In September last year, a river of 30,000 orange-clad monks, marching in peaceful protest at Burma’s dictatorial junta, made for a fantastic vision. Unfortunately, outside of Burma, it resulted in little more than a bit of short-term outrage.
More recently, Tibetan protestors have attempted to shine a light on their plight, achieving even less international impact than the Burmese.
It seems the Burmese and Tibetan people will continue to live under violent authoritarian control, struggling to earn Western recognition and assistance despite an ongoing commitment to non-violence.
The media reports little of the "unworthy news" of peaceful protest and non-violent struggles, until someone is either killed or action flares up in a manner that is worthy of film footage or soundbites that will attract audience attention.
As a Palestinian who strongly believes in non-violence, I am often admonished for the violent actions of my brethren. So often you hear "the Palestinians have a worthy cause, a strong case against Israeli human rights abuses and for self-determination, but until Palestinians find a different response, we cannot support you."
But why would any Palestinian, living under brutal occupation for over 50 years, follow the Tibetan and Burmese non-violent example?
Many Palestinians believe that what little gains they have made have come out of legitimate military resistance to the Israeli occupation. And where non-violence has achieved results, it has not been reported by the media. For example, the ruling by the Israeli High Court in 2006 that the Separation Wall was illegal was the result of a long non-violent campaign by Palestinian villagers from Bil’in. You would be forgiven for not knowing this was the culmination of peaceful protests against Israeli occupation; as they are rarely – if ever – reported.
In fact, there are numerous Palestinian organisations and individuals that are committed to non-violence, and many actions and campaigns have been built and modelled on the US Civil Rights movement and the South African anti-apartheid protests.
Non-violent leaders such as Ghassan Andoni and George Rishmawi, of the Palestinian Centre for Rapprochement, are continually trying to reinforce a culture of civil non-violent disobedience in Palestinian society.
Unfortunately, non-violent protesters are repeatedly beaten, killed and imprisoned. The shooting of three non-violent Australian volunteers in 2002, 2003 and 2006 made little impact on the news here. And rarely is the brutal response of Israeli soldiers to peaceful protests by Jews and Arabs – marching together – reported here.
Worse still, Israel has consistently acted harshly against the threat of non-violent action, as with the deportation in 1988 of Mubarak Awad, founder of the Centre for the Study of Non-violence in Jerusalem, years before suicide bombings began.
The Palestinian struggle is mired in a cycle of violence with Israel, and the question of how can it be compared to the Tibetan and Burmese experience is a responsible and legitimate one. The answer lies in the international response to these struggles.
If the Palestinian struggle results in admonishment, then why have the peaceful struggles of the Tibetans and Burmese been ignored so blatantly? It only highlights the captious and hypocritical disinterest of Western society and the dishonest and disingenuous diplomacy of our political elites. Unfortunately, the success or failure of non-violence worldwide could be predicated on the success or failure of the non-violent Tibetan and Burmese causes.
The Burmese and Tibetans deserve our support and outrage at government inaction and ambivalence. They also deserve action before further massacres are committed and the violent response to non-violent disobedience is unleashed.
Only then will I and others be able to turn to Palestinians and say, "Look at the leadership of the Tibetans and Burmese. That is how you change world opinion."
Donate To New Matilda
New Matilda is a small, independent media outlet. We survive through reader contributions, and never losing a lawsuit. If you got something from this article, giving something back helps us to continue speaking truth to power. Every little bit counts.