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Have I failed to acknowledge Palestinian violence?

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Image of the killing of Israeli soldiers in Ramallah, 2000, to which Mike Merryman-Lotze was a witness

Image of the killing of Israeli soldiers in Ramallah, 2000, to which Mike Merryman-Lotze was a witness

As I have written and spoken about what is happening in Gaza over the last month, a number of people have criticized me by saying that I am taking a one-sided position on Israel and Palestine and that I am not acknowledging Palestinian violence.  I have seen the same criticism leveled at many others and therefore want to address this issue.

Everyone who has been involved in activism on this issue for an extended period of time has a particular moment that committed him or her to long-term activism.  For me that moment was when two Israeli soldiers were killed in Ramallah in October 2000.

I was on my way to catch a taxi to Jerusalem when the two soldiers were brought to the police station in Ramallah, which was located next to the taxi station.  I stood outside the police station for the better part of an hour as a crowd gathered after people heard rumors that two undercover Israeli soldiers had been captured while on their way to assassinate someone during a funeral that was to be held later that day.  It turned out that the men were not undercover, but this was not an unreasonable rumor given the situation and history.

As policemen started to ring the walls surrounding the police station, I walked over to the taxi station to catch a ride to Jerusalem.  As my taxi left the taxi station someone stopped it and yelled that the soldiers had been killed.  I jumped out of the taxi at the Ramallah vegetable market and began making my way across Al-Manara (the central square in Ramallah) and towards the Bir Zeit taxis that would bring me home.  As I crossed Al-Manara a group of young men came into the square dragging the bodies of the two soldiers.  One of these men grabbed me by the throat and threatened me as others kicked and brutalized the soldiers’ bodies.  I was able to convince the man assaulting me to let me go and then made my way home.  Hours later I watched as Israeli Apache Helicopters bombed the Ramallah Police Station.

This was a transformational moment for me.  It was my first experience with brutal violence and anger. Coming from a privileged and sheltered background, I could not comprehend how such extreme violence could manifest itself so quickly.  Before this I had seen people shot from a distance, but seeing someone you don’t know get shot from a distance is a surprisingly impersonal experience.  The personal nature of the soldiers’ killing completely unsettled me, pushing me outside of my comfortable reality.  It caused me to begin asking a host of questions about what I was witnessing, about human nature, and about violence that I am still struggling to answer.

This was also the moment when I had to decide whether to stay and continue working on human rights issues or to leave.  I chose to stay.  The decision to stay exposed me to much more violence by both Palestinians and Israelis.

In May 2001 several car bombs were set off in West Jerusalem.  One was set off on a road I normally walked down on my way to church.  I heard that bomb explode when I was about two blocks from the bomb site.  In early March 2002 a Palestinian accused of collaboration with Israel was hung upside down in the center of Al-Manara and had his throat slit.  This was during an Israeli incursion.  My work colleague and I grabbed a camera and made our way to scene of the killing through streets occupied by Palestinian gunmen.  The body had been taken down before we arrived but blood still stained the ground. Less than a week later, as I returned from Church, a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up next to a bus in the French Hill Intersection in Jerusalem approximately 30 seconds before my taxi drove through the intersection. In another instance Palestinian gunmen shot two men accused of collaborating with Israel in the street in front of the restaurant where I was eating lunch.  All of this left me with a clear understanding of Palestinian violence and some of the fear that Israelis feel.

However, during this same period I also saw incredible violence committed by Israelis.  I saw people shot at demonstrations.  I investigated executions in the West Bank towns of Beit Rima, Beni Naim and other locations.  I arrived at the scene of one execution while skull fragments, hair, and blood remained on the ground and walls at the execution site.  I was in Ramallah throughout Operation Defensive Shield and was walked around my home with a gun held against the back of my neck, cowered on my bathroom floor as an armored personnel carrier shot up my neighbor’s home, received calls from a woman throughout one night as her diabetic mother slowly died due to a lack of medication and blocked medical access, and searched for my colleague who disappeared from our offices when it was raided by Israeli soldiers.  I saw Palestinians at checkpoints with boot prints visible on their faces, a sign that Israeli soldiers had stood on their heads.  I watched soldiers humiliate parents in front of their children and children assaulted and terrified by these same soldiers.

Most importantly, for nearly three years the first thing I did every morning at work was read through the field reports and information that had come in the previous day regarding killings and injuries.  I carefully read reports detailing the circumstances of death for nearly every Palestinian killed during the Second Intifada as well as reports about how many others were injured.  I visited the families of those killed and participated in field investigations into the killings. I also read reports on nearly every act of Palestinian violence, whether carried out against other Palestinians or against Israelis.

Eventually the violence began to blend together.  Individual acts of violence lost their meaning.  This is not to say that they are insignificant for the Palestinians and Israelis impacted by the violence, but for me acts of violence stopped defining the conflict.  It gradually became apparent that current acts of physical violence cannot be divorced from the history of the conflict, which is a history of colonialism and Palestinian dispossession.  Equally, it became apparent that the acts of physical violence that I have witnessed cannot be divorced from the much more pernicious legal and structural violence that defines Israel’s occupation and its ethno- chauvinistic and discriminatory policies.

In short, it is my opinion that Israeli violence is the violence that must be exercised to maintain a neo-colonial military occupation and apartheid-like inequality.  Palestinian violence is the inevitable response to that occupation and apartheid-like inequality.  Violence therefore will only end when the occupation and Israeli apartheid end.

This also means that the situation is not one where violence can be balanced against violence.  The power dynamics of the conflict are such that there is no balance.  Both sides have harmed the other, but the overall power in Palestine and Israel rests with Israel, and its denial of Palestinian rights is at the core of the conflict.

As a firm believer in non-violence I will continue to actively work for an end to violence by all parties and for a long term transformation that results in a just peace, but that transformation cannot be realized if the actual power dynamics within the conflict and historic injustices are not acknowledged, understood, and addressed.

The truth is that it is not a history of Palestinian actions against Israelis that drives the conflict but rather the history of unresolved colonial dispossession of Palestinians and the continued denial of their rights that drives the conflict.

The history of Palestinian dispossession, the reality of occupation, and the reality of legal and structural inequalities are what I will continue to speak about and work to end, not individual acts of violence, recognizing that individual acts of violence will only end when larger changes are realized.  To many this may appear unbalanced, but in Palestine and Israeli there is no reality of balance.

Merryman-Lotze first posted this piece on his Facebook page, where it gained great praise. He wishes to make clear that these are his views and not those of the organization that he works for. 

Michael Merryman-Lotze

Mike Merryman-Lotze works with the American Friends Service Committee in Philadelphia as their Palestine-Israel Program Director. He has been involved in activism on Palestine since 1996. From 2000 through 2003 Mike worked as a researcher with Al-Haq in Ramallah and from 2007 through 2010 he worked with Save the Children UK as their Child Rights Program Manager in Palestine with responsibility for programs in both the West Bank and Gaza.

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23 Responses

  1. American on August 12, 2014, 1:54 pm

    I will worry about Palestine violence if they are ever as well weaponized as Israel and have something besides toy rockets and suiciding themselves to fight Israel with.

  2. W.Jones on August 12, 2014, 1:58 pm

    I think it’s fine, or even important, to acknowledge and caution Palestinians against violence. Tactically they cannot militarily win against the State, and there is also a Quaker ethical pacifist teaching against violence that is at least debatable. Granted, in terms of tactics, perhaps one may imagine that even if one loses each battle, one can still wear down another force by sustained fighting. But in any case, should you choose to take a pacifist view, it is sound, particularly in this case. The belief that the conflict can be overcome through nonviolent means is for me a much more attractive one.

    The main problem would be if one not only acknowledged the problems of Palestinian violence, but then used it to justify crimes and abuses used against Palestinians, or saw Palestinian society as inherently and chiefly responsible, when in fact Palestinians and Israelis were able to get along before the 1947 Partition and 1948 war.

    • tod77 on August 13, 2014, 10:25 am

      I completely agree.
      Despite MANY wrong-doings and a barrel of criticism, the PA have embraced non-violence as best they could. I feel that this gained them much more in terms of international support than violence could ever have achieved.

      A small note: Palestinians and Israelis didn’t get along well (at a national level, not personal – which is always there) before 1947. Zionism began in the 19th century, and it was clear pretty early on that Zionism doesn’t fit in well with the existence of Palestine as a Palestinian entity.

      • pjdude on August 13, 2014, 4:58 pm

        exactly that double standard always angered me. the palestinians are expected to show a level of restraint that is litterally superhuman and down right sucidial in nature. where as Israel is generally given a free pass for their essentially complete lack of restraint.

    • Walker on August 13, 2014, 12:13 pm

      . . . in fact Palestinians and Israelis were able to get along before the 1947 Partition and 1948 war.

      Wow. I’m sure this is well-intentioned, but it is hugely inaccurate. The very reason Partition was decided upon was that the Zionists (not yet Israelis) and Palestinians emphatically did not get along. Which is not surprising, since their goals were diametrically opposed.

      What’s true is that Arabs and Jews generally did get along in Palestine prior to Zionism.

      • W.Jones on August 13, 2014, 4:37 pm

        What’s true is that Arabs and Jews generally did get along in Palestine prior to Zionism.
        In any case, whether you date the creation of problems to the 19th century or to 1947, the Palestinians were not chiefly responsible, since they got along with the Jewish population in the preceding period.

  3. W.Jones on August 12, 2014, 2:03 pm

    Your concluding three paragraphs were good.

  4. MHughes976 on August 12, 2014, 2:31 pm

    But let us not say ‘In invasion or conquest you can do no right, in resistance you can do no wrong’. It is obviously natural for those subject to oppression and cruelty just to lash out but I suppose, facile as it seems for us at comfortable distance, we have to ask them to set limits.

  5. eljay on August 12, 2014, 2:51 pm

    In short, it is my opinion that Israeli violence is the violence that must be exercised to maintain a neo-colonial military occupation and apartheid-like inequality. Palestinian violence is the inevitable response to that occupation and apartheid-like inequality. Violence therefore will only end when the occupation and Israeli apartheid end.

    Well said.

    I would add that violence MUST end once two secular and democratic states of and for their respective citizens, immigrants, ex-pats and refugees have emerged and been encouraged to flourish.

    • merlot on August 12, 2014, 3:55 pm

      I would disagree, I believe that the focus on drawing borders to end the conflict and achieve peace by establishing two states is one of the core reasons that the US led peace process has failed over the last 20 years. Focusing on the establishment of particular state structures will not bring peace. Rather, the reality of historic and ongoing Palestinian dispossession, Jewish-Israeli privilege and Palestinian inequality, and the Occupation are what need to be focused on and addressed. When these issues are addressed then violence will stop and some future state structure can be determined. Drawing borders and establishing state structures is not the first step nor the answer. I wrote more about this here:


    • Ron Edwards on August 12, 2014, 11:14 pm

      I think there’s a word for that, what is it … oh yeah! Partition!! That’ll fix everything!

      Water doesn’t care about lines in the dirt. Please explain how water ownership and usage would be be managed in these alleged two states. And no, it’s not about drawing lines in the dirt and saying “We’ll work out the details.” The water is the issue. The lines in the dirt are the details, or in this case, irrelevant distractions.

      • Mooser on August 13, 2014, 1:07 pm

        “I think there’s a word for that, what is it … oh yeah! Partition!! That’ll fix everything!”

        Partitioning Palestine will be like splitting up a gold mine! The Israelis get the mine, the Palestinians get the shaft.

        Although I must admit, I have seen more and more clever variations on a plan to let the Zionist keep everything they have stolen without an accounting or further accountability than any other facet of the situation.

  6. Steve Macklevore on August 12, 2014, 4:04 pm

    eljay, the two state solution is gone. Israel gradually suffocated it with settlement expansion and at some ill defined date last decade, it died.

    A one state solution is the only way forward now – if any Israeli leader attempted to clear the West Bank now the result would be an Israeli civil war.

    • eljay on August 12, 2014, 7:54 pm

      >> S.M. eljay, the two state solution is gone.

      I don’t disagree. But until Israel stops insisting on a two-state solution, who am I to tell Israel it can’t have one, especially since the Palestinians have agreed to one?

      So c’mon, Israel, you “moral beacon”, you! Step up and do your part to deliver on a viable two-state solution:
      – Israel, the secular and democratic state of and for all of its citizens, immigrants, ex-pats and refugees, equally; and
      – Palestine, the secular and democratic state of and for all of its citizens, immigrants, ex-pats and refugees, equally.

      A viable solution, not a “we get to keep our supremacist ‘Jewish State’ and almost everything we stole from Palestine, and the Palestinians get little to no autonomy on whatever scraps of land we give them” Zio-supremacist solution.

    • tod77 on August 13, 2014, 10:07 am

      At the risk of opening a thread that will shut down all internet traffic on the east coast – how do you see the resolution of the conflict if not by a two-state solution (and ensuing civil war).
      Looking at the one state solution it seems to me that it is even more hopeless than the pit of despair that is the two state solution.

      The best case scenario I can see when considering the one state is this:
      1) Israel and Palestinian are offered the one state solution – Israel says no
      2) The Israeli lobby worldwide fights the notion, causing governments to stall pressure on Israel.
      3) A couple more wars later, grassroots campaigns and BDS campaigns cause the world opinion to overpower the Israeli lobby – this realistically will take (I’m guessing) 10 years.
      4) World governments begin the gradual process of sanctioning Israel and forcing Israel to comply with the one-state solution. At the rate that has worked with Iran, and taking into account many other conflicts that will sideline the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (such as cold war #2), this might take another 10 years.
      5) Israel either:
      a) is bombed by NATO into submission
      b) Sidesteps to the two state solution (sans refugees), removing all settlements from the west bank and gaza, thus defusing the world pressure
      c) Finds alternative allies (as Iran has done) in Russia or China?
      d) Understands the error of its ways, and decides that its xenophobic practices have been flawed, and that the existential threat it feels was PTSD, and welcomes the 1 state solution.

      So, at best we are saying that we can have the one state solution in 20 years?
      Is that the best we can hope for?

      Take into account that I oversimplified because I want to hear your opinion, not my own.
      I’m not talking about which solution is more just and fair, I’m talking about which solution is more realistic and can end the suffering ASAP.
      I know the two state solution seems impossible, but isn’t the one state solution even less possible realistically?
      How do you see the conflict resolved? (how long would it take and what needs to be done?)

      • RoHa on August 13, 2014, 11:16 am

        Have a look at this one.

        I’m not entirely happy with it. It seems to suggest that even Israelis who were born in the territory do not have the right to live there. But I cannot see it being implemented anyway.

      • tod77 on August 13, 2014, 11:53 am

        Can’t see it being implemented either.
        It also states that it should take 15 years, and that’s AFTER the world decides it to be the best solution.

        What I found interesting was that the idea is based on an idea raised by Israeli extremist, Moshe Feiglin. I would laugh if it wasn’t so sad…

      • SQ Debris on August 13, 2014, 2:34 pm

        Twenty years may seem like a long time but I think it is important to understand that Palestinians have a different historical consciousness than Americans. I have friends that live on Salah ad Din St in Jerusalem. Their kids walk down that street every day on their way to school and they know that it is the street that Salah ad Din led his army down to defeat the occupying crusaders. If it takes another twenty years to boot the current batch of invaders it will nearly match the 88 year timeline on the crusaders occupation. Those kids know that too.

      • lysias on August 13, 2014, 2:55 pm

        88 years? I suppose that’s the length of time the Crusaders held the city of Jerusalem, but the last Crusader state in Outremer (still the Kingdom of Jerusalem, in its last redoubt of Acre) didn’t fall until 200 years after the First Crusade.

  7. In2u on August 12, 2014, 7:14 pm

    UK government to block arms exports to Israel if military action resumes

  8. ckg on August 12, 2014, 7:19 pm

    Michael, thank you. I recall seeing that photo in 2000 and being horrified. I also recall seeing photos of necklacing in the 80’s and being equally horrified. These wrongs cannot diminish the justness of the larger struggles. We didn’t lose our resolve in the 80’s, and we shouldn’t lose it now.

  9. michelle on August 12, 2014, 9:45 pm

    balance is good
    it shows ‘both’ sides
    picture this;
    an exibit of Gaza bomb ectra sights before and after
    and Israel bomb sights before and after
    the differing stories would display
    among other things who the real terrorists
    an exibit poster whatever;
    with the Palestine people who died
    who were physically injured
    and the Israel people who died
    who were physically injured
    thousands//less than one hundred
    and that’s just from this go around
    true leaders let people see and decide for themselves
    by offering balance inbalance is openly displayed
    G-d Bless

  10. Kay24 on August 12, 2014, 9:53 pm

    Governor Cuomo invited to visit Gaza during trip to show his devotion to Israel.
    These zio loving US leaders should really go over to Gaza to see the results of Israel “defending” itself from unarmed civilians. It will not be a pretty sight.

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