Palestinians at Their Worst and Best | Sojourners

Palestinians at Their Worst and Best

During the past week we have seen both the worst and the best versions of Palestinian action.

The worst: the murderous attack on an Israeli bus station this week that killed at least one person and wounded dozens.

The best: nonviolent rallies by thousands of Palestinians, mostly young people, criticizing both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, and calling for a national unity government and new democratic elections throughout the Palestinian community.

The youth rallies in Gaza and in Ramallah were attacked by thugs from both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.

The old and destructive journalistic slogan, "if it bleeds, it leads," has once again resulted in the elevation of murder to the "big story," and the use of nonviolent protest by Palestinian youth has been all but ignored by U.S. media.

But the nonviolent rallies -- sparked by the Egyptian revolt, but deeply rooted in Palestinian hunger for fresh leadership and a new way of seeking Palestinian statehood alongside Israel, might be far more important in the long run than the vile murders of Israeli civilians, which are far more likely to freeze the status quo of fear and rage, than bring change.

Indeed, especially taking into account attempts by both old-line factions to attack the nonviolent rallies, it does not seem impossible that today's terror attack was a deliberate effort to restore the violent status quo and the power of its ossified officials. As always, hawks on one side of the barricades are the best allies of their "enemy" hawks on the other side.

Tania Kepler for the Alternative Information Center (AIC) reports that the "March 15" Palestine solidarity demonstrations were held in cities throughout Palestine and the world to "end the division" of Palestinian political parties and call for new elections and electoral reform. Her report continues:

Thousands of unity demonstrators gathered in Gaza City's Unknown Soldier Square, chanting for bipartisan Palestinian unity. However, hundreds of members of Hamas arrived, carrying flags and chanting. According to one unnamed participant, two of the unity demonstrators were hit with Taser guns and fainted as they shouted, demanding the removal of all politically-affiliated paraphernalia from the area, reported Maan News.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, thousands more unity demonstrators gathered at Manara Circle calling for political unity of the Palestinian people against Israel. However, after a few hours, members of the Fatah party arrived with flags and they began taking down posters calling for unity.

A small group of young people have been on a hunger strike in the Square since Sunday, calling for unity.

"We are hunger striking to prove that we exist in the real world and not just online, and to show that we are ready to die to end the division," organizer Fadi Quraan told AFP.

"We slept here to prove that we are the ones running this campaign," he said, expressing concerns that the major political factions would attempt to co-opt the youth movement.

These protests, organized under the banner of national unity and reconciliation, are being organized by the Gaza youth movement "Gaza Youth Breaks Out" and the Palestinian youth movement "Palestine for Us."

We in America who are committed to security and peace for both Israel and a new Palestine hope that both the terror attack and the nonviolent rallies, in the midst of deep changes across the Middle East, will signal to the Obama administration that the time has come to act vigorously to support the Arab League's call for a full regional peace settlement among Israel, Palestine, and all Arab states.

But there is little sign of such vigor at the top. It is unlikely to emerge unless American Muslims, Christians, and Jews who support U.S. efforts for such a regional peace create grassroots alliances to support the nonviolent peace-seeking elements in the Middle East.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow is director of The Shalom Center, co-author of The Tent of Abraham, and author of Godwrestling -- Round 2, Down-to-Earth Judaism, and a dozen other books on Jewish thought and practice, as well as books on U.S. public policy. The Shalom Center voices a new prophetic agenda in Jewish, multireligious, and American life. Click here to receive the weekly online Shalom Report.