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Will an Arab Spring Bloom in Palestine?

11 July 2011 4 Comments

Patricia Smith Melton

By Patricia Smith Melton
Founder, Peace X Peace
Editor, Sixty Years Sixty Voices: Israeli and Palestinian Women

This report is the first of a series to bring you the voices of Palestinians and Israelis during this time of dynamic confrontation. Hope and despair have taken turns in the Middle East through the Oslo Accords of 1993, two intifadas, the building of the separation wall, a blockade, the killing of more than 1300 Gazans in January 2009, and a financial upturn in Ramallah in the West Bank.

If you care and want hope, I encourage you to order Sixty Years, Sixty Voices: Israeli and Palestinian Women, our Peace X Peace book of interviews, photos, and biographies.  You will hear from women from settlements to refugee camps and learn how they break stereotypes, heal their cultures, and live daily lives of courage.

Palestinians and Israelis watch the Arab Spring through cultural filters of hope and fear. To date they have seen, with the rest of us, revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, war and violence in Libya and Syria, and civil unrest in Bahrain, Yemen and other Arab nations.

Gershon Baskin

Has Arab Spring impacted the ongoing citizens’ protests in the West Bank against occupation, the separation wall, and land appropriation by Israel?  We asked Gershon Baskin, Founder and co-Director of IPCRI (Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information), who recently began joining the demonstrations.  To get an idea of these demonstrations, you can see videos filmed at the small town of Nabi Saleh in May and June.  The townspeople are protesting against occupation and to regain water rights.

Gershon told us:

The main quality of the protests in Arab Spring that has brought real change is the breaking of the fear barrier. The power of non-violence was demonstrated in Tunisia and in Egypt where it was successful because the army identified with the people. In Syria there is a divide of communities within the army with the Alawite brigades more loyal to the Syrian regime than to the people, while in Libya mercenaries fight for pay.

Do you see changes in the weekly demonstrations in the West Bank or Gaza, or in the actions of the Israel army against them?

Palestinian society has not yet demonstrated its willingness to take to the streets, so there is no mass movement of civil unrest or civil disobedience yet evident in Palestine.  It may come, it may not.

The Israeli military is sending a very strong, loud message that civil unrest will not be tolerated.  The quite violent response of the Israeli army to the few weekly demonstrations in Palestine is meant to create deterrence so that the demonstrations won’t go beyond their current boundaries to other additional communities — so there won’t be an escalation of protests by Palestinians.

Click for a film of the June 10th protest at Nabi Saleh

Why have you joined the protests?

You can’t talk about the price that people pay for their actions without experiencing it with them.  I joined to learn on the ground what the Palestinian non-violent resistance movements are facing.

I’m also there to help think and plan how to transform what appears to me to be loosely connected localized protests on the wall and Israeli land grabs into a national non-violent movement against the occupation — and to see if we can develop the notion of “co-resistance” where Israelis and Palestinians stand on the front lines together against the occupation and for peace.

What exists now in the five or six communities holding weekly demonstrations will not make a difference.  There is no national strategy. There is a lack of leadership and creative thinking. Non-violent national struggles are about drama and theatrics.

The current state of drama is boring — and the only people paying the price are a few locals in each community.  The wider community, at the local level and at a more national level, is not yet engaged.  I am not sure Palestinians are ready for a national struggle of this kind.  There doesn’t seem to be enough anger and rage to get people to take action — at least not yet.

What is it like inside the demonstration?

There is tension, there is fear.  The tear gas is very unpleasant and sometimes painful.

I don’t like when some youth throw stones at the soldiers.  I don’t like the idea of a “sort of” non-violence.  Recently I tried to stop some youths who threw stones at the very end of the demonstration.  I stopped some, but not others.

I feel ashamed from the behavior of the Israeli army — and I feel sorry for some of the soldiers who are doing things that they will pay for in years to come when they have enough separation from their present duties.  It will cause them emotional pain later — not all of them, but certainly some of them.  And I feel bad that no one helps them to understand that they have the option to refuse to do evil deeds.

“To refuse to do evil deeds” one must first recognize that what he or she is doing is evil.  That can be very difficult with someone you believe is your “enemy” and who you have been told wants to harm you, your loved ones, or your country.  It is especially difficult when “your enemy” is, in fact, harming you.  The cycle tightens.

I think about compassion and knowledge.  Does compassion lead us to overlook what we have been told about “our enemy” and behave towards them as we would have them behave towards us and in the process we become friends?  Or does knowledge show us that we and “our enemy” are similar and, therefore, we have compassion and behave better towards them?  Compassion may be about feeling and knowledge about intellectual understanding, but both are personal.  The difference between war and peace is always about personal choices.

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4 Comments to “Will an Arab Spring Bloom in Palestine?”
  1. irit says:

    Love to see you here:):)
    thanks for sharing,
    Thank you, Patricia, for interview Gershon..

  2. steve says:

    Gershon Baskin is known in Israel as an opportunist and a professional profiteer using NGO’s for personal financial gain. His biased reporting or exaggeration about the IDF handling of demonstrations is often a fantasy and/or wishful thinking. He has a bone to pick with the IDF and has schooled young people to refuse service including his daughter refusing to serve in the military. So he is no objective reporter.

    Most radical Israelis and foreign activists use the Palestinians for their own self-aggrandizement rather then out of true concern for the Palestinian cause.

    I understand that this is not what your readers really want to hear but must know if they are truly interested in the whole truth not just the kind of reporting you usually hear from the Baskins of this country.

  3. Caroline says:

    Dear Steve,

    Without going into our differing perceptions of Gershon or the work of IPCRI I have witnessed personally over the past seven years, I would like to focus on your statement regarding “rather then out of true concern for the Palestinian cause.”

    Are there people and/or organizations that you could recommend to us who are doing work that you feel is beneficial? Who are they, and what do they do? i would truly like to know and these are people I would like to come to know.

    Also, I am curious. Do you live in Israel or in the US?

    Thank you for contributing,

  4. irit says:

    you are doing Gershon an injustice. There are very few people in Israel who are doing for peace as much as Gershon Baskin does. There are fewer who are making contacts with Palestinians/settlers/others the way he does, on the behalf of peace. Have you ever been to IPCRI’s conference???
    Using his personality and contacts and records for financial gain (donations and alike), is the way things are going – how else would he succeed doing that?!
    Personal gain, you say? oh no – Gershon Baskin is one of the most moral person we have.
    By the way re your suggestion of “has schooled young people to refuse service” – his son is going to serve army soon ( or perhaps he is already in)as much as I know.
    One must be very careful with their words before throwing mud on other face…

    Steve, let’s be positive instead being negative. it is a golden rule I am going by, and warmly suggesting others to take.

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