I, along with nearly two dozen of my US congressional colleagues, have just
concluded a 10-day fact-finding trip to Israel and the Palestinian
We had formal meetings with many leaders, including
President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and President
Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad of the Palestinian Authority, as
well as informal talks with average Israelis and Palestinians.
thought I knew when I came here was confirmed by the boots on the ground. The
central issue, everyone’s concern, is the possible United Nations vote in
September on an independent State of Palestine.
Tensions on both sides
are high and growing stronger. Both sides are preparing for a confrontation –
almost inevitably, it seems, a violent one that will involve at a minimum
Israel, the PA and the United States, but likely other nations as
It is anticipated that the Palestinians will seek recognition as a
state from the UN – which Israel currently opposes.
The US will almost
certainly use its veto in the UN Security Council, which will insure that the
Palestinian statehood effort will fail.
What will the response be? Marwan
Barghouti, even though he has been jailed since 2002, is an influential Fatah
leader who is serving five life sentences for acts committed in the second
intifada. He has called “on our people in the homeland and in the diaspora to go
out in a peaceful, millionman march during the week of voting in the United
Nations in September.”
He told an Egyptian news service that a US veto
would be a “historic, deadly mistake” and that there would be strong protests
throughout the Arab and Muslim world and beyond. Does a convicted terrorist who
has used violence in the past, and has not ruled out its use in the future,
really have the moral authority and credibility to advocate a nonviolent march
and be believable?
Palestinian leaders deny it, but following the UN vote in
September, according to Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the PA is preparing
for unprecedented “bloodshed on a scale we haven’t yet seen.” He added, “When
you prepare a demonstration in which tens of thousands will storm the Kalandiya
checkpoint, you can just imagine what would happen if 30,000 or 40,000 people
try to forcefully enter Israel. How are soldiers and officers supposed to
However, the real questions are these: If Palestinians do engage in a
nonviolent active resistance campaign to protest their occupation, is the
Israeli government really prepared to handle it? What if the Palestinians intend
and plan nonviolent demonstrations, but either Israeli or Palestinian
provocateurs sabotage them?
That happened to Dr. King in Memphis. Or,
with the whole world watching, will American weapons and supplies be used to
kill and maim nonviolent Palestinian protesters? And what will be the
consequence of that?
The Arab Spring has mainly been about replacing national
leaders – not the Palestinian cause. But if the whole world is filled with
videos and photos of nonviolent Palestinian protesters being plundered by the
Israeli military, using equipment and weapons supplied by the US, will the Arab
Spring’s attention then shift to the Palestinian cause of statehood? And what
are the political and economic consequences for the US and the world, with their
current economic problems?
Peres is still holding out some hope “that both sides
return to the negotiation table before September.” He said, “Both the
Palestinians and the Israelis understand that the alternative to peace is a
succession of unfortunate mistakes.”
So is there an alternative to this
potential violent future? I stand in the nonviolent active resistance tradition
of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – as does my father, the Rev.
Jesse L. Jackson – and I believe there is a nonviolent and just path to
Palestinian statehood that is also in the security interests of
In our meeting with Netanyahu – and remembering the risk for
peace that Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin took, that Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser
Arafat took – I asked him what he was willing to risk for peace. He said it
would make his security very uncomfortable, but that he was willing to go to
Ramallah to talk with Abbas. My father challenged a “no talk” policy in the US
in the late 1970s because, he argued, if you talk, you can act, and if you act,
you can change things. Our delegation took that message to leaders of the PA,
but not all of them agreed that the symbolic gesture of Netanyahu crossing over
into their territory to meet with Palestinian leadership in Ramallah would have
any profound effect. I think such an initiative could be a nonviolent step
I also know that if the Palestinians abandoned violence,
launched a nonviolent active resistance movement and established a demonstrated
history of nonviolent struggle against their occupation, it would inevitability
change the view of the Palestinian struggle in the court of world opinion,
strengthen the cause of Palestinian statehood and speed up the day of its
realization – whatever the outcome of the UN vote this September.
Washington on August 28, the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial will be
unveiled on the 48th anniversary of his “I Have a Dream” speech. When he gave
that speech, he was factoring in 246 years of slavery and another 98 years of
legal segregation and ongoing discrimination.
Most thought he was
confronted with two limited “change” options: 1) the bloody and ineffective
choice of violence; or 2) the weak and ineffective choice of gradualism and
He chose a third path – a life of nonviolent active
resistance and a willingness to endure unearned suffering.
He chose the
nonviolent path to peace and greater justice so future generations could prosper
and progress, a path that made Congressman Jesse L. Jackson, Jr. and
President Barack Obama possible in 1995 and 2008 respectively. The violent path
would have made both of our elections impossible in our time and created a
“memory” that would have perpetuated a cycle of violence and revenge for past
incidents that would have lasted into the foreseeable future.
One of the
many lessons taught by Dr. King in his philosophy of nonviolence was that our
means and ends should remain as close together as possible.
historical and ongoing bad experiences of African Americans in the US, and the
past experiences and continuing occupation of Palestinians in the West Bank and
Gaza by Israel, are both wrong, but the path of hate, terrorism, rockets,
missiles and even throwing rocks in hatred is not the path to a lasting peace or
greater justice, or the path to statehood in the relatively near
Recognizing Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people,
renouncing violence and pursuing a path of nonviolent active resistance will
gain Palestinians world-wide support and – sooner rather than later – a positive
vote for statehood at the UN.
And it would be a goal that Palestinians
deserve and will have earned in a manner that allows peace, justice and security
between Israel and the PA to be more likely, and makes future reconciliation
between Israelis and Palestinians easier to achieve. Nonviolence is a way of
life that will guarantee peaceful coexistence in the future and the eventual
goal of a demilitarized region.The writer is the US Representative for
Illinois’s 2nd congressional district.
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