gaza. Its a tricky question to answer-but essentially, I think the thinking has been that the world isn't necessarily listening-or reacting-anyway, so fight "fire with flowers" when you can fight "fire with fire". At least I think this was the common notion when the second Intifada started where Israel was utilizing far more militarized and deadly force

Another perspective on this is that I don't think one can necessarily place the burden of what kind of resistance to choose on a population that is being subject to the military force of the world's fourth largest army (meaning, strategy and effectiveness aside, it comes across as almost self-rightouss to dictate what and how an occupied people should resist).

This is not to say that non-violent resistance has been wholly absent from the Palestinian struggle. The first Intafada is a prime example, but so too was the second Intifada-despite the fact that it was notably much more militarized.

An excerpt from an October 2007 article by Ben White in the electronic Intifada notes that

"It is not just contentment (for the few) or sheer fatigue (for the many) that makes mass mobilization a challenge. Palestinians also fear that two critical elements for the success of nonviolent popular struggle are missing in their case: international coverage and limited repression on the part of the oppressor. As previously mentioned, "popular struggle" has always been a part of Palestinian resistance to occupation and colonization -- but receives only a fraction of the press coverage afforded to violent resistance."

I have noticed that the tide's a changing though. Hamas seems to be making a more concerted effort at such mass mobilization in Gaza, while making it clear that they shall not relinquish their "legal right to other forms of resistance" (quote from an interview with Khaled Meshal that I will post soon).

A prime example was the felling of the Rafah wall-initiated by a group of women and children. So to was the effort of dozens of unarmed women of the Islamic movement (including MP Jamila Shanty) to shield and help rescue several fighters under siege in a Beit Lahiya mosque a year and a half ago.

Two of the women were killed by Israel.

And notably-Hamas was the first Palestinian group to initiate a "no arms" policy in their public protests.


Blogger alajnabiya said...

People who ask why there isn't more "non violent resistance" have to realize that Palestinians' daily lives are full of non violent resistance. The go around the wall, over the wall, under the wall, not to blow something up, but to earn their daily bread. They build on the land that belongs to them, knowing their homes may be destroyed, and replant their trees. Every day of educating our children for a better future we can only hope we will see and hanging on to homes when it would be easier to give up and run away is non violent resistance. The problem is that the world doesn't pay any attention unless they can get some dramatic footage.

8:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hamas will prove as politically astute as it is militarily gutzy. Several doors have opened for Hamas in recent weeks is time they walked thru them as politicians representing the interests of all Palestinians...

Laila, please "keep us in the loop" for the non violent human chain protest march!!!

10:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope that all who go out to protest come home safely.

And there are enough outside messengers to take the story to the world.

Perhaps it needs persistence similar to that of the mothers who lost children in Chile. Over and over, year after year, until the stream changed its bed.

It's absolutely clear that the 'official line' from either side does nothing for the citizens of either side.

1:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Throughout most of the second Intifada, the armed struggle meant primarily suicide bombings, of which I was a potential target (I kept taking the bus, I went to the market). So you can probably understand my objection.

Some Israelis called on Palestinians to limit themselves to targetting soldiers and settlers. While this could have been a more effective tactic of resistance, I am aware that this is extremely difficult, and even when Palestinians followed this course, they still got branded as terrorists (e.g. the assisination of Zeevi - a lifelong soldier himself), and the Israeli military retalliation was harsh and indiscriminate.

The bombing tactic succeeded, for a two year period (2002-2004), to make fear part of Israelis daily life. But it seems to me that this did not translate into any gains for Palestinians. On the contrary, more than anything the bombings have served the Israeli government and military to legitimise their policies, and helped to consoldiate the regime of incarceration in which most Palestinians today live. So even if the bombings are seen as acts of self-defence or a legitimate resistance tactic (and I don't share this view) this tactic has failed, and failed badly.

The Haaretz article mentions the 'hizbullah precdent', Lebanese civilian marches which led to the collpase of the Pro-Israeli militia in South Lebanon, and then to the Israeli withdrawl, two months before the proposed date (Barak always said June, it happened in early May). This is never discussed much, and is worth close attention. After years of guerilla warfare by hizbulla, what really made the occupation collapse was unarmed civilians.

The context is different and the risk for Gazans approaching the fence this week is high. But ultimately it is such acts which have far bigger chance to challenge the occupation.

2:05 AM  
Blogger CochiseandSpurLethr said...

Excelant article thanks

5:41 AM  
Blogger Bouvard P├ęcuchet said...

You greatly need a Gandhi, a Mandela, a Luther King - neither Qassams nor Quislings. Not 40,000 but 4,000 Palestinians have marched along the Gaza Strip's border - mostly pupils in school holidays. You need hundreds of Bil'ins

6:27 PM  
Blogger awoodbmaven said...

The march seems to have gone OK (ie, peacefully and has gained international attention), but from reports the weather was not so good so not as many turned up as expected (5000 is the BBC report).

Here is a link to the little chat I had with a US Zionist regarding it, before and after:

(I'm 'awbMaven', he is 'Bozob')

My thoughts and best wishes are with you and your people.

2:53 AM  
Blogger Kevin said...

We all know that the cycle of violence needs to end. The Palestinians have the most to lose from the ensuing violence and the most to gain from peace. But peace and accommodation with Israel requires the Palestinians to give up many of the dreams that sustain them as a people.
The more suffering that is inflicted the more difficult this is to settle. One last comment, how is Israel the world's forth largest military? Here is the link for Wilipedia on the subject. Israel comes in at #30 after Mexico and Morocco.

2:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


It is one thing to watch the news on TV and another thing all together reading your blog. I find myself drawn to your blog, i awlays want to know what you are up to, on both the potty training front, and the boarder crossings front.

I wish you the best of luck, and please know for whatever worth this comment has, you the Gazans are in our hearts.

10:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Laila it would be interesting to hear your take on what happened.

In recent days there were two articles in Haaretz on the failure of the March - Amira Hass and Meron Benvenisti - both explaining it in the likelihood of a massacre.

I think this is no doubt true, but it also should be remembered that nothing waited for the protestors on the other side of the fence - unlike in the Rafah breach. Once achieved, the Rafah breach brought a temporary respite from the siege. It wasn't just about protest or an event for the media - there were real reasons to break the walls. In the case of breaking the border with Israel - even if protestors had managed to walk 100 metres into Israel, nothing awaits them there - apart from bullets or tear-gas. It seems to me now that a mass march towards the fence - the nightmare of Israeli Army officers - is really not going to happen anytime soon if at all.

I also think Hamas are not as enthusiastic about this idea. Breaking down the walls of Gaza with Israel would be a challenge to the idea of separation between Israel (or the '48 territories') and Gaza. I doubt if Hamas is ready for something like that. E.g. see Haniya' statement a couple of weeks ago in favour of economic 'disengagment' from Israel.

7:10 PM  
Blogger Laila said...

Ratttu- I agree, the stakes are completely different... It is probably more symbolic in the case of the northern front. aND I think because of this is is much harder to mobilize people ("what's the point-it won't stop the siege, and we can't cross the fences").

We should discuss this more...

I am presenting a paper on "re-interpreting occupied space" with my friend MUshon Zer Aviv in an Istanbul Exhibit next week and we are featuring the tunnels as a prime example, but also the whole idea of felling walls.

3:47 PM  
Blogger Laila said...

KEvin: strongest, not largest... not the same thing

3:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The recent attacks on Gaza is not in response to the futile rocket attacks of late, but a strike in order to prevent border breaches like the one at Rafah.

4:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This idea of unarmed women and children shielding armed men is wrong. Unarmed woman and children should stay at home. It is a bad policy that risks their lives, they in effect make themselves a target as accomplises to the fighting and are treated as such by international laws of engagement. It may help little as the Israeli army avoids civilians but some will get killed. The genuis here at Beit Lahiya was the masses of woman but still,if you put civilians into an armed conflict situation you do get civilian deaths, unarmed does not make a difference. Going into harms way does not shield from bullet exchanges. Wilson S.

3:11 PM  
Blogger Gazelle Aparajita said...

Dear Laila
I have no words after reading your blog.. I was researching on an article on the Palestinian refugess in Lebanon.. and can say nothing more than ' I am humbled'..
May I create a link to your amazing inspiring blog? Would appreciate your feedback and insights on the same as well.
Love and Duas..


10:30 AM  

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