‘Keep nonviolent resistance alive in Israel and Palestine’

Image: Oost Jeruzalem & West Bank. Foto Anita Gould (CC BY-NC 2.0)

May 19, 2021

Palestinians do not blame Hamas for provoking violence from Israel with its rockets. That is what Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant wrote in a recent article featuring Palestinian political scientist Abu Saad. However, the very opposite is true. Many peaceful Palestinian activists are angry that Hamas are the “useful idiots” that play into the hands of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. 

Activists see their own peaceful actions to oppose the forced displacements go up in smoke. Literally. For the plumes of smoke currently hanging over cities are diverting attention away from the violations that caused the recent protests: the displacements in East Jerusalem that are part of the decades-long oppression of Palestinians. 

Beautiful peaceful movement 

“I feel sad and angry that Hamas is trying to kill one of the most beautiful peaceful movements. A movement that caught the attention of the whole world,” says Nidal Betare. He is a Palestinian contact of peace organization PAX and grew up in a Palestinian refugee camp in Syria. The hashtag #SaveSheikhJarrah drew attention to the forced displacements. Betare saw this as a humanization of the cause of the Palestinians and refugees. “Until Hamas militarized it.” 

He says what many Palestinians are thinking and what PAX also hears from partners, currently in hiding from the bombings. But many do not dare to express themselves, because they want to maintain unity. A unity that Hamas does not seem to be looking for, even as a new momentum has emerged: a youth-led peaceful movement that brings together Palestinians from Jerusalem, the West Bank and Israel and cleverly mobilized international solidarity through social media. Jewish Israelis have also joined them. 

That new impetus is overwhelmed by violence from bombs, in a cycle which is by now a fixed and sad ritual. Israel violates the rights of Palestinian citizens. Protests follow, often largely peaceful. The Israeli police use excessive force. The protests intensify. There is international attention and pressure. Hamas fires missiles. Israel bombs Gaza, resulting in many deaths. 

Perfect distraction 

This diverts international attention away from the original violations. And Netanyahu can once again play his role as Israel’s protector. A perfect distraction from the political deadlock and corruption scandals that haunt him.

“It was Netanyahu’s wish to receive missiles from Gaza. He’s trying to lure us to his military playground because he can’t play in our nonviolent playground,” said Naseef Muallem, Policy Adviser at the Palestinian Center for Peace and Democracy and partner of PAX. “I hoped that this nonviolent, peaceful uprising would spread throughout the West Bank and Gaza, and that all Palestinians would remain peaceful.” But the Palestinians are now, en masse, in the eyes of many, terrorists again, instead of activists who are looking for peace. 

One of those activists is a partner of PAX, who works for Danish Church Aid and lives in Gaza. Whilst working in pursuit of peace, he found himself mourning this week, losing two children, a grandchild and two nephews to the Israeli bombings. 

The developments of the last days show that the status quo of injustice and oppression cannot be maintained. It will continue to explode, resulting in injuries and death. It is high time to recognize that much more international effort is needed to break this spiral of violence. Until that happens, Israeli and Palestinian civilians will continue to suffer. 

This op-ed was written by Anna Timmerman, general director of the peace organization PAX. It was published in quality newspaper de Volkskrant. 

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