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Israel's violent response to peaceful protests will come back to haunt it

Gaza's peaceful protesters need international support, otherwise Israel will continue to use violence against them with impunity

For years, Western politicians, intellectuals and commentators have told Palestinians that if they would embrace non-violent resistance, they’d have more support, legitimacy and power in the international arena.

Yet non-violent resistance is nothing new for Palestinians; most of their past resistance activities have, in fact, been peaceful - a fact to which many in the West are oblivious. 

Over the past three weeks, tens of thousands of Palestinians have participated in peaceful sit-ins near the Israeli border, demanding their right to return to their land and the lifting of the blockade on Gaza.

Smeared and slandered

Before even looking into how these protests came about, pro-Israel ideologues, such as US President Donald Trump’s Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, jumped to smear and slander them as violent, Hamas-orchestrated marches.

This ignores, possibly purposely, the facts on the ground, including that the protests were started by young people in Gaza who campaigned for the idea for months - and that they were later backed by all Palestinian factions, including Hamas.

The argument made by Israeli officials that Hamas militants were interspersed among the protesters to carry out terrorist attacks is far from true, and solely used to justify the killing of innocent, unarmed protesters

After Israel shot unarmed protesters on the first day of the protests, a handful of young people threw rocks, which did not even reach the Israeli soldiers stationed on the other side of the fence. Some also burned tyres, but up till now the overwhelming majority of the protests have remained peaceful.

Hamas no longer wishes for a new confrontation with Israel, especially after the devastating 2014 Gaza war, in which Hamas failed to achieve anything significant that would change the situation on the ground.

Since 2014, the Israeli military has repeatedly escalated tensions with Gaza, sometimes in response to lone-wolf rockets fired into Israel. Every time, Hamas has refused to respond to Israel’s aggressions, fearing another fruitless, destructive war.

Peaceful resistance

Hamas deployed security officers among the protesters to ensure and maintain their peaceful nature, and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh urged all protesters to commit to non-violence.

The argument made by Israeli officials that Hamas militants were interspersed among the protesters to carry out terrorist attacks is far from true, and solely used to justify the killing of innocent, unarmed protesters.

Palestinian protesters stand under their national flag as they demonstrate near the southern Gaza Strip town of Khan Younis on 22 April 2018 (AFP)
In 1993, the Palestine Liberation Organisation renounced violence and entered into the political peace process. To this day, the Palestinian Authority (PA) still maintains its commitment to non-violence, for which it has been praised by former US secretary of state John Kerry, among others.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas still maintains his commitment to the Oslo Accords - especially security coordination with Israel, which has saved countless Israelis and earned him praise from numerous Israeli security officials over the years.

What’s remarkable is that Abbas still maintains this commitment, despite the fact that Israel has violated virtually every clause of the accords, which were supposed to bring about a Palestinian state by 1998, and the continuous growth of settlements, which has rendered the two-state solution beyond dead.

Painful grievances

Palestinians are living under military occupation in the West Bank, and those in Gaza have been under a blockade for more than a decade, and lived through three wars during that period.

Responding to violence with violence is an instinctual response, which is why many people worldwide have historically fought back against their oppressors and occupiers. Hence, it’s remarkable that Palestinians have overwhelmingly chosen non-violence, despite their long and excruciatingly painful grievances.

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To Israel and some Western countries, there’s no legitimate form of resistance. When Palestinians fight back against the military occupying their land, it’s instantly labelled as terrorism. When Palestinian civil society calls for a boycott of Israel, international criticism ensues. And when Palestinians choose a non-violent struggle, it’s either exploited to annex more Palestinian land and oppress people even more, or slandered as being Hamas-orchestrated and responded to with excessive force, as has been happening in Gaza over the past few weeks.

For those Western countries, Palestinians are supposed to happily accept the occupation of their land and the oppression of their basic rights; whatever they do, they’ll be discredited as the faulty side and deemed beneath international law. The US has even blocked a draft UN Security Council statement calling for an investigation into the Israeli army’s response to the Gaza protests.

Righteous demands

Naively, the young people who were behind the idea of peaceful protests never imagined that Israel would respond violently to such demonstrations, let alone on this level and scale.

If the PA’s commitment to peace falters or if the Gaza protests lose their non-violent nature, then the only one to blame is Israel, which committed war crimes against unarmed protesters. The international community is also culpable for not supporting and standing behind peaceful endeavours calling for basic rights, as enshrined in international law.

Palestinians are choosing non-violent resistance, and there's nothing more that they can do. What remains to be done is for the international community to support them and stand by their righteous demands.

- Ali Adam is a journalist and researcher whose work focuses on issues linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye. 

Photo: A Palestinian protester waves the national flag as smoke billows from a tyre fire during clashes with Israeli forces on 20 April 2018, east of Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip(AFP)

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