On the Uprisings in Jerusalem: Let Israel Renounce Violence

Photo: ynet.com

Photo: ynet.com

During the course of the tragic violence coming out of Jerusalem in the past week, I’ve been reading with familiar frustration the American Jewish establishment’s predictable accusations of “Palestinian incitement.” But I must confess I’m finding the reactions of some liberal Jewish leaders to be even more infuriating.

One prominent rabbi, for instance, who I know personally and would surely describe herself as on the progressive side of the Israeli peace camp, recently wrote this on her Facebook page:

Punching back with violence as a response to violence is the easy reaction. Each side has much to point to on the other side — each claims the mantel of victim, each claims the justice of their violent response. It takes courage to commit to non violence and lasting justice for all.

This is, indeed, the liberal Jewish meme when it comes to these outbreaks of violence in Israel/Palestine: “the level playing field.” According to this narrative, there is violence on both sides and peace will only come when courageous leaders on both sides commit to nonviolence.

The only problem with this narrative of course, is that it utterly ignores the all-pervasive and overwhelming nature of Israeli state violence. And given this structural imbalance of power, it is disingenuous in the extreme to somehow claim that “each side has much to point to on the other side.”

Yes, all violence is ugly and it is tragic – but this violence also exists within a context. Logically and ethically speaking, we simply cannot equate the brutal reality of state violence with the violence of those who resist it.

Yes, it does take “courage to commit to nonviolence and justice for all.” But when a state regularly employs violence to control and dominate another people, it is so very wrong to blithely call for “nonviolence” on all sides when that people inevitably fights back.

Nelson Mandela (once a “terrorist” now a “statesman”) certainly understood this when then South African Prime Minister P.W. Botha offered him the chance to be let out of prison (for the sixth time) if he publicly renounced violence – and Mandela famously responded, “Let him renounce violence.”

And even the most revered nonviolent leader of our day – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – had this to say in 1967 after speaking to the “the desperate, rejected and angry young men” who resorted to violence in America’s black ghettos:

I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today, my own government.

Yes, those in the Jewish community who purport to support the cause of peace must first reckon with the reality of the context of violence that exists every single day by a people who live under military occupation.

How many liberal Jewish leaders have called for “nonviolence” when last year, one Palestinian was killed by the Israeli military every 4.26 days? How many called for Israeli “nonviolence” last month after the killing of  Hadeel al-Hashlamoun, an 18 year old Palestinian woman who was shot and killed by an Israeli soldier in Hebron in what Amnesty International has described as an “extrajudicial execution?” For that matter, how many called for “lasting justice” this last July, when a Palestinian family was burned alive by settlers and the Israeli government stated it “had chosen to prevent legal recourse” even though it knew the identity of the murderers?

Frankly, given this constant and all pervasive context of Israeli state violence, it’s remarkable that these kinds of Palestinian uprisings don’t break out more often than they do. But when they invariably occur, we do the cause of peace no favors when we proclaim that “each side has much to point to on the other side” and call for a renewed commitment to “nonviolence.”

How will we achieve lasting justice for all? To paraphrase the oft-quoted Nelson Mandela: “Let Israel renounce violence.”

10 thoughts on “On the Uprisings in Jerusalem: Let Israel Renounce Violence

  1. David Rosenberg

    Israel has never used violence offensively. It only defends its citizens (Jews, Muslims, and Christians) in the least violent way possible, making the maximum possible effort to avoid any harm to non-combatants. Anyone who would like to advance the cause of peace should spend their efforts trying to end the incitement against Jews, the Jew-hatred, and the encouragement to murder Jews continuously promulgated by the leadership of the Arabs who live in Gaza, Judea, and Samaria.

    1. pippiann2014

      Wow, Mr. Rosenberg. Wherever did you get that bubbleful of non-information from? Burst the bubble and see if your defensive Israel will let you take an in-person, resident-led tour of Gaza. I went there in 2009 after Operation Cast Lead and my lifelong support for your Israel went from 99% to 0%. It was the Israeli gunboats taking potshots at Palestinian fishermen that burst MY bubble. And it only took I day.
      The Israel/Palestine issue is much too serious to be left to “opinion”. You need facts, and facts can come from touring the places that you talk about, first-person accounts, and checking out news agencies that don’t toe the party line. You do yourself and others a disservice if you do anything less.

  2. William Thomas

    Well said. The two “sides” are not equal and as long as Israel’s government orders its military to continue with its ugly and brutal occupation, and does not rein in the extremist colonial settlers, there will be no just and lasting peace with equality and security and human and civil rights for Palestinians — and in the long run, neither will there be for Israeli citizens as well.

  3. Josh Karsh

    “When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con.” TNC (4/27/2015, discussing Freddie Gray).

  4. Ellen Brotsky

    As always, you cut to the truth of the situation!!!! In understandable and eloquent language. Thank you!!!

  5. gwpj

    Earlier this morning I read this interesting quote: “Even Gandhi would understand” the violence of Palestinian resistance, which fits very well with your comments in this post.

  6. Adi

    Your article paints a picture of innocent Palestinians participating in a resistance to a powerful state and ignores the extreme hatred and violence that defines the charters of the organizations behind those “individual” Palestinian actions – including that of their own elected terrorist “government.” We all know very well that the Palestinian people would not be suffering like sacrificial lambs if their own people, including innumerable Arab states, cared to help them rather than use them as pawns in their own attack on Israel. I would urge you to rethink before spreading your damaging viewpoint.

  7. Ross

    It would be interesting to think about what a high school civics curriculum focused on power disparity would look like.


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