Peaceful Protest Can Free Palestine: Mustafa Barghouthi Peaceful Protest Can Free Palestine -
Peaceful Protest Can Free Palestine By MUSTAFA BARGHOUTHI Published:
- Palestinian on Hunger Strike to Be Freed Without Court
OVER the past 64 years, Palestinians have tried armed struggle; we have
tried negotiations; and we have tried peace conferences. Yet all we have
seen is more Israeli settlements, more loss of lives and resources, and the
emergence of a horrifying system of segregation.
Khader Adnan, a Palestinian held in an Israeli prison, pursued a different
path. Despite his alleged affiliation with the militant group Islamic
Jihad, he waged a peaceful hunger strike to shake loose the consciences of
people in Israel and around the world. Mr. Adnan chose to go unfed for more
than nine weeks and came close to death. He endured for 66 days before
ending his hunger strike on Tuesday in exchange for an Israeli agreement to
release him as early as April 17.
Mr. Adnan has certainly achieved an individual victory. But it was also a
broader triumph — unifying Palestinians and highlighting the power of
nonviolent protest. Indeed, all Palestinians who seek an independent state
and an end to the Israeli occupation would be wise to avoid violence and
embrace the example of peaceful resistance.
Mr. Adnan was not alone in his plight. More than 300 Palestinians are
currently held in “administrative detention.” No charges have been brought
against them; they must contend with secret evidence; and they do not get
their day in military court.
Britain’s practices in Northern Ireland during the 1970s and 1980s were not
so different from Israel’s today — and they elicited a similarly rebellious
spirit from the subjugated population. In 1981, Bobby Sands, an imprisoned
member of the Irish Republican Army, died 66 days after beginning a hunger
strike to protest Britain’s treatment of political prisoners. Mr. Sands was
elected to Parliament during his strike; nine other hunger strikers died
before the end of 1981; and their cases drew worldwide attention to the
plight of Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland.
Just as Margaret Thatcher, then the British prime minister,
unsympathetically dismissed Mr. Sands as a “convicted criminal,” Israeli
officials have accused Mr. Adnan of being an active member of Islamic
Jihad. But if this is the case, Israel should prove it in court.
Mr. Adnan’s actions over the past nine weeks demonstrated that he was
willing to give his life — nonviolently and selflessly — to advance
Palestinian freedom. Others must now show similar courage.
What is needed is a Palestinian version of the Arab revolutions that have
swept the region: a mass movement demanding freedom, dignity, a just peace,
real democracy and the right to self-determination. We must take the
initiative, practice self-reliance and pursue a form of nonviolent struggle
that we can sustain without depending on others to make decisions for us or
in our place.
In the last several years, Palestinians have organized peaceful protests
against the concrete and wire “separation barrier” that pens us into what
are best described as bantustans. We have sought to mobilize popular
resistance to this wall by following in the nonviolent traditions of Martin
Luther King Jr. and Mohandas K. Gandhi — and we remain determined to
sustain peaceful protest even when violently attacked.
Using these techniques, we have already succeeded in pressuring the Israeli
government to reroute the wall in villages like Jayyous and Bilin and
helped hundreds of Palestinians get their land back from settlers or the
Our movement is not intended to delegitimize Israel, as the Israeli
government claims. It is, instead, a movement to delegitimize the Israeli
occupation of the West Bank, which we believe is the last surviving
apartheid system in the world. It is a movement that could free
Palestinians from nearly 45 years of occupation and Israelis from being
part of the last colonial-settler system of our time.
I remember the days when some political leaders of the largest Palestinian
political parties, Al Fatah and Hamas, laughed at our nonviolent struggle,
which they saw as soft and ineffective. But the turning point came in the
summer of 2008, when we managed to break the Israeli naval siege of Gaza
with small boats. Suddenly, I saw great respect in the eyes of the same
leaders who had doubted the power of nonviolence but finally recognized its
The power of nonviolence is that it gives Palestinians of all ages and
walks of life the tools to challenge those subjugating us. And thousands of
peace activists from around the world have joined our movement. In
demonstrations in East Jerusalem, Silwan and Hebron we are also being
joined by a new and younger Israeli peace movement that categorically
rejects Israeli occupation.
Unfortunately, continuing Israeli settlement activity could soon lead us to
the point of no return. Indeed, if we do not soon achieve a genuinely
independent Palestinian state, we will be forced to press instead for a
single democratic state with equal rights and responsibilities for both
Palestinians and Israelis.
We are not sure how long it will take before our nonviolent struggle
achieves its goal. But we are sure of one thing: it will succeed, and
Palestinians will one day be free.
Mustafa Barghouthi <http://www.mustafabarghouthi.org/>, a doctor and member
of the Palestinian Parliament, is secretary general of the Palestinian
National Initiative, a political party.