Nonviolent resistance: the first intifada and beyond

by George N. Rishmawi

The Palestinian Centre for Rapprochement between People (PCR) was established in 1988 during the first intifada to bridge the gap between Palestinians and peoples from all over the world. The iconic form of resistance from the first intifada that most people remember is that of Palestinian youth confronting fully armed Israeli soldiers only with stones. Stone-throwing, however, was not the only form of resistance. Sit-ins, peaceful marches and graffiti-writing were some forms of nonviolent resistance used by Palestinians against Israeli military occupation.

In Beit Sahour in the occupied West Bank, where PCR was established, people decided to return their ID cards, issued by the Israeli military occupation authorities, back to the military government, as a protest against the legitimacy of the occupation. The ID cards symbolized Israeli military control over the lives of Palestinians: the people who decided to stop carrying them took on significant risk, as they could be stopped at any time by soldiers demanding that they produce their ID cards as they traveled within the country.

The wall that cuts off Palestine in the occupied territories from the rest of Israel sits close to the courtyard at Wi’am Center, an MCC partner in Bethlehem, West Bank, Palestine. Wiam is a grassroots civil society organization based in Bethlehem. (Photo courtesy: Viviane Eyer, 2019)

Soon after some 500 Palestinians handed their IDs to Beit Sahour’s mayor in order to return them to the Israeli authorities, the latter imposed a strict curfew on the town to prevent more residents from doing the same. Israeli soldiers went from house-to-house to give people back their IDs in the middle of the night. The Israeli military at that time realized the significance of the ID protest and took it very seriously.

Palestinians in Beit Sahour in turn decided to continue creative nonviolent protests against the occupation. One example of such creative nonviolent action was a tax boycott, which came to be referred to by Palestinians as the “white revolution.” Palestinians repurposed the Boston Tea Party slogan, “No taxation without representation,” refusing to pay taxes to an Israeli military government that did not represent us.

Amidst such nonviolent resistance, protest leaders in Beit Sahour looked for ways to help people cope with Israeli military measures taken against Palestinian communities during the intifada. Neighborhood committees were formed to find ways to ease the lives of residents in each neighborhood as those neighborhoods faced collective punishment because of nonviolent resistance. Curfew was one form of collective punishment often used by the Israeli military, with people forbidden from leaving their homes.

Curfews became economic sieges the longer they lasted. Thus, when curfews would last for a week or two, markets would be almost empty even when the Israeli military would lift the curfew for a few hours every four or five days. Neighborhood committees therefore assisted residents in planting kitchen gardens in their backyards and raising animals as alternative sources of food. These measures proved successful in supporting the steadfastness (in Arabic, sumud) of the residents and to a large extent made Israel’s collective punishment measures against Palestinians obsolete.

Manal Ibrahim Ali Mohammad Khamis, 13, picks vegetables in the garden next to her home in Jubbet Ad Dhib. The Palestinian village is located in the West Bank about six kilometers south of Bethlehem and residents have very limited access to water and electricity. (MCC Photo/ Emily Loewen, 2017)

PCR was founded amidst this creative nonviolent resistance, motivated by a desire to reach out to people all over the world to tell them about the Palestinian resistance and to counter the stereotypes that dominate the western media about Palestinians. A group of Palestinians from Beit Sahour had started to meet with a group of Israelis every other Thursday, alternating between Beit Sahour and Jerusalem. Participants in the dialogue group decided to establish two organizations to carry forward the dialogue, one called the Rapprochement Dialogue Center to be registered in Jerusalem, and the other to be called the Palestinian Centre for Rapprochement between People (PCR) to be founded in Beit Sahour.

The Israeli military government, however, refused to issue a registration for PCR, so an alternative was needed. Fortunately, MCC was there. MCC provided an institutional umbrella for PCR to function as one of its projects in the West Bank. MCC not only gave PCR an institutional home, but also supported its dialogue efforts and nonviolent initiatives for many years.

The landscape surrounding the tent of nations, a Palestinian family farm in the West Bank. In the background you can see an Israeli settlement, and a new school being built for the settlement. (MCC photo/Elizabeth Kessler, 2017)

MCC continued to support PCR’s efforts until PCR managed to fully register as a Palestinian not-for-profit organization. PCR today continues to find ways to bridge the gap between Palestinians and peoples from all over the world. PCR seeks to prepare young people for leadership in Palestinian society, empowering them to serve their communities and become active citizens. An alternative media department operates IMEMC News which provides accurate information for people who are looking for fair media reporting.

Finally, PCR promotes alternative tourism through its Siraj Center for Holy Land Studies initiative. Siraj encourages people from all over the world to come to Palestine to live with Palestinians, learning from them directly rather than filtered through other lenses. All these efforts contribute to PCR’s primary goals of achieving a just and peaceful Palestine and promoting harmony and rapprochement within society and between societies. As long as there is occupation, there will be resistance. Our hope at PCR is to succeed in keeping this resistance nonviolent for the sake of future generations.

Mennonites have been among the few religious groups that have managed to win the respect of Palestinian society because they have worked with Palestinian civil society as partners and have not carried a donor mentality that has hidden agendas. Had it not been for MCC, the Palestinian Rapprochement Center might not have come into being. MCC has thus been critical to PCR’s mission of promoting a culture of nonviolence and creating understanding among Palestinians and peoples from all over the globe.

George N. Rishmawi is executive director of the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement between People.

To learn more about MCC’s work in Palestine and Israel visit our website here. To get involved, consider writing a letter to our Canadian government here encouraging our leaders to work for peace and to call for an end of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.

Note: This article was originally published in Intersections: MCC theory & practice quarterly, Summer 2020. You can read the full volume here. This article was originally titled Nonviolent resistance during the first intifada and beyond.

Banner image caption: Beit Jala, Palestine (Photo courtesy: Vivienne Eyer, 2019)

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