TCS Daily

In Praise of Non-Violent Solutions

By Alasdair Denvil - January 9, 2004 12:00 AM

"Stop the Suicide Bombings? End the Occupation!" is the response Palestinian advocates have to condemnation of attacks by Palestinian militants. If you want to stop the injustice of suicide bombings, the claim goes, you should stop the unjust occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip that inspires them.

I'm not opposed to such reasoning in principle: many of the injustices in the world are committed by people who see themselves as trying to undo another injustice, so you can occasionally correct their misbehavior by addressing the injustice they are responding to.

It's not clear how far this gets you, though, especially if you understand the 1967 occupation in the same vein. After all, it's not as if Israel just up and decided one day to make life difficult for Palestinians by occupying their territory, instituting curfews, and setting up military checkpoints. Israel was itself responding to a perceived injustice: the threat of invasion by Arab armies, which tend to invade through the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Given that Arab armies would likely implement something a bit more drastic than curfews and checkpoints -- "push the Jews into the sea" is the colorful language invoked -- Israel chose to take over these territories as a matter of self-defense. So, the pithy response to "Stop the Suicide Bombings? End the Occupation!" emerges: "End the Occupation? Stop the Threat of Invasion!"

Now, we could go back and forth like this all day, but it doesn't look like there's any need to, because of a non-violent enterprise that might make such back-and-forthing moot.

Israel is currently building a wall -- a security barrier composed of fences, barbed wire, and trenches -- around the West Bank. Its purpose is to stop militants from crossing into Israel and conducting terrorist attacks. (A similar barrier has already been built around the Gaza Strip, with much success.) The wall is controversial, at least in part, because it does not faithfully follow the border between Israel and the West Bank. It encloses some parts of the West Bank on the same side as Israel. Israel claims this is done for defensive reasons, and to protect West Bank Jewish settlements. Palestinians claim that it's a land grab, that Israel will deny these acres to any future Palestinian state.

We could go back and forth on this all day, too, but that would overlook the promise the wall holds. Terrorist attacks are the death knell of every Middle East peace process. It has become trite to describe the cycle: peace talks, hope, Palestinian suicide bombing, Israeli retaliation, mutual animosity, recrimination, breakdown of negotiations, despair, wait a few months and then back to peace talks again.

Palestinian militants know this best of all. They know that, if they can conduct one successful suicide bombing, Israel will demand that Palestinian militants be subdued. The Palestinian Authority won't do that -- because, it claims, it can't -- so Israel will send its own forces in to do it (which is quite right, because militants ought to be stopped). But this is a humiliation that outrages the general Palestinian population, and it inevitably involves the deaths of innocent Palestinians, which then outrages people both inside and outside of Palestine (which is quite right, because innocents ought not be killed). And so everyone emerges from the 'peace' process with another layer of grievances.

But the wall could end all that. And the brilliance of this stupid idea is its simplicity: a low-tech obstacle that puts militants in a time out. Palestinians can't conduct suicide bombings, and they aren't being hunted by Israelis who invariably wreak collateral damage, inspiring more Palestinians to become suicide bombers. Violence is stopped with non-violence.

Of course the wall isn't guaranteed to stop all suicide bombings (and consequent Israeli incursions). But it will lessen them drastically, if not stop them entirely. And, just as it provides a defense against militants (that the PA 'can't' provide), it could also provide a bulwark against invasion (that Arab countries similarly 'can't' provide).

The claim that the wall might deny Palestinians land that would be part of a Palestinian state is a legitimate concern, but without a peace process, they aren't going to have any state at all. The wall and the apportionment of land can eventually be brought down and reversed once a peace process succeeds. But the innocent lives taken by suicide bombers can't be brought back, just like the innocent lives taken by Israeli troops can't be brought back. And the animosity created by these deaths is almost impossible to reverse.

The wall, on the other hand, is a non-violent solution that can't be beat.

The author is a writer living in Brooklyn.


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