The Trouble with Non-Violence: A Tale of Two Palestinian Marches

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On Sunday, the anniversary of the 1967 defeat of Arab armies that led to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights, the Palestinian efforts at channeling the energies of the so-called “Arab Spring” were on display with varying results.

Television images on Sunday from the Golan Heights village of Majdal Shams showed apparently unarmed Palestinian civilians marching peacefully down a hill toward Israeli soldiers who had assumed firing positions. Then came a crackle of gunshots; bloodied bodies were then carried back up the hill. It went on for hours, with 20 people reported dead according to Syrian state television. The human cost was high but for a Palestinian movement trying to reframe itself, the footage at least set it on a course along on the lines of Birmingham, Soweto and Gandhi’s Salt March — parallels it has been making explicitly.

In contrast, a similar Palestinian march on the same day at the edge of Jerusalem will probably not quite make it on a sampler of successful nonviolent protests. As noon approached, about 100 Palestinians and sympathetic foreign nationals gathered on the main road between the Qalandia refugee camp in the West Bank and the Holy City and prepared to make their way to the separation barrier and tangle of steel, concrete and loudspeakers that make up the forbidding military checkpoint that Israel has erected to bar the way to Jerusalem. “Our goal? To bring down the wall,” says Mohammed Slamyieh, 26, who made the trip from the southern city of Hebron. How? “Hope,” he says. “Lots of hope.”

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