Nonviolence is the only way forward

Palestinian hunger strikers demonstrate a change in tactics against Israel’s occupation

A protester holds a Palestinian flag as he walks next to a tear gas canister fired by Israeli troops during clashes at a protest in solidarity with Palestinian detainee Mohammed Allan, in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, near Ramallah, yesterday. Mohamad Torokman / Reuters
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Another hunger striking Palestinian prisoner in an Israeli jail is close to death. Mohammed Allan, a 31-year-old Islamic Jihad activist from the West Bank, began a hunger strike two months ago to protest against his imprisonment without trial by Israel since November last year. Mr Allan’s non­violent protest extends far beyond one individual protesting against an unjust detention. It is evidence of a sea change in resistance to Israel’s continuing military occupation. Fellow Islamic Jihad activist Khader Adnan, who undertook a 66-day hunger strike to protest against his imprisonment without trial in 2012, said last week that hunger strikes are a deterrent to Israel.

Israel is panicked about this spike in nonviolence from formerly militant Palestinians. The evidence for this fear can be found in a recently enacted law permitting doctors to administer nutrition to hunger strikers against their will to try to keep them alive. It was rejected by Israel’s medical association, which said that it constituted a form of torture. So, why does this Palestinian pivot towards non­violence prompt such a hysterical response from Tel Aviv?

For many, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the quintessential example of a violent confrontation without end. It has been a saga of domination and rebellion played out over the course of decades. While it is predicated on domination – settler colonialism has traditionally required some form of violence to establish and maintain itself – there has long been hope that some form of nonviolence would bring about an equitable solution. In the battle of narratives of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Palestinians have the most to gain by embracing nonviolence.

Therefore, Palestinian society has turned to nonviolent efforts to change perceptions and erode support for Israel in the international community. Initiatives like the boycott, divestment and sanction (BDS) movement, which began in 2005, have helped change the way the world understands the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. By forgoing violence, activist groups have been able to portray Israel as the primary aggressor that continues to make life unbearable for Palestinians under its control.

The actions of hunger strikers like Mr Allan are helping to write this new chapter and hopefully sow the ultimate resolution. The international community understands that violence will not resolve this conflict and even Palestinian militants are realising the potential of non-violent protest to end this tragic cycle of misery.