Ten days ago I had the pleasure of attending a book event for Mary E.
King, in connection with the recent publication of her book A Quiet Revolution: The First Palestinian
Intifada and Nonviolent Resistance (New York: Nation Books,
2007). Mary is a long-time friend and colleague, and this book is
a compendious mine of information on its subject.
Once I decided to write something here about Mary’s book, I thought it
would also be a good idea to discuss with the people who were my
collaborators and co-authors in the International Quaker Working Party
on Israel and Palestine of 2002-2004, to see if we could also put up
onto the web the great
chapter on Nonviolence in our 2004 book When the Rain Returns:
Toward Justice and
Reconciliation in Palestine and Israel. So I consulted with Tony Bing, who was the principal author of that
chapter and with the 12 other– mainly Quaker– people who were the
other co-authors of the book project; and now, I am happy to be able to do this.
(Sadly, our friend Misty Gerner, who was a wonderful colleague on the
project, passed away in 2006. So I consulted with her widower and
literary executor, Phil Schrodt, in her place.)
The good news, therefore: You can now access our Nonviolence chapter here in HTML format and here as a Word doc.
Please note the licensing conditions at the top there — as well as the
instructions for how you can order a copy of the whole of our book,
which is certainly still worth reading!
… Mary King brought to her book a long engagement in both the
practice and the study of nonviolence. Back in the early 1960s
she was one of “a tiny handful” of white women from the northern
American states who traveled to the south to work with the Southern
racial eqaulity movement called the “civil rights movement” that was
led by Martin Luther King, Jr.. Her memoir of those days, Freedom Song, later won the Robert
F. Kennedy Memorial Book Award. Her second book was Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.,
which surveyed not only the nonviolent freedom movements led by those
two men but also half a dozen more recent nonviolent movements for
radical social change. Along the way she also got a doctorate in
the topic of the role of nonviolence in international relations.
She has been closely involved in Middle Eastern issues for many years
and has done numerous projects with President Jimmy Carter’s Carter
Center. Indeed, Carter contributed a short Foreword to Mary’s
Reading the book brought back so many memories for me! The first
intifada, which ran from 1987 through 1993, truly was a time of
enormous social, organizational, and ideological excitement for the
Palestinians of the occupied territories– as it was, too, for those
Israeli sympathizers who were mounting their own nonviolent actions
within Israel, with a view to “Ending the Occupation” and “Bringing the
Troops Home.” I spent two periods of time in Palestine and Israel
in those years: one visit that lasted two months or so, as I recall it,
in the summer of 1989, and then a shorter visit in 1992.
Actually, in 1989, I started off doing some research oin the nonviolent
movements on both sides of the Green Line– work that was
subsequently published in two articles in the short-lived “Wolrd
Monitor” monthly magazine… (I should really look them out and re-read
them.) But then I became fascinated with the relationship between
the people inside the OPTs who were running and leading their own
intifada there and the PLO leadership that was stuck in distant Tunis;
and I published an article on that topic in the Spring 1990 issue of
the Middle East Journal.
A couple of aspects of Mary’s book are particularly noteworthy.
One was the way she was able to convey just how widespread and
all-encompassing the mass organizing was that lay at the heart of the
resilience the Palestinians showed in the first intifada. For
example, she has a whole chapter on “Women at the forefront of
nonviolent struggles” during the intifada, and another on the
“Movements of students, prisoners, and work committees.”
Actually, a really good complement to these chapters is Joost
Hiltermann’s classic 1993 book Behind the Intifada which
provided a very rich account of the development of the many kinds of
mass organizations in the OPTs in the years before 1987 as well as (as
I recall it) during the early years of the first intifada.
Another notable aspect of Mary’s book is that at many points it
underlines the huge role that was played during the first intifada by
the activist Palestinian intellectuals who were based in occupied East Jerusalem.
Back in those days, the “special” status the Israelis acorded to East
Jerusalem by virtue of their claim that it was “part of” Israel meant
that the city’s 150,000 indigenous Palestinian residents had broad
freedoms to travel, both inside Israel and throughout the West Bank;
and even down to Gaza– that their compatriots in the rest of the
occupied territories did not have. Because of those freedoms, and
because East Jerusalem really still was in so many ways the historic
business, religious, and educational hub of the whole of the West Bank,
as it had been since the nakba
of 1948, the city’s community leaders played a huge role not only in
coordinating but also in leading the actions of the first intifada.
As I have noted several times before, it was only after Oslo that the
Israelis started erecting a ring of steel around East Jerusalem,
cutting it off in any way they could think of from its historic West
Bank hinterland and forcing many aspects of the city’s life to wither
on the vine. Since Israel was at the same time also building the
fence that started to completely enclose Gaza, the residents of East
Jerusalem then became effectively shut off from that other main
concentration of the “also-occupied” among the Palestinians.
Thus, since Oslo, the Jerusalem Palestinians have been cast into a
cut-off form of limbo, and their once-proud institutions have been
either suffocated or– as in so many cases– shut down completely by
the occupation authorities, even while the building of Jews-only
settlements and Israeli ministries and other forms of national
institutions has continued apace within every corner of the city…
So there is a particular poignancy to reading Mary’s account of the
crucial and exciting leadership role the Jerusalem Palestinians played
in the first intifada.
Her book is very broad, very detailed, and meticulously
researched. I might wish, though, that she had taken the story a
couple of steps further and added a couple of chapters about what
happened at the end
of the first intifada, that is, effectively, what happened with the
September 1993 signing of the Oslo Accord and then, hot on its heels,
the “Return” of the PLO leadership from Tunis to the OPTs. In our
chapter on Nonviolence in When the
Rain Returns we wrote quite a lot about that, because we judged it to be an important part of the whole long story of
nonviolence activism among the Palestinians.
Regarding what became of the Palestinians’ use of, and attitudes
towards, nonviolence as the intifada ground on and on, we wrote:
- … As the intifada dragged on
into its fourth and fifth years with no respite in sight, the
Palestinians’ use of physical violence mounted–both against the
Israelis and to try to resolve differences of opinion inside
Palestinian society. National unity
started to erode, as national exhaustion set in.
- The activists and leaders of the intifada
had all along resisted the urgings of Israeli and U.S. government officials
that they negotiate their own future themselves, without involving the
exiled PLO. “Only the PLO can represent
us,” they stated repeatedly. In 1993, they
got what they had asked for: Israel did finally conclude
the Oslo Accords directly with the PLO. Once
Arafat and his colleagues “returned” to the occupied territories,
however, they proved a hugely damaging disappointment for the people
there. Long used to the secretive,
authoritarian ways of an exile-based underground, Arafat almost
immediately felt threatened by the network of community organizations
he found in Gaza and the West Bank. As Raji
Sourani reminded us in Gaza,
Arafat then set about
working to dismantle the very community-based organizations whose
grassroots activism had brought him back to his homeland.
We also have a whole section there on the debate that raged inside the
Palestinian movement on the question of nonviolence, in the decade