Does Nonviolent Resistance Work? Part 4a: The Curious Case of Palestinian Nonviolence

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.

See also Part 1aPart 1bPart 1cPart 2aPart 2bPart2cPart3aPart3b and Part3c.

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.

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4 Responses to Does Nonviolent Resistance Work? Part 4a: The Curious Case of Palestinian Nonviolence

  1. Gold Dust Twin says:

    Dr. Hansen points out that Israel has as much to gain from nonviolence (and to lose from violence) as Palestinians do. Has anyone considered dropping leaflets bearing this message instead of dropping bombs? Or is that a naïve and simplistic suggestion? Where can all the Israelis and Palestinians who want peace turn? What can we do as the new round of violence continues to escalate, as described in this story from The Guardian? ?
    The US is often criticized for supporting the Israeli government no matter what it does. Could President Obama play a different sort of role, as suggested in The Guardian article, and help stop the horrifying cycle of violence?

  2. Barbara says:

    Important information on the newest violence involving Israel has been provided by Jewish Voice for Peace at

  3. Ian Hansen says:

    Hi Gold Dust Twin,

    I think that dropping leaflets to this effect may well be as effective as any other publicity campaign. I’m not sure how you’re going to get the authority to fly over Israeli air space to do it, though.

    Israelis and Palestinians who really want peace want justice also–i.e. an end to Israeli occupation of the West Bank and an end to the strangling of Gaza, among other basics.

    This is a point tangential to your post, but the general talk of “Israelis and Palestinians wanting peace” can sometimes play into the narrative of a “conflict” between Israelis and Palestinians. I have grown unable to refer to Israel’s disproportionate oppression of and violence against the Palestinians as a conflict. The crimes of the Israeli state are not equivalent to the crime of responding to its outrages with violence. Palestinian violence does all evil and no good, and is more likely than Israeli violence to be carried out in a particularly depraved way (it’s much easier for a weaker party to mass murder children on a bus without even aiming for a military target than to mass murder soldiers in their fortified barracks). Still, this violence comes from a place of desperation and constraint of moral consciousness that the Israelis do not suffer in equal measure.

    All parties on some level “know what they do” and on some level are also clouded with ignorance, but the consciousness of violent Palestinians is much more clouded I think, than the consciousness of violent Israelis. Palestinian consciousness is weighed down more by day-to-day suffering, humiliation, fear, violence and outrages against their dignity and security than Israeli consciousness. Israeli purveyors of oppression and violence, in other words, are acting in a moral zone of less forgivability than Palestinian purveyors of oppression and violence. And this is not only because purveyors of Israeli violence mass murder, torture, rob and oppress many more people than the purveyors of Palestinian violence do, but because the former are in a better psycho-socio-economic position to know that what they are doing is wrong.

    What I see as a structurally-based Palestinian disadvantage in potential for transcendent consciousness makes me particularly impressed by the fact that so many Palestinians have come out against violent solutions and also embraced nonviolent methods of liberation (see Julia Bacha’s film Budrus, linked in one of my earlier posts). This mass turn to nonviolence is a moral accomplishment that puts the majority of Israelis to shame, as the latter have not been nearly as committed as the mass of Palestinians to turning off the violence. For every Israeli refusenik, there are at least a thousand Palestinian refuseniks.

    The American media, which is even fatter and more comfortable than the violent Israelis it cheers on, operates in a particularly egregious zone of unforgivability. And the media outlets in other parts of the world that cheer on Palestinian violence are, I think, equally unforgivable. Both treat Israel-Palestine like the site of a gladitorial match, where we cheer for our team and against the other with the depravity of those who cheered for the downward-turned thumb of the emperor at the Roman circuses.

    As to your question about how president Obama might take a stronger stand against Israel’s crimes, don’t hold your breath. American politicians (including but not limited to Obama) who serve as a democratic mask for global corporate rule are wary of criticizing Israel too much for crimes of which the powers-that-be in the U.S. are guilty 1000-fold (in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and about 70 other countries worldwide where secret dirty wars are being conducted without oversight or accountability).

    Not only are Israeli crimes largely consonant with global corporate ambitions and standard practices, but one could argue (and I did, in this post) that Israeli crimes are more attuned to the goals and ambitions of global corporate interests than they are to the goals, ambitions, values and needs of the Israeli people. The latter are not served at all–and indeed are themselves oppressed by–the oppression and atrocities regularly unleashed by the neoliberal-controlled state of Israel.

    It is unfortunate for Israel that it is by far a more democratic country than the U.S. because this has, in practice, meant that the military-industrial-corporate complex that rules Israel must go to particularly great lengths to mind-tool the Israeli people and make them consent to their own national moral evisceration.

    In Israel proper this is done largely the way it is done with child soldiers in war-torn parts of very poor nations–make everyone who comes of age complicit in the atrocity and oppression so they will be more inclined to identify with it as the alternative–repentance–is psychologically very difficult. The Israeli state thus conscripts all its youth and sends them to murder, torture and oppress ordinary people in the occupied territories or neighboring countries. Youth with complex enough intelligence to see how criminal this is are given particularly egregious international crimes to commit on behalf of the Mossad (or, more locally, the Shin Bet)–crimes requiring superb competence and mastery and rewarded accordingly.

    As all this goes on, shows of liberality, tolerance, sexual open-mindedness, intellectual inquisitiveness etc. are celebrated and even turned into propaganda targeting those who are otherwise inclined be critical of Israel’s deeply illiberal national practices. These celebrations of superficial liberality incline Israeli liberals to conclude that the violence Israel does is necessary to maintain this secular liberal “moral progress” as a bulwark against encroachment by Palestinian religious conservatism. American, Commonwealth and European liberals are mindtooled to support the crimes of the so-called Global War on Terror using much the same means.

    Outside of Israel, in the diaspora of those with the legal potential to become Israelis, this mind tooling is accomplished differently–by isolating from the religious, social and moral community all those who do not pledge unconditional fealty to the crimes of the state of Israel. Fortunately, this diaspora strategy is beginning to be recognized and called out for what it is among those most affected by it.

    And the local within-Israel strategy is threatened in the long term by the mass recognition of ordinary Israelis that the economic system ruling them is oppressing them. This awareness was evident in the mass uprisings in Israel against poverty, privatization, public spending cuts, etc. When Israelis wake up to the fact that the same economic system that crushes them materially seeks to keep them complicit in the occupation in order to crush them morally also, the psychological tools used to blunt the Israeli mind will be broken at last. Again, there is some obvious relevance here to conditions under which the mind-tooling of mainstream Americans can be brought to an end also.

    Incidentally, with regard to what has motivated the latest round of American media-celebrated and justified mass murder in Gaza, Democracy Now! had a guest on yesterday who floated an interesting theory: it was to disrupt the peaceful unification of Hamas and Fatah:

    This unification had a precursor in the Hamas-Fatah cooperation to nonviolently liberate the “security fence”-threatened town of Budrus–another reason to see Julia Bacha’s film as soon as possible.

    • Gold Dust Twin says:

      The machinations and hypocrisy involved in Israel’s manufacturing a violent situation that could only be met with a violent reaction can be summed up with Shakespeare’s “Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practiced to deceive.”
      Rabbani and Finkelstein book, “How to Solve the Israel-Palestine Conflict,” sounds like the answer to the prayers of citizens of both countries and concerned citizens everywhere.

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