A Quiet Revolution, by Mary Elizabeth King

Book launch held at the Houses of Parliament, committee room 8, 4th of November 2008

I’ll be honest, I had never heard of Professor King or her work until my friend forwarded me the announcement of her book launch. The official synopsis of “A Quiet Revolution” states:

[….]The Palestinians’ deliberately chosen methods for resisting the Israeli occupation effectively debunk the widely held notion of the first intifada as violent. […]Joint Israeli-Palestinian committees were the earliest harbingers of a political evolution under way, and stood in contrast to the PLO’s military doctrine of “all means of struggle.” Once under way, the intifada’s ability to continue despite harsh reprisals relied on thousands of “popular committees,” often started and run by women, to sustain communities under curfew or on strike. From the 1987 uprising would emerge the most cogent pressure to date to create a Palestinian state alongside Israel, with implied acceptance of the latter’s permanence.

[emphases are my own]

Well, having read that my interest was peaked, and what with King having gained experience of non-violent action in her days campaigning with the likes of Martin Luther King, I was compelled to go.

Her opening statement was that she was in the business of fighting without resorting to violence. She went on to explain what motivated her to study the 1st intifada, stating that it was her involvement in the civil rights movement and the similarities she saw between that and the 1st intifada.

The intifada, contrary to popular belief was not the result of spontaneous uprising, but had been in the works for 20 years. In 1967 when the state of Israel invaded and took over the West Bank it banned all political parties, but the ban was initially flouted by the communist party 2 years after that. Small organisations, committees including joint Palestinian-Israeli working groups sprung up, amounting to about 50,000 in 1987. These highly organised, democratic organisations were not ruled from ‘the top-down’, there was no central core of power, which she argues would have made the entire structure of this civil society easy to collapse. Palestine is apparently the strongest civil society in the Arab world, and it was this strength that lead to the 1987 Palestinian non-violent uprising.  Demonstrators during this time would hold up signs in Arabic, English and Hebrew (I did not know this).

Palestinian intellectuals spearheaded this movement through their writings, which declared that violence or violent resistance in this case would not work, as it could not be radical enough and therefore the non-violent strategy was their best or only course of action. King expounded upon this crucial point during the hour long discussion we had with her, and her rationalisation of non-violent resistance as the sensible approach was not exactly new to me, but had never been presented in such a form before. The Palestinian military was so weak, she said, that to take on one of the worlds superpowers would simply not achieve the Palestinian objective, and that if anything it served to unify the opponent, so it was counter-productive. On the other hand, non violent resistance could ‘create upheavals’ within the opponents ranks, and more effectively than violence it could ‘penetrate their ranks and create cracks’ but that you lose this advantage once weapons are introduced.

She even declared that the use of stones by children against big fat military tanks during the 1st intifada were ‘confusing’ and scary to the Israeli soldiers, the Israelis and the world in general, thus inhibiting communication with the Palestinians. Another advantage that non-violence has over violence for empowering the weak was that it included all members of the society ‘from the old woman to the small child’ all could participate in non-violent resistance, however violent resistance is reserved for the smaller pool, of young(ish), healthy, fit and trained people.

King was careful to emphasise the crucial role of women in Palestinian civil society, they were at the forefront of the fight against the occupation and often ran the popular committees. This was part of the authentic democratic civil society developed by the people which was a vital ingredient for any long lasting peace agreement. It was clear from the non-violent approach of the 1st intifada (only 12 Israeli soldiers died in that revolt) that the aims of it was to gain attention for the Palestinian cause and get them to a point of negotiation. All out war was neither possible nor desired by the Palestinian people living in the occupied territories. This was not understood by Palestinian organisations operating from exile, Israel denied that the intifada was non-violent, and the western world simply did not get the message. In summary, the three main bodies involved that could have made a change missed the boat.

The professor also asserted that Hamas did not understand the power of non-violence, and that their mini-guerilla operation was too small to be effective. She said that these days the creative yeast that drove the first intifada was absent, the intellectuals had mostly been killed, deported or imprisoned. Mind you one member of the audience found her ‘utopian ideals’ to be a bit too utopian to be believable. He stated that the situation in the West Bank has become worse in the Madrid talks of the early 90s, that the power of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) should not be underestimated as was made clear by the Mearsheimer and Walt report, that he had met with Ismail Haniyeh who had told him of the desperation they were living in. Prof. King responded that the power of AIPAC is highly exaggerated. News channels in the USA barely exist and are run by entertainment managers and that Americans (through their own fault) were largely ignorant of the whole situation, with many believing that it is the Palestinians are the ones who had invaded Israel. She did concede that Hamas was more flexible than given credit for, and agrees that they are willing to talk.

All in all I’m glad I went, I actually learned something, and I appreciated having the merits of nonviolent resistence rationalised in such a concise and consistent way.

9 Responses

  1. somehow reading this post left with me empty and sad feelings, i think one of the reasons was this statement”She said that these days the creative yeast that drove the first intifada was absent, the intellectuals had mostly been killed, deported or imprisoned”, but hey thanks for sharing, that was a good and moving read.

  2. left me with*

  3. noona really? it left me with a feeling of hope, because even if her strategy had a smidgeon of merit it actually empowers the Palestinians in their fight against Israel, and that their lack of a real military need not be a hindrance. The creative yeast she speaks of has been dispersed, true, but I am confident that it can be, er, refermented.

  4. Loolt, the problem is, I don’t know if it’s a matter of a lack of military capability only, her statements made me feel like that exactly because of that, because the resources of the struggle are being extinguished. I do see truth in her statements, true power does not lie in anticipated military methods, other types of power can be more intimidating. Sadly, the palestinians, with the ongoing past and current conditions are not being presented with opportunities of empowering these other resources, that’s what scares me, and to be honest, lost me hope too.
    Her emphasis of not excluding any of the Palestinian society segments in the struggle is of vital importance, it demonstrates that the struggle is maintained by a WHOLE people, be it the children, women, intellectuals of it, and not merely by a group of military people as some try to depict.
    what about you, if you don’t mind answering, do you think her strategy has any merit?

  5. “are not being presented with opportunities of empowering these other resources”

    such opportunities though are not be given they are to be had, and it is well within our power to create these resources. The exile of intellectuals (if her statement is to be taken at face value, and I dont, since there are many brains in Palestine) can easily be turned to our advantage, esp since the oppression is orchestrated at an international level, and we can perfect our nonviolent resistence in the form of education and the petitioning of governments in which they live.

    Her approach has merit, but i think she went too far in her analogy with the civil rights movement in the US since the dynamics are different, and those who suffer are apparent to those responsible. The methods she describes though can be utilised, and her study and comparison with South African apartheid actually gives hope. I think many people have lost motivation for non violent resistence and have resorted to small revenge operations.

    Saying that, I have never lived i Palestine, and have lead a rather priveleged life, and would thus not condemn those in Palestine, living through the brutal occupation and who choose to take up arms… even though I see how it is backfiring on the,

    Military action, even on a grand scale can only achieve so much of a nations agenda, even the US, with the most powerful army, builds up to military action, by either weakning the target through sanctions, demonisation, isolation or simply finding avenues for cooperation with maximum gain for them. Quite simply, globalisation, which is effectively americanisation, has spread american ideals and desires through the world, and if anything is weakened by their military actions.

    am I making sense?

  6. *not* apparent to those responsible

  7. Yes Loolt I see your point. and yes these opportunities are not to be given, what i meant is, inside Palestine the people can be deprived of them involuntarily by means of apartheid using vile techniques, to mention only a infinitesimal part of them, the blockade on Ghazza now, all done to undermine the Palestinian cause and to direct the people’s concern at less than a struggle for the land.

  8. perfect

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