Crossposted at Draft Zinni! | It’s Security, Stupid! and Daily Kos

Col. T.X. Hammes, in his insightful book The Sling and the Stone, which looks the emergence and evolution modern insurgency (what Hammes and others call “Fourth-Generation Warfare”), he looks at the two Palestinian Intifadas, and the horrendous results, for both the Israelis and the Palestinians, of the Palestinians adoption of the tactic of suicide bombings. I have personally felt a sense of almost complete hopelessness about the state of Israel since the escalation of violence began a few years ago, and I held out very little hope that anything could happen, with both the Israeli and the Palestinian Right-Wings entirely against a negotiated settlement, to break the impasse. And so I was almost moved to tears this week when I read, over at Direland, about an emerging Palestinian non-violence movement.

Bilin is remarkable for the creative non-violence with which its residents have carried out demonstrations against the destruction of their community and the confiscation of their lands to build it. They have conducted demonstrations while placing themselves in handcuffs, as the Lebanon Star reported — so it could not be said they were throwing stones at the Israeli occupying army. They have sent their minor children to demonstrate in front of the Israeli Supreme Court in Jerusalem — since their mothers and fathers were not allowed to enter Israel. They have chained themselves to trees about to be uprooted to make way for the Wall. Demonstrators have sealed themselves in large metal water barrels placed in the way of the construction crews erecting the Wall of Shame. They have held mock funerals of white-draped coffins, each inscribed with the name of human values that should be respected — Justice, Fairness, Humanity, Courtesy, and the like. They have created a mock security fence, placed themselves under it, and handed out leaflets in Hebrew to the Israeli soldiers begging them not to destroy their village and answer non-violence with violence. Israeli peace activists from groups like Gush Shalom (the Israeli Peace Bloc) have flocked to Bilin to join in these peaceful, nonviolent protests. The response to this nonviolence by the Israeli army has been disproportionately violent — tear gas, rubber bullets, live bullets, night-time raids of homes in Bilin. When attacked in this way, the Bilin protesters have responded with balloons filled with chicken dung — an insulting, but hardly lethal response. Children have been killed — just last week, a 16-year-old from Bilin, Muheeb Assi, was shot to death by the Israeli army occupiers.

Today, in an op-ed for the International Herald-Tribune, "Help Us Stop Israel’s Wall Peacefully,"  Mohammed Khatib — secretary of the Bilin Village Council and a leading member of the Bilin Popular Committee Against the Wall — tells the story of the "Palestinian Gandhis" of Bilin:

I really hope that Western leaders recognize just how important this development is and give overt support to the villagers. I also think that Israelis who are serious about peace need to speak out against the use of force against these protesters. It’s not every day that an opportunity to break the cycle of violence in Israel and the Occupied Territories, I really hope that it isn’t squandered.

This week’s issue of Al-Ahram has another story of the non-violent protests in Bilin.  It notes the two interesting developments that have emerged in Bilin, the first being the fact that the protests are non-violent.

One day they chain themselves to olive trees, demonstrating that the wall not only steals their land but their lifeblood. Another day they give out letters to the troops, explaining in Hebrew that the struggle is “not against Israel as a state but against Israel as an occupation”.

I don’t know how many Palestinians share this view, but if this became the rallying cry of the Palestinian movement then Israel would quickly find itself losing the moral high ground in this “fourth-generation” battle of world opinion.

The second interesting development in Bilin is the fact that the protests have involved both Palestinians and Israelis:

All of the demonstrations have been joint actions by Palestinians and Israelis, backed by the ISM. They march together, plan together, organise together and in some cases live together, with Israelis maintaining a vigil in the village to monitor the army’s arrest raids, which usually come the night after the demonstrations.

Together with like demonstrations in the neighbouring villages of Budrus and Biddu, Bilin represents the most concerted joint Palestinian-Israeli protest since the Intifada began and consigned the two peoples to their ghettos: ideological in the case of the Israelis, physical in the case of the Palestinians. This is as significant as the ICJ ruling and the non-violence, says Israeli peace activist, Adam Keller.

“In many ways the wall is a physical manifestation of what has happened to the two peoples ideologically. The demonstrations in Bilin and elsewhere challenge this segregation. By joining the struggle here Israelis are signalling they want to integrate, not only with the Palestinians, but with the region — which is the ultimate precondition for peace,” he says.

Obviously it would benefit all of the people involved in the conflict if a non-violent Palestinian movement emerged, though I strongly suspect that the extremist Right-Wings of both sides would see this as a huge threat to their goals of complete destruction of the other side. I would also guess that those involved in fostering this non-violent movement will end up pushing daisies if the movement starts to gain too much attention, no one at this point should doubt the hatred and depravity of the Right-Wings, nor should we doubt that they will lash out violently. However, this part of the article gives a glimmer of hope that some of the diehard fighters will put down their weapons, at least on the Palestinian side.

The first row of worshippers behind Al-Tammimi comprised representatives from all the PLO factions, including (like Keller) veterans from the Lebanese war and first Intifada. But they were joined by delegations from Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

This is new. For years the Islamists adjured non-violent protest in favour of the armed struggle. They also refused all joint activities with Israelis as an implicit recognition of the “Zionist enemy”. Today they are marching alongside the Anarchists Against the Wall. “We are not against these demonstrations,” says Hassan Youssef, Hamas’s West Bank spokesman. “Hamas, like all the Palestinian people, is giving Israel a chance.”

The chance is based on two considerations. The first is the only road from ICJ ruling to enforcement is through international public opinion, including, critically, Israeli opinion. It is only when the Israeli peace camp as a whole supports the Palestinian struggle on the bases of international law that it will shed its implicitly racist notions of demographic separation in favour of a genuinely anti-colonial sentiment. The second is that critical breach in Israeli opinion is more likely to be wrought through non-violent struggle than violent and uncoordinated resistance. “When we demonstrate non-violently the world at least is with us. When we resist violently, it isn’t,” says Bilin resident Samir Banar, beneath the skewed scales of injustice.

Not only is this a tactical breakthrough for the Palestinians, who may finally be “getting it” about the real battlefield in, for lack of a better term, Fourth Generation Warfare, it is a glimmer of hope that a settlement can be reached in this Middle Eastern war. I realize that it is only a beginning, and as I noted, you can bet your bottom dollar that the Right-Wing will do whatever is necessary to stop this nascent movement from taking hold. It is the responsibility of all of those who are truly committed to peace that we not allow the violence of both sides to derail what appears to be the first sign of hope in a long, long time, for peace in Israel and Palestine.

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