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After Egypt uprising, Israel can't afford to ignore nonviolent Palestinian protesters

As protests shake much of the Middle East, Israel should be less concerned with nonviolent Palestinian resistance movements than with what it would mean for them to fail. Israel should engage, not sideline, these groups. The alternatives for such a frustrated people aren't peaceful.

By Janessa Gans Wilder / February 15, 2011


For the past month here in the Middle East, I’ve been immersed in studying the world of the Palestinian nonviolence and popular resistance movements, whose pulses were racing watching the mass demonstrations that toppled the governments in Egypt and Tunisia.

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“We are seeing a democratic revolution in the Middle East. This is only the beginning, not an end, to the uprisings,” I was told last Saturday by Mustafa Barghouti, a former Palestinian presidential candidate and head of the Palestinian Initiative, whose popular resistance coalition garnered 20 percent of the votes in the last elections.

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Even the Palestinian government itself has felt pressure for political reform in the wake of Egypt’s uprising. On Saturday, the Palestinian Authority announced that it would call for elections in September. And President Mahmoud Abbas’s Cabinet resigned Monday under pressure from Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

Last week, the deputy governor of Hebron, Samir Ahmad Abuznaid, connected regional and local events, as he told me that “what is happening in the region has to do with the Palestinian cause. Israel will need to reconsider its policies, because its [Arab] allies are stepping down.”

As Egyptian protesters overwhelmed the streets with celebration at their ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, Israel can no longer afford to ignore or stifle the nonviolent, popular resistance movements of the Palestinian people. These groups carry a remarkable message of healing for a region wracked with instability and division – but their ranks are losing hope. And the alternatives for such a deeply frustrated people are not peaceful protests.

Israel should be less concerned with the presence of Palestinian nonviolent demonstration movements than with what it would mean for them to fail.

Peaceful protesters losing hope

Palestinians in restaurants and coffee shops all over the West Bank are glued to their TV sets, which are broadcasting non-stop coverage of the protests from Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, and Yemen. Locals are thrilled to see Egyptians bring an end to a 30-year despotic rule with minimum casualties, in contrast to the meager results they accrued from their own failed intifadas, with thousands killed. Some have also expressed satisfaction that Israel must be feeling the heat as its traditional allies face deep internal unrest and major shifts. But none has yet offered that a third intifada is on its way in the Palestinian territories.


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