“Mr. Azzi, do you mind if I ask you a question?”
“No, Stephen, I don’t mind.” It was February 2010, and I was approaching the York tolls on Interstate 95 in Maine with students and faculty, returning to Exeter after spending a challenging weekend at the Camden Conference, which that year had focused on Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan; three days of questions and discussion that touched upon issues of sovereignty, occupation, resistance and terrorism. The students, sitting amidst scholars, diplomats, ex-CIA agents and concerned citizens, learned that they were living in a world much more complex than even they could have imagined.
Even more than I could have imagined.
“Why don’t the Palestinians use a nonviolent model of resistance?” “Is the only path of resistance a violent one?” “Is there a Palestinian Gandhi?”
Good questions. Great questions.
Today, as I write, Palestinians Tha’er Halahleh and Bilal Diab have each now fasted over 70 days. There are fears of their imminent death. Six other long-term hunger strikers are in critical condition and over 2,000 other prisoners (of the over 4,000 presently held in Israeli prisons) are fasting in solidarity, demanding basic rights from Israeli authorities, including family visits and an end to solitary confinement.
Have you heard about them?
These are not fasts over guilt or innocence. These are unseen Palestinian fasts for Palestinian justice and dignity.
These are unseen fasts over administrative detention — imprisonment without charge.
They are nonviolent fasts.
Administrative detention allows Israel to arrest someone and hold them for up to 60 days at a time — and then extend detention — without limit, without charge, without trial, without verdicts of guilt or innocence. Prisoners’ lawyers are not shown the evidence being used against their clients. Israel’s authority in the courts is absolute.
Recently, Halahleh and Diab appealed their sentences to an Israeli military judge. The court ruled to extend their detention and re-interrogate both hunger strikers, stating, “hunger strikes are not relevant to decide on length of administrative detention as such.”
Supporters called the ruling a “death sentence.”
Former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, well known as no lover of Palestinians, once commander of the infamous Irgun militia, once said:
“Does a bad law become a good one just because Jews apply it? I say that this law is bad from its very foundation and does not become good because it is practiced by Jews … We oppose administrative detention in principle. There is no place for such detention.”
Violence and terrorism practiced by some Palestinian elements is well documented. Attacks on innocent civilians, bombs in pizza parlors, random rocket attacks along Gaza’s border are well known to all observers, and condemned. Innocent masses suffer for the criminal acts of the few.
Nonviolence is not new to the Palestinians. Nonviolence in the service of resistance to occupation is often met with rubber bullets, tear gas and random brutal acts of violence by Israeli forces and settlers, often with little or no accountability.
Nonviolent resistance for justice and dignity.
Nonviolent resistance to hold Israeli authorities accountable.
When Stephen asked me about nonviolent models I told him about the Palestinian village of Bil’in, which was then in its fourth year of resistance. Dependent on agriculture, 60 percent of its land, some of its best land, was being annexed for illegal settlements and is being divided by the construction of Israel’s illegal Separation Wall.
The Israeli army met Bil’in’s nonviolent resistance with force, violence and arrests.
When Stephen asked me about nonviolent models I told him that in 2009, Christian Palestinians, frustrated by the conditions of occupation, issued the “Kairos Palestine Document,” which stated:
“We, a group of Christian Palestinians, after prayer, reflection and an exchange of opinion, cry out from within the suffering in our country, under the Israeli occupation, with a cry of hope in the absence of all hope, a cry full of prayer and faith in a God ever vigilant, in God’s divine providence for all the inhabitants of this land. Inspired by the mystery of God’s love for all … based on our Christian faith and our sense of Palestinian belonging — a word of faith, hope and love…
“We believe that God’s goodness will finally triumph over the evil of hate and of death that still persist in our land.”
When Stephen asked me about nonviolent models I told him about Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, a medical doctor with a degree in management from Stanford.
Barghouti constantly criticizes the PLO and Palestinian Authority for corruption. He supports nonviolent resistance as a means of overcoming Israeli occupation. He supports a two-state solution with Israel, with a Palestinian state in all territory occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war, a capital in Arab East Jerusalem and rights for refugees. He is not asking for all refugees to be returned — just that a solution, though negotiation, be found. Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Mairead Maguire nominated Mustafa Barghouti for the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize.
Do you know what Stephen now knows?
We all have a responsibility to know. For nonviolence to work we must all know. That’s what makes it so powerful: To bear witness to the courage of the oppressed confronting the oppressor. And for the oppressor to know that we bear witness.
America is Israel’s friend. America stands with Israel when it experiences violence, terrorism, wars, political crises and even possible existential threats from Iran. As Israel’s friend America must also be willing to take a stand, to say, someday, “My friend, you have gone too far. This hubris, the settlements, the illegal appropriation of land, the denial of rights; it’s reckless and challenges your own moral authority and perhaps your existence.”
“We do not accept the semi-official view …; wherein the state grants rights and is entitled to rescind them. We believe that there are human rights that precede the human form of life called a state.” — Menachem Begin
This column appeared originally in the Portsmouth Herald.
Editor’s note: Ari Alexenberg, a Portsmouth resident and director of the Israeli Action Center, will be writing in next week’s Seacoast Sunday.