It's Time for Palestinians to Embrace Dr. King's Nonviolent Resistance | Opinion

Every year on this day, my American friends ask themselves how they can honor Dr. Martin Luther King's legacy. But maybe you don't know that thousands of miles away, many of us are asking ourselves the same question. As the Israeli-Palestinian conflict drags on, those of us who call this place home also look to the great civil rights leader as a role model. And for me, the way we honor him is simple: Palestinians should try to do what Israel has already done.

As a Palestinian living under Israeli occupation in Jericho, I am keenly aware of how much more there is to do to ensure equal rights for us Palestinians. It is obvious that the status quo does not serve the interests of either side. And yet, after a generation of living under Israeli occupation, it has become increasingly clear to me that the Palestinian leadership deserves much of the blame for the lack of progress.

One need only compare the state of Palestinians living within Israel's borders with those of us living in the occupied West Bank to see that this is true. In Israel, Dr. King would have been proud to see the progress Israel has made toward making his dream of a free, equitable society a reality in the Middle East. In his legendary "I Have a Dream" speech, Dr. King shared his vision for a world in which his children would be judged "not for the color of their skin, but for the content of their character."

Today in Israel, one can see the manifestation of Dr. King's dream. Israel is a sprawling, diverse nation, where diverse communities coexist peacefully. Regardless of their background, Israelis—be they Jews or Arabs—can practice their religion freely, serve in government, and raise their children without fear of retribution.

Dr. King also recognized that there can be no justice and equality without democracy and economic opportunity. The event where he gave his 1963 speech was called "The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom." Israel has internalized this message with its booming economy, and it is sharing at least some of that wealth. Every day, thousands of Palestinians are allowed to cross the border into Israel to work side by side with Israelis.

Palestinians
Palestinian women flash the victory sign during a rally denouncing the blockade of the Gaza Strip, east of Gaza City by the border with Israel, on July 18, 2021. SAID KHATIB/AFP via Getty Images

Meanwhile, the feckless Palestinian leadership has rejected this vision for decades, to the detriment of our people. The Palestinian Authority (PA) is currently led by a president who just celebrated the 17th anniversary of his election to a four-year term. Rather than use his position to improve life for ordinary Palestinians, Mahmoud Abbas has spent his nearly two decades in office enriching his cronies. He has blocked fair elections, hindered peace with Israel, and done nothing to create jobs and opportunity in the West Bank. Things are even worse in Gaza, where a terrorist group runs the show and economic opportunity is nonexistent.

Nobody wants to see change in the West Bank and Gaza more than I do. Back when I started the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group in 1996, I sought to follow Dr. King's example by shining a light on the inequities faced by Palestinians. And there is no doubt that Israel bears some of the fault for those inequities.

But Palestinian leaders like Abbas have made clear that their politics come far before any efforts to build bridges between Israelis in Palestinians. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the PA withdrew from a deal with Israel that would have put safe, effective vaccines in the arms of thousands of West Bank residents. Sadly, this is just one example of the PA placing its hatred for Israel before the needs of our people.

In his "Letter to an Anti-Zionist Friend," Dr. King referred to Israel as "one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy." If Palestinian leaders truly seek to make life better for our people, they should follow the example of Dr. Martin Luther King and build a society rooted in diversity, equality, freedom, and opportunity—as Israel has done.

Bassem Eid is a Palestinian human rights activist.

The views in this article are the writer's own.