The Middle East Channel

Nonviolence from the bottom up

The world woke up Monday morning to a shocking and tragic scene, as Israeli commandos launched an unprovoked raid on a flotilla carrying nonviolent activists attempting to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza. The latest Israeli provocation has further demonstrated the fundamentally asymmetric nature of this conflict. Yet if this weekend's news shows us anything, it is that the Palestinian cause, and the infrastructure of occupation and indignity that it opposes, is best served by a commitment to grassroots nonviolence which has lately been reflected in the Palestinian leadership itself.

In the last few months we have seen a tremendous rise in interest by the Palestinian leadership in nonviolent resistance as a tactical and strategic response aimed at ending the occupation. The Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, has mentioned nonviolence as a strategic option for the Palestinian community in several of his speeches; Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has actively participated in many nonviolent demonstrations and protests, from boycott campaigns of Israeli settlement products to direct action in villages where land is being confiscated for expanding illegal settlements or the Separation Wall. These actions and statements were not expected even a few months ago, much less a few years ago, when they were completely ridiculed by some of the very same leaders.

This begs the question: what happened? What has created this shift in attitude towards nonviolence in the Palestinian leadership?

The first and most apparent answer deals directly with the political reality faced by the Palestinian community. The underlying ‘strategic option' for the Palestinian political leadership, at least since 1993, had been to engage in negotiations as the means of ending the occupation and establishing an independent state--irrespective of the leader on the Israeli side. The breakdown of this arrangement came from Israel in the form of its current extreme government, which has elected to throw up roadblocks in order to prevent negotiations from even starting. No matter what the Palestinians have tried since Netanyahu's election, no matter what pressures have been imposed by the international community in general and the US in particular, (putting all political rhetoric aside) the current Israeli government refuses to create a climate conducive to re-starting negotiations. In the absence of a viable partner, the Palestinians have realized they need a new option.

On the other hand, armed resistance had lost much of its strategic appeal already in the early 1990's. This was based on a political strategic choice made by the Palestinian leadership to move to negotiations. This is not to say that certain Palestinian political factions or militant groups did not engage in armed activities, but rather that they no longer represented a comprehensive strategic option for most political factions and especially for the Palestinian community itself--especially after the appeal of nonviolence as witnessed during the first uprising in 1987. We still hear plenty of militant rhetoric, but very rarely is this translated into practice. Of course I do not underestimate the suffering caused by violence--Palestinian and Israeli families have suffered tremendous pain from violent acts--but the distinction between rhetoric and action lies in the strategic choice of whether armed resistance is employed. Even before the Separation Wall was built around Palestinian cities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian leadership, even the Hamas leadership, had acknowledged the fact that armed resistance was not a fruitful strategic choice and had made calls to minimize, if not end, all such actions.

We are now witnessing a rise in the choice of nonviolence. When the gap was created with the Israeli government refusing to engage in real negotiations, Palestinian leaders began to search for what options were available to them and their community. This is what the Palestinian community engages in on a daily bases, this is what keeps resiliency and steadfastness alive in a community that is literally facing destruction (most acutely suffered in the ongoing siege on Gaza). When leaders looked, they found this value being practiced in villages across the West Bank; they saw people from different political backgrounds unite together in order to save their villages; they saw men and women walk as equals; they saw communities that were empowered to stand and face the harshest of violent responses from the Israeli military; they saw Israelis and internationals join Palestinians in their struggle. As a result, these leaders began to see the value of nonviolence, not only for their limited political survival, but also for the nation of Palestine.

The challenge now, particularly in the aftermath of Israel's criminal provocation in international waters, will be to keep the momentum of nonviolence going. We are at a potential turning point internationally, and it is vital that all those concerned with the Palestinian cause and peace in the region double-down in defense of our right to nonviolent resistance.

Sami Awad is the Executive Director of Holy Land Trust, a Palestinian nonviolence organization based in the West Bank city of Bethlehem.

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The Middle East Channel

Turkey: All options are on the table

"All options are on the table” is the best phrase to describe how Turkey feels about Israel’s attack on humanitarian aid flotilla carrying more than 600 activists from 32 countries. What happened on Sunday night is a real game changer. Israel will, most likely, no longer be seen as a friendly state nor an ally, but will be treated as a rogue state by Turkey.

Hints of this change are clear in Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan’s words describing the attack, “state terrorism”, and from Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu’s speech at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) declaring that “the difference between a state and terrorists is blurred.” These two examples, along with the public outrage expressed through day-long-street protests all around Turkey, testify to the fact that relations between Turkey and Israel will be different from now on. The Turkish side considers Israel as a real threat to regional peace. As a state that commits what Turkish officials call terrorist attacks, attacks civilians indiscriminately, lies openly, and sees itself above the law, Israel has exhausted its legitimacy in Turkey. Under these circumstances, it will be virtually impossible to discuss the Iranian nuclear program without discussing the road map of how to dismantle Israel’s nuclear weapons. Any issue in the region will be discussed through the assessment of Israel as a threat to regional security and peace.

When I say Turkey will imply that “all options are on the table,” I do not mean that Turkey will wage a war against Israel. However, more dangerously, Israel will be seen as a state against which one should protect itself and should consider any possible action because of its unlawful and rogue character. This will have an immense effect on the security architecture of the region unless Israel reconsiders its own security perspective and starts dealing with its neighbors in a manner in line with the international law. It is, however, sad to see the initiatives and perspective of Turkish foreign policy sabotaged by the consequences of the Israeli aggression.

Turkey has long suffered from the paranoia of being attacked by her neighbors. This paranoia has been hurting Turkey at least for more than a century. The guiding principle of the recently renewed Turkish foreign policy activism, “zero problems with neighbors,” was a remedy to this illness aiming to heal the paranoia that used to determine Turkey’s bilateral relations in the region. It is clear that Israel is ailing from this paranoia that Turkey just healed from. Israel’s paranoia not only poisons all peace initiatives in the region, but also harms the already-not-very-pure souls of the neighboring countries. Unfortunately for the sake of comprehensive regional peace, Turkey will most likely define its position as “all options are on the table.” This phrase would not be used openly, but it will surely haunt every statesman in Turkey.

At the policy level, Turkey already started playing its hand and this will continue. By forgoing its right to veto Israel’s membership to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which would be considered completely legitimate under any objective criteria, Turkey wanted to send a goodwill message to Israel and to the Israeli public. The message was “Turkey does not have any problems with either Israelis or with all Israeli politicians. Turkey is simply against certain policies of Israel that hurt innocent people and it will not shy away from criticizing Israel for its actions against civilians.” Evidently the message somehow was not conveyed to the Israeli politicians correctly.

If this is the case, then Turkey will play another game by replacing its friendly vocabulary with one that is more proper in describing rogue states: vetoes, embargoes, sanctions, resolutions, terrorism, etc. New vocabulary has already been used by Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu in his speech at the UNSC emergency meeting on Monday. The message is clear, “Turkey sees Israel as a terrorist state and will behave accordingly.” This new vocabulary is likely to be used in Erdogan’s speech on Tuesday--probably in even stronger terms. As part of the new strategy, Turkey will bring the aggression to the multilateral institutions and international organizations, among which the UN Security Council, NATO, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the Arab League can be named. New language will be used to describe Israeli aggression again and again. Turkey will do everything to hold Israel accountable for their actions in all international forums including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC).

At the level of diplomacy, Turkey does not have the luxury to continue business as usual. It will most likely set up a road-map giving Israel a “to do list,” will benchmark the issues, and follow up until the problem is resolved. To speak concretely, Turkey will ask for an official apology as well as for an international investigation of the disproportionate response by the Israeli military forces against the humanitarian relief attempt to break the Gaza blockade. Turkey will also try to demonstrate the illegitimacy of the aggression, ask to free the ships being held by the Israeli security forces unconditionally, and end the blockade of Gaza. Turkey will go as far as to try to force Israel to answer to the international courts and pay retribution to the relatives of the dead and the wounded. This list is not exhaustive.

At the level of bilateral relations, Turkey will take additional measures demonstrating its decisiveness. Today’s announcement of cancellation of three joint military exercises with Israel is a clear indication of the steps Turkey is willing to take. This can be compared to what happened when the first Turkish-Israeli joint military exercise was cancelled last year and should be read as a sign of Turkey’s changing regional security perception.

This last aggression will be remembered as a turning point in Turkish-Israeli relations, creating a new security dynamic in the region. This new direction will prompt Turkey to look to the White House to shoulder some of the burden in creating lasting peace in the region. However, this time, if the White House continues to drag its feet and rejects taking any responsibility over this latest Israeli aggression, it will trigger a ripple effect, further reducing the legitimacy of the US in the Middle East.

Nuh Yilmaz is the director of the Washington D.C. office of SETA, a non-profit think tank based in Ankara, Turkey.

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