In his highly symbolic “Dune” trilogy, Frank Herbert described an armor of a strange kind: a body shield, in the form of a force field, that deflects fast moving projectiles like bullets, thus saving its wearer from certain death. What the force field does not do however is shield its wearer from slow moving projectiles, say a knife wielded by an opponent in close combat.
Put in the context of the Middle East, violence is the fast-moving projectile that Israel’s body shield not only deflects, it is actually strengthened by it. There’s a better, softer, more efficacious approach, one that requires neither capitulation on the part of Palestinians and Arabs, nor vain and constant attempts on their part to vanquish Israel through the use of armed violence. In the presence of hugely asymmetrical levels of power favoring the US-Israel over the Arabs-Palestinians, Israeli and US politicians know fully well that no Arab or Muslim country possesses a military force that represents even a remote threat to Israel’s “existence” in any way whatsoever. However, every stone lobbed hopelessly at an Israeli tank by a Palestinian teenager becomes a “lethal weapon” in US-Israeli parlance, and therefore a powerful propaganda missile, hundreds of which are launched daily and equally at Arabs, Muslims, and unsuspecting, poorly-informed members of the American and European public.
Non-violence is often fundamentally misunderstood, even by a majority of its proponents. Non-violence does not necessarily consist of an absence of violence. Thus, if you willingly and purposefully induce your enemies into committing violence against you, are you a believer in non-violence? Hardly. Indeed, pushing your foes into committing ever greater and more horrendous acts of violence against you may constitute a more effective use of “violence” than throwing home-built rockets at them. This methodology becomes even more effective if you are able to choose the type of violence your foes subject you to. The subtlety of the concept lies in provoking your foes into higher levels of the right type of violence without you resorting to any yourself, especially when it becomes obvious that whatever you throw at your enemies only hardens and strengthens the force field that surrounds them. Indeed, it’s often your enemies who may be goading you into committing violent acts, which they know cannot represent any real danger to their system, but cause you to fall into their propagandist trap.
In Richard Attenborough’s “Gandhi”, there’s a scene where the Mahatma’s followers walk up in well-ordered groups to be beaten savagely, and quite willingly, by British-hired soldiers wielding batons. As the first line of volunteers fell bloodied to the ground, trained and well organized women gathered the wounded to care for them while another line of men offered their heads, shoulders and arms to the violent blows of the batons. The lines of men kept coming; the batons kept splitting heads and breaking bones. Gandhi knew well that each blow of the batons represented yet another jab that rattled and chipped at the foundations of the imperialist system that oppressed India, and which he sought to overthrow. This can hardly be described as a “non-violent” struggle. Indeed, Gandhi called it “militant” non-violence.
There comes a time when oppressors are vanquished by the very violence they mete upon those they oppress. The greater the violence, the more shocking, gratuitous, and disproportionate it is, and the greater the certainty that in time, it will become more self-mutilation than offense or defense. This self-mutilation is what Israel glaringly inflicted upon itself through the barbaric assault it launched against Lebanon, which destroyed the country’s infrastructure and caused extraordinarily gratuitous loss in human life, as Israel subjected all Lebanese to collective punishment and misery. That Israel has been meting similar if not indeed greater levels of violence against the Palestinian people, and that it took the destruction of Lebanon for many in the Western world to sit up and take notice, is a blight on the moral foundation of those who have, only now, started to express open shock and revulsion at Israel’s criminal offenses. The very European countries that expressed deep shock at Israel’s destruction of Lebanon, are the same countries that are causing incalculable suffering and misery in Gaza and the West Bank by withholding vitally needed aid to the Palestinian people, in a bid to punish them for having elected one set of representatives over another, in fair, free, democratic and civilized elections which the US and Europe had apparently championed.
While Bush pledges hundreds of millions of dollars for the reconstruction of Lebanon, in a vain, futile and cynical bid to compete with Hizbollah for the hearts and minds of the very Shiites that he had helped massacre, he and his European cronies withhold baby formula from Palestinian children already suffering from obscene levels of malnutrition in the midst of plenty. Bush is not unique in this: Clinton’s, and before him Papa Bush’s embargo against Iraq caused even greater loss of life among Iraq’s children. That people should continue to believe in the idiocy that “America is an honest broker” in the Middle East, represents one of the 21st century’s great unsolved mysteries. Needless to say, the Lebanese, Shiites or otherwise, are unlikely to benefit directly from Bush’s promised largesse. He made similar and even more grandiose pledges to Afghanistan and Iraq, which remain grandiosely unfulfilled.
This is the time therefore to use militant non-violence to dismantle the Israeli apartheid regime, in order to change it into a real non-discriminatory democracy. Those who think that non-violence is for sissies are hereby invited to offer their heads to the blows of the batons when they fall. Either way, what’s needed is for Israel’s victims to stop responding with violence to the violence directed at them by the apartheid state. That type of response only strengthens the US-Israeli war machine and provides it with the very type of ammunition and energy it needs to sustain itself.
The first, and I would argue the only, way to change the current Israeli apartheid regime, in a bid to replace it with a more equitable, humane, truly democratic, non-sectarian political system, is to start with two rejections: 1- Palestinians and Arabs ought to immediately reject the so-called –and in reality never feasible– “two-state” solution. This “solution” not only represents a chimera, it was in fact designed from the onset by Israel and the US as a distraction to run the clock down so to speak, in order to give Israel the time it needs to ethnically cleanse the West Bank as it accomplishes its neo-colonial, expansionist policies. 2- Hamas in particular, other Palestinians second, and the rest of the Arab world by extension, ought to immediately reject the idea that non-recognition of Israel has any tactical or strategic value whatsoever. The corollary of this statement is that Israel’s greatest fear is for Palestinians and Arabs to unilaterally recognize it, rather than to dangle in front of it what the Arabs mistakenly believe is the “carrot” of recognition. However, the unilateral recognition document should contain a single and automatic proviso: that Israel becomes a truly universal, non-sectarian, non-religious, non-military democracy.
In doing so Arabs, Israelis and the rest of the world, would have to face the inevitable and only substance-based solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, which hides so many other conflicts within its folds: the single, bi-national state. Any other pursuit is futile and only strengthens Israel by providing it and its arms-and-funds-supplier-in-chief with the excuses and justifications they seek and hope for, to continue wreaking havoc in the Middle East in their attempt to control its hydrocarbon resources. Thus, rejection of the two-state solution, and unilateral recognition of Israel on condition that it evolves into a non-sectarian democracy, would deprive Israel and the US of the most powerful weapons they have been hurling at Arabs and Palestinians for decades.
Gandhi was not anti violence. He simply turned the British Empire’s own violence against it. While there’s no arguing that Hizbollah won the latest round against Israel, imagine how much greater the resistance movement’s victory would have been if it had simply ridden out the barbaric bombing campaign that Israel subjected Lebanon to, then did what it actually ended up doing in the end: fighting and beating the Israeli army on Lebanese soil. It would have done so without needing to fire a single Katyusha across the border. Indeed, I would contend that had Hizbollah simply managed to lure the Israeli army in greater numbers deeper into Lebanon, say by lobbing mortar shells at –and occasionally purposefully missing– the advancing columns, Israel would have under-estimated Hizbollah’s strength even more than it had, and Hizbollah’s soldiers would have been able to subject the Israeli army to a much greater drubbing than they did. They would have achieved this victory without needing to lob hundreds of Katyusha missiles inside Israel, and therefore without harming a single Israeli “civilian.” I say this while fully aware of the problematic that many Arabs associate with defining to an Nth degree of precision what constitutes an “Israeli” civilian, in a country where all adults of a certain age are part of the army reserves.
Still, there’s no confusion in stating that any person not old enough to be part of the reserve is a strict civilian, as are people too old to be in the reserve any longer. Also, there are people who, for health or other reasons cannot be part of the army or the reserve. Insisting, as many Arabs and Palestinians do, in a bid to justify attacks against Israeli civilians, on defining “all” Israelis as potential members of the reserve or as “potential soldiers” is illogical and can lead to the commitment of inhuman, criminal acts. Indeed, the rules of war and international law define as “civilians” even soldiers, if they are not in uniform and engaged in combat at a given time. That Israel is not hampered by such moral, ethical or legal considerations, and takes a cynical view of International Law, using it only when it sees fit while trampling it under its boots when it doesn’t, does not justify nor excuse behaving in a similarly uncivilized, if not criminal manner.
Militant non-violence versus active violence: both involve the use of violence. Militant non-violence is not necessarily the same as, nor should it be confused with traditional forms of non-violence. The distinction is philosophically, tactically, and strategically significant and important. Learning how to use militant non-violence is much harder than engaging in “active” violence against an enemy. The former requires far greater levels of intelligence, planning and execution than the latter. Israel’s and the US’s body-shields feed and grow on active violence: both the one they mete upon others, and the violence that’s directed at them. On the other hand, they have yet to develop an effective defense against militant non-violence.
The time has come for Arabs and Palestinians to adopt militant non-violence that uses humanness as a weapon, and intelligence as its irresistible, undefeatable ammunition, which no shield can deflect. This will vanquish once and for all the combined bi-cephalous, barbaric monster that’s represented by the Israeli, apartheid-based military-democracy (sic) and the American, money-driven, corporate-controlled, evangelical-zionist inspired, military imperialist regime. Their common monstrous policies are rejected outright by a majority of Americans, Europeans, Latin Americans, Asians, and other people around the world, be they Christians, Jews, Muslims, agnostics, or otherwise.
RACHARD ITANI can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org