Emily L. Hauser
Americans For Peace Now (Opinion)
July 26, 2011 - 12:00am

When the first intifada hit Israel with the shock of a tidal wave, I was living in Tel Aviv.

Many of my male friends - including the young man with whom I was in love and living at the time - found themselves called to endless rounds of reserve duty to face off against stone-throwing youth.

It was during that time, as I followed the news with a consuming obsession and watched my previously unflappable boyfriend writhe in his sleep from nightmares, that I went from a vague "we should all find a way to get along, gosh it's so sad that the Arabs don't want to" kind of politics, to understanding that Israel had two ways to resolve the problem of the occupied territories: Massive ethnic cleansing, or two-states-for-two-peoples.

As I couldn't get behind the first option, and had begun to understand that the stone throwers had a point in demanding their rights, I became an active supporter of the two-state solution.

And yet I can say with all honesty that it wasn't until I read Mary Elizabeth King's 2007 A Quiet Revolution: The First Palestinian Intifada and Nonviolent Resistance that I understood that those stone throwers could have responded with arms and ammunition, but that their grassroots leaders chose not to. That, indeed, the entire intifada was rooted in notions of nonviolence.

As we learn more about the current crop of non-violent Palestinian activists - from the likes of Sami al-Jundi and Izzeldin Abuelaish (whose books I have recommended in this space), to organizations such as Combatants for Peace, to the folks who go out every week to protest Israel's settlement policy or the construction of the wall - it is important to bear in mind the history on which they build.

Indeed, it is the very assumption that Palestinians are by nature violent and incapable of making peace that allows so many to continue to refuse to achieve any genuine resolution of the conflict. When we learn that the history of Palestinian resistance to occupation is much more complex than we've been told, we begin to understand the simple truth that Israel and those who support the Jewish State do, in fact, have many partners for peace.

In A Quiet Revolution, King attempts to rectify the assumptions and correct the record of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, without trying to gloss over the fact that the efforts to launch a nonviolent movement were ultimately destroyed by those who found violence more useful (in no small part, the Israeli occupier). This is a painstakingly detailed history of the development, and ultimate unraveling, of "a remarkably coherent nonviolent mobilization to end a military occupation."

A traffic accident in which four Palestinians died at an Israeli checkpoint served to spark the first intifada, a revolution in which Palestinians living inside the occupied territories undertook to disengage from their occupier through noncooperation and civil disobedience, "manifesting a belief that [they could] ... create the compromises required to live side by side with Israel."

It's easy to forget in this age of constant photo-ops that in 1987 the idea that Palestinians would accept a two-state compromise was almost literally unbelievable to most Israelis, Jews, or Westerners generally. As a result, as King points out, most of it - the nonviolent resistance, the choice of stones over guns, the efforts to create a sustainable autonomy, even while living under occupation - was lost on the vast majority of Israelis. Myself included.

While many came to see the occupation for the horror that it is, few were able to watch stones (and concrete blocks and Molotov Cocktails) fly at the heads of their sons and brothers and see it as nonviolent. And of course, these actions dominated the press coverage and thus the international perception of the intifada, with very little attention going to the tax revolts, commercial strikes and popular agricultural committees.

King is careful to include in her history those many Israelis who worked with, and continue to work with, the Palestinian people in order to finally resolve the conflict, and she correctly credits the first intifada with creating the mental shift that now allows "the imagining of Israeli-Palestinian solidarity in which what is forgotten" is as important as what is remembered.

But she is also very clear on the fact that the Tunis-based PLO's failure to support the nonviolence movement, coupled with Israel's failure to recognize the new reality and its possibilities, led to the the movement's eventual collapse.

"Retrospectively," King writes, "the first intifada represented a missed historical opportunity for ... transformation of the relationships for both peoples."


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