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A Plea for Realism*



The time has come for the Palestinian public to acknowledge the reality in which they live. A century of national struggle and 34 years spent resisting the occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem has not yet brought us peace, and the right of Palestinian self-determination has yet to be actualized. The largely ineffectual “peace process” has been characterized by the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied territories, numerous closures, and the constant humiliation of a frustrated Palestinian public. The al-Aqsa intifada grew from decades of injustice and discontent and did not erupt in a vacuum.

The reality in which we now live is that of an uneven struggle where Palestinian fighters, despite all their bravery, do not stand a chance against Israel’s military might. It is a reality of fruitless appeals to the international community and the Arab world, whom the Palestinians still rely upon to defend their cause. The international community does show some sympathy for the Palestinian struggle, but in the realm of international politics and diplomacy, sympathy holds little weight in the face of the economic, political and military power of Israel and its allies.

I believe that the violent path chosen by Palestinians in the al-Aqsa intifada has failed. This violence achieved little beyond an overwhelming Israeli military response, and the Palestinians, who have no means to win a military victory, pay a very high price in the confrontation. The use of firearms by Palestinians clouds the issue and provides the Israelis and their foreign sympathizers with a means of justifying the disproportionate “response” of the Israeli military. Moreover, violence diverts the attention of the world from the real issue—

the injustice endured by the Palestinian people—and Palestinians are consequently portrayed as a fundamentally violent and irresponsible people, a people with whom it is not possible to make peace.

The violence characterizing the al-Aqsa Intifada prompted the demise of the Israeli liberal left, and a concurrent swing to the right of the Israeli political spectrum, empowering the current government under Ariel Sharon to reject any concessions or compromises.

It is time for the Palestinian people to accept this reality and to direct their struggle into a more pragmatic strategy. This does not mean that the struggle has to end. On the contrary, while a violent struggle seems unlikely to achieve the liberation of the Palestinian territories and the establishment of a Palestinian state, a sudden halt of the intifada would be perceived as a victory for Sharon’s government, thereby seemingly confirming that the brutal suppression of the intifada was well founded.

In my opinion, non-violent resistance is the best possible means of ending the current deadlock. Non-violence does not imply passivity in the face of the occupation. On the contrary, it can be a very powerful means of resistance, one that requires as much bravery and heroism as any armed operation.

Several non-violent actions have been successfully orchestrated recently, most notably those at Birzeit University, demonstrating that the Israeli army is helpless in confronting this kind of resistance. Non-violent resistance can include all segments of the Palestinian people, with a very important role to be played by women and children.

Non-violence will also enable the Palestinian people to communicate their message much more effectively in clearly articulated demands. Take the old city of Hebron, for example, where 40,000 Palestinians have lived under a strict curfew for a large part of the al-Aqsa intifada. What if every day at 4 pm, Palestinians sat outside their doorstep for an hour, drinking tea or smoking narguilah, without the use of stones or slogans. They would be in blatant disregard of the curfew imposed upon them, and there is no guarantee that the response of the Israeli army would be non-violent, but the message would be clear and powerful: it is unacceptable to lock 40,000 people indoors for the security of 400 Israeli settlers.

Non-violence would be a more pragmatic way of resisting the occupation. However, just as the Palestinians have to display pragmatism in how they resist the occupation, they have to be equally realistic in the goals they seek to achieve through resistance. Even though the PLO recognized the existence of Israel in 1988, many Palestinians still cannot bring it upon themselves to openly acknowledge Israel’s right to exist. I believe that a future with Israel is better than no future at all. Palestinians need to state very clearly and unequivocally that they do not question the existence of the State of Israel in its pre-1967 borders, and that the singular goal of the al-Aqsa intifada is the liberation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. Future negotiations on questions such as the right to return will have to take Israel’s concerns into consideration. Embracing such an attitude is obviously painful for us Palestinians, who have already conceded so much, but the time has come to face reality.

*** *** ***

* Originally published in CGNews, December 25, 2001.

** Bassem Eid is Director of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group in Jerusalem (www.phrmg.org).


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