What would happen if Palestinians launched a movement of nonviolent resistance against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank? Could such a movement achieve what suicide bombings and armed struggle plainly have not? This question has been engaged, thoughtfully and bravely, by Palestinians such as Sari Nusseibeh. It is also the subject of a provocative article, "The Missing Mahatma," by Gershom Gorenberg that was published several weeks ago in, of all places, The Weekly Standard.
The piece was originally commissioned by The Atlantic and Gorenberg, its author, is no neoconservative. He is a progressive, a fine journalist and the author of a superb narrative history of the Israeli settlement project, The Accidental Empire. He knows that it is asking a lot merely to suggest that Palestinians who have endured decades of brutality under Israeli occupation should embrace the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. "Absolute nonviolence is a terribly unfair standard to demand of those on the other side – the weaker side – of a conflict, even if it has the potential of being politically effective," Gorenberg writes. "The promise of mere political effectiveness may be too little to convince people to march toward troops or to fast unto death or simply to put down their stones."
Indeed, not even the South African struggle against Apartheid – which Gorenberg curiously fails to cite in comparison – was entirely nonviolent. (Nor was the Zionist struggle against British rule in Palestine.) On the other hand, South Africans did not salute teenagers who blew themselves up in pizza parlors as martyrs. In a struggle for justice, blatantly unjust tactics have a tendency to backfire, and also to corrupt those who practice, celebrate and excuse them, a point Gorenberg makes here, in a reply to some critics (and admirers) of his piece. It goes without saying that the virtues of nonviolence are something to which Israelis, too, have grown painfully blind. Even so, Gorenberg is right that nonviolent resistance has the potential to exert a ‘gravitational pull' on world opinion – and the opinions of Israelis – that suicide bombings and rocket attacks do not. In my view, nothing would scare and unsettle those who whitewash and excuse the occupation more.