Two theories are prevalent regarding the current Palestinian situation under the Israeli occupation: The first is the predominant traditional theory that advocates armed struggle in order to resist the occupation, whereas a contrasting second theory has been adopted by the President of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, who champions a form of peaceful, popular resistance.
In response to this new call [for peaceful resistance], two stances have been put forth: The first considers this call as a form of retreat and an abandonment of an occupied state’s right to defend itself through the use of arms. The second stance does not object to this call in principle, yet it argues that there must be the right conditions in place for peaceful resistance to work, and that armed resistance cannot stop before effective peaceful resistance begins.
Armed resistance requires an organization through which to operate, along with training and arms. The process can be carried out in a clandestine manner, with an armed organization ready to receive and implement orders. As for popular, peaceful action, which seems at first glance as something attainable and easy, this requires great preparation, arrangement and organization, which is perhaps more difficult than the requirements of armed work.
Armed resistance operates through an organization, whereas public work deals with a wider general audience, so what seems easy at first glance may be more difficult and divergent on reflection.
Any leadership that calls for an end to armed resistance, and the adoption of a popular, peaceful alternative, must have a profound, effective and organized relationship with the general public. Is this the existing state of affairs in Palestine? Let us venture and say no. In light of this fact, the call for ending armed resistance and resorting to public and peaceful resistance is nothing more than a step backward.
In order for this measure not to be counter-productive, the Palestinian leadership must not appear under the guise of a “preacher” distancing itself from violence and resorting to public and political work. The situation necessitates that, first of all, relations must be established with the Palestinian street, political parties, unions and associations, in order to crystallize the ability to mobilize the masses and carry out an effective popular struggle. Yet, when armed resistance is denounced and no comprehensive or organized public resistance is arranged in its place, then this only serves to cripple the entire resistance movement in its various forms.
The Palestinian people, throughout the history of their struggle; from the British to the Zionist occupation, have a long and unique experience. Palestine has engaged in more than one form of struggle; from armed resistance and public demonstrations to the nationwide strike in 1936, with civil disobedience now highly probable.
A state of civil disobedience could represent an extremely advanced step forward for the resistance without resorting to a weapon, provided that the Palestinian leadership is able to plan this objective and build up the necessary organizational structure.
Now, however, we see nothing more than idealistic preaching with the aim of abandoning one form of struggle for another that seems easier on the face of it, whilst in fact it would be far more difficult. Perhaps, the gravest danger in calling for an end to armed struggle and adopting a political and popular one instead is that the armed struggle could stop without the emergence of an alternative. Then, the Palestinian people would gain nothing but further domination from their Zionist oppressors.
What we observe now, unfortunately, is that the Palestinian leadership advocating peaceful action is lacking in profound, close or organized relations with the Palestinian public reality.
Therefore, the issue is not to enter into a theoretical conflict over the mechanism of an armed struggle or a peaceful, popular one. The issue centers primarily on meeting the requirements of one form of struggle or another.
It seems we are idealistically envisioning a period of armed struggle followed by another of popular and political struggle, and then matters further escalating to the point of nationwide civil disobedience. Then, the occupation, with all its powers, would be crippled and unable to move a muscle, and would be exposed to the entire world. Yet, anyone who thinks in the manner of an evolving struggle cannot be content with mere explanations and appeals, rather they must also think of people’s daily living, civil servants, schools, the availability of foodstuffs and transportation, under such a state of civil disobedience. If all this is not taken into consideration, then we would be doing the occupation a great disservice. This is because armed resistance would then be ceased, although it is a legitimate right, whilst the climate would not be favorable for public and political resistance.
The Palestinian people – from the British Mandate to the Zionist occupation – have practiced numerous forms of struggle, and have gained a valuable historical experience in this regard, most prominently the nationwide strike in 1939. This strike shook Britain and placed it in a difficult situation when World War II broke out, to the extent that the Arab states allying with Britain against Germany intervened to prompt the Palestinian leadership to end its strike, which is what happened. However, the Palestinian people received no reward in response to their demands, apart from the promises detailed in a British white paper, which were unfulfilled. As a result, the Palestinian people were forced to renew their resistance to the British occupation and the Zionist infiltration in 1947, which was followed by the greater Arab-Zionist confrontation that, unfortunately, ended with the Zionist occupation of Palestine in 1948.
Despite all this, once again I will say that confronting the Israeli occupation is not the responsibility of the Palestinian people alone, rather is responsibility of the entire Arab population. When there is Arab mobility in support of the Palestinian movements against the occupation, then we will be in a promising new phase of ending the occupation. The Palestinian cause is and will forever be an Arab one.