How can Israel defeat Gandhi?
How can Israel defeat Gandhi? That is the question Israeli political and military planners are asking themselves as thousands of unarmed activists – perhaps willing to die for their cause – prepare to converge on Israeli military lines in the coming days, weeks and months. Palestinians, having long ago learned that going up against Israel’s military might with conventional means is a losing proposition, have tried several methods of gaining the upper hand over the course of the conflict. Today, they are adopting an adaptation of Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence – unarmed resistance.
Exactly one year ago, six ships attempted to break the Israeli naval blockade on Gaza and nine Turkish nationals were killed in a commando raid gone awry onboard one of the ships. Earlier this month, over a dozen people were killed and at least dozens injured when thousands of unarmed civilians attempted – and in some cases succeeded – to breach Israel’s border from Syrian and Lebanon. Every week in the West Bank, hundreds of unarmed Palestinians confront Israeli military forces and are met by both lethal and “less-than-lethal” counter measures intended to suppress small-scale protests.
Especially in the case of the flotilla, as well as in the West Bank protests, Israel has paid a significant cost for the civilian deaths it caused. The fallout has led to increased diplomatic isolation, heightened international sympathy for the Palestinian nationalist cause, and produced growing support for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns.
Palestinian terrorism, although successful in bringing details of the underlying conflict into living rooms all over the world, could not win over the international community; the shocking civilian deaths repelled people. Following the Second Intifada, Palestinians for the most part abandoned tactics of terrorism in favor of the political peace process. Recently, even those Palestinian political leaders who devoted their lives to the peace process have become disillusioned with the lack of any tangible progress resulting from it.
Now, both terrorism and peace talks have been largely abandoned due to their failure to realize Palestinian self-determination. As a result, aspects of the First Intifada, the South African boycott movement and Gandhi’s non-violent struggle have been combined to create the current unarmed resistance model, tailor made for the age of modern communications where battles are won and lost on television and computer screens. Images of a soldier pointing his rifle at a rock-wielding child and of Israeli commandos repelling with guns drawn onto a “humanitarian ship” are powerful enough to cause immense diplomatic damage.
If current diplomatic trends are allowed to continue – near unanimous condemnation of Israel’s military tactics and occupation – and the peace process remains the myth that it has become in recent years, a resolution to the conflict will be imposed from the outside. If a two-state solution is not reached, the possible outcomes are: a bona fide and permanent Apartheid-like situation; or a federal resolution, in which parallel semi-autonomous governments rule over a combined Israeli-Palestinian state; or a bi-national state, in which Jewish an democratic become mutually exclusive.
So as the unarmed resistance increasingly adopted by Palestinians is stubbornly and continuously countered by the IDF’s military might, Israel is vainly attempting to find a secret weapon that can defeat Gandhi. British colonialism, American racial segregation, South Africans and Hosni Mubarak would, however, argue that such a magical weapon does not exist. When a people seeks to realize its desire for self-determination and freedom through non-violent or unarmed means, more often than not, no army can defeat it without committing the types of massacres that define pariah states in the modern world (and especially in today’s Middle East).
How Israel will develop new ways to deal with upcoming flotillas, thousands marching on its borders and unarmed resistance taking place in the West Bank is still unclear.
In all likelihood, Israel will continue to exploit the armed and violent elements in Palestinian society to justify its use of military means of countering resistance and preventing Palestinian self-determination. In actuality, the romanticism of Palestinian unarmed struggle is undermined by these elements, specifically groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad who refuse to renounce terrorism as a their primary tool for achieving national liberation. As the frequency of terrorist attacks becomes smaller and smaller, however, the world is focusing more and more on the unarmed struggle taking place.
So how can Israel defeat Gandhi? In short, not with its army. In the coming weeks, as thousands of unarmed civilians – on foot and at sea – march on the Israel’s borders and its military, we will get a good look at how Israel plans on saving itself. As Carl von Clausewitz famously said, “war is a continuation of politics by other means.” Israel must realize that only by taking definitive, bold and successful steps to solve the underlying political problem, can the latest iteration of Palestinian warfare be neutralized.