Op-Ed: The promise of Palestinian nonviolence and its one, lingering question

March 5, 2012, 12:10 a.m.

Fadi Quran is a remarkable man. Peter Beinart suggested it in his Daily Beast feature. Robert Wright wrote it in The Atlantic. I know it from our three memorable overlapping years at Stanford.


In fall 2006, I approached a freshman Fadi, asking, “So, when are you and I going to get to know each other?” Despite a plethora of ideological obstacles, the trust the two of us would forge over weekly campus walks, a Shabbat dinner at my home, and even public debate, was unique. I passionately disagreed with his views. Yet I understood that the enlightened values, intellect, and a once-in-a-generation leadership he exuded predestined him to become a man capable of transforming a conflict that enflames the passions of Arab and Jew alike.


By now, many of us have doubtless seen the video of Fadi’s arrest in Hebron. Undoubtedly, Fadi’s protest was entirely nonviolent, and the soldier’s brutal arrest was unjustifiable. Fair-minded people, be they pro-Israel (as I am) or otherwise, were right to call for Fadi’s release from jail and for his charges to be dropped (as I did). And out of respect for his hardship, I felt a duty to await his release before publishing this piece.


Nonviolence has the capability to transform the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Indeed, Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution famously argued that “if [the Palestinians] had been led by Gandhi rather than [former PLO Chairman] Yasser Arafat, they would have had a state twenty years ago.” The means are worthy. And if these nonviolent means are paired with worthy ends, we ought to cheer the movement on and do everything possible to empower it.


Free thinkers are predisposed to rally behind nonviolent movements, with good reason. Historically, such justified means have been married to equally just ends. Our collective memory of nonviolence is tied to Gandhis and Kings, men who stood for righteousness while confronting hardship and discrimination. Likewise, an empowered, emboldened, effective nonviolent Palestinian movement whose ultimate aims were an end to occupation and a realization of the all-too-elusive two-state solution (one Jewish, one Palestinian) could be the greatest opportunity for peace in this conflict’s history. Moreover, Israel would be wise to reach out and strengthen nonviolent Palestinians protesting for a two-state solution because such a movement would not present a strategic threat to Israel. Quite the contrary: it would present an existential threat to anti-Israel terrorist entities like Hamas by fundamentally undercutting two assertions that underpin the extremist narrative: that the Palestinians must exterminate Israel to achieve independence, and that they can only do so through violence.


If, however, the goal of the nonviolent movement is itself extremist – to turn Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza into a single nation, demographically rendering Jews a minority and effectively wiping off the map the Jewish state – it will lose people like me forever. A movement’s just means does not negate entirely unjustifiable ends. The Jewish people have yearned for millennia to take the reins of their own destiny, in their own autonomous nation and in their ancestral homeland. That Jews today have realized this dream despite unending historical persecution and constant threats of Israel’s extermination is nothing short of miraculous. I acknowledge that the Palestinians, too, have a claim to this land, and I accept their right for statehood. But just as I hope nonviolence paves the way for Palestinian independence, no actor can be considered acceptable if its stated goal would mean the destruction of another sovereign state. Such unjust proclamations require no Gandhian or Kingian moral courage, but instead evoke the radical sentiments of Hamas and Hezbollah.


Fadi has tapped into something. Never before have I seen so many proudly pro-Israel Jews rally behind a Palestinian. The nonviolent movement is real and growing, and I believe that within a generation its leaders have the potential to replace both Fatah and Hamas as the legitimate representation of Palestinian aspirations.


Now, with Fadi freed, is the time for the leaders of this movement to state their ultimate goal. Do you acknowledge Israel’s right to exist, or not? Is it the two-state solution you seek, or a de facto destruction of Israel?  The answers will determine whether I, and those like me, can stand with you for your means – or cannot for your ends.


Mark Donig ’09

Former co-president of the Stanford Israel Alliance

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