The American civil rights struggle of the 20th Century is no different than the civil rights struggle of Palestinians living in Israel and under occupation. But what Palestinians need is a civil rights movement that is truly driven by peaceful protest and that can help restrain the urge to vengeance and revenge. Israel is using the violence of Palestinians to distract the world from its own violent crimes, its own immoral policies of land theft and discriminatory policies. What Palestinians need is a civil rights movement to confront Israel’s violence
By Ray Hanania
Most Whites in America were not racists, haters or involved with violent at the height of the country’s discriminatory policies against Blacks. But they did allow themselves to appear complicit by failing to speak out forcefully, or by looking away and pretending to not see the obvious.
The racism was driven by a small but sizable segment of American society. The Ku Klux Klan was a strong but still minority organization, mainly in the South. Not all Whites lynched Blacks from trees, murdered Black men for looking at White women, or screamed at government meetings to prohibit Black children from sharing classrooms with their own White children.
Yet, until the majority of Whites accepted the ugliness of the racist hatred that drove America’s segregation, nothing could change. The passage of laws in America didn’t bring about the change or offer equal rights to African Americans. It was the civil rights struggle that forced the majority of White America to open its eyes to the evils of racism. It was when Americans were forced to open their eyes and find the moral courage to do what was right that brought about the change that continues today.
There was some violence from Blacks against the racist policies. But that violence from Blacks did not bring about the change either, because violence in response to violence is never the answer.
That same challenges face Arabs and Jews in Palestine and Israel. A real gap exists between Jews and Arabs. “Skin color” is not point of the conflict there, but the same attitudes, differences of culture and religion keep the two sides apart. It is a racism, too, even though the racism is less about skin color and more about religion combined with cultural differences between Arabs and Jews.
That means that what Blacks did in America to overcome horrific discrimination and racist policies, Arabs can do in Israel, too, to end Israel’s apartheid-like policies and racist attitudes that fuel the conflict.
But violence from the oppressed, the Palestinians, is not the answer. Violence creates a false sense of satisfaction for those who are brutalized by a much more powerful force. Many Israelis are much like the segregationists and the leaders of the Klan during the first half of the 20th Century in America. They use fear and the apathy of the majority of the society to justify immoral conduct.
The alternative to violence is peaceful protests. And it is not without a price, though. Palestinians who chant for freedom will still be killed by extremist violence in Israeli society. Israeli soldiers driven by racist hatred and extremist policies will still walk up to severely injured Palestinian civilians lying on the ground and shoot them in the head, execution style.
It’s wrong, but it is far worse when the victim is throwing chants of freedom and not wielding a knife or a stone.
I think Palestinians must consider building a truly genuine civil rights movement similar to one used by American Blacks. Changing Israel’s policies and practices won’t bring about freedom. Changing attitudes and perceptions will.
Even after the United States took legal steps to recognize the rights of African Americans and declare the segregation of American schools as being unconstitutional, African Americans still had to take to the streets and fight individually and as a society for their rights. That’s because despite the adoption of laws in America against discrimination and segregation (the separation of the races), racist attitudes fueled discrimination through most of the latter half of the 20th Century.
Despite laws giving Blacks the right to vote, attend public schools with Whites, or even ride on public transportation as equals, these practices were still being enforced. The politicians and governments especially in the South, refused to abide by the civil rights laws because they had the backing and the support of White society.
It was the attitude of racism that drove the racism. And changing the attitudes is sometimes more difficult than passing laws.
But it was on that long road to changing attitudes of American society that many African Americans were lynched, murdered and denied the Rule of Law in courtrooms and police stations.
Even though laws existed or had been adopted, such as the Brown decision in 1954 declaring segregation in schools as a violation of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, Blacks continued to be targeted and murdered, including Emmett Till, a 14 year old who was killed in August 1955 for speaking to a White Girl. Although the killers, the girl’s brothers, admitted the killing after a trial acquitted them, the law prevented them from being prosecuted again, because they were White.
Last month, an Israeli soldier walked up to a severely injured Palestinian civilian, Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, who was lying on the street practically motionless and shot the young man in the head, murdering him in cold blood as dozens of other soldiers and police and medical personnel looked on.
A friend of al-Sharif, Ramzi al-Kasrawi, had been shot and killed by an Israeli. The Israeli military claimed, with no independent evidence, that the two 21-year-old Palestinians attacked one of their soldiers with a knife.
No one would treat al-Sharif’s wounds as he lay on the ground. Israeli medical and police personnel stepped over and around his body as if he were dirt. (For more on the murder of al-Sharif, including to view the video, click here.)
The cold blooded killing of al-Sharif in Israel in 2016 is no different than the cold blooded murder of Emmett Till in Mississippi in 1954.
An all-White jury acquitted Till’s murderers and ignored evidence that the killers had the backing of the local police.
Israel has charged the soldier with killing al-Sharif, but only because the murder was captured on video tape by a Palestinian volunteer for the Israeli civil rights movement, B’Tselem. Israelis have vowed to kill the videographer for making the video public. Had it not been for the video, no charges would have been filed at all.
It was the public outcry that forced Israel to charge the soldier, even though dozens of Israeli witnesses chose to remain silent and defend the murderous soldier. The soldier was charged with murder and then later those charges were dropped to manslaughter.
If there is a trial, chances are the soldier will be released with a slap on his hand, the way many Israelis who murder Palestinians are treated, a phenomena that is a symptom of racism and discrimination.
Despite the ugliness of what happened to al-Sharif, Palestinians need to distinguish themselves from the ugliness of Israeli brutality and oppression. They need to stand tall on the moral high ground. They need to respond to Israeli violence and terrorism with peaceful protests that embrace principle, morality and the rule of law.
Violence in response to violence is equally wrong.
A strong civil rights movement based on this principle of responding to aggression peacefully and the belief that Israeli attitudes can and will be changed through moral courage and strength can change things in Israel. It can make Israel less violent, less oppressive and more responsible for its actions.
Right now, violent Arab reaction to Israeli violence is only allowing Israel to claim it is the victim and that it’s oppressive policies which deny equal rights to Christians and Muslims is justified.
Israel’s policies are not justified. But neither are the violent responses by Palestinians.
Black experienced great suffering before, during and event after the civil rights movement. Palestinians will, too. But in the end, Palestinians will win back their rights and even statehood through peaceful, non-violent protest and by a strong civil rights movement that rejects violence.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning American writer and former political reporter. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)