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Tamar Hermann

Non-violence, unlike pacifism, is not a philosophy that conceptualizes or envisions a harmonious world, as in "and the sheep shall dwell with the wolf." Indeed, this is a political tactic that takes conflict as its point of departure and seeks the advantage over its opponent.

The use of non-violence is not simple -- it requires the recruitment of large numbers of participants along with operational coordination, all at a level that generally exceeds what is required for violent tactics; hence it also requires leadership of the highest quality. It is easier to recruit a few hot-headed youth who are prepared to blow themselves up in a second and earn the status of martyrs, than to recruit thousands of everyday citizens of all ages and walks of life, to stage a sit-in day and night, fast, or boycott goods and vital services as an expression of resistance to occupation or to some other injustice.

Notably, in the vast majority of cases the weaker party in a force equation opts for non-violent techniques of struggle because it believes that in this way it will gain favorable public opinion in the world or shatter the unity of the other side. The use of non-violent resistance is dependent on context, time and the balance of forces. Accordingly, whoever adopts this tactic in one circumstance is not necessarily obliged, ideologically or practically, to adopt it under a different circumstance. The reverse is also true: whoever opts for violence under one set of circumstances can, when they change, switch to non-violence.

Thus, in view of the increasingly negative reactions worldwide to the use of suicide bombings in the current Palestinian Intifada, together with the tough Israeli military reactions which have in effect brought about a renewed occupation, and the large numbers of casualties-there are growing calls among the Palestinians for shifting the emphasis from violent to non-violent resistance (e.g., the initiative of a-Shafi, Dakkak and Barghouti, the petition by Palestinian intellectuals against suicide bombings, etc.) In most cases this is a call not to cease completely all reliance on arms against Israel, but rather for a partial or gradual transformation of the means of struggle.

What is likely to be the Israeli reaction to such a change? At the government level, we may assume that a significant move to adopt non-violent struggle would be perceived by most decision makers as a serious threat to Israel's interests. If indeed suicide attacks were replaced, say, by mass sitdown strikes or by commercial strikes, blocking of roads and the like, then international public opinion, together with decision makers in key countries, would presumably welcome such a development and increase their support for the Palestinian cause. Domestically, too, it would be more difficult for the government of Israel to recruit public support for suppressing acts of non-violent resistance than for deploying military force against Palestinian centers of power after bloody terrorist attacks.

Dealing with mass non-violent demonstrations of resistance also demands particularly creative planning in order to disperse the demonstrations on the one hand, but without enhancing the resistance leadership and without losing support domestically and abroad, on the other; it is not at all clear whether the Israeli decision making system as currently constituted is capable of dealing with this challenge. Hence we may assume that the government's response would be to highlight the violent incidents which undoubtedly will yet take place at Palestinian initiative, even if the overall trend on the Palestinian side is likely to be non-violent. Moreover the government would attempt to portray the shift to non-violence as a tactic designed ultimately to defeat Israel by alternative means, rather than as a preliminary step toward returning to sincere peace negotiations.

Some information regarding the anticipated reaction of the Jewish public in Israel to a Palestinian shift to non-violent resistance can be found in the results of a survey carried out recently by the American organization Search for Common Ground. In general the survey's findings indicate that a majority of this public--78 percent--supports the right of the Palestinians to act to achieve an independent state of their own, if toward that end they invoke non-violent means. Sixty-three percent stated that the government of Israel should not try to prevent Palestinians from organizing non-violent mass demonstrations. A majority, 52 percent, also believe that Palestinians have the right to oppose expansion of settlements by non-violent means, and 52 percent argued that if the Palestinians were to employ only non-violence for a significant period of time, the government of Israel would have to respond with concessions in negotiations over the borders of a Palestinian state.

Yet only 9 percent of Israeli Jews felt it was likely that a non-violent Palestinian resistance movement would indeed emerge. In this sense, all these instances of Israeli openness seem more like an abstract intellectual exercise than a solid public stand in favor of Israel responding positively to Palestinian non-violence. Further, in view of the Israeli Jewish public's ongoing stand in favor of the policies of the Sharon government and its deep distrust of Palestinian intentions, an intensive information campaign by the government would likely shift a majority of the public to a position of sharp opposition to a Palestinian non-violent resistance campaign -- if indeed it were to be launched.

Dr. Tamar Hermann is Director of the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research at Tel Aviv University. Until recently she was Head of the Department of Sociology, Political Science and Communications at the Open University.
Source: www.bitterlemons.org, October 7, 2002
Distributed by Common Ground News Service
Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.

hagalil.com 17-10-2002



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