Sunday, November 20, 2011

Wendy Pearlman's "Violence, Nonviolence, and the Palestinian National Movement"

Wendy Pearlman is Assistant Professor of Political Science and the Crown Junior Chair in Middle East Studies at Northwestern University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Violence, Nonviolence, and the Palestinian National Movement, and reported the following:
My book, Violence, Nonviolence, and the Palestinian National Movement, argues that self-determination movements must be internally cohesive if they are to use nonviolent protest. When they are fragmented, their use of protest is likely to become violent. I demonstrate this argument through analysis of 90 years in the history of the Palestinian national struggle.

Page 99 of the book is representative of the book as a whole. It discusses how Palestinian civil society leaders and mayors spearheaded nonviolent protest in the West Bank in the 1970s. Activists from different factions and ideological persuasions came together to create coalitions to take action for the goal on which nearly all under occupation agreed: creation of an independent Palestinian state in the territories that Israel seized in 1967. Page 99 discusses two grassroots coalitions: the Palestine National Front (PNF), which Israel had declared illegal, and the National Guidance Committee (NGC), which served as its legal expression. Their ability to work together and their legitimate roots in society helped them mobilize mass demonstrations against provisions in the 1978 Camp David Accords that proposed Palestinian “autonomy” rather than full statehood:
The nonviolent character of this protest was predictable given Palestinians’ minimal access to weapons. Nonetheless, this does not explain how activists mobilized large crowds despite fears of repression or kept gatherings from becoming riotous. Such feats would not have been possible had organizational structure not played a mediating rule. The PNF provided a forum for cross-factional consensus, and mayors and other NGC members served as respected leaders rallying participation in each community. These institutions were grounded in local relationships, but were also linked country-wide into an effort of broad scope.
Page 99 goes on to explain Israel’s reprisals against this unarmed mobilization:
Though this protest was nonviolent, Israel’s move to suppress it was swift. It banned the NGC and deported or dismissed some West Bank mayors. Settlers planted bombs that maimed other mayors. In 1981, Begin launched the Iron Fist, a series of policies that expanded curfew and restrictions on political activity, universities, and the press, as well as more forceful military repression. Israel also established the Civil Administration, an adjunct to military rule that Palestinians saw as a cover for creeping annexation of the territories. It then unveiled the Village Leagues: an attempt to formalize its network of Palestinian collaborators as an alternative leadership in the rural West Bank. That scheme met with public disdain and collapsed.
These passages challenge some conventional views of the Palestinian struggle. Before the first Intifada burst on to televisions screens in 1987, few in the West thought of Palestinians under occupation as spearheading their own struggle, no less through nonviolence. Of course, Palestinians have also used violent strategies. However, page 99 – like the book at large – hints at the extent of Palestinians’ use of unarmed protest that does not make it into the US media. It also shows how Israel’s suppression of this protest has often provoked the shift from nonviolent to violent strategies.

Page 99 has great resonance today, as Palestinians seek United Nations recognition of statehood. It shows the tirelessness of Palestinians’ appeals for their right to self-determination, and for how long those appeals have fallen on deaf ears. Page 99 shows this to be the case forty years ago. How many more pages and more years will it take for the international community to get the message?
Learn more about Violence, Nonviolence, and the Palestinian National Movement at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue