BERLIN: It comes as no surprise that what happened on the Mavi Marmara on the last day of May is no longer a central news item. Israel received an inconsequential lecture from its allies, a routine condemnation from its adversaries, and most people went back to business as usual. There may be some change to the Gaza blockade policy, but substantial shifts to the big picture will not occur. Onto the next flash point.
This is what this struggle has degenerated into – a process going nowhere, feeding only itself. Judging by the parties’ actions since the event, a few weeks of media attention does nothing to change the narrative, only serves to reinforce it. Gazans remain under siege, Israel stays in charge, and the Palestinians as a whole get nowhere closer to a permanent status among nations.
While the shrewd use of media is important to any successful cause, it is only a tool in reaching, not a replacement of, tangible results. Israel will not be shamed into concessions, and has no qualms to act first and debate the legality later.
In the history of repression and occupation real change has only ever come when the party with the power concludes that change is in its own interest. If the raid on the Marmara flotilla reveals anything it is basic human nature: We don’t change when we should but when we must. Israel is no exception.
The fundamental problem between Israel and the Palestinians is that both sides want an end to the occupation but only one side really believes it needs it. The Palestinians suffocate under the weight of the violent status quo. Meanwhile the security barrier has not only halted attacks on Israeli citizens but also created a physical and mental separation from Palestinians. As a result, Israel, with full access to global markets, the ear of American policymakers, high-tech industry, and a well-educated, relatively well-off population, thrives as if a million miles from the chaos it’s part of.
Making Israelis understand they need peace even half as badly as the Palestinians do must be priority number one. This cannot be done through violence. This gets done through a coordinated campaign of nonviolence that interrupts daily Israeli life, as past nonviolent movements have done successfully in colonial India, Chile, Argentina, Eastern Europe, South Africa and Serbia. Throughout history the goal has always been the same: Compel the party in power to do the right thing for the wrong reason — self-interest. In this context, it would mean ending the occupation.
The Palestinians, and particularly those in Gaza, already have two of three factors necessary for said effort: numbers and nothing to lose. Now they need an apolitical and untainted leadership that comes from the grassroots to make constructive use of these advantages. The impact could be enormous.
What if alongside Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s existing steps, 10,000 Gazans (ideally, many more) marched peacefully on the border fence? What if 10,000 more in the West Bank blocked roads connecting Israeli settlements with Israel proper? What if all those people then sat down and refused to move? What if these people loudly proclaimed they were there as proud Palestinians seeking self-determination, opposed to both occupation and terrorism?
Many would be arrested, and that’s the point. Israel is strong but only relatively. It’s a small country with limited resources and vulnerable supply lines. How many jailed Palestinians would it take to overwhelm Israel’s judicial system, overpopulate the prisons and create chaos in the courts?
Nonviolence seeks to reform the system in an effort to convince those it represents that it serves neither party. When nonviolent agitation reaches a critical mass the system has to change. How much civil disobedience is therefore necessary to expose the harm Israeli government policy causes not only to Palestinians (which is already clear) but also to Israeli well-being? When a large enough number of ordinary Israelis can’t go about their reasonably comfortable lives, and the reason for it can be clearly linked to the Palestinians’ need for a state, the reaction will be dramatic.
Israelis aren’t especially callous or cold-hearted. They are human, acting in what they believe is their own best interest. External pressure is wishful thinking. The United States will not cut-off aid or support UN resolutions. The EU may be more assertive, but only slightly. The Arabs are distracted by Iran. There will be no Apartheid-like embargo.
That leaves fundamental change to ordinary Palestinian groups and their Israeli supporters who have had enough of indiscriminate raids and arrests, checkpoints and curfews, refugee camps and handouts from aid organizations, and groups that promise violence as an effective way forward. Only they can demonstrate that what’s better for Palestinian sovereignty is not only the morally right option, but also right for Israel.
Bill Glucroft writes extensively on Middle East issues and has worked for both Arab and Zionist causes. He teaches English in Berlin and blogs at mediabard.org. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews), www.commongroundnews.org.