Non-Violence in Palestine

Do throwing stones undermine the Palestinian cause or help promote it?

Last night I had a very interesting conversation with a friend about the use of non-violence in the Palestinian resistance.  My friend, whose father was an active member of the non-violent movement in the US, believed that the Palestinians who used any form of violence against Israel – from throwing stones to launching missiles – were undermining the Palestinian cause.  By his own admission, my friend is not an active follower of the conflict and was basing his opinions more on his father’s activities and his recollections of the resistance movement in South Africa, thus his opinions reveal a lot about popular American opinion.

Our conversation reminded me a post by our friends over at Blogging the Casbah where Abu G wrote about his experiences at Palestinian protests.  Palestinian stones were met with tear gas and rubber bullets.  There was a nice little debate about the symbolic nature of stone throwing – to summarize, throwing a stone does little damage but physically demonstrates a rejection of Israeli occupation.  One commenter noted that Palestinians have branded themselves as “stone-throwers who occasionally explode themselves on checkpoints.”  Similarly, my friend last night made the acute observation that, in the minds of Americans, one Palestinian throwing stones forces the entire population into that stereotype.

In other words, throwing stones that are heavily weighted in Palestinian symbolism, yet rather inefficient seems to justify the Israeli response in American minds.  This perception is partly created by the fact that American media under-reports on the overwhelming Israeli response and partly due to the idea that the stones require an Israeli response.  Thus Americans see Israeli soldiers reacting to threats from Palestinians rather than brutally suppressing generally peaceful activists.

This was again the situation yesterday in Hebron where marchers were protesting Israel’s decision to list the Tomb of the Patriarchs as an Israeli Heritage Site.  Some stones were thrown and Israel launched tear gas and shot protesters with rubber bullets.  The reaction in the US press was predictable.  From the New York Times:

The Palestinian demonstrators consisted mostly of knots of boys who burned tires and hurled rocks at the Israel soldiers, who responded with tear gas and stun grenades.

How would the Times have responded if the marchers had not thrown stones, but rather – as Abu G suggested – wore tee-shirts showing Gandhi and refused to participate in violence of any kind?

[tweetmeme] My thought is that as long as the US unequivocally supports Israel and refuses to put any pressure on the Jewish country to make concessions for peace, the Palestinians will continue to be oppressed.  The idea in America that Palestinians are participating in a violent resistance gives the government more room to justify its unquestioned backing of illegal Israeli policies.  Thus, the Palestinian message needs to reach the ears of the American public (who then need to bypass the Israeli lobby, but that is a different story) in a way that forces the US public to shed its current perception of the conflict and to see Palestinians for what they are: brutally oppressed people.

Perhaps the way to this end is by renouncing the symbolic stones, as difficult as it would be.

Linking the Palestinian struggle to the Jim Crow oppression in the US or the Apartheid of South Africa would be move powerful a symbol in the West than throwing stones at Israeli soldiers

Non-violence is not a new topic for Palestinian resisters, but, as my friend says, in American eyes, one Palestinian throwing a stone makes all Palestinians throw stones.  Over at the Casbah, the Rooster comments, “I would add that it is extremely unlikely that the entire population of Palestinians would rise up in non-violent protests, If they did, Israel would have a serious PR problem.”

The parallel of the civil rights movement in the US would perhaps make a non-violent movement in Palestine more meaningful to Americans and more damaging to Israel.

In the 1960’s the father of my friend would tour the south and give workshops in non-violence.  He viewed the black activists who used violence as people who undermined the civil rights cause, just as my friend sees stones as undermining the Palestinian cause.  With the symbolism of stones so enmeshed in Palestinian culture, it is unlikely that the entire Palestinian population would renounce the act; however, the symbolism of the act seems to be lost on Americans – indeed, it has the opposite effect.

So perhaps it is time for a popular movement that renounces stone throwing and organizes more widespread non-violent movements that are aimed at catching the eye of the media.  Qunfuz notes that Palestinians have tried non-violent activism – more notably for the 20 years after the creation of Israel and the first few weeks of the second Intifada.  But in the 1950’s, Americans were generally not paying attention to Israel or Palestine and effective non-violence requires more than two weeks (as in the beginning of the second Intifada).  Today images and symbols of non-violence are much easier to transmit into the households of Americans.  Palestine needs images of Gandhi, symbols of South African Apartheid and reminders of Jim Crow in place of stones.

As my friend reminded me last night: while struggle is never easy and non-violent struggle is even more difficult, non-violent struggle en masse is by far the most difficult – but the most effective.

Photos from Qunfuz and Jim Crow and Beyond

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35 thoughts on “Non-Violence in Palestine

  1. Interesting points. But I personally have very close Palestinian friends, and quite frankly do not blame them for throwing rocks at all. It was there land long before the British handed it over to the “Isreali’s”. Of course, Europeans did this to the Native Americans (occupy their lands), as well as the Spanish/Portuguese conquistadors who enslaved the natives of of South America.

    It is a recurring event in history, everyone sees the flaws and injustices of occupation, yet people just stand-by and watch and let it continue

    1. Thanks for the comment Ali. I do not blame the Palestinians for throwing rocks. There exist illegal Israeli policies that take Palestinian land and ruin Palestinian lives. The situation in Gaza where schools cannot receive educational supplies is terrible and I completely understand the desire for revenge.

      But just like in South Africa and the black US south, victory will come from overcoming that desire. My point was simply that Palestinians need to convince Americans to put pressure on Israel and can only do this by giving up any semblance of violence. It is not fair and if the US had a non-biased policy, it wouldn’t be an issue – but it is reality.

      Do I blame Palestinians for throwing rocks? No, but I think the need for symbolic revenge is hurting the overall cause.

  2. Thanks for this article. I just want to say that if someone is protesting to get a civil right or convince his government to do something for him, maybe he can wear a T-shirt with Gandhi’s picture on it, but if you are dealing with an invader of your land and who is doing everything in his power to terminate your existence then I don’t think T-shirts will work here. Also, if it’s wrong to through stones because Americans or Europeans will think that Palestinians are using violence and Israeli occupation can shot and kill them for that, then who cares about their opinion. Palestinians have all the right to defend their land by all means possible to them no matter what people in this world will think and no matter which side they will take.

    1. Thanks Mousa. My point was simply that the situation is not fair. In an ideal world, Palestinians would not be labeled as violent terrorists because of a few protesters that throw stones. Unfortunately, the US has a Israel-centric Middle Eastern policy and it is the only country that has the power to force Israel to change. If throwing rocks at Israeli troops made them stop the illegal occupation then that would be a good method. The reality is that the Palestinians are not simply confronting Israel, they are also up against American public opinion and pro-Israeli sentiments.

      Is it fair? No. Do Palestinians have a right to resist? Of course, but throwing stones has symbolism for Palestinians, not for Americans. My point with Gandhi and Jim Crow is simply that these are symbols that Americans can identify with. Convince American the American public and the US government should push Israel to peace.

  3. “How would the Times have responded if the marchers had not thrown stones, but rather – as Abu G suggested – wore tee-shirts showing Gandhi and refused to participate in violence of any kind?”

    I guess…the way they did respond when peaceful activist Rachel Corrie got crushed by a bulldozer.

    1. bentAljazair, the Rachel Corrie story was terrible. She was a young woman who cared about peace and certainly deserved much better. It is good that Israel is finally allowing witnesses to testify in the trial. The silver-lining of the case, though, is that it made the mainstream US press. People talked about it and it brought attention to the region.

      Was it worth her death? Probably not, but it goes to show that given the right context, Israeli brutality will be seen in the US.

  4. Israel’s response to the throwing of stones is not overzealous. Israel rightfully won the land that they are on. How can you see Israel merely as an aggressor when Palestinians are blowing themselves up on buses, and AIMING qassam rockets at kindergartens? That is mad! Of course Israel will respond with tenacity. And yes, they use rubber bullets and tear gas, and that is because they have to. Rocks, whether they hurt or not, are a symbol, just as you said. They are a symbol of how hateful the Palestinians are of this tiny region of land. Israel is RIGHTFULLY a Jewish state. It was won, it was fought for, people died for it. How else is land won? Moreover, it states in the Old Testament that Israel was rightfully bought.
    Beyond all of this, Israel’s support of the Palestinians is one of the least documented phenomena of our time. After Gaza, Israel sent supply trucks and aid. They set aside land for greenhouses and growing food. All of this land was burned. Why? Because the Palestinians know how to wage a media war. They will hurt themselves, they will make their children throw stones at Israeli border guards, just so they will get the attention of the press and have the world turn against Israel.
    It is time for the Palestinian conscience to grow up. They have faked funerals (are you kidding me?!) to get media attention. They have captured and tortured Israeli soldiers, and they have blown themselves up, time and time again in civilian areas. Did you know that Israel stops over 30 suicide bombs every day? Do you understand what it means to live under that type of stress? Now, maybe you will understand why what you call aggression is necessary. If all of their neighbors didnt want them dead (which they all do), perhaps they would not need to build a wall to stop suicide bombers and confiscate land.
    You are incorrect in your statements and more biased than the New York Times. Palestinians are not the oppressed. They are the oppressors.

    1. OlderBrother, there is a lot to wade through here. In general, I think your comment is simply proof about how this conflict is misunderstood. Israel is a reality and there is no changing that. It is a member of the community of nations and has the right to be a Jewish state. I think it would be helpful for you to do a little research into how the Israel state was created and what tactics were used to clear Israeli land of Palestinians.

      Furthermore, nearly all protests and incidents of rock-throwing occur in the occupied territories that, under international law, are illegally held by Israel. You seem to be stuck in the past with your obsession with suicide bombers as well. Hamas and Fatah have both renounced suicide bombing as a tactic, Fatah has recognized Israel and all violence against it and Hamas is acting as the moderate force restraining a minority.

      I on’t know where you found the fact about Israel stopping 30 suicide bombs a day and I don’t believe that at all. Please show me proof.

      You are clearly very passionate about Israel and I commend you for that, however you seem to be very out of touch with reality. Stating that the Palestinians are the oppressors is almost as insulting as it is ignorant. I do not mean to insult – and I understand that there is considerable fear in Israel – but Palestinians do not pose a existential threat to Israel. Indeed, they do not pose any threat. To call Palestinians oppressors of Israel is to show a complete lack of understanding while simultaneously undermining your argument.

      Please tell me where you got your suicide bombing statistics.

  5. Without a doubt there are issues between Israel and Palestine. The Palestinians have been given a raw deal, if this same situation was happening somewhere else in the world, America would stop it at all costs. I feel the Israel American relationship causes so much unrest in the Middle East, Israel is allowed to do what they please without any restrictions or consequences. If anything is done to Israel it becomes a travesty of justice. I do not know what the answer is to this problem; somehow the Palestinian people deserve justice and fair treatment. It is their right to fight for said justice and fair treatment. America should stop backing this oppressive nation.

    1. Tim, I completely agree with you. The unequivocal American support for Israel is, firstly, terrible for America. By constantly and blindly supporting Israel, America is doing severe damage to its image in the Arab world. Secondly, the case can easily be made that the US-Israel relationship is undermining Israeli security and/or its ability to become a wholly Jewish state. American support is prolonging the Palestinian crisis and making new enemies of Israel and the US. Furthermore, the longer the occupation and the more settlements, the less likely a two-state solution is. The other options are clear Palestinians of Palestine in a second Nakba or absorb them in a one-state (probably apartheid-esque) solution that destroys Israels moral and Jewish identity.

      Finally, I believe that the Palestinians have the right to fight for justice, but their target should be America and their weapon should be truth. The only way to convince America is to show them the truth and to restrain from violence.

  6. A very interesting post. While non-violent has worked in some circumstances in the past, I think the stranglehold the Israelis have around Palestine puts the Palestinians in an intolerable situation. Who can blame them for throwing stones? The Israelis have helicopter gunships.

    1. dorkarama (love the name) – I don’t blame the Palestinians from throwing stones. I don’t blame Israelis for being scared either. I do blame the Israeli government for using such brutish tactics and the American government for refusing to take an unbiased look at the region.

      I think that throwing stones is simply not effective as an actual weapon (clearly) or as a symbolic one. I think it does far more damage than good.

  7. I absolutely believe that incessant, non-violent resistance is the only sure way for oppressed Palestinians (and any oppressed people) to ultimately end that oppression on their lives. Exhibiting self-control and acting in a premeditated fashion to express one’s disagreement with mistreatment by an entity in power over oneself has proven 100 percent effective in my personal life and more effective than not in my recollection of related historical events.

    Honestly, as the US civil rights movement, South African apartheid resistance (to a lesser extent), and the end to British colonialism in India have shown, I don’t think it necessarily requires appeal to a powerful outside political (or military) force to end injustice. I think that if Palestinian resisters took the moral high ground in peacefully (and insistently) protesting their oppressors, they would find themselves the victors of the dispute and put and end to conflict. We have seen it work in enough historical instances to know that it simply works. Violence does not put an end to violence. I think that must be realized regardless of what culture one is from.

    I really believe that in order for Palestinians to put an end to abuse from Israeli oppressors, they will have to collectively choose not to act out of bitterness and hatred, but rather out of moral “betterness,” all the while insisting on the application of truth and justice in the situation.

    “Nonviolence and truth are inseparable and presuppose one another (Gandhi).”

  8. Hey, interesting article, but I’d urge you to be a little more open minded.

    If your personal moral inclinations prevent you from using violence, that’s more than OK. But its hardly your place to dictate to a foreign oppressed people what forms of resistance are good and which are not.

    Its not the Palestinian’s job to recruit supporters of their cause in the U.S. – that’s our job as Palestinian allies.

    I would actually argue that violent resistance is very necessary in their struggle. Every bomb they launch and every soldier they kill makes it that much more difficult for Israel to continue their assault. Thats just a fact.

  9. In the Israel-Palestine issue throwing stones is the MOST PEACEFUL symbolic act!!! Come on! its the least these people could do.
    they kill them take them out of their houses oppress and suppress them. them throwing stones is peaceful really; taking a walk in their shoes i don’t know what i have personally done, they humiliate them, kill millions and when one of their soldiers dies or gets injured they fuss about it, the media is playing a very biased role. people really need to be more educated about the Palestinian cause!
    guns, tanks, bulldozers vs rock or even a bomb at a check point; they are being constantly at gun-point … may god be with them to rise up and get back their land.

  10. I agree with you that throwing stones is not a very vicious act and do not cause much harm at all. But it is the perception of violence which is hurting the Palestinian cause. The American media is extremely biased and overlooks Israeli brutality in order to focus on Palestinian violence – or the perception of Palestinian violence.

    I also agree that people need to be more educated about the Palestinian cause, but rocks and bombs will not achieve peace.

  11. Thanks for these perspectives. I agree with you that non-violence is the most difficult, but can prove to be the most successful. This is a quote from Dr King about non-violence: “It is effective in that is has a way of disarming the opponent. It exposes his moral defenses, It weakens his morale, and at the same time it works on his conscience.”
    There is however something I feel is missing in your article about non-violence in Palestine. You have not mentioned the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions ) campaign that was launched in July 2005 by over 170 civil society organizations in Palestine. It calls for the boycott on Israel until it complies with international law. This movement is gaining strength and should not be overlooked. You can read more about it here:
    In addition to this a very important document namely the Kairos document was launched on the 11th of December in Bethlehem last year. This document calls for a loving and peaceful resistance to occupation, and points to BDS as one tool within such a resistance. Read more about this at:
    On my own blog ( I write about a peaceful demonstration in Beit Sahour at the West Bank, which was met with stun grenades and tear gass. In a video linked to my site, it becomes very clear how Israel again and again responds to non-violence: By excessive force!

    1. Gjermund, thanks for the note. BDS is indeed an important part of the non-violent movement. I have written about it several times, and am not overlooking it. My main point was about symbolism though. Thanks for the link on Kairos too. Efforts like that are very important to the cause.

      I will be sure to take a look through your blog!

  12. Thank you for posting this! I was having a conversation with classmates (pro-Palestinian ones) the other day, and am one of those who do think a non-violent movement would help the PR aspect of the Palestinian side of this conflict.

    the problem is though, is that it needs to be almost unanimous.

  13. Hi ckeeler,
    And thanks for your article. This is truly a complex subject and requires many viewpoints, much debate, brutal honesty and courageous action. What comes to mind: The Irish Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Corrigan. She went to Israel and was shot by a rubber bullet (well, actually it was an Israeli soldier) while peacefully protesting. She is a real hero. Her latest cause, I believe, is obtaining full freedom for Mordechai Vanunu, the chap who blew the whistle on Israil’s nuclear weapons program. What a snitch! And what’s with that wall? Oh, I’m sure Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha and Moses would applaud that! By the way, didn’t we just tear down a wall somewhere up in Europe? Nice job, humans!
    I think your comment to Older Brother, “there is a lot to wade through here” is quite an understatement. Israel “won” the land? Where? In a lottery somewhere? And I always smile whenever anyone, in any way, uses the Bible as a justification for something. I think of the Israelis as the older siblings of the Palestinians. When are they going to start loving them and including them? That is my question. Yes, I know we can argue and debate the violent tactics of both sides, the media coverage of both sides, the finger pointing of both sides, “You’re the aggressor!”, “No, you are!” etc. etc.
    It’s all so tiring. But I do believe that at least debating and talking is better than no communication at all. Keep the talk going! Nice job!

  14. Great post!
    Isn’t it logic that when someone attacks you, natural human instincts tend to defensive acts. If palestinians showed the US how non-violent they are by stopping throwing stones (which by the way is nearly the only way to defend them selfs against constant attacks) they would be destructed before the US starts even to be convinced.

    all what i can do to fellow palestinians, is pray for there freedom!

  15. “non-violence” in ‘Palestine’ is like “non-flour” in pasta – impossible… and that picture above is ignorant – Hamas, Hezbullah, and the many other militant Islamic groups in that territory are armed with advanced weapons which they teach kids as young as four and five to use against…Jews

    The True History of Palestine: The Nation-State Fallacy

    The current debate on the inevitable future of the “Palestinian Nation” seems to lack one simple fact: Palestine has no past and was never a sovereign nation. The closest thing the Palestinian people have to a history is that there was once a British Colony from which they had stolen their modern name.

    After the Allied victory in World War Two, it became clear to even the most anti-Semitic Westerners that the Jewish People deserved to have their nation restored. The Nation of Israel’s first record of historically existence is a mention in the Book of Exodus (3:16), however, even earlier references are made in Genesis to the tribes of Israel. It is both biblical and historical fact that Israel was founded by Moses after the Jewish expulsion from Egypt by Ramases II. This would place this event sometime between 1290 and 1224 BC. The reality that the Palestinians want to keep from you is that there has been a Jewish presence in Israel for almost 3300 years.

    The history of the Palestinian People in far more recent than that of their Jewish neighbors. In fact, “Palestine” was created by the British Empire in the days after World War II. According to Rockwell Lazareth author of the essay “Who are the Palestinians?”, “There has never been a civilization or a nation referred to as Palestine and the very notion of a Palestinian Arab nation having ancient attachments to the Holy Land going back to time immemorial is one of the biggest hoaxes ever perpetrated upon the world! There is not, nor has there ever been, a distinct Palestinian culture or language. Further, there has never been a Palestinian state governed by Arab Palestinians in history, nor was there ever a serious Arab-Palestinian national movement until 1964.”

    The most disturbing reality is that the “Palestinians” are not even Arabs at all but Canaanites who have over the years adopted Arab culture and language. For all their history, the Canaanites have been a nomdic sea-faring people who traveled between such nations as Lebannon, Syria,and Turkey but making a premenant home in no land. The British allowed these modren Palastinian Canaanites to set up their tents in colonial Palestine so they could be used as a cheap source of labor for the citrus industry. This historical fact leaves the so-called Palestinians with a far more blundering claim to Israel than illegal Mexican immigrants would have to the United States.

    In 1948, the British rewarded their fruit pickers by dividing the colony of Palestine into two states: one Jewish and the other Arab or should we say “Canaanite”. It was at this moment that the term Palestinain was first used to exclusivly refer to nomadic Canaanites. The Palestinains responded to the England’s generosity by invading the newly reborn Isreali state, with help from the armies of Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. To the world’s amazement Israel emerged the victor. The Arabs further demonstrated military prowess by, again, invading Israel in 1967. This time they lost control of Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza.

    In the years that followed, Yasser Arafat’s PLO murdered thousands of Israelis, in fact he made Bin Laden look like a piker. Today, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is fulfilling Arafat’s dying wish and taking land from the industrious Israeli’s so that a Palestinian Nation can be born. The Israelis had taken the deserts of Gaza and turned them into an oasis of prosperity, all while under the guns of PLO terrorists. These very settlers who sacrificed their own children for a greater Israel are today being sacrificed by Sharon to the False Idol of Appeasement.

    1. Appreciate the history lesson…

      First off, Hamas and Hezbollah (not a Palestinian group, by the way) have some advanced rockets – true, but the Israeli military is only slightly behind the US in terms of military technology so the argument of militia strength is absurd. Secondly, the comment saying that Palestinians teach their kids to use weapons at 3-4 years old is exactly the kind of stereotypical thinking that serves only to deviate from the truth and prolong the conflict. By thinking of Palestinians like that – as one evil monolithic group – you are avoiding the fact that Palestinians are a group of individual PEOPLE who and generally just wanting to live in peace.

      Furthermore, there was no denial of Jewish roots in my post. Jews have a very real historical claim to the land. But to call Palestinians simple sheep herders with no real connection to the land is incredibly ignorant. Once again you are boxing Palestinians into this view of a simplistic and unintelligent nomad. By denying the Palestinian claim to the land – and it is just as legitimate as the Jewish claim – you are once again overlooking facts and insulting Palestinian history in an attempt to justify your stereotypes.

      Finally, what year is it? Ariel Sharon is not the PM of Israel and has not been for years – in fact he is in a coma. Binyamin Netanyahu is the PM. Gaza is far from an oasis of prosperity – as Israel bombed it into oblivion last year. Perhaps you are trying to make reference to the Israeli pullout of Gaza? Also, the PLO is not a terrorist group – the US, EU, UN, Israel….everyone views the PLO as the rightful and peaceful governing organization in Palestine.

      Finally, I realize appeasement is a word that is used a lot in the world – but perhaps not really understood (dictionary?), but the Palestinians are an occupied people. Children must go through military checkpoints to get to school; farmers are having land confiscated without reason; the entire population of Gaza can neither leave nor get supplies. How is it even remotely possible that the Israelis are appeasing the Palestinians?

      If you take my car and then give it back, but say that you get to keep the keys, that is not appeasement.

  16. “Palestine needs images of Gandhi, symbols of South African Apartheid and reminders of Jim Crow in place of stones”. The South African liberation struggle was not non-violent – it was a heavily violent and armed struggle that culminated in a civil war; neither was Nelson Mandela a non-violent activist or preacher of human rights – he was the leader of the ANC military wing. As for Ghandi, among his other immoral acts or beliefs, he slept beside his nieces and nephews to test his celibacy. I’d also say that Palestine has had a non-violent struggle for years protesting what you say is analogous to Jim Crow., etc. laws. It’s still repressed. I understand that your point is to try to reel in the American public, but it’s not up to, or fair to tell, Palestinians to reform their resistance (especially their non-violent resistance) to American strategy or to what American activists think will work best. It’s especially unfair and wrong to suggest they reform their resistance to have the goal of bringing the American public on board – or in other words, ask that the resistance pander to American voters. Maybe that’s the job for you, an pro-Pal activist in America, to do. Solidarity.

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