Excerpts from a policy brief presented to the Washington-based Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine
The Palestinian people have a genuine chance to achieve their national goals, in spite of the enormous gap between them and their foes, if they pursue a conscious, organized strategy of non-violent resistance to the occupation on a massive scale. For this to succeed, it must be adopted on a massive scale by large segments of the Palestinian population and by the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) itself. It must involve a long-term commitment and not simply be symbolic or episodic in character. Political discussion within the community must be revived so that participation is universal and everyone has a voice instead of a gun.
To this end, we must call for immediate national elections. The armed factions must be transformed into political parties, and a new Palestinian Social Democratic party must be established to provide a political home for those who are dissatisfied with the current factions. If the Israeli authorities try to block such elections, the elections themselves will become a battlefield for the non-violent struggle.
The role of the Arab and Muslim worlds is crucial. Non-violence in the form of boycotts, protests and diplomatic pressure must be applied to translate their support into concrete pressure on Israel. Fiery speeches and futile threats of war against Israel are counterproductive. Massive marches toward the borders in support of the Right of Return must be planned.
Those who support occupation and its crimes must be shamed and challenged everywhere. This creates a worldwide arena for a non-violent struggle based on morality and international law. South Africa's apartheid regime faced such a fight and ultimately collapsed. Israel is far more vulnerable because it is highly dependent on the rest of the world, particularly Europe and the United States.
Massive boycotts of Israeli products and services, as well as cultural, sports, educational and diplomatic activities, should be conducted. These protests must be linked to specific individuals or to specific policies. Broad general boycotts that oppose all Israelis are unfair and unworkable.
Such a campaign would enlist the participation of people of goodwill all over the world, including many Jews and others who would support Israel as a victim of violence but who contest its oppression of Palestinians.
One problem with convincing Palestinians to adopt non-violence is the "Hezbollah argument." Under Hezbollah, the Lebanese resistance successfully ended Israel's occupation of southern Lebanon by armed resistance, which made the continued occupation too costly for Israel.
However, the Israelis never considered south Lebanon part of Israel, and they did not settle it. For them, the occupation of south Lebanon could easily be abandoned once the cost in lives was too great and outweighed the military benefits of its continuation. On the other hand, the Palestinian armed struggle is often interpreted as a threat against Israel itself, not only its occupation and settlements.
When the issue is the existence of the state of Israel itself, Israelis and their supporters abroad will present a united front and fight with no regard to cost and the number of casualties.
Some may argue that the goal of armed resistance is not to destroy Israel but to end the occupation, but that is unconvincing to Israelis, particularly when average Israelis are being killed and wounded and when military activities spill over into Israel itself. In contrast, a non-violent struggle cannot be misunderstood as a physical threat to Israel.
Large numbers of Israelis who truly yearn for a just peace can be enlisted in a non-violent struggle against occupation and settlements, while there is almost no chance of enlisting them in any armed Palestinian activity.
Although Palestinian armed struggle against the occupation is both morally and legally legitimate, it may be ineffective, futile and counterproductive. If Palestinians choose non-violence, it would only be because they are convinced that it can achieve results. Submission to occupation and surrender is not an option for us.
In the early 1980s, Mubarak Awad was able to convince many Palestinians as well as other Arabs and Muslims that non-violence can work and that it is more powerful than any other weapon we have. Because of his work, the Israelis considered him dangerous, and arrested and subsequently deported him. Nonetheless, there continues to be a great interest in non-violence.
What is lacking is an overall commitment to do it on a massive scale. People are still trapped in the rhetoric of armed struggle, and many, especially abroad, would rather applaud the armed struggle from afar than actively engage in non-violent struggle and take responsibility for the future. Jonathan Kuttab is a Jerusalem-based Palestinian human rights lawyer and peace activist. Mubarak Awad is director of Nonviolence International.