Monday, February 05, 2007

Palestine and strategies of resistance.

It's an interesting moment. Here we have had the biggest mass antiwar movement in history, the rise of a global anticapitalist movement, sweeping into the advanced capitalist countries from the global south. We have had some successes. But we keep finding out the limits of protest, to our immense frustration. I remember being criticised by anarchists during the anticapitalist protests who said that marching and selling papers was not going to change anything. But their strategy was to plant cannabis in Parliament Square and wait for someone to smash in the windows of McDonalds. So, given that the movements in Latin America are so much more advanced, people have taken to trying to learn from them. One tendency thinks that the Zapatistas have the answer, and that the Chavistas will end up diverting mass movements into inhibitory reformist strategies. Changing the world needn't, they say, involve taking power. In Bolivia, there was the question of whether violent confrontation with the state was the correct way to proceed, or whether to focus on building up institutions and strategies that circumvent state power and that seek to transcend the boundaries imposed by it.

In this vein, Ben White wrote an interesting article for the Palestine Chronicle about violence as a strategy of resistance to the Israeli occupation, drawing on the work of John Holloway. I wrote to him about it, to criticise and nitpick. Prophylactically, I should point out that there is no question of prescribing policies for Palestinians or telling them what to do. But I think the issue resonates more broadly for us. I said: "you've interpreted the violence between Hamas and Fatah as a matter of 'internal' differences being 'resolved' (or not) by violence, without the appropriate focus on Fatah's role in accepting Israeli arms, attacking Hamas reps, and cuddling up to the oppressors. The focus on violence as a strategy therefore misses what seems to me to be most crucial, and comes across as somewhat abstract." Further: "It isn't even clear to me that the Palestinian movements have put violence on a 'pedestal' ... the pattern of suicide attacks and rockets suggests a temporally delimited tactic which has emerged in response to given situations."

Further: "My other worry is that the solutions offered as alternatives to violence suggest that the critique is moralistic as much as it is tactical. For instance, you refer to "the rich vein of civil disobedience, creative resistance, insubordination and refusal", perhaps of the kind that we witnessed during the first Intifada ... [but] at present it references none of the coordinates of the current dilemma for Palestinians." Moreover, "such tactics are routinely used by Palestinian groups and citizens as I know you must be very aware, so I can only gather that you think these means could be used more broadly and more effectively: the question is how, and under what circumstances can this come about?"

And: "It is important to recognise that the use of these tactics is already pregnant with violent possibility (as per the recent BTselem video of settlers attacking Palestinians fulfilling their legally acquired right to pick their own olives, a fairly modest form of resistance). The redeeming feature of non-violent tactics, therefore, is that they stand a better chance of success in the given circumstances. Are there ways in which those of us who are not in Palestine can elaborate concrete strategies, or at least adumbrate some, without dilating in 'carnival of resistance'-style generalities?"

He point out first of all that he was aware that Fatah had been "working hand-in-glove with Israeli and US politicians and intelligence, in order to smother genuine Palestinian resistance and protect a class of Palestinians that benefit economically from an Oslo/bantustan style arrangement. On my blog, for example, I linked back in December to an excellent piece by Chris Hedges that appropriately described events as more of a 'coup' than a so-called 'civil war'". However, he had set US and Zionist policies to one side in order to "concentrate solely on Palestinian resistance choices. Although in one sense that can seem strange (though I would hope in my case, not disingenous or sinister), it is because a colonised or resisting group that finds itself confined to act within parameters or a dynamic determined by the enemy has already lost some of its creative autonomy and self-determination. When I speak of a 'pedestal', I mean to say that violence has come to be seen as the only method of resistance." That is, it is either moqawama or passivity. "For many Palestinians, this latter choice is entirely undesirable, since it is viewed as the preserve of a few young men, and having been unproductive in leading their people to any serious breakthrough in the national struggle. What I am hoping to suggest, as are a good number of Palestinians, is that it is not simply a choice between signing up to the Al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigade, or sitting and watching your homeland colonised before your very eyes."

"I do believe that strategies of civil disobedience, refusal and creative nonviolence can be used more widely and effectively. It is of course tricky to propose specifics, since such schemes by their very nature are dependent on very precise 'on the ground' circumstances. But, for the sake of coming up with an example, a mass, unarmed advance by hundreds of thousands of Palestinians across the West Bank in an attempt to overwhelm and cross the checkpoints that emprison them in their cities - widely organised and publicised - would be a great opportunity to expose Israeli apartheid for what it is. Of course, such mass actions would be met with force - but the IDF uses force at will anyway. Far better to channel the violence of the coloniser into securing their own tactical defeat, by exposing the disparity between occupied and occupier."

Inasmuch as this highlights the problem with elite commando units acting as the resistance in ways that leave most of the population out, it's a very important point. It's the sort of argument one would have made against the IRA, for instance. It is entirely consistent, for example, with Trotsky's argument about terrorism. I suppose my dander was raised by the mention of Holloway, whom I have taken issue with before.