Amid the smoke, rubble and blood, the idea of nonviolent protest in Gaza seems as preposterous as it is naive.
Indeed, those Palestinians who preached nonviolence and led peaceful marches, boycotts, mass sit-downs and the like are mostly dead, in jail, marginalised or in exile.
Mubarak Awad is one of the latter. Often dubbed “the Palestinian Gandhi” or “Palestinian Martin Luther King Jr,” Awad now teaches the theory and practice of nonviolence at American University in Washington, DC, far from his Jerusalem home.
Israel kicked him out in 1988. Five years earlier, he had opened the doors of the Palestinian Centre for the Study of Nonviolence in Jerusalem, with the goal of fomenting mass resistance to the Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza. Do not pay taxes, he lectured. Consume only local goods, like the Indians who followed Gandhi’s movement against British colonial rule. Engage in peaceful protest. Plant olive trees on land coveted by Jewish settlers. Above all, do not pick up the gun. March, and sit down, like civil rights protesters in the American South in the 1960s. Take the beatings, clog up Israeli jails.
It started to take, here and there, even though the leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organisation and Hamas disdained it. Awad was arrested on the orders of then Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir and deported.
Today, beefy and white-haired at 71, with his TV flickering images of Hamas and Israel trading bombs and rockets, Awad insists he is optimistic about the prospects for a nonviolent protest movement in his homeland. “I am very hopeful. I mean, you are talking to a very hopeful person,” he says, ticking off negotiated resolutions to what once seemed implacably violent conflicts in Northern Ireland and South Africa. “Of course, there is violence along the way. Germany and France killed each other for 100 years, and now they are friends.”
That’s the long view, but Awad’s optimism is flagging under the weight of the current Gaza conflict, and he maintains that things could get worse. “The Israelis will leave [Gaza], and we will have even more groups of Palestinians, even more militant than Hamas. The Israelis will say they got the weapons in Gaza, but then [the militants] might go to chemical weapons, or might go to [radiological] weapons – or something worse. These death weapons are getting easy to find and easy to make in the laboratory. So people will engage in worse things to kill each other.”
Read the entire article in Newsweek.