Nonviolent Noncooperation in Palestine and Israel: The Time Has Come for Arabs and Jews

Martin Luther King on the march, accompanied by white religious representatives, including Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Alabama, 1965
Martin Luther King on the march, accompanied by white religious representatives, including Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Alabama, 1965

I just published this essay in the Common Ground News Service:

Non-cooperation can bring a revolution to the Holy Land
by Marc Gopin
26 March 2009

WASHINGTON, DC – It is time for a mass movement of nonviolent non-cooperation and resistance amongst Palestinians-because everything else has failed. I have hopes that the Obama Administration will be the best yet in moving the parties toward resolution, but in my heart I have always felt that there is one path to peace that has never been adopted, and that is the path of nonviolent non-cooperation – but with love – the way of Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

This is something that a number of Palestinians within Israel and Palestine have tried through nonviolent marches, protests, and food boycotts, but it has never received full backing because it only works when it is adopted as the only means of resistance.

This is not about fairness or whether Palestinians should take on the burden of reaching out to Jews. In a fair world, the Jews of Israel, the victors of 1948, would have had the courage and good sense to recognise their victory and respond with generosity. Some Israelis did, but most did not. The need for a mass movement of resistance is not about fairness, it is about what may still work.

The Palestinian leadership has chosen two paths in the last fifty years: Extreme violence against civilians; and recognition of Israel, negotiations, accommodation, and an alliance with Israeli authorities, which has ended up discrediting Fatah amidst widely-believed evidence of overwhelming corruption. Neither path has worked. The Palestinians were dismissed by most Israelis as barbarians for the former and weak for the latter.

Principled nonviolent non-cooperation that also extends a hand to Jews in friendship is the only answer. It presents the Israelis with Palestinians who are tough but fair, generous, peaceful, uncorrupted, but determined to persist and fight. The fight will be taken to the place of greatest Israeli weakness: its sense of moral superiority over Arab society. What Hamas members need to understand is that their embrace of extreme violence against women and children is already a defeat. They are behaving like Nazis inside the Jewish psyche. Instead of targeting children with rockets or suicide bombs, Hamas can put its best people in harm’s way, saying to Israel, “Here, kill me, I will not move, I am walking to Al Aqsa; I am walking to Jerusalem. You can kill me by the thousands with the world watching so that you can be the barbarians. I will not give you an excuse anymore to steal my land or kill my children.

This will work only with absolute nonviolence, with a hand of friendship extended to all Jews who will join. This is the only way that Gandhi and King changed civilisations. Nothing less than a revolution in Israeli consciousness is required right now, and so the gestures and actions must be organised, massive and disciplined. They must constitute an intimate conversation between enemies. The movement must say to the Israeli Jew:

I am going to sit down at this checkpoint, in this airport, because I am waiting for you to treat me with dignity and equality. I know you can as a child of Abraham, as a survivor of injustice and cruelty yourself, as a scion of a noble civilisation. I know your laws demand that you follow orders, that you point your weapons at my children and terrify them, that you force me to strip naked and violate my body. But your laws are unjust, and you can break them and join us… I know that you put up your wall for security and I too want your children to be safe. But you cannot use it as an excuse to steal more of my land, as an excuse to avoid apologising to me for the harm you have done to me for sixty years. Join me and we will fight for peace and justice together, we will negotiate, but I will not allow you anymore to corrupt me, buy me, divide me, or humiliate me. Shoot me if you want to follow orders, or join me if you want to rediscover your Jewish beliefs and values. I will be generous as the prophet Mohammed was; I will be just as he was; I will welcome you to my home, as he did, but it is time for you to see me as equal, as a brother, and then everything else will work out. You can have your Israel and we can have our Palestine, and God will show us the way to do this in peace and justice.

© Marc Gopin