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Nonviolent Protests in Palestine

29 Jul 2010 – by Judith Sudilovsky

BEIT SAHOUR, West Bank (CNS) — The demonstration began after Sunday Mass. Well-dressed women, men and children holding Palestinian flags and banners strolled leisurely up the windy hillside. They passed a small playground and continued toward an abandoned Israeli army outpost on the outskirts of the largely Christian town of Beit Sahour to protest against a feared reoccupation of the site by the Israeli army at the behest of Israeli settlers.

An Israeli army jeep rushed to the site, siren wailing and, in Hebrew, a soldier with a megaphone informed them they had entered a closed military site. He gave them one minute to disperse. Instead, the people linked arms and began to pray. A tear gas canister was lobbed at the group, as fathers grabbed their children in their arms and mothers pulled their children away.

The protesters vowed the Israeli reaction would not keep them away, and the following week a group — primarily men — returned, joined by internationals, and the scene repeated itself. This time some of the Palestinian young men had covered their faces with kaffiyehs, and when the fire of stun grenades, rubber bullets and tear gas began, they responded by throwing rocks, despite the urging of several of the older adults to stop.

In another incident earlier this year, Mazin Qumsiyeh, a Palestinian Catholic, and three others were arrested for sitting quietly in front of bulldozers near al-Walajeh. Border police used pepper spray and beat two brothers from the village as they arrested the men, who did not fight back.

The men, later released, were trying to prevent construction work on the Israeli separation wall being built around the village.

This series of demonstrations, and the ongoing demonstrations against expansion of the Israeli separation wall in Beit Jalla and nearby al-Walajeh are part of a growing number of nonviolent demonstrations orchestrated by popular committees and Palestinian nongovernmental committees as acts of civil disobedience against the Israeli occupation.

“Christians are integral members of Palestinian society and have been involved in all phases of the resistance from its inception until today,” said Qumsiyeh, chairman of the board of the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement Between People and coordinator of the Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements in Beit Sahour. “We cannot really distinguish Christian from Muslim forms of resistance.”

Qumsiyeh, a scientist who returned to Bethlehem two years ago after a long hiatus of studying and teaching in the United States, has been accused by detractors of disseminating misinformation and using racist rhetoric against Israel on the Internet and in publications.

Like others active in the nonviolent movement, Qumsiyeh is careful not to criticize violent actions against Israeli targets perpetrated by other Palestinian groups, noting that Palestinians have the right to fight the Israeli occupation, though he personally supports nonviolent methods.

“People can disagree on forms of resistance that are most effective to achieve the goals of liberation. Those of us who support a nonviolent mass movement also differ in whether we should confront those who engage in throwing stones or even those who pick up arms to fight the far more violent occupation forces,” he said.

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