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February 17, 2010

Mr. Abbas: Here's a road to freedom

The Canadian Charger

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Israel has always carried out a program of using any pause in Palestinian resistance activity to expand Jewish settlement activity. Israeli calls for unconditional negotiations are nothing more than a bluff, buying time for further land-grabs and for intensifying Jewish settlement.

Mahmoud Abbas has recently urged Palestinians to eschew violence in the struggle against the occupation.  But Israel has one of the most effective armed forces in the world, with a substantial standing army, a large reserve, and sophisticated weaponry. 

Israel says that it wants peace talks “without preconditions.” That means that previous progress in talks is canceled and that everything begins again from scratch.  The implications are clear.  New, long drawn-out negotiations will not be completed before the end of the partial freeze on Israeli settlement expansion. 

What, then, of a strategy of non-violence?  Abbas recommends this approach, but where is the leadership in carrying it out?  The classic case was in India.  Let’s see what that example tells us.

In 1925, Vallubhbhai Patel, an ally of Mohandas Gandhi, led a tax refusal campaign in Gujarat.  The British raj had imposed a 30% tax increase, in spite of the fact that poor conditions had left the farmers with hardly enough to feed themselves. 

The farmers were sworn to non-violence, even knowing that their property would be seized.  When it was seized, efforts by the British to auction it off were for the most part unsuccessful.  The campaign was able to dissuade potential purchasers, except for a few who came from Bombay.  The tax strike was successful in changing the tax policy, not only for that year but even for the next.  And wealthy sympathizers bought the property from the people who had purchased at auction and returned it to the local farmers.

Five years later, Gandhi led his salt satyagraha.  The target was the salt tax.  He conducted a march to the sea to make salt from sea water, which was illegal. 

Starting the march with a few dozen, Gandhi and the marchers were greeted by thousands along the way and the number of marchers multiplied.  Arrests and savage beatings occurred during the campaign, with victims offering no retaliation.  However, the salt tax was ended. 

Not only that, but the success of the salt tax revolt encouraged other forms of resistance.  There were other tax refusals and non-cooperation activities.  As well, people took up Gandhi’s program of weaving their own home-spun, undermining the English cloth manufacturers, with devastating effect.

Eventually, India gained independence.

The satyagraha campaigns were not immediately successful in bringing about independence, but in the long run they drained the British exchequer and undermined British reputation in the world and British morale at home.

We are not going to get into the tragic slaughter that took place at the time of independence, except to note that the British had carried out a program of divide and rule, playing Hindus and Muslims against one another, just as Israel has with Hamas and Fatah. 

What is the lesson for Abbas? 

He needs to act, not simply say no to phony negotiations, while telling his compatriots to engage in non-violent resistance.  Non-violence needs a leader.  Telling the demonstrators at Bil’in to keep it up is not good enough.  He needs to show up at the wall himself on Friday. 

He and his fellow Fatah leaders need to lead a march on the Jews-only roads winding through the West Bank.  And so on. 

Satyagraha needs active leadership, not just words.

The Palestinian boycott of Israeli goods manufactured in the West Bank is a good first move and should be intensified.  However, that is not enough. 

All kinds of Israeli products are on the market in the Territories.  There should be a review of these goods to see which are produced by manufacturers who are heavily dependent on Arab trade and which Palestinians can do without.  One and then another should be boycotted.  The home-spun movement is the example.

It makes no sense to talk, talk, talk with the likes of Binyamin Netanyahu while Israel continues to steal, steal, steal land. 

Bring on a third intifada, with Abbas and his allies on the front line, not leading from the rear.

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