Building a nonviolent resistance movement is no easy task. Part of what I learned in Gaza is that we were a building a resistance movement not just against the Israeli occupation, but against a whole host of social pressures and barriers. The nonviolent strategy we were being taught was aimed not just at transforming and ultimately ending the conflict, but also at transforming Palestinian society, so that if and when the conflict ends, the Palestinians have a way in which to move forward and deal with the vacuum that will be left with the withdrawal of the Israeli forces.
We did a number of exercises where we talked about major problems facing Gaza. While the settlements, restriction of movement, and Israeli control of the water were always high on the list, so were domestic violence, favoritism within the PA and discrimination against women. As a group, we began to see these internal problems as almost equal in their importance to the liberation of the Occupied Territories as the Israeli barricades. What struck me very clearly was that cleaning your own house is a key element in resolving conflicts with others.
The method of organization we were learning, consensus decision making, is not always intuitive and conflicts with a number of social norms here. For one thing it challenges notions of authority and hierarchy, since there are no leaders and there is no set chain of command. Instead each person has a function and these functions can change easily depending on the circumstances. For another, all decisions are made with the consent of the whole group. No decision can go forward if one person in the group disagrees with it. While this may seem inefficient at first, in the end I believe it is the best way because it addresses the concerns of everyone and values everyone’s opinion and perspective equally. This then mitigates the number of errors made in the long run. There is also a good amount of flexibility in this organizational structure. Continuous evaluation and revision of plans for the future allow for changes according to the circumstances and since no decision can be made without consensus from the group, all perspectives are heard and any problems are brought to the attention of the group to be dealt with accordingly.
Perhaps most important, what we were learning within this workshop was to value the other person’s opinion and see the other as human and worthy of respect. Hopefully with enough practice within the safe environment of the group, this attitude will then be extended to our everyday interactions, including with Israelis. In an environment that is so dehumanizing, this, in my opinion, is one of the best methods of resisting any barrier – Israeli or Palestinian – and of empowering the individual. While the buildup of this type of resistance is slow and sometimes painful, I have come to believe it is the best way to bring about real, lasting change.
Posted By Caitlin Williams
Posted Jul 28th, 2003