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The non-violent struggle in the Middle East



Jonathan Power
TFF Associate since 1991

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January 23, 2011

Egypt and Tunisia are moving forward thanks to the power and discipline of their non-violent movement. Bahrain and Libya are trying it too but at the price of being shot at by the army. They have to persist as did Gandhi and Martin Luther King in similar situations. Then they have a chance of winning through.
One is reminded of the argument of Martin Luther King when confronted by the outburst of black rage - the big city riots, the rise of black power and the birth of the gun toting Black Panthers. Violence is not truly revolutionary, he used to argue, because it invites defeat. It involves an emotional catharsis that is followed by a sense of futility. This was certainly the case in America where President Richard Nixon gave a license to brute repression. And it appears to be the case in Palestine where the second intifada and the rocket attacks by Hamas clearly became counterproductive.
Chris Hedges, the New York Times war correspondent, has made the case against violence better than anyone I know in his book, "War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning." "War is an elixir", he writes, "It gives us resolve, a cause. It allows us to be noble…..[But] war is a drug. It is peddled by mythmakers."
Shakespeare's foot soldier in "Coriolanus" likewise understood the appeal of war: "Let me have a war, say I: it exceeds peace as far as day does night; it's sprightly, waking, audible, and full of vent. Peace is very apoplexy, lethargy, mull'd, deaf, sleepy, insensible….." 
Hedges admits that as a young reporter he got fired up by war. "The chance to exist for an intense and overpowering moment seemed worth it in the midst of war - and very stupid once the war ended. In the light of time, what look so momentous then now looks like folly."
This is the conundrum that now confronts President Mahmoud Abbas in Palestine. At least 20% of his people think violence is the antidote to lethargy. If they didn't fight the Israelis they would be convinced that their cause deserved to be defeated. In battle, they believe that they are living out their convictions right on the edge of the knife of life itself.
If Abbas thinks he can lead by talk, he is mistaken. He is simply outflanked and out maneuvered by the militants. He needs an alternative that would appeal to the energies of the militants and their desperate need to feel the juices and passion of resolve and sacrifice.
Non-violence is connected in most people's minds with passivity and non-resistance. Yet if properly deployed and organized, it can be a very powerful weapon of defence and a very effective tool for rapid social change.  We saw it with the power of the shipyard strikers in Solidarity's Poland, the trigger that led to the demise of Soviet communism. We saw it when the crowds of protestors sticking red roses into the barrels of the soldiers' rifles brought down the fascist dictatorship in Portugal. And in Palestine, The Palestine Movement For Non-Violent Resistance has successfully organised weekly marches, but limited to a cluster of villages in the Bethleham area. They have been suppressed by rubber bullets, tear gas and from time to time with live ammunition.
Basil Liddel Hart, the military genius second only to Clauswitz, who had the job of interrogating the German generals after the end of World War 2, wrote that the generals confessed that they found non-violent or passive resistance, as they encountered it in parts of France and Denmark, much more difficult to deal with than guerrilla resistance movements. The latter they could repress mercilessly, the former often outwitted them.

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Abbas needs to give the young militants a focus for their energy. He needs to deploy them to surround Israeli patrols with unarmed crowds who whilst refusing to move also refuse to let the troops move. He needs to lead tens of thousands of strong young men and women armed only with pick axes to attempt to demolish the wall where it intrudes on Palestinian land, and to accept arrest rather than fight back. He needs to sends thousands of people to occupy Israeli transit roads. Let them take their families too and make sure they are provided with food, medical help, tents and portable toilets. And he needs to keep up these demonstrations, week after week, month after month.
If the Israeli army overreacts the world will see the pictures. So too will the Israeli public. Israel is a democracy. It is a spiritual nation. Because of fear and because of historical experience it has allowed its baser instincts too often to lead the way. But underneath there is another side - the putative deal negotiated at Taba following Camp David; and that produced the Supreme Court ruling against torture- that even today seeks justice rather than defeat for its opponent.
Abbas  has to give his militants a cause and to appeal to these nobler Israeli ideals.


Copyright © 2011 Jonathan Power


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Jonathan Power can be reached by phone +44 7785 351172
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Jonathan Power 2007 Book
Conundrums of Humanity
The Quest for Global Justice

“Conundrums of Humanity” poses eleven questions for our future progress, ranging from “Can we diminish War?” to “How far and fast can we push forward the frontiers of Human Rights?” to “Will China dominate the century?”
The answers to these questions, the author believes, growing out of his long experience as a foreign correspondent and columnist for the International Herald Tribune, are largely positive ones, despite the hurdles yet to be overcome. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, London, 2007.

William Pfaff, September 17, 2007
Jonathan Power's book "Conundrums" - A Review
"His is a powerful and comprehensive statement of ways to make the world better.
Is that worth the Nobel Prize?
I say, why not?"


Jonathan Power's 2001 book

Like Water on Stone
The Story of Amnesty International

Follow this link to read about - and order - Jonathan Power's book written for the 40th Anniversary of Amnesty International



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