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Taking on Thomas Friedman over unarmed resistance

Thomas Friedman of the New York Times  published an opinion piece last week in which he argued that the Palestinians need to embrace unarmed resistance. I wrote a letter to the Times gently telling Mr. Friedman that the Palestinian have already begun to embrace unarmed resistance. The New York Times did not publish the letter.

Reading Thomas Friedman’s “Lesson from Tahrir Sqaure” last week, one passage jumped out of the pages and struck me. Friedman, the liberal Zionist New York Times columnist , wrote,

If Palestinians peacefully march to Jerusalem by the thousands every Friday with a clear peace message, it would become a global news event. Every network in the world would be there. Trust me, it would stimulate a real peace debate within Israel — especially if Palestinians invited youth delegations from around the Arab world to join the marches, carrying the Saudi peace initiative in Hebrew and Arabic. Israeli Jews and Arabs should be invited to march as well. Together, the marchers could draw up their own peace maps and upload them onto YouTube as a way of telling their leaders what Egyptian youth said to President Hosni Mubarak: “We’re not going to let you waste another day of our lives with your tired mantras and maneuvering.”

Having just returned from the Qalandia Nakba protests, I had witnessed exactly what Friedman dreams of taking place. I decided to pen a short letter to the editor of New York Times explaining what Friedman failed to mention. It was rejected by the paper.  Thanks to the internet, the letter might have a second life. Here it is:

Thomas Friedman proposes that “thousands of West Bank Palestinians march nonviolently to Jerusalem.” He promises that the protest would “stimulate a real peace debate in Israel as well as a “global news event.” I want to inform Friedman that Palestinians have been holding unarmed and largely non-violent demonstrations in towns across the West Bank  for the past nine years. These demonstrations, which are attended by Israeli Jews like me as well as international supporters, range in size from 50 to 2000. Israel invariably responds to them with harsh military repression. Since the protests began, 21 unarmed demonstrators have been killed and thousands injured while non-violent organizers have been locked in Israeli military jails under dubious charges. Two weeks ago, on the 63rd commemoration of the Nakba, thousands of young Palestinians marched from Ramallah to Jerusalem chanting songs of unity under the national Palestinian flag. They were met with a barrage of Israeli tear gas and rubber coated steel bullets. Hundreds were injured including a handful who had been shot in the face by Israeli soldiers. The unarmed Palestinian protest movement has been a reality in the West Bank for years. Yet Israeli society has failed to generate any “real peace debate,” nor has a “global news event” occurred. Instead, Israel continues to annex more Palestinian land, jail peaceful demonstrators, and deepen its occupation.

Joseph Dana Tel Aviv, Israel


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    1. Refusenik

      “Refused” to publish?

      I’ve commented on this matter before, but I think your core message is true and needs to be heard by more people, but your penchance for hyperbole and twisting the truth often shuts the very ears that need to hear it most.

      Reply to Comment
    2. ChicagosMonster

      Great job, Joseph. I would suggest you forward that email to the Chicago Tribune, Sun-Times, and other papers all over the country; maybe even revise the format as an op-ed?

      Reply to Comment
    3. Philos

      This strikes me as pedantry Mr. Dana. Instead of saying, “Well, actually, blah blah” take advantage of the opportunity to invite Friedman to a non-violent demonstration, use Friedman’s document as a sort of charter, hell bring over some US Congressmen with a promise of bi-national co-operation and hope in the face of Hamas obstinancy so they can see with their own eyes the brutality employed by the army.

      Sheesh, finally the American’s are beginning to sober up on Israel and you try to say, “I was here first!”

      Besides, Friedman is a capitalist douche but that’s another argument 🙂

      Reply to Comment
    4. Thomas Friedman is hilariously pathetic. There he goes, with his arrogant, offensive paternalistic attitude toward the poor Palestinians- again! Anyone who is not Palestinian or have never grown up under apartheid (or even better, have never grown up in a “third world” country), have NO RIGHT to tell Palestinians how to act or how to feel. We have no idea what it’s like to live under apartheid and to be daily humiliated, degraded and dehumanized. Some resort to violence because they feel hopeless, angry and desperate.

      Only Palestinians themselves can dicate amongst themselves on how to respond to the apartheid state of Israel.

      Thomas Friedman needs to eat a big sack of STFU

      Reply to Comment
    5. Joseph – Yes, Friedman is in a bit of an ivory tower, supported by one of the largest print media outfits in the world – but he is basically on your (our) side! No movement has ever succeeded (Tahrir Square, Berlin Wall falling, American revolution 1776) except without a broad coalition of people, who may disagree in many of the details but not the broad picture.

      I agree with Friedman in one sense: I’ve been going to demonstrations in Niilin and Bilin for 2 years too. They’re relatively easy to ignore, and easy to see as “local gripes.” If a well-organized march from Ramallah to Kalandya (not necessarily supported by Fatah and Fayyad, etc., but at least tolerated by them) was:

      –organized in advance, with 10s of thousands of Palestinians and hundreds if not thousands of Israelis,
      –if this march got advance publicity around the world, and if it tapped into the many young tourists who come here in the summer
      –if it was in fact, promoted like the “Audacity of Hope” boat to Gaza, with fundraisers, press releases, a celebrity or two, etc etc

      this march – very symbolic in its shape – would be impossible to ignore by world media – and would be some kind of culmination of the solidarity work many of us have been doing.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Kim Nguyen

      Joseph Dana, Thanks. It would help if many of us wrote with similar information. Not that our letters would be published, but to increase the odds that ONE of our letters would be published, since it is the wieght of responses along the same vien that push for publication (all other things being equal – which is not really the case w the NYT – the owners are biased.)
      Philos – good point about starting on a positive. I doubt that winning congress critters is possible with logic and truth – they go for $ and votes, but the public, taht’s the target.

      Reply to Comment
    7. max

      Don’t you put the cart before the horse?
      First you’ll have to find the many thousands peaceful demonstrators (against something? in favor of something?) that won’t call for the destruction of Israel.
      Can you think of the constructive common theme?

      Reply to Comment
    8. Talia Boxer

      It is nonsense to cite “calls for the destruction of Israel” as justification for brutal, repressive, violent acts by the Israeli military. For decades, the Soviet Union “called” for the elimination/destruction of capitalism, and the US “called” for the elimination of communism; neither “call” justified brutal acts. And the “elimination” of Israel no more means the elimination of Israeli humans anymore than the nonexistence of a Palestinian state means the nonexistence of Palestinian human beings. Most “calls” for the destruction of Israel are simply “calls” to reverse the power relations between Jews and Palestinians in Palestinians.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Thank you for trying to persuade Friedman.

      However, I’m really wondering who reads the NYTimes anymore.

      It used to be my bellweather, corporately minded & zionist as it is, but I don’t even go there now that they started charging for content.

      Still, it is good as another has said above, to keep sending them the shots across the bow, even if the ship refuses to turn.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Ben Israel

      Ever since the beginning of the Arab-Israeli conflict in the early 20th century, there have ALWAYS been non-violent demonstrations by the Arabs against the Jews. The only problem for the Jews is that these non-violent demonstrations have been always accompanyied by shootings, stonings, firebombings, suicide bombings, rocket attacks, lynchings, beheadings and full-scale wars. Other people in the world besides the Jews are aware of this as well. So whereas Tom Friedman and others have the ability to selectively forget all the Arab violence against the Jews, us Israelis remember it all, so Friedman’s little gimmick (“today we are not carrying out any terrorism, today we are Ghandian saints”) won’t work.

      Reply to Comment
    11. directrob

      “The only problem for the Jews is that these non-violent demonstrations have been always accompanied by … ”
      That is not a problem for “Jews” but a problem for the descendants of the non Jewish indigenous people of Israel that you call “Arabs”.
      A determined group of clearly non violent people is much more powerful than a violent mob.

      Reply to Comment
    12. max

      Directrob “A determined group of clearly non violent people is much more powerful than a violent mob”
      That’s probably wishful thinking, not an observation.
      But you clearly avoided an answer to Ben’s point: so far there haven’t been any significant non-violent demonstrations, and the small ones that did take place have always gone in tandem with violent ones.
      And a small thought about non-violence: “India now sports the world’s fourth largest armed force, and the leaders haven’t seemed at all reluctant to use it to settle conflicts, either inside or outside the country”.

      Reply to Comment
    13. directrob

      I fear I am not the expert to defend nonviolence. You better read what Matthew Taylor had to say. I think he has a very strong case.
      Anyhow it is clear that a combination of violence and non violence protest does not work. That includes the throwing of stones. It is also clear that the second intifada was not much of a success. It only succeeded in making the Israeli population less willing to make peace.

      Reply to Comment
    14. max

      we seem to agree 🙂

      Reply to Comment
    15. Henry

      Thomas Friedman is a hack and a zionist. Enough said.

      Reply to Comment
    16. Emily

      I second what Kim Nguyen said.

      Reply to Comment
    17. Gordon Miller

      Refreshing to see a discussion where most comments are balanced observations. The Palestinians have always had a problem – dating back to the British mandate – with incompetent and self interested leadership where different elites and warlords undermine each other. Were this not the case, Friedman’s approach, in some variant or another, would be doable and very effective.

      There’s no better example of this incompetence than the leadership urging East Jerusalemites to abstain from voting in Jerusalem’s municipal elections – so only 4% do. And the result? The municipal council, all Jewish, continues to ride roughshod over Palestinian interests – whereas if a third of that council were Palestinian (the Palestinian population of Jerusalem is nearly 40% so they could easily elect a third of council members), they could also stymie all new settlement activity that abuts Jerusalem. Every Israeli gov plan – fiercely countered by much of Jerusalem’s own municipality – would be far more vulnerable to international pressure than it is now.

      Finally, my beef with Friedman is that while he has the balls to challenge the US gov’s non-workable policy re Afghanistan, he doesn’t have the same courage and integrity to acknowledge (possibly because he was so instrumental in getting the Saudis to come up with their famous 2002 initiative) that no direct peace between Israel and Palestine would hold. I have been trying for years to get Friedman to look at the Bermigo package – wwww.bermigo.com/SFP-eng.pdf – but, like so many other players too committed to the conventional model, he’s emotionally unable to do so.

      Reply to Comment
    18. Marck

      This is a nice discussion, thanks to everyone for being civil!

      I do not know that many would not be supportive of unarmed resistance, although I think of the latter as a way, rather than an event- regardless of the response from the IDF, peaceful stays peaceful. In the case here though, I do not believe that unarmed resistance guarantees anything immediate nor substantive; a single clash will continue to void any meaningful showing.

      I should comment though that the daily treatment and reaction by the IDF is so violent and downright personally disrespectful that it is hard to watch and overlook.

      My beef with Friedman’s or other articles recently penned on this topic is the following: who is it being addressed to? It strikes me as mostly rhetorical and lacking in true understanding, or perhaps overlooking, of the realities on the ground.

      In my mind, a main ingredient that is lacking here is leadership.

      Up until the Arab Spring, America had been able to be the proxy for the latter through its direct support for a select key political elites in the middle-east. As disliked or hated as may have been conveyed by the Arab street, it was always a fact that what America said, was listened to.

      Today, our foreign policy towards that region seems to be unclear, reactive on some days, and limited to friendly speeches on others. The world responds to power, and the Arabs especially have been accustomed to respecting military action.

      I believe that with so much uncertainty, and in the absence of that leadership, unarmed resistance and other efforts in this regard will just take place as news events.


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