Palestinian Nonviolence in the context of Trump’s Jerusalem announcement


December 13, 2017

Photo: “Jerusalem itself has seen some of the largest protests, as here in front of the Dome of the Rock Islamic shrine at the al-Aqsa mosque compound in the Old City. Hundreds of additional police were deployed to control the masses after Palestinian calls for protests after Friday prayers.” (Getty Images/AFP/A.Gharabli, via Deutsche Welle)

Published on 13/12/2017

A week ago, President Trump’s announcement of recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s official capital and moving the US Embassy there has sparked strong reactions globally and in the region, fostering ongoing tensions. BBC wrote that the “status of Jerusalem goes to the heart of Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians”, as both sides make their claims to the city. Jerusalem is home to key religious sites for Jews, Muslims and Christians, especially in the East. While Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has welcomed the US’ move and labeled it a “historic landmark” and “courageous and just”, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas blamed the decision to be unacceptable and to undermine every peace effort. Leader of the Islamist movement Hamas, Ismail Haniya, has called for a “new intifada” and sees the American move as an aggression against his people. Meanwhile, “Fatah Central Committee Member Nasser al-Qudwa called for participation in ‘non-violent’ and ‘unarmed’ protests“, reported The Jerusalem Post.

UN Secretary General António Guterres stated the issue “would jeopardise the prospect of peace for Israelis and Palestinians”, the status of Jerusalem better to be negotiated between the two parties. During a UN Security Council emergency meeting which was held on Friday, the move was also met with widespread international condemnation. US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, countered the criticism, calling the decision common sense due to other Israeli political institutions being in Jerusalem. She went on to say that “with its decision, the US has not taken a position on boundaries or borders; it has not advocated for any change in the administration around holy sites in Jerusalem, and it has not predetermined final status issues”, wrote Al Jazeera.

Besides the condemnation on the diplomatic level, Trump’s announcement has also caused widespread protests and sometimes violent clashes in the Palestinian territories, but also beyond the region. Not only were protests held in other countries with major Muslim populations across the Middle East, North Africa or Southeast Asia, but also in cities like London, Athens, Rome or Berlin. While some security forces, like those in Lebanon met demonstrators with means like teargas and water cannons, Israeli military has reportedly killed four in Gaza targeting “Hamas facilities” after rockets fired earlier in Israeli direction.

Where such violence by security forces should certainly be condemned, this article rather seeks to focus on acts of violence in civil society engagement. That is, because violence can be destructive for civilian-based power looking to create change. In CANVAS Guide to Effective Nonviolent Struggle, “Nonviolent Discipline” is explained as one of the three general principles for success of nonviolent campaigns and movements (pp. 88-92). In this context, nonviolent discipline is two-fold: it means “following the strategic plan for a struggle and refraining from violence” (p. 90), wherein the latter refers to members of the movement not using violence in their own actions and not participating in “threats to violence”. The importance of nonviolent discipline is due to several reasons. It makes movements more inclusive for the general population and takes away the excuse for a violent crackdown or de-legitimizes the opponent if met with violence in return. Nonviolence also creates sympathy and growing support for a cause, even with security forces who are deployed and receive orders to suppress the movement – a recent example of which has been the Honduran police defying its orders.

Furthermore, studies like the prominent example of Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan (2011) have shown that nonviolent civil resistance is more likely to be successful than its violent counterpart. And while some might have a contrary perception, articles have been highlighting a tradition of nonviolence in Palestinian resistance (see e.g. Peace Science Digest, Vol. 2 Special Issue, June 2017, pp. 10-13, Yousef Munayyer on Foreign Policy, 2011, or Mason & Falk, State Crime Journal, Vol. 5, No. 1, Spring 2016, pp. 163-186). Considering this and the current international attention, Palestinian protesters could build on their nonviolent past and try to push for a next step in a peaceful, constructive and inclusive resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

To read more about the protests and international reactions to the announcement you can go to the following sources: