Thwarting Palestinian Non-Violence

The U.S. government talks about its preference for peaceful change in the world and rhetorically condemns violence. But in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, Washington does all it can to stop non-violent actions by the Palestinians and their supporters seeking to challenge Israeli abuses, Ivan Eland observes.

By Ivan Eland

The Palestinians and other Arabs have long used violence to try to reclaim land taken from them by Israelis. The approach has long been a failure, but anger has long supplanted rationality, thus leading to periodic violent spasms in Palestine for almost a century.

Now a potentially more effective weapon is being brandished: peaceful actions to undermine Israeli occupation.

The Palestinians are campaigning for a voluntary boycott of goods and culture coming from Israel and West Bank settlements and for disinvestment from there.

For example, both international and local artists and celebrities are refusing to do shows in these locations. Simultaneously, the Palestinian Authority is seeking recognition for a Palestinian state at the United Nations.

Israel is very worried about both initiatives. And it should be.

Largely peaceful protests toppled the autocratic governments in Egypt and Tunisia. If peaceful dissent can work against authoritarian thugs in those countries, it has an even better chance of working in democratic Israel.

Democracies — or at least a significant portion of their populations — can more easily be shamed into change than can dictatorships. In the end, apartheid in democratic (for whites) South Africa ended because of the shame induced by peaceful opposition rather than by the success of the armed rebellion.

Israeli celebrities joining the Palestinian boycott and the activities of Israeli peace groups have demonstrated the premise in Palestine.

Yet the United States regularly decries violence in Palestine but then is not supportive of peaceful means of Palestinian protest either. For example, it is taken as a given that, this fall, the United States will veto in the United Nations Security Council any resolution for Palestinian statehood.

This U.S. stance — coupled with its tepid and belated backing of the Egyptian and Tunisian opposition and its support for the violent overthrow of oppressive leaders, such as Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya — sends the wrong message to those seeking liberty around the world.

By its support for violent outcomes, U.S. policy encourages more bloody revolts around the world, and the accompanying loss of life and property, without necessarily increasing the chances for democracy.

Instead, the United States should quit interfering in the internal turmoil of other nations — especially avoiding the provision of weapons and military expertise to movements that violently oppose governments unfriendly to the U.S. — and should instead steadfastly declare rhetorical support for peaceful transitions to democracy and respect for individual rights.

The latter does not mean that the United States should actively “promote” democracy and human rights in other countries using U.S. personnel, contractors, or government funds. Such U.S. efforts are usually an ineffective sinkhole for taxpayer dollars and may very well be counterproductive if the U.S. superpower is seen as meddling for its own gain — as is often the perception.

In conclusion, current U.S. policymakers should follow John Quincy Adams’ long-forgotten advice rejecting the lure of American intervention to promote democracy abroad in favor of rhetorical support and leading by example:

She [America] has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart….

Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions, and her prayers be.

But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.

She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all.

She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.

She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice and the benignant sympathy of her example.

She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom.

Ivan Eland is Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland has spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. His books include The Empire Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed, and Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy.

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4 comments on “Thwarting Palestinian Non-Violence

  1. GaryA on said:

    Mr. Eland must not care much for the financial future of the Independent Institute. If he did he’d never have scribbled such an “anti-Semitic” piece as this, one that’s destined to sink the Independent’s ship as surely as Israel was able to scuttle the latest pro-Palestine flotilla.

    Lets hope that in his next job, if he ever gets one, Mr. Eland will have learned a little “self control.”

    • rosemerry on said:

      Please stop this ridiculous use of the moaning “anti-Semitic” for any word that does not praise the wicked deeds of the “only democracy in the ME”. Why should Israel not live by rules that all other countries are expected to follow? Why this extreme action to stop a few small boats entering the waters of Gaza, which you claim to have left in 2005 and take no further responsibility for? Why stop friends of Palestine entering via Tel Aviv, when you have the only airports available, as you bombed the Gaza one (built by the EU) years ago, and control all air, sea and land access? As one Arab MK recently asked “What action would you think is acceptable for us to protest against our loss of land and liberties ?” Have you any answer, GaryA?

    • John Partington on said:

      Gary’s piece is typical and a lesson to us all on how threats are used to undermine any sensible advice or comment to help Israel win respect. Why not put all the religious zealots, extreme Zionists, Christians and Muslims, in a ring to fight it out and the rest of us Jews, Christians, Muslims whatever, get on with life together. The essence of religion, the warm spiritedness we feel inside from helping others is lost in dogmatic religious believers.

  2. luke weyland on said:

    Whilst we must despise all forms of racism, including Anti-Semitic crap. However, we must also despise all who regard defending the human rights of Palestinians as ‘anti-semitic’. By the way according to the Torah/Bible, Arabs ( and thus the people of Gaza) are also the supposed decendants of Noah’s son Shem. Thus the Israeli blockade of Gaza must also be an anti-Semitic act.