When will there be a Palestinian Gandhi? I'm often asked this question by people who sympathise with Palestinian suffering but are uncomfortable associating themselves with resistance movements that they see as violent or terrorist.
The reality of course is that Palestinian nonviolent resisters are not only active today but have a long and storied history in the Palestinian struggle. The real question is: why haven't we heard about them?
Like many resisting oppression, Palestinian Gandhis are likely to be found in prisons after being repressed by Israeli soldiers or police or in the hospital after being brutally beaten or worse.
While some have adopted an Israeli narrative that identifies nonviolent Palestinian dissentas something new, the reality is that Palestinians have consistently chosen nonviolent resistance before arms – from the general strikes of 1936, to the consistent appeals to international legal bodies, to the weekly demonstrations against the wall. It has been the continued dispossession at the hands of Israel, and the silence of the international community despite these nonviolent efforts, that has led some Palestinians to view violence as the only option.
The international community has an obligation to Palestinian nonviolent activists. Leaders cannot simply call on Palestinians to abandon violence in the face of Israeli occupation and remain silent when the nonviolent activists are politically repressed. This only reinforces the idea that the use of force reigns supreme and that Palestinians have no choice but to accept hardships at the hands of their Israeli lords.
Sadly, the same leaders who call on Palestinians to abandon violence have been silent in the face of Israeli repression. By condemning violent Palestinian resistance while remaining silent in the face of Israeli crackdowns and political arrests, they are simply endorsing violence against civilians by one side instead of the other.