Wednesday, May 20, 2009

EAST TIMOR AND NONVIOLENCE

Seven years ago today, in one of the greatest victories for the human rights movement, East Timor's independence from Indonesia was finally formally recognized. Although the nation declared its independence after Portugal's renunciation of its claims to the territory in 1975 the colony was promptly invaded by American-backed Indonesia. For the next two and a half decades East Timor would be subjected to occupation, starvation, torture, military rule, repression and the largest proportional genocide since the Holocaust, a genocide that left over 100,000 people dead.

East Timor is a small nation of just over a million people, with 230,000,000 people Indonesia is the fourth most populous nation in the world. At independence East Timor had only 300 fighters in the field, the Indonesian military is one of the largest in the world, it has more men in arms than East Timor has people. When East Timor was invaded it had no friends in the international community beyond a small circle of human rights and solidarity activists. Indonesia's dictator Suharto has the unwavering support of the U.S and other western nations. The hopelessness of the Timorese cause makes its eventual success a symbol of hope for the repressed people of the world. But it is not enough to take hope from East Timor's liberation, for many stronger peoples have failed in their quest for survival, if the success of East Timor is to be replicated elsewhere then so to must the tactics of East Timor's pro-independence community.

Largely responsible for the independence of East Timor was José Ramos-Horta, the foreign minister of the pro-independence group and currently the President of East Timor. Horta did not believe in Gandhian principled nonviolence, the independence groups recognized that armed struggle was a legitimate tactic if violence was restrained to certain targets, however they judged the tactics available on the basis of what worked. And recognizing that there could be little competition with the Indonesian government militarily the independence groups sought another plane on which to wage their struggle. They recognized that no matter how horrible the atrocities of the occupiers western media would grant violence by the Timorese paramount attention.

So instead of responding to the atrocities of their opponents with violence they transformed the violence of the occupation into a weapon against the occupation. They used their foreign supporters to publicize the atrocities being inflicted upon them and gradually they were able to shift western public opinion, western policy, and ultimately Indonesian actions. They had a choice; they could seek revenge for the horrors inflicted upon them and polarize the opinion of the world against them, or they could seek an end to those horrors. They chose the latter and today East Timor is free as a result.

Particularly for the Palestinians East Timor's liberation is a model. Every situation is unique and require unique tactics, but there remains many relevant strategies. There are many differences though, Palestine is a larger country, its oppressor is smaller, Palestine has the support of the entire world, in the 1970's few people had even heard of East Timor, and Israel faces the pressures of a society that has extended the vote the its populace, or at least to a certain ethnic group. The Palestinians are in a stronger position today than East Timor was in 1975, but they have been in that situation for decades, and sadly the advantages of the Palestinians have not been appropriately exploited by their leadership.

For the sixty years of their dispossession the Palestinians have overwhelmingly embrace armed struggle. It is time for them to realize what their oppressors have known for years. Palestine will never be able to achieve freedom through the Kalashnikov. Israel has a near monopoly on violence, and as the Palestinians know they have no hesitancy to use it. What Palestinian violence can achieve is hostility towards the Palestinian cause in the western public opinion, the same public opinion that the Palestinians need the support of to pressure Israel into ending its occupation. Israeli violence is almost never reported in the west; Palestinian violence is covered extensively.

The Israelis have tried to prevent Palestinian non-violent resistance for decades, they have assassinated and kidnapped moderate leaders, they have devoted extensive resources to slandering leaders of non-violent resistance, and they have constantly tried to provoke Palestinian terrorism. They are afraid of this tactic for a reason; it works. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stated:
"Even when they carry out terror, it is very difficult for us to persuade the world of the justice of our cause. We see this on a daily basis. All the more so when there is only one demand: an equal right to vote. The thought that the struggle against us will be headed by liberal Jewish organizations who shouldered the burden of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa scares me."
It should. If the Palestinians were to transform Israeli atrocities from acts meriting revenge to a weapon to use in the battle of public opinion the prospect of liberal Jewish groups defecting to the Palestinian cause is great, and its inevitable results will be monumental both in the U.S and Israel and eventually in Palestine. The Israeli fear a single non-violent resistor more than an army of stone throwers. It is all that can defeat them.

Strategic non-violence does not involve cowardice or an end to confrontation, indeed it requires greater courage and discipline and it involves greater confrontation. Gandhi's grandson proposed that Palestinian refugees should stop waiting for a political settlement to allow them to return home and simply march home. "What would happen?" he asked if 50,000 refugees came streaming over the border "Maybe the Israeli army would shoot and kill several. They may kill 100. They may kill 200 men, women and children. And that would shock the world. The world will get up and say, 'What is going on?'. If Jewish and Arab peace activists marching arm and arm, living their conviction of what the future could look like, were massacred by the Israeli army westerners would be compelled to confront the issue. They would be forced to understand the refugee issue and they would forced to understand which side was driven by militarism and racism and which was driven by a vision of peace, and they would be forced to act, their government would be forced to act, the Israelis would be forced to act. People will be killed regardless of the nature of the struggle it would be better that something productive could come from those tragedies.

Non-violent resistance has already succeeded in creating links between Palestinians, Israelis, and westerners. In the past tax revolts have earned the respect and attention of westerners and Israelis. In the West Bank weekly joint Jewish-Arab demonstrations for peace are routinely attacked by the military, but they have brought people together and helped to lay the human infrastructure needed for an expanded campaign. Even where non-violent activists have been killed, such as Rachel Corrie or Tom Hurndall, they have offered great benefits to the perception of the Palestinian cause. However, to be truly effective non-violence must be expanded past fringe elements of the radical left. It must become a massive popular movement. It must be coordinated, it must be conducted in conjunction with Israeli and internationals. But once it is embraced it will be invincible. If it is confronted violently it will be a PR victory and if it is not confronted it will begin to dismantle the occupation.

Armed struggle is the rights of the Palestinians, and like in East Timor it can be an element of a broader strategy when its appropriate role is recognized. But armed struggle is a tactic not a goal, it must be done with contemplation and not out of anger. So long as the Palestinians wish to continue their struggle they will have the support of the world, they will be joined in by many heroic westerners and Israelis. Gratuitous violence is all that can shake that support, and violence is the strength of the Israelis, not the Palestinians. The strenght of the Palestinian cause lies in the brutality of their opponents, the courage of their people, the conscience of the world, and the justice of their cause. Those strengths are the tools with which the Palestinians will build a new nation. They must be embraced. For sixty years they have been neglected and for sixty years the Palestinians have suffered.

5 comments:

Bar Kochba said...

1) "Palestine" is not a country. Saying that "Palestinians" have fought for 60 years is an anachronism. Before 1948, Palestinians referred to Jews. It was only in 1964 that this term was invented to refer to the Arabs in Israel.

2) The violence did not begin in 1967 or in 1948. Since the first Jews began returning home, the Arabs responded with violence and terror. Arabs killed hundreds of Jews during pogroms in 1920-21, 1929 and the 1930s. They massacred the Jews of Jaffa, Jerusalem, Hebron, Safed, etc. This was decades before there was a state, 40 years before any "occupation" or "settlements". Why did they fight then?

3) The conflict is not political but religious. Even so-called "secular" leaders like Arafat (may his name be accursed) used Islamic motives and themes. Hamas regularly calls for jihad against Israel and promises its fighters 72 virgins as a reward in heaven. Suicide bombers scream out "Allahu ackbar" and not nationalist slogans before blowing up and murdering Jews.

4) What's the source for that Olmert quote? The Jewish communities in the Diaspora are firmly behind Israel. (Just a sidenote: Two weeks ago, 15 000 Jews celebrated Israel's Independence Day in the streets, in a demonstration of the Montreal Jewish community's solidarity with Israel.)

5) All decent individuals who value freedom, democracy and human rights support Israel. It is the only democratic country in the Middle-East while its enemies are backward Islamic fascists. The UN's obsession with Israel is a matter of anti-semitism, that pathological hatred of everything Jewish. Don't let it surprise you that the same world that stood silent as the Jews of Europe were murdered now screams and condemns Israel for defending itself and denies the Jewish state the right to exist.

6) Israel isn't going anywhere. Deal with it.

Young Activist said...

I don't feel like debating this again right now, your facts are oftentimes inaccurate, you attmept to rebuff arguements I never made, and at any rate your arguements do not progress logically, but here is a source for the quote I used:
http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000128.htm

Bar Kochba said...

BTW Have you ever read any blogs by Israelis living in Judea and Samaria? Why don't you visit these sites and ask these people some questions:


- www.shilohmusings.blogspot.com
- www.myrightword.blogspot.com
- http://calevbenyefuneh.blogspot.com
- http://rutimizrachi.blogspot.com/

You have demonized Jews who live in Judea and Samaria. Go visit and see that they are not evil racist occupiers but rather good Jews who want to live in the land of their fathers.

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Anonymous said...

I thought this was an article on East Timor ................. we seem to have 'lost' the subject!