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An Open Letter to My Palestinian Friends


By Robert J. Burrowes - Posted on 14 August 2014

As my heart bleeds for those of you suffering in Gaza and elsewhere in Palestine, I want to add my voice to those who are encouraging you to consider revising your strategy of resistance to Israeli occupation. See, for example, ‘Wanted: A new strategy for Palestinian resistance’.

In doing this, I wish to acknowledge the long-standing and ongoing debate over violence/nonviolence as a strategy – discussed again recently by Ramzy Baroud in his article ‘On Heroes and Preachers: Gaza’s New Resistance Paradigm’ with other articles cited below it – as well as the long history of Palestinian nonviolent resistance, recorded in Mazin Qumsiyeh’s book Popular Resistance in Palestine: A History of Hope and Empowerment.

I also wish to acknowledge the sensitivity of some Palestinians to suggestions from those of us who are only Palestinian in the sense that ‘We are all Palestinian’. I did not choose my nationality. I did choose to study, exhaustively, strategic theory and nonviolent strategy so that I could share them with those who might be interested. I have no interest in doing more than offering this suggestion and my help; if they are rejected, I will be understanding. And still supportive of the struggle to liberate Palestine.

Of course, some of you are well aware of my wholehearted support for your struggle as well as my long-standing position on the issue of your strategy but it feels appropriate to repeat this offer more publicly at this time, particularly given the suffering that is now being experienced. Hopefully, this offer will reach new ears among those of you who are ‘ordinary Palestinians’ but also strategic thinkers, a rare capacity in any struggle, as history graphically illustrates (and for which an argument over the existence or otherwise of a ‘Palestinian Gandhi’ is not useful).

In essence, I would like to encourage you to seriously consider planning and implementing a comprehensive nonviolent strategy for the liberation of Palestine using a book I wrote in the early 1990s: The Strategy of Nonviolent Defense: A Gandhian Approach. This book – for which cheap, second-hand copies are readily available via the Internet – explains how to develop and implement a comprehensive nonviolent strategy to liberate countries living under dictatorship or occupation. I used difficult cases such as Palestine, Tibet and China (each of which I studied extensively) to ground the book. I also explained why nonviolent strategy, intelligently devised and implemented, is empirically superior to any military strategy. And I exposed the flaws in the fairly widespread delusion that the British in India were ‘civilised’ opponents and this explains why nonviolence worked in that context.

While simpler and flawed nonviolent approaches have been used with some success during the Velvet Revolutions in Europe in 1989, the Color Revolutions and, most recently, the Arab Spring, these approaches are extremely unlikely, for readily identifiable strategic reasons, to liberate countries such as Palestine, Tibet, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, particularly given the role played by the United States elite in supporting these occupations and dictatorships. If you need a reminder of US support for Israel, see ‘Thank You, President Obama. Love, Israel’.

Anyway, if you wish, you will get a taste of the strategic thinking in the above book by reading the brief article ‘The Political Objective and Strategic Goal of Nonviolent Actions’ recently republished here. This article explains the vital distinction, which is virtually never understood, between the political objective and the strategic goal of all nonviolent actions.

This offer is not intended as criticism of the courage of Palestinian efforts but, if used, the strategic theory and twelve-point strategic framework in this book would facilitate the development and implementation of a far more comprehensive and, equally importantly, precisely focused strategy for the nonviolent liberation of Palestine. For example, it would help Palestinian strategists to understand how to more effectively focus and use the tactics of boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) as part of a comprehensive strategy and to recognise the importance of identifying many other tactics to complement BDS.

By basing Palestinian strategy on a precise political and strategic assessment, the definition of a clear political purpose and related set of demands, the definition of the two strategic aims and the appropriate strategic goals (of both the defense and the strategic counteroffensive), by clarifying the conception of nonviolence that will be utilized, identifying the leadership structure including the process that will be used to ensure the maintenance of effective strategic coordination, by nominating communication processes, preparations, elements of the constructive program, the nature of your organisation including the decision-making structure and process, the timeframe of the strategy, the tactics as well as their sequencing and attendant peacekeeping, and by using a clear evaluation process to gauge progress in the struggle you will give life to a strategy that can then be widely communicated to your many allies around the world giving people vast opportunities for involvement in support of your struggle.

Of course, even the most sophisticated nonviolent strategy cannot guarantee to prevent insane and genocidal opponents – see ‘Understanding Obama and Other People Who Kill’ – which have the backing of key puppets – see ‘Statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on the situation in Gaza’ and ‘UN’s Ban Ki-moon is a partner in Israel’s crimes’ – from using military violence against us. But we can plan to minimize its likelihood, minimize its impact if it is used and to ensure that it is always strategically counterproductive for our opponents.

I wish to acknowledge some previous responses by Palestinians (most recently, 18 months ago) to my offer which touch on the problems Palestinians would face in developing and implementing this strategy.

‘I still believe that our biggest weaknesses are in both vision and strategy and I also believe that you don’t need to have vision first, but when learning what you can do, learning that you can actually face the impossible, then you can also create space for dreaming the impossible.’

‘I’m glad you have taken this initiative. As an advocate of nonviolence I can tell you that never before has it been so hard to promote it as is now. Israel’s heavy handed response to nonviolent protestors, the constant failures of the PA to secure the rights of Palestinians through diplomacy and negotiations coupled with the final round of violence in Gaza and the rise of Hamas’s militant brand of resistance has made things challenging to say the least.’

So it isn’t going to be easy. But the point is this. Palestinians are struggling with enormous courage, as they have always done. And the ‘world public’ is really waking up to what is going on. A comprehensive nonviolent strategy will allow all of us – those of us who are Palestinian and those of us in Israel and elsewhere around the world who identify with Palestinians – to play a strategically effective role in your liberation struggle.

So if you are interested in developing a comprehensive nonviolent strategy for the liberation of Palestine, I would be happy to assist you to do so. And there are many solidarity activists and groups around the world who will no doubt be happy to help implement it.

For the nonviolent liberation of Palestine; Robert

***

Biodata: Robert has a lifetime commitment to understanding and ending human violence. He has done extensive research since 1966 in an effort to understand why human beings are violent and has been a nonviolent activist since 1981. He is the author of ‘Why Violence?’ His email address is flametree@riseup.net and his website is here.

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