Why Americans Are Mostly Ignorant of the Nonviolent Palestinian Resistance Movement

A wave of violence has hit Israel and the Palestinian territories, and there are rumors that it is the spark of a third intifada, an uprising against the occupation. Many are questioning why young Palestinians are choosing to use such violent tactics as knife attacks against Israelis. Some wonder why Palestinians have not followed a path of nonviolent resistance in the spirit of Gandhi and King instead.


In fact, for many years, there has been a nonviolent Palestinian movement. A film about it, Five Broken Cameras, was nominated for an Oscar two years ago. The film documents protests in the West Bank city of Bil'in, which has been the site of major settlement grabs by the Israelis. 

Watch it below:

For years, settlers have moved into the surrounding territories and grabbed Palestinian land to build apartments. The Israeli military protects the settlers and has helped construct a wall to carve out lands for them to colonize. The Palestinians in Bil'in have chosen not to respond with rockets or rifles; instead they model their resistance on Gandhian nonviolence.

As Five Broken Cameras documents, the Israeli military response to the protests has been violent, with tear gas and rubber bullets and sometimes live ammunition. During the course of the film, Palestinians are injured and even killed by the Israeli military, while Israeli settlers burn their olive trees and harass their town. Many Palestinian families have their homes raided in the middle of the night, so that the military can arrest individuals it identifies as leading the demonstrations.

Despite all of this, Bil'lin continues to be one of the centers of Palestinian nonviolent resistance. Several times a month, I get emails from activists there documenting weekly protests. On September 25, shortly before the wave of violence broke out, activists in Bil'in were struck with rubber bullets, sound grenades and tear gas. Here are some photos of their action and the resulting injuries:

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The nonviolent movement in Bil'in, as well as the violent military crackdowns, rarely make international news. The Oscar nomination for Five Broken Cameras was a rare moment when the Palestinian nonviolent movement received any recognition. From 2002 to 2005, the Palestinian nonviolent movement that was going on alongside the violent resistance of the Second Intifada received only three feature news articles in the New York Times.

Mubarak Awad, one of the pioneers of the Palestinian nonviolent movement during the First Intifada, was arrested and deported despite the fact he never committed an act of violence. Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which has disavowed violence against Israel, is met with massive settlement construction and deprivations of Palestinians in the West Bank. Even when American citizens are shot and killed  during demonstrations, the State Department does not respond harshly to the Israeli state.

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Although Palestinians are injured, killed or displaced by the Israeli state and/or the settlement movement frequently, the issue only really reaches Western media when there are violent uprisings that injure or kill Israelis. Google Trends data of news headlines shows that the three significant spikes of Western news coverage of the Palestinians was during the past three Israel-Gaza wars.

The message the West sends by ignoring the Palestinian nonviolent movement is that if Palestinians want attention paid to their plight, they have to commit violent acts.

American politicians condemning Palestinians for violent uprisings could help to prevent the violence if they started paying attention to, and legitimizing, the nonviolent movement, including the boycott movement. As President Kennedy said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable.”

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