The Mahatma Gandhi's grandson is visiting the country this week at the invitation of Palestinians who want to advance the idea of a popular struggle against the Israeli occupation. Gandhi is slated to speak to Palestinians about non-violent struggle, but it is a discussion that we Israelis should also conduct. As occupiers.
The original violence, the primordial, ongoing violence, is the violence of the side that imposed through its military superiority a reign over another nation. Can Israeli society be attentive to the popular Palestinian struggle, and conduct the necessary internal revolution to truly disengage from the colonialist characteristics of the state of Israel?
Even without tanks and helicopter fire, the Israeli presence in the West Bank and Gaza is violent and has been since 1967, including the years 1994-2000, when most Israelis liked to believe that we had left the territories. Violent are the orders expropriating Palestinian land for "public purposes" that is only for Jews; violent is the way Israel distributes water - as much water as they want for the settlements near villages that aren't even connected to water lines; violent are the occupation lawyers who defined "state land" as land Palestinians are not allowed to develop, and Civil Administration inspectors who take note of every new vine and olive planted in that land; violent is the Shin Bet officer who pleasantly tells someone who needs a travel permit "to help us and we'll help you," and those who send that person on his mission; violent are the planners who drew boundaries around the Palestinian towns and surrounded them with settlements and security roads; violent are the bureaucratic arrangements that create queues in which people wait for hours and days to see a Civil Administration clerk; violent is the Israeli prohibition that prevents native-born West Bankers and Gazans from returning to their homes if they happened to be out of the country in 1967; violent is the concept that Divine Promise is a license to impose a regime of discrimination based on ethnicity.
The Palestinians who to try to waken in their society a recognition of the efficiency of the unarmed popular struggle belong publicly and unequivocally to the "two-state solution" school. These are mostly veteran, determined Fatah activists as well as members or associates of the People's Party, the former Communist Party, which supported the two-state solution long before the PLO adopted it. Their job is to persuade their constituents that a popular struggle is far more effective than an armed struggle.
They face two main obstacles. The first is an Israeli talent to excuse everything with "security concerns" or "military needs" - which in turn relies on the brainwashing that the Palestinians only want to destroy us, and that the current conflict has nothing to do with the Israeli occupation.
Let's assume that as part of a non-violent popular struggle, the Palestinians decide to send out 50,000 people one day to plant olive trees in an area defined as "state lands" near their villages.
Would the IDF impose a curfew or closure on the villages and roads on the grounds that armed men might infiltrate the planters, or that there is a risk to a nearby settlement? And let's assume that 20,000 Palestinian planters decide to take the chance and ignore the army's order closing the area; can we be sure that no Israeli commander would order soldiers to shoot - first tear gas, and then live fire - on the thousands of people carrying only hoes?
And assume that there would be a few hundred people carrying olive saplings ready to be wounded, indeed even killed. Would they, as casualties, manage to shake Israeli society? And let's say that the IDF makes do with uprooting the saplings, over and over, and not shoot? Would Israeli society then understand that it is the Palestinians' right to develop their land, even if it is not privately owned?
That is the second obstacle, and it is much tougher. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis - and possibly more - have an interest in the settlements remaining in place, constantly expanding, and in new highways that connect every remote settlement to Kfar Sava and Beit Shemesh, and Israeli control over all the water sources in the West Bank.
There is the interest of Israelis whose country does not offer them any hope for improvement in their standard of living unless they move to settlements in the territories. There is the interest of Israeli companies that build the settlements, the security industries that manufacture equipment and trains people to defend the safety of the settlers, and of anyone who has a direct or indirect connection to settlers: family, employers, employees, Shin Bet officers and their families, officials from the educational and health systems.
For decades, a complex web of interests has grown. This complex network, combined with the well-known mantra about an existential security risk emanating from the Palestinians - as opposed to the real, personal risk faced by soldiers and civilians - has made the Palestinian resistance silent to most Israelis. Those interested parties will back the army, whatever means it uses to put down any popular struggle.
The armed Palestinian struggle did not manage to halt the Israeli settlement enterprise. Does that mean nothing can stand in the way of the violence of the occupation?
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