"A Quiet Revolution: The First Palestinian Intifada and Nonviolence Resistance

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Edited Transcript of Remarks by Dr. Mary King 'For the Record' No. 289 (9 December 2007)

Twenty years ago today, the Occupied Palestinian Territory erupted in a massive nonviolent uprising against decades of Israeli military occupation. In A Quiet Revolution (Nation Books, 2007), Dr. Mary King shows that three forces brought about the first Palestinian intifada: networks of committees relied on popular participation and nonviolent means as they built a civil society; activists and intellectuals pushed for political compromise, negotiations with Israel and rejection of armed struggle; and knowledge circulated from social movements elsewhere in the world. King argued that from the 1987 uprising would emerge the most cogent pressure to date to create a Palestinian state alongside Israel with directly implied acceptance of Israel. Yet, this moment was essentially squandered by all sides.

The Palestine Center Washington, DC 25 October 2007 Dr. Mary King:

Thank you very much. A Quiet Revolution originated with two trips taken to Israel/Palestine and elsewhere in the Middle East with a private philanthropic foundation, after the outbreak of the intifada in 1988 and again in 1989. Milton Viorst is here today and was one of our external resource persons, and I want to acknowledge his role. Nonviolent resistance is a technique for pursuing social justice that is frequently the only realistic way to oppose military occupations. I shall concentrate on how the appearance of nonviolent strategies in the Palestinian territories in the first intifada against Israeli occupation resulted from three seminal developments: (1) movements of committees built a Palestinian civil society under occupation and became the wellspring for the intifada; (2) activist intellectuals redefined the orthodoxies of armed struggle by advancing alternative ideas on political compromise and negotiations that affected outlooks and approaches concerning negotiating with Israel; and (3) knowledge and techniques transmitted from movements elsewhere in the world circulated among Palestinians. From the 1987 uprising would emerge the most cogent pressure to date to create a Palestinian state alongside Israel with directly implied acceptance of Israel. Yet, this moment was essentially squandered by all sides. Nonetheless, the basic political accomplishment stands. Let me make some general remarks about the book. I was privileged to have been given access to the leaders of the first intifada, and their Israeli counterparts, during the uprising and for portions of 18 years in conducting the interviews on which this book rests. Virtually, all of my interviews were carried out with two tape recorders running, for subsequent verbatim transcription. In some cases, I interviewed sources seven


This account is in essence a story of a struggle within a struggle. understand and interpret it is very limited. to exiled Palestinians and the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization] and to the United States and the international community. The PLO failed fully to support the collective nonviolent action of the intifada. I spent more than one year scouring British colonial records for the historical chapters. as news accounts led many to believe. The news media was unable to interpret accurately the nature of the uprising. have resulted from militarized national liberation struggles. as the monks walked with upturned alms bowls. It was nearly 20 years in the making. News coverage was major. Their secession from violence during the period of December 1987 to March 1990 is highly significant for the peoples of the region. the Czech and Slovak Velvet Revolution and other nonviolent struggles of the Eastern European satellites against the Soviet Union.) North American and European diplomats and diplomats all over the world are not trained in the theory and practice of nonviolent struggle. one reason why I have been able credibly to explain the forces that brought about the intifada. in the period leading up to the intifada. I also explain the functioning of the clandestine Command (Unified National Leadership Command) in a way that has not been possible before. One of the great tragedies of the contemporary era is that none of the outside forces that might have capitalized on the massive nonviolent mobilization in the Occupied Territories to press for a permanent settlement had sufficient background and understanding of the technique of nonviolent struggle to grasp the parameters of what was going on. but only somewhat. but they could not differentiate the more than one hundred classic nonviolent methods from an international inventory that were used by the Palestinians in the first intifada. Hence. Within the Palestinian community in the Occupied Territories. If you are interested in democracy in the Middle East. Very few democracies. Yasser Arafat's immediate response was to speak of 'our generals. and they did not generate democratic leadership. it is the first intifada that you need to be examining. The best that reporters could do in most instances was to recognize a boycott or civil disobedience.' using military nomenclature to refer to the youth in the uprising. which were also underway at the time. The uprising was not a spontaneous eruption. (The news coverage has slightly improved regarding the October 2007 Burmese monks' struggle against the military junta. Thus. there was dynamic exertion and contestation on the question of how best to fight the military occupation. including on a 2/7 . Journalists are not trained in this technique of struggle. The Palestinians in the Occupied Territories during the 1970s and 1980s. if not before. A demonstration is not a riot. In a situation not unlike that of the Tibetan and Burmese nonviolent struggles recently in the news. having interviewed representatives from the four groups that comprised it. the destiny of the Palestinians inside the Occupied Territories was ultimately controlled by three parties that were unable or unwilling to interpret the significance of the political thinking'a new politics'that had evolved under occupation. I found no evidence of any Israeli reinforcement being given to those who were working to rebut the dogma of violent strategies among the Palestinians. if any. Huge space and a great deal of ink were devoted to the first intifada. their ability to recognize. Yet. In general. most news reports missed the tale of how virtually the entire Palestinian society worked to lift military occupation with the same nonviolent methods used by Gandhi in India. voices began advocating the use of nonviolent resistance to fight to lift the military occupation in 1969. I was offered extraordinary cooperation and was able to collect information and data that no other has gathered. The military command structures of the guerrilla units could not protect Palestinian communities from the repressive violence of military occupation. The 1987 intifada'and the five discernible nonmilitary movements of the two preceding decades that produced the uprising'did more for coining a model of authentic democratic governance in the Arab world than any other intervention or any force to date. the EU and the rest of the international community failed to grasp the passkey that had been forged in the crucible of the uprising. the civil rights movement in the United States. This applies to the Israelis.times to make sure that their stories remained the same. admitted that they had no one else to turn to but themselves. The United States.

This is nonsense. misperceptions are very common. simultaneously threw off their veils as a gesture of discontent with British policies. Palestinians themselves are generally not aware of the contents of the book. in the same timeframe. In the book's Appendix are excerpts from six pivotal. When I mention the U. believing it to be the best way to reach negotiations with Israel. a meeting in October 1929 when women leaders met with the British High Commissioner in Jerusalem and. (The Israelis did not use tanks as had the Chinese in Tiananmen Square. for example. very little is understood of what goes on inside nonviolent mass movements. civil rights movement.S.) Among the important factors in the development of the new politics in the Occupied Territories was the translation and dissemination of Sharp's works. and that often means materials. failed to understand the significance of what was underway. Although the major architects and human agents cooperated with me and were willing to disclose internal disputes. A group of about two dozen activist intellectuals pressed for a policy of nonviolent struggle. Having worked for four years at the heart of the United States' civil rights movement. it does not refer 3/7 . The asymmetry between the Palestinians and the Israelis was extreme. would be through the use of collective nonviolent action. The IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] former chief psychologist. Knowledge must be carefully disseminated. but I have threaded through it the personal stories of the individuals. including by social mobilization specialists. primary documents. Gandhi never anticipated that all Indians could join him in his strict personal beliefs. let me point out that even the most uneducated Mississippi sharecroppers in the 1960s understood that the only way to reach negotiations with the oligarchs of the South. A policy is also what was being fought for within the Occupied Territories. The only way to balance such a relationship. I was aware of the need for transmission of knowledge for any mass nonviolent movement. or achieve parity. Nonviolent resistance is an active response in which the taking of action is not violent. Human agency is a powerful part of this narrative. How did people learn the theoretical basis for nonviolent struggle and its methods? I went in search of critical documents. What Gandhi wanted was a policy of nonviolent struggle. Perhaps this is why onlookers. His lectures in the West Bank were influential with Palestinians. was through nonviolent struggle. as they sat down. Nonetheless. The 150 or so interviews on which the book rests allow me to disentangle internal issues. as a global phenomenon. in order to achieve an independent state. in general. February 1988 and July 1989. Let me emphasize that to speak of nonviolent struggle is not to speak of spirituality. Nonviolent movements are defined by the behavior of the participants. who were hugely more powerful than they. Until 1928. How people act in a nonviolent movement defines the mobilization as nonviolent. The Boston scholar Gene Sharp was willing to share with me reports of his three trips to Israel/Palestine'in November 1986. [Jawaharlal] Nehru still thought that India would have to use violence to get rid of the British. I demolish the myth that the leaders of the intifada were robotic. who were working to overturn the mythologies of armed struggle so that it is also accessible for the general reader. How the knowledge spread is a salient question in the case of the Palestinian people because the population was in large part peasants and refugees.research fellowship from an institute at the University of Oxford. The book is actually very serious social science research. belief or religion. One of the properties of nonviolent resistance is its capacity to balance a steep disequilibrium between parties so as to achieve parity. the key human agents. dialogues and discourses and to disclose sub-cultures of evolving political thinking among the Palestinians. The intifada was a homegrown movement. In the book. confirmed what was in Sharp's reports about his meetings with Israelis and described to me the impact that Gene Sharp's engagement with the Israeli security establishment had in urging restraint in the Israeli response to the uprising. subordinated to and guided from Tunis. as were his lectures in Israel. I am not speaking of a creed. Some of the material from the 1920s and 1930s may surprise you. faith. Reuven Gal. looking at the intifada.

considered by the Palestinians to be an assault on their academic freedom. and hundreds upon hundreds of committees proliferated. the term 'second intifada' is a complete misnomer. youth. They chose intifada. This is a much more complex form of theory than is military strategy. free-standing institutions. women. Tens of thousands of organizations were establishing themselves in an evolving civil society. student groups. His eleven years spent in the prisons of Mussolini's fascist regime and opposition to the Bolshevik seizure of power through violence attracted Palestinian professionals and intellectuals to identify with him. again. offering leadership opportunities to Palestinians who would not have joined guerrilla units in any instance. faculty unions. anticipating the survival needs of communities under harsh reprisals. meaning shaking off. influential in the nonmilitary movements of the 1980s and a leader of the 1987 intifada. the question of how an entire population could learn to fight military occupation through nonviolent methods is a very intriguing one. Gramsci maintained. The terms nonviolent struggle. although one may influence the other. preferred the term aggressive nonviolence. (In this sense. Diffusion of power assured management of the committees no matter the number of arrests.normatively to the values of tolerance or nonviolent interaction that in modern political thought constitutes civil society. Authority fragmented. students and academic faculties throughout the Occupied Territories began organizing small. In 1969. The students chose a deliberately. as power diffused through many centers throughout the Occupied Territories. nonviolent resistance. as new leaders stepped forward to assume the duties of their imprisoned predecessors. The first hunger strike was in 1970. 'nonviolent' is not much of a word in English. in which girls. coordinating across separated prisons with no apparent means of communication. 'nonviolent' did not translate well into Burmese. A large portion of Palestinian society would not have been candidates for the military cadres in any context. enhancing a capacity for self-reform and self-criticism. collective nonviolent action. It tells you what it is not. because of the different organizations and networks that were actively forming. two years after the imposition of the 1967 military occupation. We are speaking of a technique for achieving social justice that relies on the use of nonviolent sanctions. boys. the lives or limbs of the target group. Eventually. The first was the development of networks and movements of committees within Palestinian society. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s. the Poles chose the term social self-defense because 'nonviolent' did not translate well into Polish. Some experts prefer civil resistance.) In Poland in the 1980s in Solidarity Union. first broke its ban on political organizing. Prisoners organized the 'prisoner's movement' within Israeli jails. Twenty-two years later. specifically. The Tibetans use wise action for the same reason. It does not attack the well-being. Women's organizations became phenomenally important in the 1970s and 1980s. the communist party. linguistically nonviolent word with no connotations of retaliation or vengeance. Youth clubs. nonviolent strategic action or militant nonviolence all represent a technique of fighting for social justice that only attacks the political power of the opponent. Palestinians of all walks of life assumed the responsibility of ridding themselves of occupation. voluntary work committees formed'despite occupation and as a result of it. as many as fifteen thousand Palestinian prisoners were involved in a fast to the death. The nonviolent sanctions are enacted through strategies. not what it is. Do not start with violence in creating a state. others followed suit. Faisal Husseini. The writings of the twentieth-century Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci were influential in the growth of this civil society. Organizers created institutions based on diversified leadership. Burma's 1988 prodemocracy movement chose the term political defiance. When you think about it. but begin by gaining nonviolent agreement 4/7 . The communists emphasized the building of institutions and small independent organizations. They prepared for incarcerations. with its ten million members. Therefore. I mentioned three decisive developments that led to the first intifada. One of the early stages of nonviolent mobilizations is grappling with the question 'what should we call it?' 'What do we name this action?' The word intifada came from student struggles during the 1980s against Israeli Military Orders 854 and 947.

Military means would not work. led by Mubarak Awad. journalists.throughout the entire society and organizing small groups. editors and professionals began publishing in Arabic. Their publications during the 1980s advocated a quest for reaching negotiations with Israel for a future state. Professor Hisham Sharabi of Georgetown University was instrumental in the start of the Palestinian Center for the Study of Nonviolence in East Jerusalem in 1984. He advocated not trying to 'outfight' the occupation but 'outadministering' it. He would become a founding member of Yesh Gvul (There Is a Limit). When conducting training sessions on the theories and methods of nonviolent struggle. Sari Nusseibeh. Israelis such as Amos Gevirtz remained involved with the Center through thick and thin. nonviolent struggle' by Palestinians as the preferred alternative to armed struggle. The third development was the transmission of knowledge of how other peoples in other settings had been able to fight for social and political justice without a military option. including student groups and trade unions. Academicians. such as movements on behalf of women. English and Hebrew in the early 1980s. led by Faisal Husseini and Gideon Spiro. a Princeton-educated Pakistani political scientist. Mahdi Abd al-Hadi. Their workshops were open to anyone (Palestinian or Israeli). noms de guerres and Marxist slogans. and they were thus running workshops four years before the outbreak of the intifada. My research on the committees is based not only on interviews but also on documents. advocated 'highly organized. in 1983. was organizing faculty unions in the 1980s. which I think have now since disappeared. they said. The first visible harbinger of the new politics in the Occupied Territories was the emergence of joint Israeli Palestinian committees in 1981. The second critical development concerns the role of the Palestinian activist intellectuals. A reflex to outadminister the occupation encouraged the growth of what the head of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (PASSIA) in East Jerusalem. handouts. Spiro was a conscripted. Jonathan Kuttab and Mubarak Awad had begun circulating materials a year before. including Haj Abd Abu-Diab and Abd al-Jawad Saleh. and this end affected the means of fighting to reach those negotiations. part of the reason why an entire society was able to resist military occupation and. as they openly used information technologies to explain the new thinking. told the New York Times: 45. This would require forming alliances among those working in popular and democratic efforts. then proceed to form your state once you have consent. through mimeographed pamphlets. I was granted access to all of the joint committees' minutes and records. peace or civil liberties. militant. As early as 1968. one of the key Palestinian activist intellectuals. parades and demonstrations were often co-sponsored by the Israeli branch of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation. Remember that there were ten thousand university graduates who were unemployed and available for action and mobilization at that time in the Occupied Territories. now teaching in the adjunct faculty of the American University. resistance movements could be successful when the struggle possessed broad popular backing and permeated the structures of civil society before attempting to wrench control of state power. passed insights from other historical civil resistance movements into villages and refugee camps. translated materials and organizing lectures. decorated. their picket signs were written in three languages: Arabic. Gone were braggadocio and grandiose phraseology. just as importantly.000 committees were in existence by 1987 and able to act as the organizational base for the intifada. In his view. As early as 1968. some began speaking to Israeli audiences in Hebrew. Pilot marches. Volunteers from the Center. students. urging that no Israeli soldier serve in the Occupied Territories. which even now advises selective refusal. In other words. Eqbal Ahmad. Israeli war hero who emigrated from Berlin and was among the Israeli soldiers who took military control for Israel over Arab East Jerusalem in 1967. a movement of Israeli reserve soldiers. English and Hebrew. they disseminated materials that argued that nonviolent resistance would be more successful in redressing fundamental injustices than armed struggle and could more readily lead to a lasting 5/7 . As a series of Israeli Palestinian committees began conducting demonstrations against the occupation. a former Israeli paratrooper. the crackdowns and reprisals that immediately came against the intifada. a corporate resistance capacity had developed.

Trial applications of nonviolent action were demonstrated in 40 to 50 villages. while taking it upon themselves to organize alternative institutions that are not reliant on the authority of the adversary. often started and run by women. pray-ins. as people bent down to pray. methodologically. I share analyses of the leaflets and their appeals for mostly nonviolent actions. A long. negotiations with Israel for an independent state alongside Israel. That property was retrieved by 300 villagers standing unified. The 1988 89 siege of Beit Sahour was an almost perfectly implemented.) What the Palestinians did was to organize 'popular committees. It rarely met yet was able to coordinate appeals for action that appeared in mimeographed leaflets that would mysteriously materialize approximately every two weeks. near Beit Sahour and not far from Bethlehem. Demonstrations occurred almost daily in the first three months. the Palestinians used hunger strikes. largely by cutting off the points of exchange maintained by the occupied. Women alone held more than one hundred demonstrations between December 1987 and March 1988.' boycotts of Israeli products and abstention from paying taxes. such as resignation from jobs'six hundred police officers resigned in one day. they went out and organized their own clinics and schools. one had to change the state of submission. Called the Unified National Leadership Command.' The popular committees were self-governing. the great majority of which are sustained by the implied submission of the occupied and only a small proportion of which are based on coercion. Suddenly.' meaning suspension of all dealings with occupation authorities and the replacement of its services by those who possessed 'popular authority. This policy debate on extensive noncooperation with the military occupation ran for a year and a half through the leaflets clandestinely appearing fortnightly. Inherent was the idea that military occupation was a web of contact points between occupier and occupied. the emergence of a unified coordinating body became discernible. This included the hamlet of Tqu (Tekoa). There were many forms of strikes. thereby revealing to the international community in clear form the force used by the occupier. protracted policy debate is disclosed by the leaflets on 'full civil disobedience. In the book. program of tax resistance. (This is what the Kosovars did in the 1990s after [Slobodan] Milo'evic fired all the teachers and doctors. for a month there was chaos. As noted. I used interviews as well as working from the files and records of the Center. the leaflets would be distributed. The leaflets often emphasized the popular committees. including the communists. the period of my focus. or the Command. To end the occupation. alternative institutions. Many of the demonstrations started after either Friday prayers or Sunday church services. where in 1986 the volunteers from the Center and the villagers together succeeded in getting a group of Israeli settlers to pull back to their original contours. Again. where. as the settlers fired shots into the air. As people emerged from churches on Sundays. from their pockets leaflets would be disgorged. The proposal for full civil disobedience was part of the program laid out by the 'Jerusalem Paper. They were often distributed at Friday prayers at mosques. it was a coordinating group of the four main factions. and planned eventually to lead to a declaration of independence and.' the most difficult to implement and most advanced category of nonviolent sanctions. defiance of blockades and. Once the intifada broke in 1987. There was a great deal of civil disobedience. Alternative institutions (also called parallel institutions) involve the nonviolent challengers removing themselves from the power of the target group. most importantly and the hardest to organize. with everybody doing something different. the Palestinians employed more than one hundred methods of nonviolent struggle from an international repertoire of nonviolent methods. thereafter.solution. They translated works of Gene Sharp and distributed them in the thousands. 6/7 . with between four and seven thousand copies of one work alone circulated by the center. at least from December 1987 to March 1990.' drafted by Sari Nusseibeh in February 1988. From the category of nonviolent methods called 'nonviolent intervention.

The international community failed to grasp the passkey to peace that had been forged in the foundries of the intifada. Within the popular committees. mired in an ideological insistence that nonviolent and violent resistance could be blended (an impossibility because they work in different ways). Yet. Yehuda Weinraub. Israeli soldiers were on rooftops. A new leadership emerged that was not groomed on how to cooperate with Israeli officials. allowing the students and faculties to mingle in their home communities. no matter the social status of their parents. Moreover. It took years for the Israelis to recognize that the uprising had political rather than military goals. the PLO and the international community. with no disjuncture between the intellectuals and rural folk or refugees. the profound opportunities presented by this pivotal moment in contemporary world history were squandered by Israel. was more concerned about preventing a new political leadership from arising in the territories than in capitalizing on the intifada for a long-term solution. This is statistical evidence of the restraint and discipline manifested in the uprising. Even if smaller. According to Lt. sending the professors and students home. the physics professor sat with the baker to plan the distribution of bread. This is part of the explanation for why the society was so remarkably unified. Tested in the intifada. The PLO.In January and February 1988. You can evaluate how extraordinary was the consensus preserved for more than two years in light of the triangulati http://www. There may have been as many as 70. the Israeli authorities closed the universities. one must examine deaths of Israeli soldiers.thejerusalemfund. Two were killed in the West Bank and two in Gaza in 1989.000 Israeli soldiers posted in the territories on active duty at the time the uprising started. The response of many hearing about my research was to say. The IDF spokesperson gave me the official figures on the deaths of Israeli soldiers. They would be recognized as leaders. in alleyways and on street corners. only four Israeli soldiers were killed in the West Bank and none in Gaza in 1988. One of the reasons that the Palestinian first intifada could happen is that the universities were closed down. very young people might take life and death responsibility for whole communities. the number would still have been large. but to consider this question. Col.org/ht/display/ContentDetails/i/2665/displaytype/raw 7/7 . Twelve Israeli soldiers were slain in a four-year period in the West Bank and Gaza. 'But was it really nonviolent? Stones were thrown!' I have a section in the book on the stones.