Yousef Munayyer: Could There Ever Be a Palestinian Gandhi?
Yousef Munayyer is executive director of the Palestine Center.
Last weekend, as tens of thousands of unarmed refugees marched toward Israel from all sides in a symbolic effort to reclaim their right of return, the world suddenly discovered the power of Palestinian nonviolence. Much like the "Freedom Flotilla," when nine activists were killed during an act of nonviolent international disobedience almost a year ago, the deaths of unarmed protesters at the hands of Israeli soldiers drew the world's attention to Palestine and the refugee issue.
The world shouldn't have been so surprised. The truth is that there is a long, rich history of nonviolent Palestinian resistance dating back well before 1948, when the state of Israel was established atop a depopulated Palestine. It has just never captured the world's attention the way violent acts have.
Indeed, by the issuance of the Balfour Declaration in 1917, well before the establishment of the state of Israel, and during a period when the Jewish population of historic Palestine had yet to reach 10 percent, the native Arabs of Palestine could already see that their hopes for self-determination -- in a homeland where they constituted a vast majority -- were being jeopardized by their soon-to-be colonial master.
Resistance to Zionism during this period was characterized by various efforts led by elite members of Arab society who raised awareness about the dangers Zionism posed. Just before the war, Palestine saw a huge spike in new newspapers, and writers and editors such as Ruhi al-Khalidi, Najib Nassar, and Isa al-Isa regularly zeroed in on the threat of Zionism to Palestinian life. Diplomatic efforts to lobby the mandatory government ensued while concurrently peasants occasionally clashed with the European newcomers, but violence was largely localized and communal and took place amid larger, more peaceful, and political efforts to resist Zionist aims.
As Jewish immigration into Palestine increased and the implementation of the Balfour Declaration became more apparent, Palestinians who feared marginalization (or worse) under a Jewish state continued to resist. In the early 1930s, numerous protests and demonstrations against the Zionist agenda were held, and the British mandatory government was swift to crack down. The iconic image of Palestinian notable Musa Kazim al-Husseini being beaten down during a protest in 1933 by mounted British soldiers comes to mind.
It wasn't until nonviolent protests were met with severe repression that Palestinian guerrilla movements began...
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