Analysis: New weapons for the weak
Hanan Ashrawi argues that only non-violent resistance can hope to disarm occupation
2004 was a very unilateral year. It was a year when the aggressors took the initiative. We had unilateral military intervention not only in Iraq and Palestine, but in other countries as well. We saw a rise in the abuse of power, especially in the form of occupation, and all of it under the guise of the war against terrorism. And in many cases, as well, people's response to this violence against them was violent and aberrant, in violation of their own moral values.
For the weak, the use of violence is always counter- productive, because it is the strong that possess the real tools of power, not them. It is the strong that have military power, and arms. That is why the weak have to rely on legality, on morality, and on political solutions. Their best strategy is non- violence, because through it they can expose the inherent weakness of militarism and physical force.
In Palestine, our historical experience as a people under occupation has been that the more we use non-violent resistance, the more we concentrate on affirming our own rights, building institutions, and rejecting the imposed reality of the occupation, the more we have been able to expose the bankruptcy of the occupation itself, and the more support we gain. We can disarm the occupation by simply refusing to adopt its own methods and tactics. In my opinion, the first Intifada was much more successful than the second precisely because it was largely non-violent.
Suicide operations have several causes. They cannot all be lumped together under the same heading. Part of the motivation is ideological, of course, and in that case there is space for serious dialogue. But it seems to me that in many cases the immediate cause of suicide bombings is sheer desperation, anger and the desire for revenge. And all of these emotions are in turn related to the fact that Israel commonly uses Apaches and F16s to kill civilians. Such attacks are not morally isolated acts. They are the triggers that unleash a whole new cycle. And that is why people turn to what some have called "the weapon of the weak", "the weapon of the poor", or "Third World weapons", i.e. their own bodies.
Of course, the two motives are not mutually exclusive: many people who are seeking revenge also have a political ideology. So we need to address that as well, and assess its exact impact on the Palestinian cause itself. For not all suicide operations can be interpreted as merely a reflection of the kind of violence suffered by Palestinians.
The victims of the suicide bombers are "chosen" in a way that is quite indiscriminate. Indeed, they may well be innocent civilians. I feel very strongly that we should avoid targeting civilians, even though Israel is an occupying power -- for that is precisely one of the things which we condemn Israel for doing to us.
We must not adopt the same means as them. We must not allow the killing of civilians. We must not give ourselves this moral licence, simply because we know that we are victims.
There are many benefits to meeting violence with non- violence, especially when the instrument of power facing you is the strongest army in the region, and is largely unaccountable. To meet violence with violence is to play to your opponent's strong point and your own weak point. In addition, you will lose the moral high ground, especially when you have an incendiary propaganda machine working against you. As a result, the perception of the balance of power in the media is now reversed. We have provided exactly the horrific images they needed to paint us as the aggressors, and let Israel claim that it is acting out of self-defence.
We have to undo the harm that we have done ourselves, by showing the real nature of the occupation. We have to show how occupation is inherently violent, how it violates every human right. We have to show what we really are -- a largely unarmed people under occupation. The most effective and most appropriate way to achieve this would be to demonstrate our human spirit, our refusal to succumb, to be broken, and adopt the principle of collective non-violent resistance.
Resistance cannot be reduced to a purely military activity. One way in which we were able to carry out non-violent resistance during the last Intifada was by showing that Israel had no power over our everyday life. We went ahead building our own institutions, and refused to cooperate with the institutions of the occupation. We lived in a way that was often tantamount to civil disobedience. We formed our own neighbourhood committees, we went on peaceful marches, we sought to organise our lives democratically, and we provided services to our people ourselves, however meagre the means we possessed -- all this in order to avoid dealing with the Israeli occupation, to rebuff their intrusion into our lives and undermine their attempts to divide us. It was not a battle of arms; it was a battle of will. And in this battle, we showed that our will was stronger than theirs, and that we could persevere and endure, whatever they did to us.
At the same time, through our acts, the whole world saw and understood the true nature of the occupation -- that occupation means destruction, and that it was we who were the victims, not them.
Based on an interview by Sherine Bahaa