This is the first of three posts comprising Part IV of a series of posts in which Dr. Ian Hansen shares his thoughts on nonviolence.
The majority of Palestinians these days prefer nonviolent strategies to violent ones, even if they hold ideologically to the right to use violence in self-defense. If those undertaking nonviolent direct action in the name of Palestinian resistance could get more camera crews and U.S. distributors for the films made from their work, I think the Palestinians would probably be making a lot more progress than they are. The de facto American media blackout on almost all acts of Palestinian nonviolent resistance likely diminishes the effectiveness of the tactic. Still the alternative—violent attacks on soldiers and civilians—is likely to be countereffective rather than just ineffective: worse than useless.
Talk of the uselessness of violence annoys revolutionaries schooled in violence-advocating ideologies, especially when they regularly see abusive governments and empires making good use of violence to serve their own interests. If I say violence is useless for the Palestinians, would I also say it is useless for the Israelis? Might Israeli goals be better achieved by nonviolence too, or does even asking that question make it seem absurdly rhetorical and thus expose how massively naïve and even system-justifying the nonviolent vision is?
I don’t think the question is rhetorical, though many would say Israelis could not achieve their goals nonviolently. I would argue that Israel has as much to gain from nonviolence (and to lose from violence) as Palestinians do.
What if large deployments of Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers (including Jewish Israelis, Arab Israelis, Druze, and others) were trained to do their work in the West Bank without material weapons, learning only minimally violent martial arts like Aikido, survival skills, and Arabic language as well as strategies of effective communication, peacemaking, and nonviolent direct action?
Imagine this diverse troupe of well-trained, unarmed, nonviolent IDF soldiers going into West Bank villages to protect religious minorities (including but not limited to Jews) from attacks by violent religious fanatics. Imagine them also acting to protect Palestinians from attacks by Israeli settlers and keeping the peace at nonviolent Palestinian protests against the settlements there that are illegal by international law.
Imagine troops of IDF soldiers being ready to lay down their lives if necessary to do something decent, without taking any “enemy” lives with them. This might be a first step towards ending the expansion of settlements and eventually dismantling them and fully ending the occupation of the West Bank—something that most ordinary Israelis claim to want as the end point of any peace deal with Palestinians.
Ian Hansen, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Behavioral Sciences at York College, City University of New York. His research focuses in part on how witness for human rights and peace can transcend explicit political ideology. He is also on the Steering Committee for Psychologists for Social Responsibility.