A couple of months ago I had the great pleasure of watching Palestinians successfully graze their sheep near Avigail settlement, on land where they are regularly attacked and harassed. The joy I felt in seeing my friends and partners grazing on their land was overwhelming. Sitting on the hill and eating lunch together felt like having a party.
As the day drew to an end, one of the Palestinian leaders excitedly explained to me the strategy he had used in dealing with the army and settlers that morning. Mahmoud told me how, even though the army had declared the area a closed military zone, he firmly stood up for his rights. He explained how he pretended to slowly begin to comply with the military order, all the while challenging the soldiers and insisting on his right to graze his sheep. Eventually, he said, the army lost control of the situation and gave in. When he finished his description, Mahmoud turned to me and grinned. "I read in a book that this is called nonviolence," he said, laughing.
When President Obama called on Palestinians to practice nonviolence, I laughed just like Mahmoud. Palestinians like Mahmoud have never needed to be told about nonviolence. The English word may be unfamiliar but the steadfast, daily acts of resistance known as nonviolence are nothing new. In the South Hebron hills, Palestinians face Israeli soldiers and violent Israeli settlers who are illegally expanding their settlements and attacking Palestinians, including children walking to school. In response to this profound injustice, Palestinians are organizing demonstrations, refusing to comply with military orders, filing complaints against settlers, and courageously working their land despite the risk of arrest and attack. They don't need President Obama to tell them to practice nonviolence.
From the British Mandate to the first intifada, to the loose-knit but powerful community-based movement of today, Palestinians have practiced nonviolent resistance for the last 60 years. Certainly, it's inaccurate to omit armed resistance from Palestinian history, but it is equally false to claim that Palestinians are unfamiliar with nonviolence. President Obama missed the point in his Ciaro speech - Palestinians do not need to admonished towards peacefulness. It's radical settlers and Israel's government who do.
Instead of preaching to Palestinians, Obama should insist emphatically on the dismantlement of illegal Israeli settlements and law enforcement against violent settlers, like those living in the South Hebron Hills. After decades of Israeli military occupation, it is time for a US president to call on Israel to stop its violence towards Palestinians.