On the front page of the New York Times today, there is a large photo of West Bank Palestinians planting trees, “part of a new, nonviolent approach to assert their land claims,” as Times correspondent Ethan Bronner says. While it’s good that the Times is covering nonviolent resistance to the Israeli occupation, it’s an article rife with omissions, mischaracterizations and distortions, all par for the course from the Timeswhen it comes to Israel/Palestine. Let’s take this opportunity to remind people about the history of nonviolence in the Palestinian movement, a history that has been systematically shut out of mainstream discourse.
The photo caption, and the title of the piece, which is “Palestinians Try a Less Violent Path to Resistance,” give a preview of the direction the article heads in. In Bronner’s reporting, we’re told that the Palestinians are simply “trying” this “new” way to resist, when in fact Palestinians have been nonviolently resisting Zionist colonization even before the State of Israel was founded, and well after. The 1936-1939 revolt against British colonial rule and Zionist colonization began with a “six-month general strike” that involved “work-stoppages and boycotts of the British-and Zionist-controlled parts of the economy” and was the “largest anticolonial strike of its kind until that point in history, and perhaps the longest ever,” as Rashid Khalidi writes on page 106 in The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood. The revolt did have an armed component, though, that followed the general strike.
The 1st Intifada was largely nonviolent. And Neve Gordon, in his book Israel’s Occupation, tells us that the 2nd Intifada began as a nonviolent popular uprising, but only turned violent after Israel brutally suppressed the uprising, firing 1.3 million bullets into the West Bank and Gaza Strip after Israeli security forces were directed to “fan the flames”, as Haaretz’s Akiva Eldar reported in 2004.
Bronner’s reporting states that the nonviolent resistance being carried out all over Palestine is being “forged” by Fatah, the Palestinian Authority, and the business community, ignoring the popular, grassroots resistance committees that have led the way. He also omits the anti-“buffer zone” marches that the Palestinians of Gaza have been undertaking.
We learn that “Rajmohan Gandhi, grandson of the Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, just visited Bilin, a Palestinian village with a weekly protest march.” Bronner apparently doesn’t think it’s newsworthy enough to include that “local sources in Hebron reported that as Gandhi and his wife tried to visit an illegal settlement outpost installed near the Ibrahimi Mosque, Israeli soldiers tried to prevent them from crossing and installed additional roadblocks,” according to the International Middle East Media Center.
Here’s Bronner on the Israeli military’s response to the nonviolent resistance movement:
“They reject the term nonviolent for the recent demonstrations because the marches usually include stone-throwing and attempts to damage the separation barrier. Troops have responded with stun grenades, rubber bullets, tear gas and arrests. And the military has declared that Bilin will be a closed area every Friday for six months to halt the weekly marches there.”
As Norman Finkelstein said in a recent interview on Democracy Now!, “damaging” the separation barrier is actually following the law, since in 2004 the International Court of Justice handed down a landmark rulingstating the wall was illegal and should be dismantled.
And although Bronner gives room to Israel to claim that the demonstrations aren’t nonviolent, he omits the fact that Palestinians and internationals participating in nonviolent demonstrations are routinely hurt and have been killed with impunity by Israeli forces. According to this article in the Guardian, Bassem Abu Rahmeh was the 18th person to die in protests against the illegal seperation barrier. Recently, it was reported that the Israeli military had decided to not investigate Rahmeh’s death.
So, Ethan Bronner, who really perpetrates violence?