Yesterday afternoon the Students for Justice in Palestine sponsored a meeting in remembrance of Rachel Corrie. Corrie was a 23-year-old volunteer for the International Solidarity Movement, an organization dedicated to nonviolent resistance to Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. On March 16 Corrie was tragically killed when she sat down in front of a moving Israeli bulldozer in order to stop the demolition of a home. SJP, however, has unfortunately used her death as an opportunity to further its political agenda and to dehumanize the Israeli military. But by holding a meeting to celebrate her life and the principles to which she dedicated her life and her death, SJP has perhaps unwittingly endorsed the ideology of the ISM. This progressive ideology of nonviolence would be a welcome contribution to mainstream Palestinian activism.
The ISM represents the left-wing minority of Palestinian activism, a movement that has been increasingly marginalized during the past two years of violence. Israeli society would be thrilled to deal with the Palestinian left wing as a peace partner and to acquiesce to nonviolent protests; the current Palestinian approach, however, sponsors terrorism as a means of political discourse. As continuously reiterated by Hamas, Yasir Arafat’s Fatah party, Islamic Jihad, and many other mainstream Palestinian political movements, nonviolence has no place in current Palestinian activism. Just this past Monday Arafat’s Fatah movement released a statement vowing to continue attacks against Israeli civilians in the West Bank and Gaza. Hamas (which currently is the primary political affiliation of 34 percent of Palestinians) states in its charter, “There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors.” Corrie and the ISM do not represent this majority opinion. Volunteers with the ISM are required to sign agreements committing themselves to nonviolence. Were Palestinian activism to be dominated by groups like ISM, peace would be much more imminent.
The ISM recognizes armed struggle as legitimate but has often come into conflict with mainstream groups like the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. Corrie stood for peace between Palestinians and Israelis. As a member of the ISM, she advocated a two-state solution including a secure Jewish state of Israel. The ISM also acknowledges that the Palestinians’ “right of return” — the demand by the Palestinian Authority that Palestinian refugees be repatriated by Israel — is not feasible. As Huwaida Arraf, the founder of ISM, said, “I think acknowledgment of suffering and injustices, and compensation for losses is understandable.” Repatriation is not necessary for peace according to the Palestinian left wing. The ISM also says that “nothing we do is meant as a threat to Israel.” This endorsement of Israel’s right to exist in safety is not shared by Hamas, Fatah, PFLP, DFLP, Islamic Jihad, or any of the other political movements that currently make up the legislature of the Palestinian Authority. Thanks go to SJP for bringing the minority political view to the spotlight, when it is all too often repressed in Palestinian society.
Indeed, perhaps the biggest tragedy of Rachel Corrie’s death is the continued repression of left-wing dissent in Palestinian society. Groups like ISM that endorse nonviolence and progressive political views are alienated by the Palestinian Authority and, in extreme cases, persecuted. Volunteers for ISM are given a crash-course on Palestinian activism before beginning field work; part of their training includes warnings about how to avoid being considered a collaborator with the Israelis. Collaborators are executed by the Palestinian Authority nearly every day. The international headquarters of ISM is in Ann Arbor, Mich.; liberal institutions based in the disputed territories are constantly being shut down by the Palestinian Authority. Corrie’s death is a loss to those elements in Palestinian society fighting for a just and righteous leadership.
In many ways, the struggles of the Palestinian left wing are the best hope for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. In President Bush’s speech of June 24, in which he outlined the administration’s policy towards the conflict, he made clear that the first step toward peace was reform within Palestinian society. Before this step is completed, there can be no peace. I hope that SJP is indeed committed to this Palestinian reform, and that its memorial to Rachel Corrie is the first step in advocating for the Palestinian left wing. More importantly, I hope that SJP’s endorsement of ISM is an endorsement of nonviolence, and furthermore, a condemnation of violent terrorism. Instead of using the death of Rachel Corrie to dehumanize the Israeli military, we should use the opportunity of her memorial to unite around the principles of peace. Like the entire student body, I mourn Rachel Corrie and regret her death. I hope her memory serves as a blessing.
Robert Spiro is a freshman in Timothy Dwight College. He is a member of Yale Friends of Israel.