The Intifada


Andrew Rigand Nafez Assaily

The role of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories was traditionally seen as passive and longsuffering, according to Andrew Rigby of the School of Peace Studies at University of Bradford. During the mid-'70s, however, Palestinians began developing their own organisations within the Territories, such as trade unions, women's groups and youth groups. Nonetheless, the outbreak of the Intifada in 1987 took everyone by surprise. Rigby, author of Living the Intifada(Zed Press, forthcoming), and Nafez Assaily of the Palestinian Center for the Study of Nonviolence spoke at a session on the Intifada.

"The struggle is not nonviolent. I would use the term ´unarmed struggle'. They are not using lethal weapons, though they do use stones and molotov cocktails and inflict physical injury on Israeli soldiers. This choice to use unarmed struggle is made from good, pragmatic reasons not out of any principled commitment to nonviolence," said Rigby.

The first few months of the Intifada were disorganised, but a structure of organisation and coordination soon followed. Within a few months, a complex organisational structure developed based on popular committees and a unified command and with good communication with the outside leadership. A pattern also developed of neighbourhood committees. "This was, in a way, an attempt to set up the infrastructure of a Palestinian state. The most obvious public display -- that they were paying legitimacy and obedience to their own institutions rather than Israeli ones -- was the regular closing of shops each day by striking. This is of particular symbolic importance," says Rigby.

Palestinians have tried to break the links with Israel and to build a more self-reliant economy, but Rigby thinks the success has been very uneven: "There is an underground university and people are getting degrees, but very few. Emergency health care was established, including the development of a blood bank, which was particularly impressive. I think the health concerns now are longer term -- the care of people maimed physically and psychologically.

"I've heard people in Palestine talk about the future of the struggle and they talk about a horizontal escalation -- a spread of civil disobedience in society -- as intensifying it. But the leadership fear the escalation will be vertical, meaning the use of lethal weapons. This is a current debate. The longer they must struggle and suffer without the sense that there is some political progress, then the more frustration grows and so does the temptation to resort to lethal weapons among certain sectors of the population."

Nonetheless, Nafez Assaily of the Palestinian Center for the Study of Nonviolence believes that social defence can and has played a role in the Intifada. Assaily feels that it is important for the Palestinian people to study and gain as full an understanding as possible of the various social, economic, ideological and political forces, as well as the Jewish traditions underlying and driving the Israeli Occupation.

"The Israelis have used very wise methods," says Assaily. "They have tried to create gaps of misunderstanding at the family level. Most Palestinians are Muslims. We men are the power in the family. When I go with my family to Jericho, where there is nice weather in the winter, there is a permanent checkpoint where the Israeli soldiers will question me, humiliate me, give me orders, and abuse my feeling of power in my family. I will be upset and I'll go home still upset. I'll watch TV and read the paper and still be upset. If my son turns the channel on the TV or brushes my paper as he passes by, I'll find an excuse to beat him. In that way I can still show I have power. The child resists and says ´Remember what happened this afternoon -- you are no longer my protector.' My wife will be on his side. A division has then been created in the family.

"Fortunately this method didn't work. But the Israelis have other ways to create distrust within society. They create mistrust between the employee and his employer, between the shopkeeper and his clients, between two cousins, between student and teacher. Our society is like this: everyone is connected to each other.

"Sometimes they will take a man and ask him many questions, such as how many cousins he has. If he doesn't answer he could be put in jail for six months, for violating security rules. He'll find the question normal; he'll tell the soldiers the names of his cousins. Then they'll ask more specific questions about one of the cousins: if he's married, has kids, etc. They will allow the man to go. Afterwards they'll ask the cousin to come. They'll give him the information supplied by the man and they will say that he (the first man) is a good friend of theirs. He will mistrust his cousin from then on. Unfortunately for us, this works. They create mistrust and this is why the Intifada was born."

A well-coordinated and well-executed strategy must be developed by the Palestinians, based not only on Israeli spoken policy but also on their hidden agenda, says Assaily. "We must organise in a peaceful way and we must not give Israelis an excuse to use violent action.

"I live in the old city of Jerusalem. Once when I tried to enter the old city at 9.30pm some young Israeli soldiers stopped me and asked me to open the boot of my car. I did. They asked me to open the bonnet. I did. They asked me to take the back seat out. I did. This is all done for security purposes. They asked me to take off the right front wheel, and then the left, and so on, and I did whatever they asked. This continued until midnight. I obeyed them not because I'm a coward, but because I know the results: they are looking for any reason to put me in jail if they think I am an obstacle to security. Finally, they let me go.

"I didn't give them the excuse they were looking for. If I give them this excuse, they are achieving something: they have made me angry, which could result in a misunderstanding in my family. But I went home calmly and I slept.

"About 15 days later I came at approximately the same time to the same point. The same guards were there. They stopped me and recognised me. They know that I would not give them the excuse to take action, and respectfully they left me.

"I am not saying that I was brave or that I succeeded in defeating them. But I did make their injustice visible. Second, through my actions, I let them know that I strongly believe in nonviolence. And nonviolence in my country has a bad reputation."

If nonviolence has such a bad reputation, how then can you convince people to keep supporting it? There are two facts to keep in mind about nonviolence in Palestine, says Assaily. The first is that since Israel was established in 1948, the Israelis have tried very hard to achieve peace and security through force. They haven't succeeded. On the other hand, the Palestinians tried for 43 years to achieve their goals by armed struggle. They also haven't succeeded. So both armed struggles failed to achieve their goals. Now is the time for nonviolence and Palestinians have to encourage the Israelis to turn to nonviolence by using it themselves.

"The other fact is that for Israelis, no one can give them peace," says Assaily. "Only the Palestinians can give them peace. The US can give them money and weapons but not peace. And the only people who can give us peace are the Israelis. The Arabs can give us money and weapons, but they can not give us peace. We must act on these two facts. More nonviolence, more effectiveness."

There have been many examples of nonviolent resistance during the Intifada: daily strikes, boycotts of Israeli products, non-cooperation on all levels, demonstrations and marches, withholding taxes, the use of alternative institutions in place of Israeli ones, defying school closures, support for solidarity activities, special days of fasting and praying, blocking roads into Israeli settlements, ostracising Palestinian informants, and the controlling of time by advancing Palestinian clocks one hour.

Assaily provided a further explanation of these methods:

Conducting strikes: The Israelis are doing their best to break the strikes which have been going on, even before the Intifada began. They went to the houses of the bigger merchants and forced them to open in the mornings. They broke the doors of the shops. But the Palestinians didn't fight. So the Israelis didn't do anything more to break the strikes -- they realised the futility of their strike-breaking efforts. This means we gained recognition and legitimacy for strikes as a nonviolent method to say no to the occupation. With the exception of emergency vehicles and necessary services such as pharmacies and bakeries, strikes involve the total non-movement of vehicles and the complete shut-down of commercial and educational activities. These strikes affect everyone.

Noncooperation on all levels and demonstrations: What has been until now a limited refusal by Palestinians to cooperate with the Israeli Occupation authorities must become a widespread defiance of unjust Israeli orders. Not only must Palestinians act in unison in disobeying the Israelis, but they must reinforce their solidarity, their social defence, by holding massive demonstrations in support of, for example, those arrested for refusing to obey orders. In the past, Palestinian youths burned tyres, threw stones and set up road blocks. Now they must be joined by other vulnerable segments of society, such as the blind and those who have been disabled during the Intifada. Palestinians must engage in new, nonviolent protest such as public prayers, silent marches, symbolic funerals, offering Israelis flowers to say "goodbye" not "welcome" and wearing some uniform sign on their clothing to indicate Palestinian solidarity. Such tactics will not harm the Israelis physically, but will hurt them much more than petrol bombs.

Using alternative institutions: Palestinian Popular Committees, created to replace Israeli institutions, provide the Palestinian community with educational, medical, agricultural and other social services. The Israelis, who viewed the committee as a threat, decreed that membership in a committee was a crime punishable by ten years in jail. To circumvent this law, Palestinians work through existing legal organisations, such as the international Scout movement, whose bye-laws require that Scouts everywhere help all people in all situations.

Defying school closures: Our education is under Israeli control. That means we don't have a single line or page of our history in the history and geography books. As a result, our children can't learn about their problems, their people, their rich Palestinian heritage. When the Israeli Occupation authorities closed all schools in the Occupied Territories, this affected all ages -- from the early grades up to the university level. However, because of the school closures, the Palestinians have developed, for the first time in their history, a curriculum of their very own. Teachers, who have joined Scout societies, teach students in the tents of Scout camps, and there are other creative ways which can be developed. Many see this as a positive effect of the closures. As Palestinians learn their own history and heritage, a cohesiveness develops, helping create a strong social defence.

Supporting solidarity activities: This involves social and moral support for those who have been injured or imprisoned, and publicising their stories as much as possible. There is also economic support by boycotting employment in Israel. Those unemployed as a result of the boycott, can help Palestinian villagers plant and harvest crops and work on land reclamation projects. Such community outreach can strengthen the Intifada's social defence. Another aspect of the vitally important economic support is that the Intifada exists solely through the efforts of those living within the Occupied Territories. We refuse financial support form outside the Territories, that is, from the Arab World. The Intifada will be free of charges that it is being manipulated by, or is a tool of, anyone other than the people of Palestine.

Blocking roads into Israeli settlements: Instead of using stones to block the roads into Israeli settlements, the Intifada can send an unmistakable message of commitment to the Israelis and the world by tens of thousands of Palestinians lying across the roads, using their bodies as roadblocks. A number of things can be accomplished simultaneously by this. First, it would be a dramatic confrontation between the Israeli army and the Palestinians. Second, it would be a staggering cost increase, if all one and a half million Palestinians had to be arrested, transported, detained, fed and processed in Israeli jails.

Controlling Palestinian time: Palestinians advance their clocks forward an hour in the spring one month before the Israelis advance their clocks, and in the autumn turn back their clocks one month before the Israelis. In effect, this is sending a message to the Israelis that we are the masters of our country. We are deciding for ourselves when to sleep, when to wake up, when to eat, and when to open and close our shops.

"Yet another way of resistance and solidarity could be the holding of Palestinian curfews," continues Assaily. "Israeli patrols use a loudspeaker to announce curfews, and the streets have to be emptied. They are not the only ones who can call a curfew. Since the Declaration of the State of Israel states that non-Jews have the right to practise their religion freely, Palestinians can call their own curfews and use this time as a call to prayer and fasting in the privacy of their own homes.

"Another tactic could be crying and wailing. The Israelis have built tent cities near Palestinian areas. They have also settled in such Palestinian communities as the Casbah in Hebron and the Old City of Jerusalem. Palestinian women and children could cry and wail loudly, preventing the Israelis from sleeping. There is no law against crying and wailing!"

In addition to all these methods of resistance, what is also important to remember, according to Assaily, is that, "The effectiveness of nonviolent forms of Intifada must be taught and understood and practised in all situations. There must be an ongoing commitment to the Intifada, a full-time, total commitment to ending the Occupation, not just a series of sporadic, isolated acts."

Changing enemy images also plays an important role. Assaily said,"If you ask an Israeli what they think of Palestinians, the first thing they'll say, without thinking, is ´they are terrorists.' If you ask a Palestinian what he thinks of an Israeli, he'll say, without thinking, ´they are murderers.' We must change this through education. I took my son to see a kibbutz so he could see the good side of the Israelis. My son saw the kindergarten with swings, slides, etc. He climbed up the slide and shouted out, ´The voice of the Intifada is stronger than the Occupation!' I told him to be quiet, that we were now in Israel. ´But I don't see any soldiers,' he said. That to him is what Israel is. It was time to show him the good side of Israel.

"If the Palestinian state is established in nonviolence, then it will continue in nonviolence. Israel was established by force and it continues with force. I want us to learn from their mistakes.

"Finally, and most importantly, Palestinians must approach the Israelis with the Palestinian flag raised in one hand and the other hand extended to the Israelis to show our willingness to shake hands and let the Israelis leave the Occupied Territories with their dignity intact."

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