2 ‘Non-Violent’ Demonstrations
In the past two weeks there were two major non-violent demonstrations in Hebron. Both started at the same place, and followed the same path. Both took place on Friday at noon (one week apart). Both were designed to challenge the Israeli occupation. Both raised awareness for the prisoners on hunger strike, the closure of Shuhada Street, and the massacre which occurred at the Ibrahimi Mosque in 1994. Both got a lot of media attention. Both were interrupted by the Israeli army with teargas. I attended both in some capacity. While the two sound extremely similar, the differences were striking, and have caused me to reflect on what the purpose and effectiveness of a non-violent demonstration is.
The first demonstration was the Open Shuhada Street demonstration which I discussed in my blog last week (Wild Weekend: Friday) This had a very large crowd of people (a few 100) from all over the West Band and the world. The organizers had given an open invitation to anyone who wanted to participate. When the demonstration was hit with teargas many of the youth began throwing rocks in retaliation. The leadership continued to march nonviolently, leaving most of the crowd and media behind. No one got anywhere near Babi Baledyya (a gate leading to Shuhada street), the ending goal.
The second demonstration was specifically in remembrance for those who died in the massacre at the Ibrahimi Mosque in 1994, but many of the signs they held referred to the hunger strikers and Shuhada Street. This group was much smaller (less then 100). The organizers wanted to make sure they could control their crowd. When the soldiers confronted them, demonstrators continued their chants, even when the soldiers came into the middle of the crowd, nose to nose with demonstrators. The soldiers eventually started throwing teargas grenades, but the demonstrators just moved out of the way and continued. At one point a boy behind the demonstration threw a stone at the soldiers. Immediately the organizers chastised him, and the stones stopped. The demonstrators got to Babi Baledyya, but were not permitted to sit down in front of the gate. After this the organizers announced that the demonstration was over and left. Soon after, some boys started throwing rocks, but it was clearly separate from the demonstration.
My portrait of the two demonstrations has probably betrayed that I preferred the second demonstration to the first. I have been reflecting on why I thought the second demonstration was preferable. In my mind the biggest difference between the two demonstrations was their response to violence. The first did not have an organized response, but allowed those in the crowd to respond as they saw fit. The other had an organized universal response from the whole crowd, non-resistance.
As an American my understanding of non-violent resistance is most influenced by the civil rights movements, and teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. It was the first example I had of a non-violent campaign. It is this influence which lead me to my appreciation of the second demonstration and my frustration with the first.
King gave 6 principals of non-violence. His forth principal speaks to the differences I saw in the demonstrations:
Non-violence accepts suffering without retaliation. Non-violence accepts violence if necessary, but will never inflict it.
Non-violence willingly accepts the consequences of its acts.
Unearned suffering is redemptive and has tremendous educational and transforming possibilities.
Suffering has the power to convert the enemy when reason fails.
When the first demonstration allowed some in the crowd to respond violently (I do consider stone throwing to be a form of violence) they lost the moral high ground. (I need to add the disclaimer that the organizers in no way encouraged people to throw stones, nor did they participate in the stone throwing, instead they tried to set a non-violent example to the crowd, but I would fault them for preferring a large crowd to an organized crowd. This critique is again influenced by Kings insistence on a well prepared crowd for demonstrations.) They also lose the ‘tremendous educational and transforming possibilities’ which unjustified suffering can bring by giving the Israeli’s a justification for their violence. The whole point of these demonstrations is supposed to be to ‘convert the enemy’, but the first felt more like a venting of frustration to me. The second demonstration, stood their ground non-violently, giving no justification for the violence they received. And if King was right, their obviously unjustified suffering will do a lot to open the eyes of Israelis.
I hope that Palestinians will be able to find a way to use true non-violence on a much wider scale. That they can avoid the understandable urge to respond to violence with violence. And that in this way they can educate and transform the Israeli mindset and eventually bring about a just peace.
Pray that Palestinians find ways to effectively resist the unjust occupation.
Pray that Israelis eyes are opened the the injustices of their government.
Pray for peace