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Nonviolent Protests in Palestine

Palestinians began seeing nonviolence as a legitimate tool against the Israeli occupation in 2002, after the nearly 40-day siege at the Church of the Nativity, when armed Palestinians ran into the church during a gunbattle with Israeli soldiers.

“There was a ... shift in Palestinian mentality that violence was not getting us anywhere,” said Sami Awad, a member of the Holy Land Trust, a nonprofit organization committed to nonviolence.

He said militant groups such as Hamas and the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade asked the Holy Land Trust to hold training in nonviolent techniques and strategies — although there is a “broad definition of nonviolence.”

“Many people see it as being passive, sitting in a circle, but when we talk of it we talk about it as a resistance — not sitting around expressing our feelings, but ... actively standing up to injustice,” he said. “We stood our ground. We believe in what we are doing. We would confront militants and ask them what they had achieved for us ... retaliation and revenge. It wasn’t easy, but by standing our ground we didn't fall into the trap of their accusations.”

“Part of the training is how to take action and redirect anger and frustration to other actions,” Awad said, noting that the challenge for the nonviolence movement is to educate people so that when they join demonstrations they do not fall back into the familiar pattern of violence.

Some Palestinian leaders like Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, have jumped on the bandwagon and participated in protest marches, planting olive trees and endorsing a boycott of Israeli settlement goods.

So far Israel has proved to be unprepared to deal with nonviolent protests, though some attempts have been made at using water guns and odorous sprays to quell protests rather than by more conventional means. Protesters have been seriously injured at demonstrations, and several Palestinians have been killed. Stun grenades, rubber bullets, tear gas and arrests still seem to be the Israeli weapons of choice.

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