One of the wonderful things about the Israel/Palestine issue is that when folks wake up and see Palestinians as fellow human beings, they tend to move fairly quickly toward ideas of liberation. It’s happening all over. Here’s a great piece by anthropologist Hugh Gusterson, in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists of all places, slamming Israel’s "sledgehammer" policy of collective punishment as a response to Palestinian resistance. And describing with great sympathy the corner that Israeli expansionism has placed Palestinians in. And, finally, celebrating the international "freedom riders" whose presence is so vital to the Palestinian cause.
Notice how Gusterson, animated by sympathy, rationalizes if he does not condone violent resistance:
But Palestinians–watching bulldozers destroy the family livelihood, or the humiliation of their sisters at checkpoints, or the maiming of teenagers at street protests–are not rational actors calculating the costs and benefits of further violence. They are enraged and humiliated human beings who are embittered by life under collective punishment and determined not to surrender the one thing left to them: the ability to resist. Unless Israel wants an endless emergency, a permanent cycle of violence, their Palestinian strategy is failing miserably.
At this point some readers will argue that I have not put the blame where it truly belongs: with the Palestinian terrorists. To be sure, Palestinian militants have committed terrible crimes: blowing up civilians on buses, and randomly rocketing the homes of innocents. But Budrus dramatizes the no-win situation within which Israel has imprisoned the Palestinians. If the Palestinians resist the occupation with violence, they are condemned as terrorists, they are shot at, imprisoned, blockaded, their homes destroyed–and their land is taken away, bite by bite. If, as in Budrus, they resist with non-violence (as so many American opinion-makers lecture at them that they should), they are tear-gassed, beaten, shot at with rubber bullets–and their land is taken away, bite by bite. Damned if they do, damned if they don’t.
…Meanwhile, in a development the U.S. media have almost entirely ignored, the joint Palestinian-Israeli protests have continued in other parts of the West Bank.
An Israeli activist tells us in Budrus that "nothing scares the army more than nonviolent opposition." I hope this is true. The Hamas lawmaker Aziz Dweik was surely right when he told the Wall Street Journal that "When we use violence, we help Israel win international support." But maybe the deeper comment was made by Mayor Morrar when he said in a subsequent interview that "criticism of the occupation by its own people is more powerful than criticism by someone who lives under it, whose opinion is pre-determined. It is very important to find someone amongst your opponents who is willing to side with you." If the film shows us anything, it is that 10 Israeli protesters are worth 100 Palestinians. Their participation in the protests shows that Israelis and Palestinians can work together and, in a context where Israeli soldiers look awfully like Police Commissioner Bull Connor’s men beating up blacks in Birmingham, the appearance of blond-hair under the nightsticks makes it that much harder to dehumanize the protesters, that much harder for soldiers to ignore the quiet questions about the orders they are just following, that much harder for the state to simply crush resistance. So far, 600 Israeli soldiers have refused deployment to the West Bank and Gaza.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has always seemed intractable. No strategy of Palestinian resistance seems to work, peace initiatives invariably falter, and meanwhile the machinery of Israeli settlement grinds on, year after year, displacing more Palestinian land into settlers’ hands. But something new and interesting has happened in Budrus. Maybe Israel’s freedom riders bring a glimmer of hope.