For years now, Israel and its supporters have been calling on Palestinians to find their Gandhi, so to say. It appears that he was found a little over one week ago after local villagers safely delivered a stranded Israeli soldier to his unit during a military incursion near Ramallah in the West Bank. The coverage was overwhelmingly positive — after all, the soldier came out of his debacle unscathed — but we must not allow this supposed PR win to dehumanize the Palestinian people or to mask or outweigh their values and principles.
Naturally, I, like many, hold mixed views over what took place in Budrus. I certainly recognize the humanistic gesture undertaken by the locals when they escorted the frightened soldier through the village but I stand at odds with the idea of voluntarily assisting an occupying force and normalizing its presence, especially as it storms through Palestinian towns and arbitrarily detains men and children. My contention, however, isn’t nearly as troubling as the perceived sense that after six and a half decades of failed opportunities, Palestinians have finally done the “right thing”, that this act of courage, as I’m hearing it said, has shown the world the human face of an otherwise ugly and brutish people.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how it’s being pushed. The Palestinians, for the first time in ages, have chosen to work with not against their occupiers and deserve a round of applause. But the patronizing claps, as deafening as they might be, frame Palestinians as the aggressors. In so doing, the applauding audience, saturated with mainstream reporters and orientalists, is complicit in mitigating Israeli accountability and reducing Palestine’s rich history of nonviolent resistance and activism to a nub. So is this really a model PR win?
This is a hard question to answer because, naturally, the problem is multifaceted. For one thing, there is no formal protocol for dealing with Israeli soldiers who happen to lose their way in a foreign town. The actions undertaken by the Budrus locals were indeed well-intentioned and, I’m sure, spared the community from an imminent re-raid in search of the missing soldier. So in this sense, the PR win was earned. But this shouldn’t sidetrack us from the more important issue, that there is no protocol for questioning Israel’s actions in the territory. What was the soldier doing in the village in the first place? Which house was he planning on forcing his way into? Which youth was he going to transfer to Cell 36?
The problem lies deeper than that. This isn’t the first time Palestinians have championed a nonviolent attitude, contrary to public belief. In fact, nonviolent resistance lies at the core of Palestinian activism. The weekly protests against the Wall in Bil’in and Nabi Saleh are excellent examples, especially when taking into consideration Israel’s tendency to fire projectiles at the faces of unarmed activists. Budrus itself was glorified in a film documenting its extensive history of nonviolent opposition to the occupation. Furthermore, Palestinian civil society maintains its global call for an active boycott of Israeli goods. To ignore this field of Gandhis is to invalidate the values of an entire people, to shamefully define Palestinians in whichever way is necessary to justify Israel’s unrelenting abuse of their civil and human rights. As noble as these actions might be, the positive coverage doesn’t take into account the long history of righteous actions undertaken by Palestinians at home and abroad.
But the problem runs deeper still. People within the pro-Palestine camp have tasted the potent potion of this kind of PR success and are already making themselves comfortable. Now, PR successes in today’s mainstream media are few and far between so this is all but an understandable reaction. The most powerful media industries, reflecting the stances of their governments, award Israel the impunity it needs to maintain the longest lasting occupation in modern history. But that rare PR win is still not something to celebrate if it mislabels, dehumanizes, or patronizes Palestinians by playing into the farfetched notion that they can actually be ‘tamed’, that they can do something right for a change.
After all, who defines “right”? The same establishments that stand in silence as Israel razes bedouin towns deemed ethnically unfit? The same individuals who commended Israel every day of its twenty-two day assault on Gaza? The same governments who turn a blind eye to the apartheid policies enforced with their military aid? Since when are Palestinians expected to bend over backwards to fit Israel’s perception of peace, a term it so grossly misunderstands?
So let the boycotts do the talking. March in Nabi Saleh weekly. Keep the Gandhis coming. They may believe Palestinians are inherently violent, that they are nothing more than security threats, that their first good deed happened one week ago, but they will see otherwise. The greatest and most representative PR win of all is on its way.