Imagine a resistance to the Israeli occupation that is completely nonviolent. We got a glimpse of that this week with the flotilla to Gaza that was attacked by the Israeli army. It was the intent of the organizers to carry out just such a strategy, but some few people on one of the ships were apparently overcome by passion as the Israeli troops descended on them, and took up iron bars, and whatever else lay to hand. They thereby gave the Israelis precious footage of violence being meted out to Israeli soldiers. The Israeli attack—on the high seas—could thus be packaged as resistance to aggression, rather than state-sponsored piracy.
But suppose there were no violence by the activists, just a refusal to comply with what they held to be an illegal seizure of their ships in support of an illegal blockade and an illegal occupation. The Israeli government and military are manifestly completely unprepared for that. They know only how to respond to Palestinian violence with disproportionate force. If they were shown beating up and imprisoning unarmed and nonviolent resisters, their international isolation would be complete. Even now the Israeli government has managed to alienate Turkey, its last ally in the Middle East, and has put relations with the United States—its indispensable ally—under grave strain. Facing a truly nonviolent resistance, the government’s position would become untenable.
Unfortunately, Palestinians and other Arabs come from a tradition and culture that has been infertile soil for nonviolent resistance. For many, the only acceptable response to injustice is violent revenge. Nonviolence is unmanly. This plays right into the hands of the Israeli occupiers, who can always reply to force with an overwhelmingly disproportionate response.
What they cannot counter, any more than the British in India or the segregationists in Mississippi, is resistance by people who are willing to die, but not to kill.
Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Bucknell University