When Israel was dropping its newly acquired American made bombs into Gaza it was not my house that was in the crosshairs. When the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) was allegedly using white phosphorous in densely populated areas of Gaza, my children were not at any risk. When Israel used the Dense Inert Metal Explosives in Gaza, I did not feel the pain from these deadly killers that expel charged tungsten dust, which causes minor abdominal injuries at first but later degenerate into multi-organ failures.
On Nov 4, 2008 I was not present in Gaza when Israel broke the truce by killing six Hamas gunmen. I was not in Sderot, when Hamas fired back rockets terrorizing Israelis and eventually killing innocent bystanders. I am not the one who suffered as Gaza deteriorated into a cauldron of human misery. This even before the current conflict caused the death of over 1,400 Palestinians, mostly civilians with women and children making up nearly 40 percent of the death toll. I am not among the 50,000 people that have been rendered homeless. Finally, I am not an official of the United Nations, whose Secretary General has expressed outrage and called for an inquiry to find out why Israel bombed UN facilities and schools, where civilians and children had taken shelter.
I may not have the personal experience of these horrors but I do understand their implications.
Palestinians are suffering not only from the brutality of the Israelis but also from the lack of moral fortitude of the Arab leaders and the collective indifference of the world community. Israeli’s are suffering too, although the scale is much lower. And yet in this moment of grief, Palestinians and Israelis must seek change. It is time for Palestinians to enter into a new phase of non-violent resistance, most vividly exemplified in our times by Gandhi, King and Mandela, which also finds significant support in normative Islam. Israelis ought to pay attention to the words of America’s new President Barack Obama, when he reminded the world that ultimately all leaders will be judged by what they build, not what they destroy.
In advocating non-violence, I am not being a pacifist. I realize that most world philosophies, religious and secular, ancient and modern, concede war as an occasional necessity while abhorring its horrors and excesses. Gandhi said that if people “are to preach the mission of peace, they must first prove their ability in war.” He held the belief that “a nation that is unfit to fight cannot from experience prove the virtue of not fighting.” Hamas has proven their extraordinary capacity to suffer, endure and strike back. The IDF has proven its ability to kill with impunity. In Gandhi’s worldview, only they can fully appreciate the virtues of non-violence.
I have read and re-read all the Islamic texts that provide contextual justification to resist occupation by force. However, the very texts that gives Muslims the right to retaliate, also extol the virtue of protecting the innocent non-combatant and the valor of forgiveness. In some of the worst moments of despair, Prophet Muhammad chose the path of forgiveness and mercy over that of retribution. It is then of little amazement that God Almighty describes Prophet Muhammad in the Quran as a “mercy to humanity” (creations, to be exact).
In the face of brutality and the daily humiliation, seeking the path of non-violent resistance is hard for Palestinians. As it was hard for Gandhi, trying to stare down the mighty British empire, whose iron fisted rule in India was just as devastating as the Israeli occupation. Like Palestinians faced Jenin, Gandhi faced Jallianwala. A contemporary of Gandhi, Khan Ghaffar Khan, a Muslim from the Northwest frontier of current day Pakistan, organized the “Khudai Khidmatgar” who embraced nonviolence not only as a policy, but also as a way of life. Khan Ghaffar Khan was a pioneer of the non-violence movement whose contribution in removing the British occupation was no less important than that of Gandhi.
Using non-violence resistance is far more likely to win freedom for Palestine than any of number of rockets fired into Israel. Showing restraint will be a far superior display of strength than any number of high-tech weaponry Israel can fire into densely populated areas. One cannot rationalize the morality of sending rockets into Israeli towns or sending suicide bombers into Seder parties, except perhaps by contending that Palestinians are answering Israel’s brutality in kind. Like the Old Testament, the Quran allows an eye for an eye but even this allowance cannot justify rocket launches or suicide bombings which kill or injure anyone, not necessarily those who bomb Palestinian homes into oblivion. I have heard the attempted justifications – if Palestinians had the sophisticated weaponry like Israel they too would have engaged in “targeted killing,” an abhorrent euphemism for murder. This rationalization, like those used by Israel, is Machiavellian, allowing the end to justify the means.
At a time when so much innocent blood has been spilled and so many children have needlessly died, it is hard to contemplate the idea of forgiveness. But Palestinians must chart a new course for their struggle. They must allow voices of hope to rise from the ambers of destruction. Seeking an eye for an eye will only make the world go blind. At the end, Palestinians like all others struggling to earn freedom, have to realize that it is not just the righteousness of their cause but also the nobleness of the means that will help unite their own people and the many millions who identify with their plight.
I am part of the mosaic of Americans – Muslims, Jews, Christians and people of other faiths – who continue to petition our government to become a fair judge and an impartial jury in this long festering conflict. Sadly the political leadership of my country has gone from being Israel’s friend to its advocate, unconditionally supporting all its excesses. America just inaugurated a new President. He is promising to fight for the freedom and justice of all. We will take him at his word and challenge him to live up to this aspiration.
To help us build a peace movement, both Palestinians and Israelis will have to demonstrate that they too are willing and able to change. In their actions, they must reflect the noble ideals they want to see in others. Instead of asking what their adversaries are doing to them, they need to ask what changes are they willing to make in order to advance the cause of peace and justice. This self-introspection and personal responsibility is the essential message of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the three faiths that call the region the holy land.
Parvez Ahmed teaches at the University of North Florida. He is a commentator on Islam and the American Muslim experience. His articles can be found at drparvezahmed.blogspot.com.