After Palestinian Prison Deal, A Push For Nonviolence | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
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After Palestinian Prison Deal, A Push For Nonviolence

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This week, Palestinian prisoners ended a mass hunger strike aimed at improving their conditions in Israeli prisons after reaching a deal with Israeli authorities. The success of the collective action in wresting concessions from Israel has some Palestinians calling for a greater emphasis on nonviolence in their opposition to Israeli policies.

Palestinians were out in force this week, marking what they call the nakba, or "great catastrophe" of the founding of the state of Israel. It's traditionally a day of mourning in the Palestinian areas, where women wear black to mark the destruction of Palestinian villages, the loss of property and the great exodus that created a vast refugee population in the region.

But in Ramallah, at the official commemoration, one group of women was celebrating.

Imtiaz Masme holds up a picture of her son Alaa. He has been in administrative detention — Israel's practice of holding Palestinians indefinitely without charge or legal recourse. He also took part in the hunger strike.

She and the other families standing near her welcomed the deal that ended the strike.

"They used their empty stomachs as a tactic. They used their strong will as a tactic. All these peaceful means have also empowered us to have high morale," she says.

Engaging 'In Human Terms'

Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation has frequently been marked by violence and armed insurrection. The second intifada, or Palestinian uprising, saw a horrific spate of suicide bombings that targeted Israeli civilians.

Rocket attacks coming from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip are still a common occurrence.

But more Palestinian leaders and activists are now pushing nonviolent resistance as the way forward, and they are pointing to the success of the prisoners' hunger strike as an example of how it gets results.

Imtiaz Masme says many Palestinians are tired of losing their sons and husbands to violence.

"I don't think armed resistance brought us any kind of result," she says.

The example of the Arab Spring has also inspired a new generation of Palestinian youths, like Masme's son Ahmad, who is 16.

He says they can put their struggle on Facebook and Twitter. After what they have seen in the Arab Spring, he says, they realize the peaceful way is the best way. The whole world will see what they are doing, Ahmad says.

And that's something that some Palestinian leaders want as they increasingly take their case to the international community.

Palestinian official Hanna Ashrawi says they "need the moral high ground."

"We cannot — as victims, as people in captivity under occupation — we cannot use the same means that were used against us. When you engage the rest of the world in human terms, in nonviolent terms, people listen," Ashrawi says.

Attacks, Skirmishes Continue

This is a narrative the Israeli government fundamentally disputes. It points to continued attempted Palestinian terrorist attacks against civilian targets as proof that nothing has changed.

It refers to the weekly protests in the occupied West Bank against the barrier that Israel built as riots. It has arrested multiple activists engaged in organizing and mobilizing the population because it says they are inciting violence.

And there are deep divisions in Palestinian society on the best way to achieve their goal of an independent Palestinian state.

On the same day as the peaceful nakba commemoration, there were several skirmishes between Palestinian youths lobbing rocks and Israeli security forces firing rubber bullets.

For the mostly young people at the confrontation, throwing stones at the security forces is considered a cherished right. And many here said peaceful resistance alone won't get them what they want.

Reporter Sheera Frenkel contributed to this report.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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