Award winning filmmaker Michael Moore of Fahrenheit 911 fame once advised the Palestinians to give up violence and adopt non-violence as a means of protests. He said if the Palestinians resorted to peaceful resistance, he and peace loving people worldwide would join them.
The Palestinians, at least a vast majority of them, have long given up violence. It is only the likes of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad that still believe in the dictum that what has been snatched from them – their land – by violence could only be taken back by violence. Yet, they too, have held their fire in the blind hope that peaceful resistance will bring freedom to the Palestinian people.
Last Friday was once such day when the Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, regarded as the world’s largest open prison, held a peace march -- “The Great March of Return -- to the Israeli border with the hope that the world would take notice of their plight, especially the right of the Palestinian refugees worldwide to return to their homeland – a right upheld by UN resolution 194. The marchers’ aim was to pitch tent on the border and stay there until Nakba day –Catastrophe day, which they observe every year on May 14 or 15, when Israel celebrates its national day. This year is significant, because it is 70 years since Israel was set up on the Palestinian land – and 70 years since the Dier Yassin massacre that marked the beginning of the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinian villagers in the weeks before Israel declared its independence on May 14, 1948.
This year, Nakba Day will be an added catastrophe for the Palestinian people, because on this day, the United States will shift its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, with no regard to the Palestinians’ aspirations of making East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
Last Friday, the world saw the march and the atrocity of the Israeli troops, too. But world leaders made little noise about the Israeli troops’ firing that led to the death of 18 unarmed Palestinians and caused injuries to about 1,700. Maybe, the number of deaths was not big enough to shake their conscience.
Peaceful resistance does help win freedom struggles. In India, Mahatma Gandhi through his non-violent struggle succeeded in overthrowing the world’s most powerful empire and ending colonial rule. But Israel is not what Britain was in 1947.
Last Friday, the world saw the march and the atrocity of the Israeli troops, too. But world leaders made little noise about the Israeli troops’ firing that led to the death of 18 unarmed Palestinians and caused injuries to about 1,700
Though colonialism was justified on the premise that the so-called ‘savages’ were not fit to govern themselves and therefore they should be governed, Britain by the dawn of the 20th century was being civilized, with liberal political thoughts dominating politics. Perhaps, the Palestinians will have to wait until Israel becomes an ‘enlightened liberal state’ so that it could realise that occupying Palestine, building Jewish settlements in occupied territories, denying equal rights to the Palestinians, adopting apartheid as a means to punish Palestinians, killing peaceful protesters, imprisoning activists, including children, demolishing Palestinian houses and destroying their crops are simply acts that do not go with civilised behaviour.
If Israel had believed that killing unarmed protesters engaging in peaceful resistance was not behavior befitting a civilized state, Rachel Corrie would have been alive today. Remember her?
Rachel, a 23-year-old American peace activist from Olympia, Washington, was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer on March 16, 2003, while she was engaged in nonviolent action to protect the home of a Palestinian family from demolition. Her biggest mistake was that she believed that Israel was a civilized nation and therefore the soldier driving the bulldozer was civilised enough not to send the monster vehicle over her. The poor girl did not know that there existed a culture of impunity in Israel to deal with Palestinian resistance.
If Israel is civilized enough, it will, at least, acknowledge that it is wrong to strip the Palestinians of their right to freedom.
In a related development that dealt another crushing blow to the Palestinians, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince on Monday, three days after the massacre of the marchers, recognised Israel’s right to a homeland, in what was a notable shift in Saudi policy.
When the Aljazeera Arabic language channel reported on Monday that Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman had in an interview with the US political magazine The Atlantic said that Israelis had right to its land, most Saudis found it difficult to believe what they had heard. In their comments to the news item on Aljazeera’s Arabic website, most of them accused the news channel of misreporting or misquoting the crown prince. Such was their disbelief.
The crown prince’s utterance is yet another indication that Saudi Arabia is in an undue haste to normalise relations with Israel. The following day, Saudi Arabia issued a statement claiming that King Salman, father of the crown prince, had “reaffirmed the kingdom’s steadfast position towards the Palestinian issue and the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people to an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital.”
But what matters is what the Crown Prince utters, because he is the power behind the throne. The king is said to be suffering from Parkinson-related memory loss and he does not know that his wife is a virtual prisoner of his son.
With the United States not on their side, with most Arab nations, including Saudi Arabia, flirting with Israel, and with the rest of the world not coming to their aid, what else can the Palestinians do other than resisting occupation through violent or non-violent means? International law does recognise armed struggle against illegal occupation.
The two million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip are like prisoners. They cannot leave the territory, even for medical reasons, unless they have Israel’s permission which is rarely given. The Gaza Strip, just 365 square kilometers in area, about half the size of the Colombo district, is surrounded by Israeli troops from the north to the south along its eastern borders. From the north to the south on its west is the Mediterranean Sea which is patrolled by the Israeli navy. The Palestinian fishermen can only fish in the shallow waters. Deep sea fishing is banned. On the Gaza Strip’s south is the Rafah border point which Egypt patrols. Under a bilateral treaty with Israel, the Gazans need clearance from Israel to go to Egypt. For the Pharaohnic Egyptian rulers, a servile treaty with Israel is more important than relieving the suffering of the Palestinians, though international law allows a country to help a suffering people on humanitarian grounds even if it means violating international treaties and customs.
The Gazans get electricity only for four hours a day. Water supplies are also restricted. Due to lack of electricity, sewage and garbage plants do not work. Medicine and food are in short supply. More than half the population depends on UN aid. The territory is virtually not fit for humans to live, according to a UN report. Under such circumstances, what else can the Gazans do but to rise and resist?
To understand their plight, one needs to be a freedom fighter or a freedom lover.