Iara Lee in Voice of the Youth Palestine

"'Where is the Palestinian Ghandi?'"

May 6, 2015.

Can non-violent resistance really make a difference?

There are examples of non-violent resistance everywhere. From large scale to small, inspired people have the limitless ability to make change. The recent peaceful revolution in Iceland in which the people rose up against the banks, ended with the resignation of the government. The uprising in Syria in 2012 originated from non-violent protests, and they still happen today with hundreds being logged each week.

Something these and the Palestinian non-violent resistance have in common though, is the lack of media attention paid to them. Julia Bacha, a documentary filmmaker speaks in a TED talk about this “power of attention”, or more specifically the lack there of.

“Dozens of Palestinians are using non violent resistance to defend their land and water resources from Israelis soldiers and settlers. (…) These leaders are trying to forge a massive national non violent movement to end the occupation and build peace in the region, yet most of you have probably never heard of them.”

The media’s silence increases our ignorance

This lack of coverage results in a distinct lack of knowledge within the international community. Non-violent resistance exists in great numbers, however our focus still remains only on the violent alternatives. Does this render the non-violent resistors invisible?

By ignoring these efforts, we encourage violent actions and this is turn creates a certain perception of Palestine in the eyes of the International community. Cultural and non-violent resistance is about using what you know to your advantage, in a situation which otherwise will consume you. There are two main benefits to it; it inspires young and old alike to be resilient, and it incites change. The latter is what we hinder by not paying attention.

Cultures of Resistance, an NGO based in Ramallah promotes cultural and non-violent resistance in many countries across the world. “The international media is always asking, ‘Where is the Palestinian Gandhi?’ The truth is there are lots of Palestinian Gandhis. Some of them have been repeatedly arrested or even killed. We are working to draw as much as attention as we can to their efforts”, explained Iara Lee, the Palestinian Director of the NGO.

Cultural resistance is bigger than we think

Cultural resistance has many advantages. Not only does it promote and encourage people of all ages to engage in something they believe in, but also it gives the oppressed a chance to fight back on their own terms explains Iara.

“In situations where grassroots movements are taking on heavily armed states with massive military budgets, creative, unarmed acts of defiance can be a way of throwing the oppressors off-guard.

“Instead of taking them on in the field of combat where they are most comfortable, the use of art, humor, music, and nonviolent disruption can be very effective in overturning accepted narratives that justify human rights abuse.”

Resisting through agriculture

Resisting through agriculture is one path non-violent resistance can take. It’s a way to improve Palestinian access to healthy and natural produce, whilst simultaneously challenging the Israeli occupation’s ability to control the Palestinian diet. Resistance doesn’t have to have the sole aim of challenging the occupation, and that is one of the reasons it’s so refreshing and beneficial.

For example, ‘The Kale Project’, which is a joint venture by Refutrees and the MA’AN Development Center, hopes to introduce Kale to Palestine giving them some nutritional autonomy. Even though this is not explicitly, physically challenging the occupation, it is “challenging the symptoms of the occupation, especially the devastation of land, the devastation of organic production techniques, and the reduction of crop variety and diversity in Palestine.” Says Lamya Hussain, Refutrees director.

Another example is the Auja Eco Centre in the Jordan Valley. “At the Auja Eco Center, we work to protect the landscape and support the people of the valley through environmental education and eco-tourism.” Similarly to the Kale Project, the EcoCentre’s resistance focuses on making life sustainable within Palestine.

“Our message here is not to insult the occupiers, it’s just to show the reality that the Palestinians have the right to live in a peaceful situation, and not in conflict. We don’t use blood language, we only use peaceful language that show the reality.

We are not a biased organization, we are just showing a natural and mutual vision that makes the best of the lose-lose situation we are currently in. We feel this is important, instead of only planning for when the win-win situation comes.”

Let’s give it the space to be what it wants to be

Julia Bacha believes that “the core of ending this conflict in the Middle East and bringing peace, is for us to transform non-violence into a functional behavior by giving a lot more attention to the non violent leaders on the ground today.”

There are hundreds of cultural resistance projects currently happening in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, in which both Palestinian and International people can be involved. However, until the world pays attention to their existence, they will never be as valuable as they have the potential to be.