I don’t often bring what I would call “divisive” politics to this forum. I have chosen to feature Huwaida Arraf because of the incredible way her and her work reframes the conversation of protest in the face of violence. When you see the words “peaceful protest” I think it is often seen as being the starting point of where things will go from. Sure, things will start peaceful, but given some resistance on one side, a push from the other, the environment will change and so will the response deemed appropriate, justified and warranted. Huwaida Arraf has been reshaping this perception and promoting peaceful protest and political advocacy as the only way to combat violence. Peace is the only way to progress and dominate a fraught political situation and to land successful negotiations, gain mutual understandings and work towards peaceful and respectful outcomes.
I am not going to be the person to explain the conflict between Israel and Palestine centring around the Gaza strip. Let me pass that role onto the BBC and ongoing reports from Al Jazeera. It has been a long and bloody feud which has divided international political alliances, separated people from home and state and lead to an exceedingly high body count. Any reported figures are said to be far less than the reality, and the toll on civilians is particularly sad and harrowing. For so long, peace talks have been happening and failing. This situation is sustained, stressful, and deadly. So how does anyone make traction and progress in this situation?
Huwaida Arraf is the founder of the International Solidarity Movement. She is a former chairperson of the Free Gaza movement and has lead and coordinated countless academic and physical acts of protest against Israel. This video is a really great way to be introduced to Huwaida. You see her clearly redefine the speech title in a way that demonstrates how complicated this situation is. Nationality, race, social position and political affiliations are necessarily messy in the world that Huwaida is operating in but right from the start I see her explanation as the first demonstration of her forthright yet respectful method in defining her terms and getting the conversation started. Huwaida also articulates the way the political bond between the US and Israel impacts her as an individual, as someone who is also an American citizen.
So, if we haven’t established yet, this whole situation is complex, violent and hard to navigate. The creation of the International Solidarity Movement is one way that Huwaida is trying to generate mass commitment to peaceful action. Volunteers are asked to peacefully document the experiences of Palestinians in Israel. These volunteers travel to Palestine and participate in the movement. They are clearly warned on the website linked above about the dangers they are likely to face.
“The Israeli army use teargas, stun grenades, rubber coated steel bullets and live ammunition on the civilian population and they do so `generously`. There may also be situations where you come face to face with settlers, who are known to be particularly aggressive and sometimes violent. As an international worker you are of less risk of becoming a target – but this do not mean it is risk free!”https://palsolidarity.org/about/faq/
This non-affiliated organisation is doing their best to work in peaceful ways to highlight negative treatment of individuals, generate political action and communicate the needs of at-risk Palestinians. Huwaida is putting herself at significant personal risk to be the face of this organisation, as well as with all of the work she has participated in leading up to the foundation of this organisation. Her resilience in the face of possible repercussion is admirable, her tenacity to maintain her stance on non-violent responses after being privy to all too many examples of the opposite is, in its very essence, inspiring.
The ways in which “protest” is executed is often creative and subtle. One of the ways people support the International Solidarity Movement is by accompanying farmers to their fields. A simple act of being present with the ability to record incidents should they happen, the fact that the volunteer is present and accounted for, is a very powerful use of human influence in a peaceful capacity.
In a time where the global mental load is heavily dominated by COVID-19 related sufferings and on the individual level people find it hard to even open a news article and read it in full, it is hard to keep the momentum going in the collective minds about issues such as these. I am hopeful that this spotlight on the hard work and efforts made by a group of individuals to demonstrate peaceful resistance is a welcomed distraction in your day. The way that people can persist with hope despite hardships and set backs is always admirable. This is a great example of that.