Palestinian “Non-Violence”: Extremism Rebranded

In last month’s New York Review of Books, Forward editor Batya Ungar-Sargon published a lengthy piece about Palestinian “non-violent resistance to Israel’s occupation”. In covering this supposed phenomenon, Ungar-Sargon focuses on its ostensible preacher and practitioner, Hebron-based activist Issa Amro. Yet with 6,300 words, Ungar-Sargon doesn’t ask even the most basic questions: are these “resistance” efforts tied to making peace with Israel? Would these efforts ever force Israel to unilaterally end the occupation? Is that its goal?

There is a reason for this avoidance. The real point of the piece is not a deep dive into the motives of this resistance or how it may or may not lead to peace. The real point is actually twofold:

First, it is to whitewash the extremism and anti-coexistence philosophy of Amro, to falsely anoint him Gandhi reincarnate. Second, it is to reinvent Palestinian “resistance” as something noble, as an effort towards peace with Israel, and as a desperate people’s last resort in the face of an irrationally hawkish Israel, unwilling to end its security control of the West Bank.

Israeli Security Denial

In order to sell this “resistance” branding, Ungar-Sargon first sets out to establish that Israel’s security justification for the West Bank occupation is no longer valid. For if Israel’s presence there is valid, then resistance to it is not. So she asserts that “violent resistance” among Palestinians is no longer common, nor does it have widespread support in the Palestinian community. The “mass uprisings (ostensibly she’s referring to terrorist bombings) gave way to ‘lone wolf’ stabbing attacks by teenagers, which have ‘more or less subsided’.”

In reality, these attacks are not relegated to stabbings, nor to teenagers, nor to “lone wolves” nor have they “subsided”. The attacks are often directed and planned by Hamas, Fatah or other groups. Even when they are “lone wolf,” the attacks have for years notoriously been financially incentivized by Fatah’s “pay to slay” policy and officially and very publicly encouraged and lionized by both political movements.

This inconvenient reality Ungar-Sargon doesn’t merely ignore, but flips on its head. She quotes former Shin Bet head Ami Ayalon: “the Palestinian leadership quite explicitly does not support violence.” No, you’re not imagining Ayalon said this. Such is the power of politically driven self-delusion.

If a skeptical reader isn’t won over by the assertion of a former head of the Shin Bet, Ungar-Sargon informs us that “the data bears this out. Fewer Israelis have died from war or terror during Netanyahu’s tenure than any other Israeli Prime Minister. Israel is currently living through one of the least violent periods in (its) history.”

The “data” she links to is an Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) page that chronologically lists all the Israelis killed by Palestinian violence since September 2000 (start of the second intifada). But what of the Israelis who were injured? What of all the attempted, but unsuccessful, attacks? Or the ones planned, but foiled? She conveniently didn’t clue readers in to the MFA page listing these. It’s quite extensive.

In reality, the vast majority of Palestinian attacks are unsuccessful, and this is due in large measure to the Israeli presence in the territories. This is the opposite of what Ungar-Sargon wants readers to believe, which explains her reliance on this grotesque sleight of hand.

Sanitizing “Non-Violent Resistance”

So now that Ungar-Sargon has reinforced the fantasy that Palestinian violence is no longer an issue, Israel’s defense establishment should relax, and if anything, welcome this supposed shift to non-violence. “You might think,” she tell us, “that a military occupation, which draws its justification from the need to protect its citizens, would relax somewhat in the face of fewer violent threats. And yet, the opposite seems to have happened. The past few years have seen a crackdown on nonviolent forms of resistance.”

Ungar-Sargon continues with her sleight of hand. “Fewer Israelis have died” has now morphed into “fewer violent threats,” something so demonstrably false she never even attempts to prove.

In Ungar-Sargon’s telling, the Palestinians can’t seem to catch a break. They try to violently resist the occupation, they’re called terrorists and dealt with harshly. They try to non-violently resist the occupation, they face a “crackdown.”

So what form does this non-violence take, and what’s so problematic about it? She quotes Amro describing how 13 years ago he started giving out video cameras to Palestinian families to film “violations” of Israeli soldiers and settlers. Incitement, resisting arrest, urging others to resist arrest, organized protests are other such accusations of “non-violence” leveled at Amro.

Do any of these actions obstruct, and therefore put at risk, Israeli soldiers? She can only allude to the answer. To her credit, she quotes Ayalon, who says Israel needs to see the risks in nonviolent protests, because in every protest, “there is the potential for violence.” The data bears this out. Only one recent example is Gaza’s “Great Return March,” which Ungar-Sargon concedes had Hamas operatives interspersed among the protestors. Yet even this misses the larger point that the “march” itself was violent since its goal was to break through Israel’s border en masse. Of the mass march concept, Ayalan almost smugly says: “Picture it: 100,000 Palestinians start walking towards Jerusalem. Walking—nothing else. What would the IDF do? Say they kill fifty, they kill a hundred, they kill three hundred. What would happen if they just kept walking?”

This is the “one thing that most terrifies Israel,” Ayalon quips. Long time PLO spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi agrees. “Israel is not afraid of violence. But when Palestinians use nonviolence, they don’t know how to respond, and they call it delegitimization.”

Non-Violent Resistance is Continued War Against Israel

Delegitimization it is. Non-violent resistance is the latest in a series of PR stunts meant to cement for the world an image of a powerful Israel militarily facing off against downtrodden and powerless Palestinian civilians who merely seek rights. As Ungar-Sargon stated, Amro has “become famous for the kind of civil disobedience developed by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.” These historical situations are not even remotely analogous to Israel. No matter. These two powerful analogies are meant to stir the emotions of a global audience, and in particular a Jewish audience. This is ultimately intended to pressure Israel to take dangerous security risks in the absence of real peace.

That “non-violence” equates to “non-extremist” is a framing which Ungar-Sargon treats as self-evident. Yet she unwittingly demonstrates the falsity of this equation in referencing the BDS movement. “It, too, is a form of nonviolent resistance, and its example has become one of the main explanations for the shift from violent resistance to nonviolent tactics in Palestinian society.”

Herein, buried within Ungar-Sargon’s casual soft-pedaling of BDS, lies the truth. While BDS may be (superficially) nonviolent, it is also anti-peace. It seeks Israel’s destruction through political means while falsely branding this effort as rooted in law, morality and civil rights.

While this is not meant to be a psychological profile of Ungar-Sargon, one can’t help but conclude that as a Zionist thought leader, she has truly reached a point of desperation. A total lack of Palestinian compromise has left her and others no choice but to contrive one, and to parrot the unrealistic demands against Israel. They see opponents of Israel as peace partners. They see PR stunts meant to tar Israel’s image as MLK-style activism for civil rights.

The ultimate goal of the “resistance” is not political compromise, it is not peace with Israel, and it is certainly not rights for Palestinians. Their oft stated goal is the delegitimization and destruction of Israel. To accomplish this, a smartly crafted PR assault by Israel’s enemies has duped even some of Israel’s (supposed) supporters. We’re all being played, and Ungar-Sargon is dutifully and naively playing her role.

“Israel as civil rights violator” is the new and hoped-for framing by Israel’s opponents. Non-violent resistance is intended to compliment this framing. Ungar-Sargon, with articles like this, is helping to lay that foundation. Let’s hope critical readers see through it.

About the Author
Daniel Brooks is founder and current Vice President of 3GNY, an educational non-profit organization founded by grandchildren of Holocaust survivors whose mission is to educate diverse communities about our family history and lessons of the Holocaust. He has extensive experience as an Israel advocate, having organized pro-Israel demonstrations, spoken on panels, written for the organization Artists4Israel and currently serving as a facilitator with Fuel For Truth's Boot Camp.
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