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Replacing the peace narrative with discussion of rights

Non-violent methods being used by Palestinians and their international supporters are helping to reframe the conflict from a discussion of peace vs. violence, into a struggle for rights under Israeli occupation.

Next week, a group of young Palestinians will board Israeli settler buses in the West Bank with the intention of traveling to East Jerusalem. The activists will likely be greeted by fully armed Israeli settlers, as well as soldiers. The threat of Israeli violence has not deterred Palestinians who maintain that they are prepared to pay a price to highlight Israel’s segregationist policies in the West Bank.

While not officially segregated, Israeli bus lines often pass through Jewish-only settlements which dot the rugged West Bank landscape. Palestinian entry to Jewish settlements is strictly forbidden, unless, of course, Palestinians are engaged in construction of the settlements, most of which are considered illegal under international law.

The upcoming protest event is being labelled by organisers as the Palestinian “Freedom Rides”. In the early 1960s, white and black activists boarded segregated buses in the American south in an effort to draw attention to the racism of Jim Crow legislation. The protests caused panic in the south and helped chip away at segregation in the US. Palestinian organisers hope that the same effect will take place in the West Bank although they understand that their battle begins with challenging the narrative of the conflict.

West Bank Freedom Rides are the latest in a series of non-violent efforts by Palestinian activists attempting to challenge the dominant narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which Palestinian human and civil rights take a back seat to Israeli security concerns. Our general understanding is dominated by the Israeli narrative of the conflict as one in which peace and security are the major factors as opposed to rights and citizenship. Earlier this summer, I wrote the following in the opinion pages of the Mail & Guardian:

“In the wake of the Arab Spring, Israel is starting to lose its edge in convincing the international community that the conflict is simply about peace and not rights. Palestinian demonstrations on Israel’s borders and checkpoints have highlighted the sea change taking place.

It would seem that Israel’s only course of action in explaining its heavy-handed military response to unarmed demonstrators is to describe the demonstrators as violent rioters. In practice, unarmed resistance to the status quo of occupation meets extreme violence from the Israeli army.

Historic episodes of human-rights struggles, such as the American civil-rights movement and the anti-apartheid struggle, underwent similar narrative reformulations. Unarmed demonstrations went from ‘violent rioters’ to respected displays of people power in the face of repression. The Palestinian struggle for human rights will be no different when the history of the conflict is written.”

In addition to the Freedom Rides planned for the West Bank, activists from around the globe boarded two ships last week headed for Gaza from Turkey carrying supplies for the besieged territory. This latest ‘Flotilla’ was another political stunt designed to highlight Israel’s control over of the world’s most densely populated area. Instead of using social media to organise demonstrations, Palestinian activists and their supporters are using the platforms to disseminate accounts of their protests in immediate and intimate ways. Additionally, the Russell Tribunal on Palestine convened last week in Cape Town in order to analyse the ‘facts on the ground’ concerning Israel’s behaviour in the occupied territories.

Challenges to the narrative are not just taking place merely at grassroots civil-society level. Last week, the Palestinian Authority claimed a major victory as Unesco — the United Nation’s educational, scientific and cultural body — recognised Palestine as a full member. The recognition threw Israel and the US into a tailspin resulting in the US ending its funding of the international body best known for women’s equality projects in the developing world. The international community, on the other hand, demonstrated a willingness to recognise the cultural heritage of Palestine, which has long been under attack by an aggressive Israeli narrative that casts Palestinians as an aggressive and stateless people.

The strategy is simple: affirm Palestinian existence and right to life free from occupation through nonviolent action. Emerging new media platforms such as Twitter have proven effective in getting the message through to the international community. As the protests get bolder and Israel’s reaction becomes increasingly violent, it is only a matter of time before the weak status quo in Israel/Palestine is shattered, likely to be replaced with a Palestinian expression of mass civil disobedience.

The piece originally appeared on Thought Leader

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  • COMMENTS

    1. myron

      Let me know when you guys get to Gush Etzion. Maybe i can meet you and we can schmooz. Pls understand that there are rules about entry into the settlements proper of unauthorized Palestinians (due to security). But i will have no problem bringing you into my settlement where we can walk around. Palestinians due travel freely on the roads between settlements, freely shop or fill their tanks at the Etzion Junction facilities (Rami Levi, English Cake, etc)
      Does this mean that “we are OK” and that we are not a problem..of course not. But this ain’t the deep south either.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Ben Israel

      All of this is a sideshow. HAMAS firing rockets at Israel is going to overshadow these stunts. There is a still a violent conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. After all, who really represents the Palestinians….those making these demonstrations or HAMAS? The only way the Palestinians are going to get the rights they claim they want is to reach a compromise peace with Israel, and that means they are going to have to give up their demand for the “Right of Return”….all this other stuff is merely a distraction and isn’t going to influence anybody.

      Reply to Comment
    3. AYLA

      BenIsrael–your rhetorical tactics are getting so boring. shameless, and boring.

      Reply to Comment
    4. @Myron — You are perfectly correct. Israel’s military regime over the Palestinians, which places schmucks like you in exclusive enclaves on their land, which does nothing when your extremist settler brethren engage in full-scale pogroms against innocent Palestinians (except continue building more settlements), and which itself kills far more innocent Palestinians and destroys millions of lives, is not the Deep South — it’s much, much worse.
      .
      But good luck making yourself feel better because you generously allow them to fill their tanks at gas stations built illegally on their land.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Sinjim

      @Myron: “unauthorized Palestinians”? What the hell is that? They’re human beings.
      .
      The racism on display in Myron’s comment is atrocious. Palestinians aren’t allowed into his communities, but since Joseph is a Jew, he’s more than welcome to visit. And then he has the nerve to finish the comment saying they’re not the Deep South.
      .
      @Joseph: Comments like Myron’s demonstrate the need for this kind of action. The problem is not a lack of “peace,” it’s a lack of rights. The focus on peace as a goal obscures the real problems at the heart of the conflict. Justice and equal rights for all is the only way to resolve this conflict once and for all.

      Reply to Comment
    6. directrob

      @Pamela
      The 650,000 Israeli that according to Netanyahu live beyond the 1967 line (can you ever believe him?) and the many more Israeli that let them stay there and help them to do their criminal deed are not all schmucks. Would they live in the US or any other country almost all would be nice law abiding civilians and nobody would notice them. So instead of calling people schmucks it is better to try to communicate.

      Reply to Comment
    7. @DirectRob — if the Israeli settlers lived in the US or any other country, they wouldn’t be breaking the law by living in homes built illegally on someone else’s land. They are noticed precisely because of where they live. Because they are breaking laws and causing indescribable hardships to millions of innocents. “Schmucks” is really going easy.

      How about commenting on the substance of what I wrote?

      Reply to Comment
    8. directrob

      @Pamela
      Most Israeli participate in the denial of the universal human rights of the Palestinians and the stealing of Palestinian land and resources (if nothing else ~10% of their tax goes to occupation). The settlers are just more clear about there goals.
      .
      The key of nonviolent resistance is to recognize that one day all people in Israel have to live together. It simply does not help to call each other names. As Aziz points out talking and meeting with each other is important.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Yitzhak

      Is there any possibility that the reason Palestinians are not allowed into the settlements has something to do with terrorism? Is there no better example than the brutal murder of the Fogel family earlier this year by two Palestinians who broke into a settlement and murdered five members of this family, including small children in their sleep? Ditto for Israeli buses in the OT.

      Of course, anybody riding the buses here in Israel-proper knows the buses are not segregated, Jews and Arabs ride the buses together all the time, and the drivers are just as likely to be Jews or Arabs.

      Now before you all jump on me as if I’m a settler, or a supporter of settlements, I am not. What I am is particularly sensitive to the words being used here: “segregation,” “Jim Crow,” “apartheid.” These emotive words have great propaganda value, but they hide a more complex reality it appears you are not ready to acknowledge.

      There was a time, not too long ago, when Palestinians had virtual free entry into Jerusalem. But, the era of suicide bombings changed all that. What I don’t hear in your all too simplistic black and white rhetoric is any acknowledgement of the impact on the situation of Palestinian violence aimed specifically at Israeli civilians.

      Reply to Comment
    10. directrob

      Yitzhak,
      If you do not like words like apartheid lets put it this way. Israel violates more than two thirds of the 30 articles of the UDHR. It is high time something is done about it.
      .
      If anything it is a miracle that their is so little violence.
      .
      From the universal declaration of human rights:
      “Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,”
      .
      Lets hope the nonviolent actions have success.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Bosko

      “If anything it is a miracle that their is so little violence”
      .
      Let’s get things clear. First there was violence by Arabs against Israel.
      .
      That caused wars.
      .
      That resulted in occupation.
      .
      That resulted in more violence by Arabs.
      .
      That caused security measures.
      .
      And now we have polemicists trying to pretend that the security measures are the root cause of the violence. Whereas the reality is that it is the other way around.

      Reply to Comment
    12. directrob

      @Bosko,
      Thank you for the history lesson, but security measures are no excuse for gross violations of human rights (things like for example random arrests, skunk, stealing property, destroying property, extrajudicial killings, cutting olive trees, denial of non violent protests, torture, lack of rule of law, different law for settlers)

      Reply to Comment
    13. Bosko

      Directorb
      What you call extrajudicial killings are in fact a last resort measure of eliminating bomb makers and terrorists who are worshipped as heroes by their communities. Those who were treated that way were responsible for the murder and maiming of hundreds of Israeli civilians. Those extrajudicial killings are carried out whenever Israel can’t arrest those criminals because they are sheltered by their “hero” worshipping communities. At other times, when possible, those criminals are arrested, charged and lawfully prosecuted. That’s exactly what happened with the two callous murderers of the Fogel family who massacred the entire family while they were sleeping. Two adults, two children and a baby. Those types of crimes were the reason for the aecurity measures that you are so bitter about directorb.
      .
      By the way, do you object to targeted assassinations of Taliban/Alquaida leaders by NATO forces in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen? Hey, how did Bin Laden die?

      Reply to Comment
    14. directrob

      Bosko, since Anat Kamm I know there is more to it than your story.
      .
      By the way the Fogel murder investigation was not exactly clean. If Awarta were an Israeli settlement you would call the way it was handled outrageous. It was in fact a prime example of soldiers,settlers and Palestinians not being equal for the law. You might for example compare it to this story.
      .
      http://972mag.com/justice-eludes-palestinian-peace-activist-father-of-girl-killed-by-idf/24984/

      Reply to Comment
    15. Bosko

      Directorb …
      .
      “It was in fact a prime example of soldiers,settlers and Palestinians not being equal for the law”
      .
      I just love this type of selective accusation. I’ll tell you what, when Palestinian Arab society will decide to stop encouraging people like the one below and stop making heros out of them, Israelis too will start relating to them as neighbours rather than as a threat. Read the statement of one of the newly released terrorists below and weep …

      “A Jordanian terrorist who was released from prison in Israel as part of a prisoner exchange that freed Israeli solider Gilad Shalit, said in an interview on October 19, that she would return to her terrorist ways in a heartbeat.

      Ahlam Tamimi, who assisted in the August 9, 2001 bombing of a Sbarro’s pizzeria in Jerusalem that killed 15 and wounded 130 innocent Israelis, said she considers the murders a tremendous success — one granted to her by “Allah.”
      .
      http://www.theblaze.com/stories/terrorist-released-in-gilad-shalit-exchange-i-would-bomb-israelis-again-and-in-the-same-manner/
      ..
      And read also how Palestinian society honours them …
      .
      “The Ramallah street was named for notorious Hamas suicide bomb mastermind Yihyeh Ayyash, also known as the «engineer» who was the architect of multiple attacks, including a 1994 bombing of a Tel Aviv bus, which killed 20 people, and injured dozens”
      .
      http://ivarfjeld.wordpress.com/2010/04/12/mahmoud-abbas-name-ramallah-street-after-top-hamas-terrorist/

      Reply to Comment
    16. Bosko

      Maybe after the Palestinian Arabs start accepting Israelis as real people instead of as vermin to be exterminated at every opportunity, maybe Israelis too will start treating them with respect in return. It is a two way street you know, directorb, if one hates, one gets disdain in return. That’s how most of us human beings are. Except of course you guys, who are willing to overllook every Palestinian Arab transgression against Israelis but expect Israelis to behave perfectly.
      .
      Then again, it is easy for those at a distance to preach perfection to others. One has to wonder though how you guys would react if you and your relatives would be the ones who would be directly at the receiveng end of rockets and bombs on a daily basis, year in and year out.

      Reply to Comment
    17. directrob

      @Bosko,
      Israel does not need to respect Palestinians or ignore their crimes or disregard security, but has to guarantee everybody Universal Human Rights. Those rights are universal for a reason. It would be strange if the occupied have to respect the occupiers before receiving universal human rights.

      Reply to Comment
    18. Bosko

      Give me a break with the holier than thou attitude. BOTH parties have to respect each other’s human rights. I’ll remind you again:
      .
      The Occupation exists because of the war that the Arabs started. So your point that the occupied have the right to commit violence “because of the occupation”, is NONSENSE.
      .
      Also, the occupation could come to an end very quickly without the need to commit violence, or have even non violent confrontations. The occupation could end if the Palestinian Arabs would only be willing to negotiate a peace deal based on compromise, instead of trying to dictate terms.

      Reply to Comment

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