by Saleh Al-Naami*
Palestinian non-violent resistance has taken a leap forward with the “Gate of the Sun” experiment, which looks set to expand across the West Bank, writes Saleh Al-Naami.
Israeli Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz was conspicuously rattled as he answered questions posed by Ayala Hasson, the presenter of the news programme Yoman, broadcast on Friday evening on Israeli television’s Channel 1.
The topic was how the Israeli government should handle Palestinians erecting a village of tents on the land that separates Jerusalem and Maale Adumim settlement in the city’s northeast.
It is an area where the Israeli government decided to build a settlement project called E-1 that would end any chance of creating a Palestinian state with territorial contiguity because it separates the north West Bank from the south.
“Gate of the Sun”
Katz, who is considered a hawk in the ruling Likud Party cabinet and a strong advocate of settlements, said that the village, called Bab Al-Shams, “Gate of the Sun”, where hundreds of Palestinians and foreign supporters went on strike, surprised decision-makers in Tel Aviv. He added that consecutive Israeli governments did not expect the Palestinians to make such a “serious” move to protest against settlement activities.
Caught off guard, Israeli decision-makers were quickly irate. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu issued orders to security agencies to immediately evacuate the village.
This is what hundreds of security forces, including elite police units, did by raiding the village Friday night. The expected Israeli move did not change the new reality because Palestinians finally recognised the potential of popular resistance.
One form of resistance was Gate of the Sun, which Palestinians and foreign supporters said they would repeat again on a broader scale by trying to build a tent village on every plot of land the Israeli government announces it will build a settlement on. They also promised to try to construct Gate of the Sun again at the same location.
Popular resistance activists chose the name from the novel Gate of the Sun by Lebanese writer Elias Khoury that tells the tale of the Nakba (Day of Catastrophe, marking the 1948 exodus of Palestinians from their land) and Palestinian Diaspora.
It is the life story of Palestinian resistance figure Younis, who joined the resistance and left behind his wife Nahila who refused to leave her village in Al-Jalil in northern Palestine.
The Popular Committee for Resisting the Wall and Settlements, the mastermind behind Gate of the Sun, stated that the move “expresses rejection of settlement policies and not surrendering to them, since settlements are built on land that is considered part of the Palestinian state that was recognised by the UN General Assembly with observer status.”
In a statement, Palestinian and foreign activists who participated in building Gate of the Sun asserted: “We will not remain silent about continued settlements and colonialism on our land.
Gate of the Sun is our gateway to Jerusalem and the Return
Since we believe in action and resistance, we will continue our struggle until we install the right of the owners of the land on their land.” The statement added that peaceful popular resistance activities in reality represent “a gateway to freedom and steadfastness. Gate of the Sun is our gateway to Jerusalem and the Return.”
Activists continued that their actions are in response to Israeli policies that seek to “impose a reality on the ground over the past decades while the world community remains quiet about its violations. The time has come for changing the rules of the game. We are the owners of this land and we reject the reality on the ground.”
Although the village was evacuated by force, many Palestinians feel these actions are the true beginning of the “Palestinian Spring”. Some even believe that the outcome of this form of resistance will far surpass the effect of resistance rockets, because it is a positive form of popular resistance that hurts Israeli occupation the most.
Devising this type of popular resistance is a landmark turning point in the history of Palestinian resistance against occupation because it provides all the elements of success for resistance action.
It targets an immediate goal of thwarting settlement and Judaisation projects, turning protest and rejection into direction confrontation with settlement and Judaisation projects — a positive practical response to occupation by taking an opposite action.
While it is true that occupation forces can always raid these tent villages and use force against activists of this type, the Israeli leadership will be cautious and will carefully calculate its moves if Palestinians repeat this experiment on a large scale.
Since it is a peaceful action, Israel will not have international support in responding with violence against Palestinians who take part in it.
As indicators show that the extremist right-wing coalition of religious and secular parties is likely to win the upcoming Israeli elections on 22 February, it is very likely that more settlement projects are in store for Palestinians if Israel is not confronted with innovative and effective resistance.
Palestinians of all party and faction affiliations now believe that this type of activism is the best recipe to limit the extreme right government in Tel Aviv from encroaching on Palestinian land.
The Palestinians admit that they have short-changed themselves and their cause by not taking such resistance action in the past. Palestinian activists are encouraged to repeat the Gate of the Sun experiment in other areas because they realise that the world supports innovative non-violent action and will react strongly to any violent Israeli response to it.
They expect many countries, especially in Europe, would be forced to take action against Israel since they have already taken a strong position against the E-1 project. In fact, many countries recalled Israeli ambassadors in protest at the settlement expansion move.
Non-violent resistance will also largely embarrass the Obama administration that also objected to E-1, urging Israel to put a freeze on it.
At the same time, it also guarantees that Israeli society will become divided over the issue of occupation — a divide that had dwindled because of negotiations and security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority, as well as Palestinians relying on armed resistance alone.
Palestinians assert that the Gate of the Sun experiment is a test for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who is a vocal advocate of popular resistance as opposed to armed resistance using rocket attacks. The idea of building Palestinian villages on land that is at risk of confiscation for building Israeli settlements is a lightning rod for testing the backbone of Abbas’s rhetoric.
Positive Popular Resistance
Social network websites buzzed with commentary urging Abbas to personally lead the popular resistance, if he genuinely believes in the importance of popular resistance.
But even the Palestinians who are asking Abbas to do this believe he never will; some are worried that Abbas would use his security agents to prevent Palestinians from continuing such peaceful popular resistance actions.
In all cases, Abbas’s margin of manoeuvrability is limited.
Palestinians must come together on this type of positive popular resistance that holds such large potential. While the Palestinian people have the right to exercise all forms of resistance, Palestinian factions should for now consider halting armed resistance and support popular resistance.
This would put the greatest amount of pressure on Israel to end its settlement projects that seek to abort any chance of a Palestinian state. (T/R-022/R-006)
Mi’raj News Agency (MINA)
*aleh Al-Naami is a Gaza-based journalist, an expert on Israeli affairs and correspondent for the London-based pan-Arab newspaper, Al-Sharq Al-Awsat.