Iltezam: Tradition Meets Innovation
“From tradition, you can learn determination. From new ideas, you can learn creativity, and you can encourage youth engagement and the use of social media. The same tactics don’t engage people continually. A movement has to help people be creative and involved.”
Iltezam Morrar comes from a family of organizers. It’s a family tradition, and community organizing and activism is also a village tradition in Budrus, West Bank of occupied Palestine. The stories of nonviolent activism lie deep within Palestinian consciousness, far more than the outsider realizes. But Iltezam knows and remembers, and she applied the learning from her family and neighbors in 2006, for over 10 months, as Budrus nonviolently protested against the building of a wall that would separate villagers from their olive trees – 3,000 trees on 300 acres of agricultural land — cutting into local livelihoods, culture, and tradition.
The tradition of Palestinian nonviolent organizing and action is chronicled in Dr. Mary Elizabeth King’s illuminating account of the Palestinian struggle for independence, The Quiet Revolution: The First Palestinian Intifada and Nonviolent Resistance. The little known, and often misunderstood, First Intifada (1987-1993) encouraged nonviolent action and generated civic participation among Palestinians fighting an encroaching occupation that was choking freedom of movement and basic civil liberties. Iltezam grew up hearing the stories of generations of activists, and she instinctively followed in that tradition. Her unique mix of modesty and pride is expressed in t he documentary film, Budrus, when Iltezam exclaims, “Even if you are small, you have nothing, but you could do all this.”
But tradition can be a blessing as well as a curse. During a gathering with Bosnian activists from Srebrenica and Sarajevo this past summer, Iltezam acknowledged that there are lessons from other resistance movements that would be useful for the Palestinian nonviolent struggle. “It is good to connect the strategic models of the Women of Srebrenica and Dosta! movements. Both movements offer a unique mix of new ideas blended with tradition and persistence.”
Iltezam’s instincts are accurate, if you look back at the history of civil resistance. Effective strategists often rely on traditional messages that resonate for many citizens – for example, using a national, patriotic, or cultural slogan, song or symbol – in combination with innovations and new tactics that reflect a spirit of change.
F or example, the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer Campaign spearheaded by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), was a daring innovation during the US civil rights struggle in which northern college students, many of them white, ventured to the deep segregated south to register black voters and teach at Freedom Schools. These campaigns supplemented other campaigns going on around the US south at the time, like protests, boycotts, and sit-ins that often used traditional African-American gospel music, or slave spirituals. In-depth study of the US civil rights movement, among others, offers lessons of how clever tactical sequencing of both traditional nonviolent methods and creative, youth-oriented tactics can reach societies more broadly, widening public support and cooperation.
Despite her youth, Iltezam speaks like an experienced community organizer. “From tradition, you can learn determination. From new ideas, you can learn creativity, and you can encourage youth engagement and the use of social media. The same tactics don’t engage people continually. A movement has to help people be creative and involved.”
You can read more of Vanessa’s work on the blog In Women’s Hands.
The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Peace X Peace.