Will Israel Permit Palestinians To Protest?

As Egyptian protesters overwhelmed the streets with celebration at their ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, Israel can no longer afford to ignore or stifle the nonviolent, popular resistance movements of the Palestinian people. These groups carry a remarkable message of healing for a region wracked with instability and division – but their ranks are losing hope. And the alternatives for such a deeply frustrated people are not peaceful protests.

Israel should be less concerned with the presence of Palestinian nonviolent demonstration movements than with what it would mean for them to fail.

Palestinians in restaurants and coffee shops all over the West Bank are glued to their TV sets, which are broadcasting non-stop coverage of the protests from Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, and Yemen. Locals are thrilled to see Egyptians bring an end to a 30-year despotic rule with minimum casualties, in contrast to the meager results they accrued from their own failed intifadas, with thousands killed. Some have also expressed satisfaction that Israel must be feeling the heat as its traditional allies face deep internal unrest and major shifts. But none has yet offered that a third intifada is on its way in the Palestinian territories.

Certainly, though, the conditions would be ripe. Peace negotiations are in shambles; a quarter of the population is unemployed, and Palestinians are incensed by the continuing settler violence, with two Palestinian villagers killed just in the past two weeks. Even so, two-thirds of Palestinians in the West Bank support a nonviolent approach, says Sami Awad, the head of Holy Land Trust, a Bethlehem-based organization focused on nonviolence.

Low-level demonstrations against the Israeli occupation are ongoing – about five or six each Friday in different parts of the West Bank. These often get dispersed quickly by Israeli troops, who set off sound bombs, and threaten protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets, as I observed first-hand last Friday. This particular demonstration was in al-Mumasarah village, comprising roughly 30 individuals, almost entirely internationals and Israeli citizens, with only a few Palestinians. I asked one of the Palestinian organizers about the small turnout, and he lamented, “The people are losing hope. The demonstrations used to be much bigger, but have yielded no results. We were not able to get back our land.”

It’s amazing to see that these same movements are being sidelined – their leaders imprisoned, demonstrations shut down, and many protesters injured or killed. Since 2004, 21 have died in peaceful demonstrations against Israel’s separation barrier.

The winds of change are indeed in the air, and the whole region is being swayed by them. With American encouragement, Israel should boldly engage these groups and reward their consecrated dedication to nonviolence, instead of sidelining them. Peace requires it.

Complete article via Christian Science Monitor.

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