Grass-roots Palestinian Nonviolent Movement

Isabel Kershner for Jerusalem Report, 7/28/2004

Dear Chevra,

I take heart from the emergence of the kind of nonviolent resistance to the wall & the occupation that is described in this article from the Jerusalem Report, and thought you would like to see it. This kind of action by practically the whole village of Bidu evidently helped win the IDF's decision to pull back the Wall there an important distance.

There has been a good deal of debate among various streams of thought on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict about whether Palestinian nonviolence would matter at all. There have even been some who argue that no one outside the Palestinian community is entitled to express an ethical opinion supporting the use by Palestinians of nonviolence rather than anti-civilian terrorism.

I strongly disagree with such views. Those of us whose value system is rooted in the love of human life and the belief that all human beings bear the Image of God are, I think, not only permitted but obligated to oppose terrorism and support nonviolence.

Some have argued that the policies of the present Israeli government are so repressive that the use of nonviolence would have no effect.

It is true that many Israelis have been so traumatized by Palestinians' use of terrorism that if Palestinians begin to use large-scale nonviolence, they might be met by skepticism and suspicion.

But even so, I think the evidence is showing that some Israelis are ready, even strongly desirous, to respond with change to nonviolent challenges.

I would welcome thoughts about how best The Shalom Center and/or others in the US might help this effort.

Shalom, Arthur

Jerusalem Report,
Aug 9, 2004 (on-line from forthcoming issue).

Palestinian Peace Now

Isabel Kershner

While the Gaza Strip melts into chaos, Sari Nusseibeh's orderly People's Campaign for peace and nonviolence is gaining surprising support among grass-roots Fatah leaders in the West Bank.

The timing couldnt be more ironic, or the contrast more stark. It's 3:15 in the afternoon on Friday, July 16 and in the Gaza Strip, a kidnapping spree is just reaching its anarchic peak with the brief abduction of five French volunteers from a Khan Yunis cafe. Meanwhile at the same time, in the West Bank city of Qalqilyah, hundreds of Palestinians are gathering in a school courtyard for the first national Palestinian peace demonstration.

Organized along the lines of Israeli Peace Now operations — where sympathizers are shipped in from all over for demonstrations — but on a more modest scale, 15 busloads of Palestinians have converged on this dusty corner of Qal-qilyah, along with a convoy of private cars. Dodging the donkey carts that trundle along the city streets, they have brought in over a thousand Palestinian demonstrators from cities, towns and villages around the West Bank. There is a large contingency from the Hebron district, and a particularly rowdy crowd of shebab, or Fatah youth, from the villages around Jerusalem. Others have come from the nearby villages of Jayyous and Zawiya, from the West Bank "capital" of Ramallah and, of course, from Qalqilyah itself.

The occasion is the first anniversary of the "Destination Map," the document of principles for a final Israeli-Palestinian settlement based on a two-state solution drawn up by prominent Jerusalem Palestinian intellectual Prof. Sari Nusseibeh and former Shin Bet head Ami Ayalon. The document stipulates that the agreement should be based on the 1967 lines (with equitable land swaps where necessary) and, controversially for the Palestinian side, that the Palestinian refugees should exercise their right of return to the new Palestinian state, not Israel.

The aim of today's demonstration, according to the press release from HASHD, the Arabic acronym for the Peoples Campaign for Peace and Democracy headed by Nusseibeh, is to promote the peace initiative with a nonviolent demonstration and also to highlight "the negative effects of the wall on Palestinian-Israeli dialogue and peace-building efforts."

The airy Shariqa girls school, the site of the rally, built in 2000, stands on the western edge of Qalqilyah, looking out onto the forbidding 8-meter-high concrete security barrier which, complete with round watchtowers, now separates Qalqilyah from Israel. The Israeli city of Kfar Saba sits less than a kilometer away, just across the Trans-Israel highway. Here the Green Line, the pre-1967 border, has turned steely gray.

On a hill on the Israeli side, facing the school, about 400 supporters of Ayalon's People's Voice, the Israeli counterpart of HASHD, have come to show solidarity and try to engage in dialogue through mobile phones connected to loudspeakers. A huge balloon bears the Hebrew slogan "Yesh im mi ledaber," or "There is someone to speak with," a counter to the official Israeli position that there is no Palestinian partner, and therefore no current alternative to fence-building, containment and unilateralism.

Apparently unaware of the goings on in Gaza, where the kidnappings soon develop into mass demonstrations and the torching of PA police stations, the Palestinians pile onto the schools roof, wave and whistle at the Israelis on the opposite hill — a former rubbish dump — and fly a few kites. The wall is no doubt a crowd-puller when it comes to organizing a Palestinian protest; many say this is why they have come. But at the same time, all the demonstrators stick to the strict code of nonviolence — not a stone is thrown at the army jeeps idling by the wall below.

Everyone asked expresses support for the HASHD agenda. Nusseibeh, constantly surrounded by activists who want to introduce each other to him or be introduced, is clearly pleased. More usually associated with the ivory towers of academia and wishful thinking than with rooftops in Qalqilyah and grass-roots activity, he has pulled off a minor coup. "The Israelis do this all the time," he says, "but this is our first national demonstration. It's a good beginning, though it's been hard getting everyone in through the army checkpoints."

In fact seven buses don't make it at all, having been stopped by the army on the way from Salfit, Tul Karm and Jerusalem. Campaign organizers who inquire are told by the army that there are fears that so many Palestinians gathering in one place might lead to violence.

(Army sources later tell The Report that "Qalqilyah was declared a closed military zone on Friday and demonstrators were prevented from reaching the site because of disturbances, including stone-throwing and tire-burning"; The Report saw absolutely no evidence of such incidents.)

Particularly gratifying for Nusseibeh is the fact that the crowd is made up of local grass-roots community leaders, laborers, farmers, clerks, factory workers, traders, engineers, men and women of all ages. A few PA policemen are also standing around, armed only with cell phones. "These are not your run-of-the-mill academics and types that Im usually associated with in the Israeli press," remarks the philosophy professor who is now the president of Al-Quds University.

In a common touch, while the school walls inside the courtyard are decorated with paintings of global heroes like Tweetie Pie and Pokemon, the street side is adorned with graffiti of Hamas, various martyrs brigades and now of HASHD. And the two figures who grab the megaphone and bark out speeches can hardly be categorized as the Palestinian intellectual elite. One is Abd al-Karim Shamasna, who heads the popular campaign against the fence at Jayyous, and the other, a young activist called Yasser from the village of Zawiya, who wears a faded black T-shirt and jeans, and has brown, severely nicotine-stained teeth.

Both speak in favor of an independent Palestinian state living in peace alongside Israel, about the need for a new way forward and the goal of reaching a peace not of governments, but of the people. Shamasna also says that the Palestinians in Haifa, Jaffa and Acre, inside Israels 1948 borders, are part of the Palestinian family, but that "the price" of gaining an independent state has to be "giving up the dream" of ever returning there.

Ugly as this Qal-qilyah wall is, it hugs the 1967 line, making it less controversial than the parts of the security fence that encroach into the West Bank. Nusseibeh acknowledges that the wall here "is actually OK" and says the location was chosen because it offers "high places on both sides." Still, he adds, "the point is also that a wall is not a solution, and is not a substitute for a negotiated border that would guarantee both sides what they seek: for Israel, security, and for us freedom and dignity."

At precisely the time that Nusseibeh was speaking, the Gaza Strip was witnessing rare scenes of chaos and lawlessness with armed militia-men challenging the corruption of Yasser Arafats regime, and threatening to bring about the collapse of the entire 10-year-old Palestinian Authority.

The unrest had started at midday, when a gang identified with Arafat's mainstream Fatah faction kidnapped Arafat appointee Gaza Police Chief Ghazi Jabali, a widely despised figure long accused of corruption and abuse of power. They took him to the Bureij refugee camp and demanded he be fired. Hed been dismissed once, by the Abu Mazen government last year, but Arafat had him reinstated after Abu Mazen resigned.

Following the kidnapping of another Gaza security personage and the French volunteers (all were released unharmed within hours), Arafat appointed a new security authority in Gaza — his equally unpopular relative Musa Arafat, the longtime head of the Military Intelligence apparatus. The Strip erupted into angry demonstrations and rioting.

Many observers suspect Gaza strongman and former Preventive Security chief Muhammad Dahlan of being behind the ferment. Dahlan is an old rival of both Jaballi and Musa Arafat, and has recently been one of the most prominent voices demanding political and security reforms within Fatah and the PA. He has also been positioning himself, and his loyalists in the Preventive Security apparatus, to take control of Gaza in the event of an Israeli withdrawal.

In recent weeks, The Report has learned, Yasser Arafat had been funding Musa Arafat and his men in order to compete with Dahlan. Advocates of Prime Minister Sharons disengagement plan and some Western diplomats have placed high hopes in Dahlan, at first believing he might be able to create a new model of leadership and a "Yasser Arafat-free zone" in Gaza. Arafat, in classic style, had set about making sure that would not happen.

A senior PA official in Ramallah, speaking on condition of anonymity, says there are two theories behind the power struggle in the Gaza Strip. One is that it is a generational competition within the Fatah movement, with the young reformist "insiders" who have grown up in the territories pitted against the old-timers who returned with Arafat from exile in the mid-90s.

"The Fatah young guard believes the old guard has to leave the stage, that they are the cause of all the problems and that if the young take over, things will improve," the official explains. "So they are trying to prove to Arafat that they can control everything, including who he appoints."

The second theory is that some of the established leaders within Arafats own close circle are forcing the rais to abandon his autocratic system of one-man rule, and to share some of his powers. "In order to convince Arafat, they have to take action on the ground; Arafat believes in deeds, not words," says the official. "In my analysis," he goes on, "it's a combination of both."

Historically, the West Bank is less volatile than Gaza, partly because the economic situation is never as bad. "Give people jobs, bread and butter," the PA official says, "and they wouldnt care how many ministers they have or dont have."

Nevertheless, in the West Bank too there is an acute political vacuum, the result of PA stagnation and abdication of control throughout almost four years of intifada. "Everyone is busy with their own agenda, and looking for anyone who can offer solutions," the official says.
It is in this same, uncertain atmosphere that the unlikely growth of a Palestinian peace movement, led by the soft-spoken, self-deprecating, super-rational Prof. Nusseibeh, is quietly taking place and is particularly gaining ground within Fatah.

Against all predictions, almost as many Palestinians (140,000) have now signed up in support of the Nusseibeh-Ayalon plan as Israelis (192,000). Originally, HASHD staffer Dimitri Diliani says, there were expected to be twice as many Israelis as Palestinians.

Moreover, adds Diliani, in some areas of the West Bank, HASHD activists have started standing for election in local institutions. In a recent ballot for the council of labor unions in the southern West Bank, 11 of the 27 members elected were "HASHD people." The new head of the council is Jamil Rushdie, a member of HASHDs leadership council and Fatah leader from the Arroub refugee camp near Hebron.

"People are now seeing that Prof. Nusseibeh is honest, has foresight and is not corrupt," HASHD publicist, fundraiser and administrator Diliani says. "It is not an academic thing anymore."

In late July, Jamil Rushdie was scheduled to open the doors to the HASHD "Smarter without Violence" summer camp for over 150 9-14-year-olds from the Hebron area. Taking place in the Arroub Agricultural College adjacent to the refugee camp, 28 youth leaders, graduates of a HASHD leadership training course, were due to provide three weeks of education through art, sports and other activities in the importance of peace, democracy and nonviolence.
A far cry from the notorious Gazan horror camps where children are trained to jump through hoops of fire, shoot guns and storm Jewish settlements, the Smarter without Violence camp is meant, according to director Rushdie, to teach the next generation "how to live with the neighbors."

Rushdie, 39, who describes himself as a "Fatah man," spent nine years in an Israeli jail for his activities against the occupation. He was released in 1992. Like many of the graduates of Israeli prisons, he speaks good Hebrew. Though a refugee himself — his family hails from Al-Fallujeh, now the Israeli town of Kiryat Gat — he says the refugee issue needs to be dealt with "logically."

"Bringing the refugees back to Israel would mean no State of Israel," he explains, adopting the old Israeli argument that any large refugee return to Israel proper would cancel out the Jewish majority and the whole raison dtre of the Jewish state. "The most important thing for us is to have our own state in the territories of 1967," he argues. "Bringing the refugees back to it would not be such a bad thing."

Rushdie says he hasnt faced too much opposition in Arroub for his views. Of the 9,000 camp residents, he notes, 1,100 have signed on to HASHD. Moreover, he points out, "all the HASHD officials in the West Bank are Fatah people who were leaders of the first intifada. Youll be surprised to hear that most of them — some 70 percent — have served time in Israeli prisons, and were talking at least four or five years."

On the rooftop in Qalqilyah, another kind of chaos reigns. "Its a bit disorganized," Nusseibeh smiles, about half an hour into the demonstration. "Im not sure what else were supposed to be doing." Nusseibeh has spoken to Ayalon by phone, but there are no facilities here to broadcast the conversation.

The Jerusalem district youths are standing on the edge of the roof and chanting for an Arab TV camera. Running out of chants, they come up with an inappropriate one made famous by Arafat about a million martyrs marching on Jerusalem.

Different districts are milling around in different T-shirts: Young boys from Qalqilyah are sporting white shirts with the HASHD slogan and a small portrait of Yasser Arafat placed on the heart.

While Nusseibehs Peoples Campaign is about as reformist as they come, many of its activists remain ultimately loyal to Arafat. Fractious as the Fatah family has become, he is still the father figure and respected as such. "Arafat is our symbol," says Rushdie, "he is the first man of peace. He is also our elected president, which is the first principle of democracy."
As for Nusseibeh, "he comes from Fatah and is one of its leaders," Rushdie asserts. "Most people in Fatah believe in Dr. Sari — not as a replacement for Arafat, heaven forbid, but he knows whats going on and he speaks the truth."

Nusseibeh, for his part, says that what Fatah needs as a movement is "clarity. A definition of our identity and what we are fighting for. Theres a vacuum concerning this, and a lot of cloudiness." HASHD, he says, offers a solution. "We are very clear in stating what kind of state we want and how to bring it about." Moreover, Nusseibeh feels, HASHD is increasingly shaping the agenda of the PA leadership itself. "At first they criticized us, but more and more they are expressing their opposition to violence and so on."

The PA official in Ramallah agrees that HASHD is gaining ground. "Anyone who comes and creates a peoples party that gives some kind of framework will have members," he says. "People want solutions."
By 5 P.M., as the French hostages are being released in Khan Yunis, the Qalqilyah peace demonstrators disperse and get back on their buses. Many of them would not get home till late, however, as the army has set up "flying checkpoints" every few kilometers of the way on the main road to Ramallah.
The campaign buses are lined up all along the route as soldiers repeatedly check the IDs of all the passengers. Army sources say the roadblocks are for "operational purposes."
The demonstrators felt "harassed," HASHDs Diliani later reports. Still, he adds, those he has spoken with since insist they wont be discouraged from coming out again.
August 9, 2004