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A way for the Palestinians to turn the tables non-violently

As a new hard-line government takes power in Israel and as Israeli tanks and other armour roam at will through Palestinian territory, it is apparent to all but the most blinded that the ability of the Palestinian people to regain the initiative has never been more circumscribed. Yet no one doubts the power of the Palestinian militants to inflict enormous pain on Israeli civilians. And no one should minimise the sheer fear that runs through everyday Israeli family life.

Indeed, no one should be surprised if, with an antediluvian Benjamin Netanyahu-led government in power, tens of thousands of young highly educated families pack up their bags and join other Israelis in the modern-day diasporas of places like the San Francisco Bay area and Moscow. (Estimates of Israelis living abroad vary from 250,000 to a million.) At the same time, no one should be surprised that the peace movement among Israeli Jews has shrivelled in size. It has lost its confidence.

But the truth is however large or small the peace movement or the rush-to-escape movement becomes, the majority of Israelis have made it clear they will stay put and fight to the death. They certainly won't be driven into the sea and they are not going to vote for politicians to make peace with the Palestinians until the Palestinians, including those in Gaza, make caste iron guarantees that terrorism and the suicide bomber are going to be banned for ever into the future.

The Palestinian leadership seemingly faces a difficult but deciding choice. Either to continue to encourage a violent response to the brutal and savage Israeli military machine, perhaps hoping that in the end that enough of it will provoke other Arab countries to come to their aid, perhaps even to fight another Middle East War even though it could end, if Israel faced the likelihood of being overrun, with Israel's use of nuclear weapons. Or to create the atmospherics that make the negotiation of the late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia's peace plan a possibility.

The latter depends on finding a method that can almost literally turn the tables on Prime Minister Netanyahu, make him run for political cover, and make him like putty in the hands of the combined energies of a war-weary electorate, and the diplomatic muscle of a joint American, European, and Russian push for a final settlement. Netanyahu will only change his spots if he faces ejection from office by an electorate that has moved to the left of him.

But to get to the point of such negotiations is enormously difficult, given the mood of intransigence that now permeates Israel. But there is a way: to repudiate the tactics of violence and to confront Israeli might with organized non-violence as Gandhi did with the British colonial master with his Salt March, and Martin Luther King did with his march across Pettus Bridge in the face of massive police violence, an act of defiance that precipitated the intervention of the American federal government to overturn the policies of black disenfranchisement of the southern states.

Imagine what the political chemistry would be if Palestinian leaders pulled together to mass hundreds of thousands of ordinary, unarmed Palestinian families and surrounded the Israeli tanks with ranks of men, women and children who would sit on the ground and block their movement?

At the same time other hundreds of thousands would block the Israeli roads leading across the border to prevent the arrival of reinforcements. And other hundreds of thousands would block the movement of the earth diggers, cranes and construction crews working on settlement expansion. What if the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and Hamas used their organizational strengths to make sure, as the warmer spring weather arrives, these human shields could survive the night without leaving their non-violent sieges with food, water, latrines and medical help?

David Shipler, the former New York Times Pulitzer Prize winning Middle East correspondent, has written of how, "It is hard to get a clear view from the wrong end of a gun. So, most Palestinians have been unable to see the conscience that runs strongly beneath the surface of Israeli brutality. Palestine leaders have never understood the power of shame which Dr King used as leverage against white America. They have never comprehended how malleable Israel could become to fulfil its yearning for virtue and acceptance. Instead, they have made sure that Israelis don't feel safe, and when you don't feel safe, you don't feel flexible."

Needless to say, the kind of defensive non-violence described above would have to be matched by aggressive verbal non-violence in appealing to the Israelis to negotiate. It would mean telling the Israelis loudly that the Palestinians want to live in peace, that they don't want to drive Israel into the sea or overpower it with vast numbers of returning refugees

Imagine, if this happened. Imagine if the peace demonstrations inside Palestine were joined every weekend on the streets of Israel, Europe and the US and were strengthened by the presence of senior figures from western governments. Would the Israeli electorate then refuse to negotiate? Wouldn't they push Netanyahu aside if he got in their way? I truly believe so.


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