For many years, Palestinians have engaged in nonviolent actions aimed at resisting the Israeli military occupation and its violent and humiliating policies aimed at suppressing the will of the Palestinians in seeking to achieve their legitimate aspirations.
Villages and communities have nonviolently protested for several years on a weekly basis, if not sometimes daily, the stealing of their land for the illegal separation wall or illegal settlements. From Budrus, to Bilien, to Ma'sara, to Gaza we saw and witnessed actions that not only resisted the occupation but also exposed the brutality of the occupation to both the international community and Israeli society itself. All these actions were powerful and many protesters were arrested, injured, or even became martyrs for Palestine and in the name of nonviolence.
Every once in a while a Palestinian leader or official would come to participate in an action, dressed in an expensive suit, stepping out of an air-conditioned Mercedes, with body guards hunting for the press and cameras -- and not for any potential threat to the official. After one or two interviews, and as soon as the protesters begin to walk in the procession, we would look back to only see the rear of the Mercedes driving away as fast as it can. For some strange reasons, important meetings with the top political officials are always scheduled at the same time the protests get into action!
The lack of involvement by the leadership -- or this symbolic and limited involvement -- resulted in a growing gap between the people and those who we elected to lead us. Was there a hidden agenda? What are they afraid of? Did they only come for the cameras? Were they even there to ruin the action? These are questions that were always asked. Who needs leadership that is not ready to put itself on the line when people are suffering? Leaders are meant to lead, to be on the front line -- no suits, no VIPs, no bodyguards -- to go into the unknown and put everything they have at stake, including their own lives in defending those they represent.
Leaders lead and are not the first to retreat. This is what we are now beginning to see. Palestinian leaders insisting on leading nonviolent protests, taking off their suit jackets and their ties, and ready to tie themselves to olive trees that are going to be uprooted. Ready to hold hands with an old Palestinian farmer on one side and a 20-year-old international activist with blue hair on the other, and demand to walk through an army checkpoint. Leaders that are ready to be beaten up and arrested while defending a house that is going to be demolished. Leaders that are true leaders, fully committed to nonviolence, not for any political or personal agenda, but because they know that this is the way to achieve our dream, even if they end up losing their lives.
I do not mention names in this article because any leader who reads this will know in which category they fall. And I am here to challenge those who do not see the true value of leadership to reconsider their position: Simply put, we no longer want you to hold titles if you are not willing to lead. The people of Palestine have tasted the sweet taste of true leadership that does not only speak great words and slogans (our ears are filled with those) but that are ready to be leading partners in the new and growing movement of popular resistance. Lead as leaders, or step aside and let others take charge.
Sami Awad is the executive director of the Holy Land Trust, based in the West Bank town of Bethlehem.