Back to overview

Popular Resistance in Palestine

Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 29.05.2012:

This Week in Palestine

May 2012

A History of Hope and Empowerment

By Mazin B. Qumsiyeh

Pluto Press (London), 2011, 320 pages, $20.00

Arabic edition, Muwatin

Soon to be available in French, German, and Italian.

Over two-thirds of the 10 million native Palestinians in the world are refugees or displaced people. This reality, like all other similar situations in history, such as in South Africa, could not have come about without resistance to the violence of colonialism. But most of this resistance has been in the form of civil/nonviolent resistance that is little discussed elsewhere. This book responds to an acute need in the literature in this neglected area. Because there have been key transformative events that bookmark chapters of Palestinian history, the intervening periods are used as actual book chapters to discuss what acts of civil resistance transpired and what lessons can be drawn from them.

These periods include the resistance to Zionism during the Ottoman rule (from the first colonies in 1878 until 1917), the British era from 1917 (Balfour Declaration) to 1935, the 1936-1939 uprising, the period between the start of World War II and the Nakba of destruction of hundreds of Palestinian towns and villages between 1947 and 1949, the period of fragmentation of the Palestinian population in exile and divided among the rule of Israel, Jordan, and Egypt (to 1967), the unification under one ethnocentric Jewish state after 1967 until 1987, the uprising of 1987-1991, the Oslo years 1992-2000, and Al-Aqsa Intifada, which started in 2000.

Various UN resolutions and customary international law affirmed the legitimacy of armed resistance. For example, UNGA A/RES/33/24 of November 29, 1978, “Reaffirms the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples for independence, territorial integrity, national unity and liberation from colonial and foreign domination and foreign occupation by all available means, particularly armed struggle.” The principle of self-determination itself provides that where forcible action has been taken to suppress the right, force may be used in order to counter this and achieve self-determination. Considering decades of ethnic cleansing, violence, and destruction, it is actually surprising how few Palestinians have engaged in violent resistance as a whole (whether internationally sanctioned or not). In fact, this book reveals that from the first Zionist colony in 1878 until the 1920s, there were nearly 50 years of popular nonviolent resistance.

The book makes several arguments and generalisations from its analysis of the history of civil resistance. Colonial situations, especially those that strip people of their lands and homes, by nature involve the use of violence against the native population. Such colonial situations generate resistance that is recognised as legitimate by international law. That native resistance is a bell-shaped curve: a small portion is collaborative (asking nicely and accepting whatever is given), most of it nonviolent, some of it violent, and an even smaller portion extremely violent. As any statistician would tell you, eliminating a portion of the curve would cause it to re-normalise in short order, whether what you eliminate is those who engage in violence or nonviolence.

The violence of the occupiers or colonisers always kills many times more natives than colonial settler populations. For example, the ratio of civilians killed was 10:1 (Palestinian: Israeli) and over 100:1 (European settlers: Native Americans).

Palestinians resist by simply living in their homes, going to school, eating, and living. That is because this colonial occupation wants all Palestinians to give up and leave the country, to give Israel maximum geography with minimum native demography. When the Palestinian shepherds in Atwani Village continue to go to their fields despite repeated attacks by settlers and even the attempted poisoning of their sheep, it is non-violent resistance. When Palestinians walk to school while being spat on, kicked, and beaten by settlers and soldiers, it is non-violent resistance. When Palestinians spend hours at checkpoints to get to a hospital, their farmlands, their workplaces, their schools, or to visit a friend, it is considered non-violent resistance. Palestinians have resisted by countless other ways as detailed in this book.

The vast majority of the civil resistance detailed in this book originates from the grassroots. Political parties and leadership are usually taken off-guard by the start of new uprisings and the inventions of new resistance methods. Occasionally movements may evolve into political initiatives as The Palestine National Initiative and the One Democratic State Group,, but most of the time they simply influence existing political formulations to perform differently.

This work is timely and easily accessible. It is a concise and highly readable yet comprehensive study – based on original sources (over half from Arabic sources) – which explores a subject that has received little attention. The unique approach looks at the success of civil resistance as an empowering history that provides lessons for the future. And finally, it examines the growth of interest in civil resistance in Palestine affiliated with the failure of traditional political structures to address societal needs and the international community’s growing active involvement in this struggle.


There are no comments. Add one!