This morning I read yet another comment from someone in the US putting forward their solution to the “conflict” in Palestine and Israel. Apparently Palestinian women need to start pushing for Gandhian nonviolence, challenging their men who are more naturally inclined towards violence (like all men). They need to teach their kids about the value of nonviolence.Apparently, if Palestinians can manage to teach a new generation of youth to internalize nonviolence then the “cycle of violence” can be upended and peace can be achieved. I’m glad that yet another person in the U.S. can offer their wisdom to Palestinians.
But where does someone outside of Palestine get off telling Palestinians how to raise their children? The message here is that Palestinians are raising their children in the “wrong” way. The assumption is that somehow Palestinians view their children differently than we do in the “West” and that they are raising their children to value violence. The assumption is that we must teach Palestinians how to raise their children. This implicitly accepts a variant of the racist Israeli position that Palestinians love death more than their children. This is a dehumanizing and racist position. We must bluntly call this out. We can’t continue to just point out that saying this type of thing misunderstands the core of the conflict. It’s a racist position.
At the same time, positions like this one that insist on Palestinian nonviolence in the face of oppression show no understanding of the core of the conflict. What does teaching your kids about “nonviolence” look like in a situation of extreme structural violence and inequality? Let’s take as an example the kid who lived downstairs from me when I was in Ramallah during the Second Intifada. This kid came from a family active in peace circles. His parents were involved in dialogue groups, peace programs, and various other forms of non-violent activism. They were raising their child in an environment where peace and nonviolence were constant topics of conversation.
In 2002 this kid would have been about 6 years old. Now he is in his late teens or early twenties, one of the generation currently protesting in Palestine. In 2002 the Israeli military invaded Palestinian cities and placed them under curfew. Snipers were put on the roofs of buildings and anyone leaving their home was shot on sight. Tanks patrolled the streets. Soldiers conducted house to house raids and searches. My street was searched three times.
The first time Israeli soldiers searched my building I was walked around my house with a gun against the back of my head as another solider walked by my side, gun at the ready. The soldiers carried out similar searches in each apartment.
When Israeli soldiers arrived at the home of the family mentioned above, the parents of the family were visiting their neighbors. Their young son was naked in the bath when the soldiers entered their home. His parents were not allowed to come to him while the soldiers were in their home. He was forced to stay at home alone, naked, wrapped in a towel, as soldiers invaded his home. When the soldiers left the building another neighbor was so scared she started to vomit.
Could this experience make a mother’s words about nonviolence ring hollow?
The day before the soldiers searched our building another group of soldiers searched the buildings across from our home. They were violent. They kicked down doors, destroyed property, assaulted residents. The family who owned the home directly across from me was not home. A neighbor had the key to their locked home. While the soldiers were attempting to kick down the locked door of the unoccupied home the neighbor with the key turned on her light to provide assistance. The Armored Personnel Carrier in front of my building opened fire on her home for five minutes. She was not injured but her home was severely damaged. All of us cowered in fear on the floor away from outside walls as this shooting went on, hoping that gunfire would not be directed towards our homes.
Could this experience make a father’s words about nonviolence ring hollow?
Several young men were taken from a building across the street. They were driven across the city and left in the street. This was at a time when being out in the street would get you shot. They found refuge in a nearby home and were not able to return to our area for 3 days which was when the curfew was lifted for a few hours. Other men were taken and didn’t return for months.
What does this say about power to a child?
We found out about the snipers and curfew when a woman two streets over stepped outside on the first morning of the invasion and was shot in the head. Two young men four blocks over were shot and wounded in a similar situation. Similar stories were told across the city.
What does this say about the valuation of life to a child?
A week into the invasion our water was cut. We had no running water for 3 weeks. We were under curfew for 9 months that year. Military jeeps patrolled the streets throughout that period. The later curfews were not enforced by snipers, but people found violating the curfew were beaten, tear gas was thrown into homes, people were arrested.
What does this say about rights to a child?
The day the Israeli military pulled out of Ramallah after the March-April invasion of 2002 all of the children in my neighborhood including the young boy from downstairs gathered in the street in front of our building and began playing Israeli and Palestinian. They collected spent bullet rounds and pretended to shoot at each other with homemade guns.
A parent’s words meet the reality of life.
In the years that followed violent raids into Ramallah and other Palestinian cities continued. We watched as F-16’s bombed the police station in the valley across from our home. Apache helicopters carried out assassinations in town. Palestinians were killed regularly without accountability. Roadblocks were formalized and turned into permanent checkpoints. Jerusalem was sealed off from the West Bank. The Wall was built. Movement was continually restricted. Gaza was sealed off from the rest of Palestine. Gaza was attacked and placed under blockade. Thousands were killed and the world supported the attacks. Settler violence grew without accountability. Night raids into Palestinian communities were a daily occurrence. Thousands of Palestinian homes were destroyed.
Children learn from life.
Educating children for peace reads well for those of us living in safe, comfortable privilege, but children see the reality that surrounds them. Palestinian children see military occupation. They recognize the violence inherent in a system that discriminates against them. They see how the values taught in a course on nonviolence do not match the reality in which they live. A parent’s efforts to teach “nonviolence” are constantly running up against the reality of daily life under Apartheid.
The idea that nonviolence must be taught to the people living under violent military occupation and apartheid is problematic. The idea that the violence they may use in legally resisting occupation and apartheid is the violence that we must first work to end is problematic.
I support nonviolence on ideological grounds, but my beliefs must first and foremost influence my own actions. I can’t dictate to people living with injustice and violence the actions they must take and I can’t say they have no right to use tactics that the laws of war say are legal, tactics that their oppressor is allowed to use without condemnation. As a person with privilege I have no right to dictate to anyone living with structural violence and racism the actions they must take towards their own liberation.
Those of us from outside demanding action must not focus on telling Palestinians how to liberate themselves. Rather we should be lifting up the already existing powerful actions that they are taking to challenge injustice. We must listen to Palestinians and others living with injustice, take our lead from them in their struggles for justice, build relationships with them, support their efforts, undermine our own privilege, and work to end our complicity in injustice.
Those of us committed to nonviolence should work for changes that will end all violence, but we should start by working to end the systemic, structural violence that is at the roots of the neo-colonial, apartheid situation in Palestine. Undermine that system of injustice and violent resistance to injustice will disappear.