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Saturday 13 April 2024

Violent Resistance is Counterproductive


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I have not been shy about sharing my criticism of Israel. And, unless your support for Israel is painted on, it is not hard to see that they have gone too far, too violently for far too long. They have turned the world against them with their actions, just as the United States did after how they responded to 9/11. This is not hard for most people to process. It is hard for some though, that is true. But there are ideologues involved in any realm of public discourse you enter into. The facts are Israel are acting deplorably and it is going to effect their support on the world stage.

But it is not just Israel’s violence that is a problem in this war. Just as Israel’s overreaction is causing problems for their highly aid dependent nation on the world stage, so to is Hamas’ violence, and especially violence against civilians, a serious problem. It is terrorism, it is morally wrong, and it also serves to bring the hammer down on the Palestinian people too often.

Putting aside, or even including, all the so-called biblical justifications for European Jews to colonize the land of Canaan in the 20th century, what we have here is a highly advanced, numerically and militarily superior colonizing force, Israel, against a relatively primitive, under resourced and numerically inferior indigenous population.[1] This is a situation ripe for fourth generation war, which is exactly what Israel has had on its hands since at least 1948, arguably even earlier.

In fourth generation war the side which loses the moral high ground and therefore public support is painted as the most violent and is often the side that loses. This is why peaceful resistance is often far more successful than violent resistance, in the context of non-state actors facing state actors, or even vice versa. This of course does not apply in conventional war - first, second or third generation - where two armies face off against each other in the battlefield, and matching force to force is vital. Fourth generation warfare is very different.

I would argue that Hamas is a case in point for why violent resistance is often futile, foolish and counterproductive. They are of course evil, there is that. They are also harming the Palestinian  cause. Every civilian or even solider that Hamas kills just makes the plight of the Palestinian people even worse and does not help their cause internationally. Especially with those who just automatically see Israel as the moral paragons in this situation.

This is not just my opinion on resistance, this is observed by those who study the results of peaceful resistance verses violent resistance:

“Recent research suggests that nonviolent civil resistance is far more successful in creating broad-based change than violent campaigns are, a somewhat surprising finding with a story behind it.

When Erica Chenoweth started her predoctoral fellowship at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs in 2006, she believed in the strategic logic of armed resistance. She had studied terrorism, civil war, and major revolutions — Russian, French, Algerian, and American — and suspected that only violent force had achieved major social and political change. But then a workshop led her to consider proving that violent resistance was more successful than the nonviolent kind. Since the question had never been addressed systematically, she and colleague Maria J. Stephan began a research project.

For the next two years, Chenoweth and Stephan collected data on all violent and nonviolent campaigns from 1900 to 2006 that resulted in the overthrow of a government or in territorial liberation. They created a data set of 323 mass actions. Chenoweth analyzed nearly 160 variables related to success criteria, participant categories, state capacity, and more. The results turned her earlier paradigm on its head — in the aggregate, nonviolent civil resistance was far more effective in producing change.

The Weatherhead Center for International Affairs (WCFIA) sat down with Chenoweth, a new faculty associate who returned to the Harvard Kennedy School this year as professor of public policy, and asked her to explain her findings and share her goals for future research. Chenoweth is also the Susan S. and Kenneth L. Wallach Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.”[2]

The reasons this happens are really rather simple; nonviolent resistance is much more likely to increase your supporter base than violent resistance. And on top of this, it is far more likely to garner sympathy from those who have the power to make decisions. Violent resistance often begets even more violent repression and lends moral aid to those doing the repression. Hence, nonviolent resistance is a moral and practical imperative.

This was also known to the Palestinians at some point, though it has now been lost. In fact, the trajectory of the plight of the Palestinian people is clear evidence of the failure of violent resistance, because it is often morally reprehensible and practically counterproductive. Khalidi notes,  

“The PLO had renounced violence in 1988, but as large numbers of demonstrators were shot by Israeli troops and as Hamas responded with suicide attacks, the pressure on Fatah to act grew, and escalation became inevitable. Triggered by the 1994 massacre inside the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron of 29 Palestinians by an armed settler, between 1994 and 2000 Hamas and Islamic Jihad had pioneered the use of suicide bombers inside Israel as part of their campaign against the Oslo Accords, killing 171 Israelis in 27 bombings. By the end of that period, however, these attacks had been largely contained by the ferocious repression exercised by the PA security services. The PLO leadership pushed to stop these attacks at all costs to keep the limping Oslo process going. To that end, the PA security apparatus—largely made up of Fatah militants who had served time in Israeli jails—used torture on Hamas suspects just as freely as Israeli interrogators had used it on them. Such experiences engendered deep fratricidal hatred on both sides, which was to erupt in the open PLO-Hamas split starting in the mid-2000s.

In stark contrast to the first, the Second Intifada constituted a major setback for the Palestinian national movement. Its consequences for the Occupied Territories were severe and damaging. In 2002, with its heavy weapons causing widespread destruction, the Israeli army reoccupied the limited areas, mainly cities and towns, that had been evacuated as part of the Oslo Accords. That same year, Israeli troops imposed their siege on Yasser ‘Arafat’s Ramallah headquarters, where he fell mortally ill. Having avoided meeting with him after my disappointing encounter in Gaza in 1994, I was encouraged to see the ailing old man by my friend Sari Nuseibeh, and visited him twice during the siege, finding him much diminished physically and mentally. This harsh treatment of the Palestinian people’s historic leader was demeaning, as Ariel Sharon intended it to be. It also confirmed the grave error the PLO had made in moving almost all of its leadership into the Occupied Territories, where they were vulnerable to such humiliations.

Coming after the collapse of the Camp David summit, Israel’s reoccupation of the cities and towns of the West Bank and Gaza Strip shattered any remaining pretense that the Palestinians had or would acquire something approaching sovereignty or real authority over any part of their land. It exacerbated the political differences among Palestinians and underlined the absence of a viable alternative strategy, revealing the failure of both the PLO’s diplomatic course and the armed violence of Hamas and others. These events showed that Oslo had failed, that the use of guns and suicide bombings had failed, and that for all the casualties inflicted on Israeli civilians, the biggest losers in every way were the Palestinians.

Another consequence was that the terrible violence of the Second Intifada erased the positive image of Palestinians that had evolved since 1982 and through the First Intifada and the peace negotiations. With horrifying scenes of recurrent suicide bombings transmitting globally (and with this coverage eclipsing that of the much greater violence perpetrated against the Palestinians), Israelis ceased to be seen as oppressors, reverting to the more familiar role of victims of irrational, fanatical tormentors. The potent negative impact of the Second Intifada for the Palestinians and the effect of suicide bombings on Israeli opinion and politics certainly bear out the trenchant critique of the Palestinians’ employment of violence expressed by Eqbal Ahmad back in the 1980s.

Such considerations were undoubtedly far from the minds of the men (and a few women) who planned and carried out these suicide bombings. It is possible to speculate on what they sought to achieve, even while showing how flawed their aims were. Even if one accepts their own narrative which sees suicide bombings as retaliation for Israel’s indiscriminate use of live ammunition against unarmed demonstrators for the first several weeks of the Second Intifada, and its attacks on Palestinian civilians and assassinations in Gaza, that begs the question of whether these bombings were meant to achieve anything more than blind revenge. It also elides the fact that Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which launched two-thirds of the suicide bombings during the intifada, had carried out over twenty such attacks in the 1990s before Sharon’s visit to the Haram. It may be argued that these attacks were meant to deter Israel. This is risible, given the long-established doctrine of the Israeli military that irrespective of the cost, it must gain the upper hand in any confrontation, and establish its unchallenged capacity not only to deter its enemies, but to crush them. Sharon did just that during the Second Intifada, faithfully implementing this doctrine, as had Rabin before him during the First Intifada, although in that previous case at great political cost, as Rabin himself recognized.

Equally risible is the idea that such attacks on civilians were hammer blows that might lead to a dissolution of Israeli society. This theory is based on a widespread but fatally flawed analysis of Israel as a deeply divided and “artificial” polity, which ignores the manifestly successful nation-building efforts of Zionism over more than a century, as well as the cohesiveness of Israeli society in spite of its many internal divisions. But the most important factor missing in whatever calculations were being made by those who planned the bombings was the fact that the longer the attacks continued, the more unified the Israeli public became behind Sharon’s hard-line posture. In effect, suicide bombings served to unite and strengthen the adversary, while weakening and dividing the Palestinian side. By the end of the Second Intifada, according to reliable polls, most Palestinians opposed this tactic. Thus, besides raising grave legal and moral issues, and depriving the Palestinians of a positive media image, on a strategic level these attacks were massively counterproductive. Whatever blame attaches to Hamas and Islamic Jihad for the suicide bombings that produced this fiasco, the PLO leadership that eventually followed suit must also share it."[3]

Terrorism is morally reprehensible, it really is. And it is no surprise that the more any side seeks to pursue it, either through suicide bombing or other means, that they lose the moral high ground and provoke a severe response. Hamas is an evil organization that the Palestinians need to be freed from. They are causing more hurt and more pain to be brought on the Palestinian people with every act of terror and violence they commit. One can only wonder what the situation in Gaza might look like today if the Palestinian leaders had stuck to a nonviolent response to Palestinian repression, rather than resorting to the evil of terrorism. 

The only thing that manages to mitigate, in any measure, this for the ordinary Palestinians is that the Israel Defence force is just as willing to use violence as Hamas, and they are far more equipped to do it on a large scale. This is why much of the world stage is turning against the nation of Israel. That which applies to the use of unjustifiable force on the level of resistance, also applies on the national scale to state forces that use too much force against the resistance. The side which is perceived to be the most violent often loses, because all opposition to it is easy to justify.  

A nonviolent response to repression is far more successful and far easier to support morally. Hamas proves this point. As long as they are involved in the picture, I think things will get worse for the Palestinians and ongoing war will be the result. This cycle of violence will only beget more violence. Pray that God raises up true peace makers in that region. 

List of References

[1] Arabs originated in Canaan, as much as Israelites did even if they eventually settled further afield.

[3] Khalidi, Rashid . The Hundred Years' War on Palestine: The New York Times Bestseller (pp. 214-216). Profile. Kindle Edition.

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