How Can Bullets And Bombs Bring Peace?

As an Arab-American whose family lives in New York City and Washington, D.C., I've had a hard time shaking the deep sense of vulnerability created by September 11. I've also found it difficult to move beyond my fear of the ensuing restrictions on our civil liberties and my concern for the Afghan people.

Lately those worries have been eclipsed by a sense of hopelessness about the escalating violence between Israelis and Palestinians. When a pregnant Palestinian woman and a pregnant Israeli woman were shot last week, I felt determined to try to change things.

I was a college student at Tufts University in December 1987, when the first Palestinian intifada began. The movement resonated strongly with my sense of justice. The uprising's character of self-imposed relative nonviolence--Palestinian stones versus Israeli tanks and guns--also spoke to many of my classmates who, a year earlier, had joined the global antiapartheid movement.

In the spring of 1988 I made my first trip to the West Bank and Gaza with a human-rights group. I was clubbed by Israeli soldiers outside the Noble Sanctuary in Jerusalem for photographing them as they beat Palestinians. I endured days of house arrest in the West Bank city of Ramallah, a form of punishment frequently used against the Palestinian people by the Israeli government. And I was humiliated at gunpoint at the Israeli occupation army's checkpoints. When I got home I started an organization that sent delegations of lawyers, students and everyday people to the Middle East to interview Israelis and Palestinians, and to share the experience with Americans on their return.

The intifada inspired other Arab-Americans of my generation to become activists as well. My close friend Akram Baker moved to his grandparents' hometown of Ramallah to work for Palestinian spokespersons Hanan Ashrawi and Faisal Huseini. It was their work at the 1991 Madrid peace conference that paved the way for the handshake between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasir Arafat at the White House two years later. Akram's and my kind of activism was a crucial extension of the nonviolent message of the intifada into the hearts and minds of Americans, Europeans, Israelis and Arabs alike.

But today things are different. Nonviolence is solid ground for Palestinians to stand on and demand justice. C-4 explosives and nail bombs are not.

I will not defend the Oslo accords, under which Israel continued to build settlements for exclusive Jewish use on Palestinian land and humiliate the population daily. But the current round of violence will not bring Palestinians closer to peace. Their strategy targets civilians and lacks focus, much like Israel's home demolitions and shootings. Despite the just historical grievances of the Palestinian people, an anti-civilian campaign robs Palestinians of their moral high ground. In the context of the post-September 11 environment, and a relationship between George W. Bush and Ariel Sharon that predates Bush's presidency, the Palestinian bombings seem to strengthen Sharon's resolve to squash the Palestinian people--as America stands idly by.

In these days of massive military operations, the role of nonviolent activists may seem irrelevant. But I assure you it is not. Their actions can push even the most intractable leaders toward change.

In the '80s and '90s, South Africa's white apartheid government was shamed into giving up its racist control by a relatively nonviolent movement led by the African National Congress (though the ANC did maintain the right to use arms until the very last day of apartheid), and thus inspired the world to impose morally damaging sanctions on South Africa.

One contemporary activist who is embracing this spirit of peaceful resistance is Huwaida Arraf, a young Arab-American woman who moved to Jerusalem/Ramallah two years ago. Arraf, along with dozens of other protesters, uses a campaign of direct action--lying down in front of Israeli tanks as they advance on Palestinian towns--to protest the occupation. Imagine how successful she would be if more Palestinians supported the kind of struggle espoused by Mahatma Gandhi or Nelson Mandela.

The Nobel Peace Prize should never have been given to Rabin, Arafat and Shimon Peres for signing the Oslo accords. Instead it should be given to activists like Arraf, for making peace with their hearts and minds and putting their lives in danger. This may inspire ordinary people to get involved, and our leaders to establish a peace they seem incapable of achieving on their own.

How Can Bullets And Bombs Bring Peace? | News