Hamas' political jiu jitsu

Hamas' strategy of politicking and public participation relies on provocation.

HAMAS SUPPORTERS take part in a rally in Nablus marking the 30th anniversary of the movement’s founding. (photo credit: REUTERS)
HAMAS SUPPORTERS take part in a rally in Nablus marking the 30th anniversary of the movement’s founding.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Recent events near the Gaza border expose a problematic aspect of nonviolent resistance actions. As clashes intensify, it seems the “Land Day” protests are becoming a nonviolent camouflage for a very violent protest.
Last week’s “Land Day” protests that ignited clashes between IDF and the Palestinians resulted in 17 Palestinian casualties. The protests were orchestrated by organizations affiliated with Hamas. While the international community calls for Israeli restraint, little has been said about the acts of perfidy committed by Hamas, which concealed its fighters among unarmed Palestinians civilians. This was an illustration of the tremendous, sometimes misleading power of strategic nonviolent resistance actions.
Civilian-based nonviolent actions include demonstrations, protests, rallies and marches. They are perceived as morally superior methods of resistance that resonate with international norms and codes.
The Palestinian opposition did not invent them, but in recent years has extensively adopted them, realizing the potential impact of nonviolent activists when they are compared to armed forces.
Discussing nonviolent resistance brings to mind Martin Luther King’s civil rights movement, or Gandhi’s nonviolent struggle against the British. Yet, despite the common claim of being guided by moral norms and human rights, contemporary nonviolent resistance campaigns are first and foremost strategic actions. They refrain from physical violence as long as it is strategically beneficial to do so.
International nonviolent campaigns in particular are a kind of diplomatic activity undertaken by guerrilla organizations as camouflage for more controversial activities.
In that sense, while nonviolent resistance tactics seem morally superior, especially when associated with causes of self-determination, recent events in Gaza reveal an overlooked aspect of these tactics, one that risks the lives of civilians on both sides.
The Palestinian “March of Return” in Gaza on Friday, March 30 is an example of a nonviolent action that was planned strategically, in a manner that aims to use the opponent’s power against it.
Academically, this is referred to as “political jiu jitsu.” It works by provoking violent reprisals against unarmed civilians, thereby generating public condemnation. Hamas promised that the demonstrations would remain peaceful, but at the same time sent its fighters to try to cross the border fence and infiltrate into Israel, an act that violated Israel sovereignty and posed an imminent threat on Israeli civilians. As probably anticipated and planned by organizers, this lead to a violent Israeli response.
As it turns out, besides Hamas fighters, women and children under the age of 16 were also present at the scene. Reports have also mentioned a seven-year-old girl that was sent by Hamas directly toward the fence. (The girl was sent safely back by the IDF.) Such actions are not coincidental. They are designed to attract media attention and consequently international support.
As strategic nonviolent action derives much of its power from power disparities, it is reasonable to assume that the recent nonviolent campaign’s programmers sought a violent reprisal from the IDF to amplify the effect of their campaign by emphasizing the power gaps between the two sides. Thought about from this perspective, what comes to mind is the concept of human shields.
Although the term “human shield” generally refers to the use of civilians to protect military installations during war, in nonviolent resistance, woman and children, or more generally the participating unarmed civilians, are used as human shields to help sustain the demonstration by preventing the other side from defending itself.
Aside from generating public criticism, political jiu jitsu of this kind motivates more action and increases public participation. We are already witnessing this with the mass cyber-attacks launched against Israeli computer systems and public facilities following the Gaza border confrontations.
But we must remember that this entire strategy relies on provocation.
In other words, strategic “nonviolent” actions require violence to be effective. The difference is that violence is employed in a manipulative manner.
In Gaza, Hamas created a situation that invited violence, realizing the ramifications for Israel if it used force to prevent infiltrators from crossing the fence. It camouflaged its violence within the nonviolent setting, risking the lives of thousands of civilians. This raises two fundamental problems.
First, it becomes tremendously doubtful whether such demonstration can maintain their nonviolent character, and second, using this technique endangers civilians and bystanders who are hauled in to participate in what was designed from the beginning to escalate into violence.
The author is a PhD candidate at the School of Political Science of University of Haifa.