Wednesday, 30 May 2007

There's more than one way to resist an occupier

By Khaled Diab
Hamas's political leader Khaled Mashal must have a death wish. His uncompromising discourse is certainly hurting - even fatally wounding - the Palestinian struggle.

In an interview with The Guardian, he said: "Under occupation people don't ask whether their means are effective in hurting the enemy." When I read this, I did a double-take. Surely, that's the first question they should ask! After all, the overwhelming goal of any people under occupation is to find the most effective means of ending the occupation and alleviating their own suffering.

And, in the case of the Israelis and Palestinians, violence has proven itself entirely ineffective - on both sides. Palestinians attacks do not bring them any nearer to statehood and even result in Israel tightening its stranglehold on Gaza and the West Bank, as well as the further international isolation of the Palestinians. As for Israeli attacks, they do nothing to make the country any securer (particularly in the long term), just more reviled.

As I have argued in previous articles, non-violence is the most powerful weapon the Palestinians can and do deploy. However, its effectiveness is neutralised by the factions that insist on using violent means.

"What caused Sharon to leave Gaza, Barak to leave Lebanon in 2000? And look what's going on in Iraq where the greatest power in the world is facing confusion because of Iraqi resistance. Time is on the side of the Palestinian people," Mashal commented.

Violence may have had some part to play, but many complex factors led to these situations, and each was very different in its nature. In Lebanon, non-violence even had a part to play, with the Israeli peace movement lobbying hard to end the bloody 18-year occupation. In fact, in the case of Gaza, I would argue that the violence delayed an Israeli withdrawal. A hardliner like 'bulldozer' Sharon may never have been elected had Israelis not felt so insecure, and the situation in Gaza and the West Bank would've been a lot better.

"The Palestinians are steadfast and there are many ways of resisting according to opportunities and conditions," Mashal said. Palestinians 'sumoud' (steadfastness) has been admirable, particularly in the face of the unfair and counterproductive collective punishment being meted out on the hapless population.

And, Mr Mashal, there may be many ways of resisting but, in my humble opinion, there is only one effective way for the Palestinians - and that is to lay down their weapons and win hearts and minds. The last two weeks of violence have seen Palestinian rocket attacks kill two Israelis, while Israeli rocket attacks have killed 50 Palestinians. Is this the kind of balance sheet the Hamas leader wants on his conscience?

It is selfish of you living comfortably - if under constant threat - to demand of your people to make such huge and unnecessary sacrifices. Your first priority should be the dignity of your people, not some foolish notion of pride.


rina said...

I would also add that it's not enough to have a good strategy for resistance. In fact, that is a secondary issue. First, one has to decide on – and publicly articulate - an overall set of reasonable and achievable goals which would benefit one’s own people (in this world, not the next, and in some obvious and measurable ways, such as freedom, safety, self-determination, better education and healthcare, etc.) I’m talking about the need to think in terms of final conflict resolution, not conflict buildup: about a one-state solution, or two-state solution, or a federated state, or what have you – not about ways to destroy the other side.

Having the destruction of the Jewish state as the ultimate goal is counterproductive, to say the least, simply because, (1) it is out of reach for Hamas or anyone else concerned; (2) it is a sure way to keep the conflict going indefinitely, since the Israelis are hardly expected to go along with it, and (3) it will never be accepted outside the Muslim world, and without broad international support a people under occupation by a powerful nation can never achieve much. Not to mention that it’s plain nasty.

Khaled Diab said...

Rina, wise words! If I were a Palestinian leader, I would set up an incremental priority of goals which would put people's dignity ahead of national pride. So, I would drop the immediate demands for nationhood and campaign for civil rights, first, then autonomy, then independence.

You are right that Hamas's charter is counterproductive - as well as immoral. But like you pointed out, it is a fairy tale. So responding to it with an international boycott was not the answer, especially since Hamas has been showing growing signs of pragmatism and tempering its stance as it faces the reality of government. But this siege might well further radicalise the movement and the Palestinian population.

Moreover, the extremist positions of Israeli parties did not stop the Palestinians from negotiating with Israel. For instance, The Likud's charter rejects the creation of a Palestinian state.

Shas - which is Israel's third party - has as one of the cornerstones of its political platform the creation of a 'Greater Israel'which, according to what they believe was promised to Abraham, stretches from the Nile to the Euphrates. However, like Hamas who accept a Palestinian state on pre-1967 border, they are 'pragmatic' and advocate giving Palestinians land at some undetermined time in the future if it means Israel can live in peace.