Weiss: Matthew Taylor has published a couple of pieces on this site urging Palestinians and solidarity activists to adopt nonviolence as a strict rule of engagement. Lately Nicholas Kristof made a similar argument in the New York Times under the annoying headline, Waiting for Gandhi in the West Bank, and this site has mocked and disputed him. But Taylor agrees somewhat. Below I engage Taylor in a dialogue– because I’m uncomfortable with the ideas, but do want this site to be a forum. It goes back and forth a couple times. Taylor first:
Nicholas Kristof’s NYT piece on Bil’in and Palestinian non-violence has sparked mostly acerbic responses, such as Glatzer’s and Desch’s.
First off: I agree that Kristof strays into some clueless, elitist condescension, for instance his characterization of years of dedicated Palestinian non-violent resistance as "dabbling." Many of Glatzer’s digs ring true.
But here are some positive points about this piece:
1) Kristof hands the microphone to Palestinians. Listen to what they say:
“This is what Israel is most afraid of,” said Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, a prominent Palestinian who is calling for a nonviolent mass movement. He says Palestinians need to create their own version of Gandhi’s famous 1930 salt march….
Quite a few posters and commenters here (including Desch) express skepticism that a Gandhi-like approach would accomplish anything. Tell that to Barghouti, and the grassroots Palestinian organizers who see that pathway as the road to liberation.
“With nonviolent struggle, we can win the media battle,” Mr. [Ayed] Morrar told me, speaking in English. “They always used to say that Palestinians are killers. With nonviolence, we can show that we are victims, that we are not against Jews but are against occupation.”
As I noted in my previous opus, and Morrar makes clear here, changing Israeli psychology and public opinion, and helping them feel less afraid, is a key to unlocking Palestinian freedom. Also note that Morrar’s comments reflect one of the basic tenets of principled nonviolence: oppose the behavior, never the individual or group that perpetrates the behavior.
2) Kristof correctly notes one of the biggest challenges the Palestinian non-violent movement faces:
At first the mood was festive and peaceful, and you could glimpse the potential of this approach.
But then a group of Palestinian youths began to throw rocks at Israeli troops. That’s the biggest challenge: many Palestinians define “nonviolence” to include stone-throwing.
Many Palestinians have said the same thing and condemn stone-throwing and say it’s counter-productive and unhelpful to the struggle, and that the movement should be more committed to disciplined nonviolence. Kristof’s comments about "what Gandhi would have done" are entirely accurate. You can impeach Kristof and say he’s an elitist, privileged, pro-Zionist, blah blah blah ad hominem, but in this column he knows exactly what he’s talking about when he says:
It’s a far cry from the heroism of Gandhi’s followers, who refused even to raise their arms to ward off blows as they were clubbed.
No one with a serious knowledge of Gandhi would conclude anything else, regardless if they are Palestinian, Israeli, Zionist, non-Zionist, mainstream media, alternative media, or Martian. Just refer to the Dharasana Satyagraha.
Now here are two negative points/problems about the piece:
1) Israeli activist and UC Berkeley divestment bill co-author Tom Pessah writes: "I was in Wadi Rahal on Friday, south of Bethlehem, and the villagers stage protests every week with no stones – as do several other villages."
So why didn’t Kristof cover that, and only Bil’in and its stones?
2) The frame implies we must wait for all Palestinians to turn into Gandhi or stop throwing stones for the Palestinians to be "worthy" of justice.
Our job in the international community is to push hard for justice regardless of anything the Palestinians do. But Morrar is right that Palestinian nonviolence will make the arrival of freedom more possible, more likely, and sooner.
Kristof is pushing the edges of the mainstream media’s coverage of Israel/Palestine. Let’s hope he goes farther, and starts reporting in a more serious way on the realities of Israel’s occupation and apartheid policies, which to date he has only lightly touched.
P.S. He’s right that women played a major role in the Budrus struggle. I won’t comment on whether the idea of Palestinian women taking a lead in protests is a good one or not — or whether such proposals are condescending — let’s hear what the Palestinian grassroots nonviolence leaders have to say.
P.P.S. Speaking of which, we should be asking Palestinian grassroots organizers and leaders to post to Mondoweiss on this topic. What do they think of Kristof’s column? Let’s ask Sami Awad, Ayed Morrar, Mohammed Khatib, Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, and others to post.
Weiss: Matthew, As you know, I know nothing about Gandhi and don’t study his ideas. Ira Chernus, who has studied Gandhi, says that he wouldn’t take a hard line on the kids throwing stones. (Saying that nonviolence was a choice that he made for himself, not to try and affect others’ behavior… ) More important, Chernus gets at my own discomfort with Kristof’s view: "when oppressed, militarily occupied people resist, let’s recognize that it’s not our place to tell them what means they should or should not use — and certainly not when our own nation is contributing so much to their oppression."
Kristof doesn’t talk about what these kids experience, daily humiliations, killings of Palestinians on a fairly casual basis. And that background makes me personally very reluctant to judge those kids. I wish they weren’t throwing stones, but as I frequently say to you, Here I am in my nice house living in the U.S., commenting on kids who are oppressed. Isn’t my role, as Chernus says, to talk to my community and try and change that? I want to air your views because I want a broad community, Kristof is the best the Times has to offer on the subject in print in the mainstream, and I welcome his engagement here, and I don’t want my community to become insulated and self-reinforcing. Also, I do think that westerners can give advice to the Palestinians; I don’t defer to Palestinians automatically.
But having been to Gaza and the West Bank, I think these people are tyrannized and it’s hard for me to condemn an expression of rage that is fairly gestural. We’re not talking about suicide bombing, or indiscriminate rocket attacks, which I think are bad.
1) Gandhi would have said Palestinians have every right to resist violently "within today’s accepted social norms" (thus, no targeting civilians).
2) But he would have said (did say) nonviolence is infinitely superior to violence, and he would recommend nonviolence (and did recommend it) to the Palestinians.
3) If Palestinians are going to resist nonviolently, Gandhi would have absolutely advised them to make their definition of nonviolence
the same as his, obviously including no rocks.
5) The stone throwing harms their efforts and is counterproductive. Many Palestinians say this. There is a major debate within the Palestinian resistance movement about to stone or not to stone. I’ve heard the debate, in real time, in Bil’in.
6) I think Ira Chernus is right that Gandhi primarily focused on trying to change Indian behavior, but wrong in that he understates how much Gandhi focused on persuading the British to change their behavior. Gandhi was clear and consistent that through nonviolent struggle and sulf-suffering, he and his fellow Satyagrahis
would persuade the British to leave as friends, which is precisely what happened.
7) Kristof’s primary obligation is to criticize the U.S. Government’s Open Tab bartender-like enabling of Israel’s addiction to land theft. AND to expose, without caveat or sentimental distortion, the realities of Israel’s worse-than-apartheid policies. So far he has not done this in a serious way.
8) But he has taken steps in that direction with some of his criticisms of the occupation.
9) Yes Kristof is privileged, and shouldn’t preach to Palestinians. He should do his job per #7.
10) AND that doesn’t change the fact that he is writing accurate and true words about what Gandhi would do, and also that the stone-throwing is counter productive and incompatible with the ways of Gandhi that many Palestinians say they aspire to.
It’s easy to think simplistically about Kristof, as follows: Either he wrote a condescending elitist column that is consistent with a general dereliction of his responsibilities as a journalist to expose Israel/U.S. crimes, OR he wrote an excellent analysis of the ways in which Palestinian non-violent struggle is both achieving victories and falling short. I think both are true, in certain ways.
Us nonviolent scholars aren’t in the business of judging. We look at what succeeds and what doesn’t, what works and what doesn’t, from the point of view of the resister
. What is consistent with principled nonviolence
? With pragmatic nonviolence
? Or none of the above? What helps move the resistors toward freedom, equality, and reconciliation, and what backfires? This is an analytical question. Stone-throwing, for example, can be analyzed within these frames. Palestinians have done this analysis too. We nonviolence scholars analyze all kinds of justice struggles around the world… anti-globalization, environmental, Burma/Myanmar, you name it, always from the point of view of the resistors and the resistors’ actions and ways of being.
So one can analyze the stone-throwing without judging it. One can empathize with the rage these kids feel and say that you might throw stones if you were in their shoes, and also say, any rational analysis can only conclude it’s not helping the cause.
An Israeli soldier reportedly lost an eye to a stone a few years ago. So no one should pretend the stones have no impact. Yes yes yes they are 1/100000000000000000 of the violence of the occupation. But that’s not the point, from the perspective of a nonviolence scholar. The point is, Does stone throwing help or hurt the cause? We already know the oppression is brutal. Our job as nonviolence scholars is not to say how bad is the oppression (already well-documented), but to analyze how the resisters can use the power of nonviolence to transform the situation from oppression to justice, equality, and reconciliation.
Honestly, I don’t think about Gandhi would do, I think about What I would do. I try and be Everyman about some stuff.
And I think that were I a kid in that situation, hearing what he heard about his parents/uncles/grandparents, facing the future that he does, I’d frikkin throw stones.
And I think that there is something in the human breast, everywhere, that responds with affirmation to that. Maybe it’s because we’re a violent species, but we relate to that. Just as some people felt, when commandos were descending on that boat in international waters– good for them, they grabbed sticks! (While I would have been sitting at my computer in a back room of the boat, typing). Just as we honor the person who risks his life to kill a dictator….Note this anthropological piece from the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, by Hugh Gusterson, saying that enraged and humiliated people are going to violently resist it…
Were I a teenager in that situation, I’d definitely want to throw rocks, or much more than that. Wasn’t it Ehud Barak who said
: "If I were a Palestinian of the right age, I would join, at some point, one of the terrorist groups."
So sure, we can spend all day debating what we would do if were in the Palestinians’ shoes.
But that is not, **at all**, what nonviolent scholars debate. What we debate are the points I mentioned previously… like how, from the perspective of the resister, to achieve freedom, equality, and justice — something that has been achieved by oppressed peoples in the past through nonviolent struggle.
So our frame is not: "What would we do in their shoes?"
Our frame is: "What does the history of nonviolent struggle tell us would be a course of action and way of being that would help end the oppression? What would succeed and work?" Remember the definitions of success and work from my opus.
The fact that some villages such as Wadi Rahal stage protests without stones (according to Tom Pessah) shows it’s possible. I suspect the leadership and discipline is coming from the village elders, not the shabab (the youth). Wadi Rahal has probably prepped their teenagers on what to do (and achieved buy-in and consensus) in a way Bil’in has not, just a guess.
Phil, you’re wrong when you say "there’s something in the human breast, ***everywhere***, that responds with affirmation to that [stone throwing]." Although some Israelis have expressed sympathy for the Palestinians who do this, many say it gets in the way of feeling empathy for the Palestinian experience. Remember, in one widely reported incident a few years ago, an IDF soldier lost an eye to a stone. As is clear from Bradley Burston’s columns on this topic, he and other Israelis feel more influenced by the nonviolent resistance when it is disciplined and stone-free. No doubt, the Palestinians shifted the international discourse in a positive direction overall with the First Intifada and now the Third Intifada with the resistance to the wall, unlike the suicide bombings of the Second Intifada. The images of Palestinian kids facing down tanks with nothing but stones helped some internationals want to support Palestinian freedom. (And yes, that’s analogous to Mavi Marmara passengers with sticks vs. armed Israeli commondos.) But I think history makes clear that more positive influence happens with a greater level of nonviolent commitment and discipline. Stones and sticks and clubs and all that other stuff isn’t nonviolence and it won’t help win over the most important people, the Israeli public (and American Jews), in the way disciplined nonviolence would, and history proves this true.
As your remarks on The Bulletin article, for sure, violent resistance is a highly natural reaction to oppression. Any of us would do it in their shoes, Ehud Barak would do it. But is it strategically helpful? "What would I do in their shoes" is the not the frame of nonviolence scholarship.
The Bulletin article in places takes the same frame that you, and 90% of the commenters on your blog, take: who/what is to blame? But we on Mondoweiss already know the answer: Israel’s oppression and policies are overwhelmingly responsible for the suffering of the Palestinians, not Palestinian resistance or lashing out (I think suicide bombing is more lashing out than coherent resistance). So when I say, "disciplined Palestinian nonviolence is more likely to succeed at ending the occupation and work to create conditions for equality, reconciliation, freedom, and justice than less disciplined non-violence that includes stone-throwing," most people hear that as saying, "the Palestinians are to blame." But I’m not saying that. That’s an inaccurate interpretation. I think the statement is clear and speaks for itself when it’s not washed through the "who’s to blame" lens.
Also, The Bulletin article doesn’t reflect much knowledge of the history of nonviolent resistance. If it did, it would recognize that enduring major onslaughts and not striking back has been done, successfully, on numerous occasions, by nonviolent resistors throughout the world and throughout history. It’s not easy (and requires training, preparation, coordination), but it’s been done. The piece makes it sound like that would be impossible, almost implying the Palestinians have no choice but to throw stones. The Wadi Rahal examples proves that wrong.
Finally, I REALLY want to IMPLORE you to agree (i can handle sending the invitations) to invite Palestinians into this discussion. I find it preposterous that all us non-Palestinians, mostly American Jews, are debating this stuff. The debate’s not getting old, but without Palestinians, it is getting old, sick, and tired. Let’s hear from the grassroots Palestinian organizers of nonviolent struggle.
I kind of think a lot people on your site don’t really get what I’m saying, and hear everything through the "who’s to blame" frame instead of the one I’m actually using.
BTW in your post about The Bulletin article, you didn’t quote the most important paragraph, this one… It’s interesting you siphoned off the parts that in your mind show you’d throw rocks if you were Palestinian, instead of this paragraph which in a very profound way shows the power of nonviolence, and I see as the heart of the whole piece….
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 hetold 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.