Under the spiritual influence of Mahatma Gandhi and his leadership in India, Dr. King senior focused on non-violence as a tactic and strategy to leverage the African-American struggle for equality of rights in his country. The struggle mainly succeeded because of the determined manner in which it was conducted in the face of blatant, consistent, and systematic violence.
The non-violent approach unequivocally won and changed forever the history of the United States and of the entire world. The precedent it created, similarly to the French revolution 200 years earlier, turned into a symbol with present and future implications on political struggles in various locations.
As opposed to the French Revolution, which introduced the idea that liberty and equality can only be realized through violence, the message conveyed by Martin Luther King and his associates was that a just society will emerge out of a non-violent struggle.
Violence, even if it stems from genuine motives and distress, fans counter violence and perpetuates the original pain that gave rise to it. More than any other people in the world today, the Palestinians should have adopted the non-violent model. Had they done so vis-א-vis the Israeli occupation, it is likely that many Israelis fed up with violating human rights and controlling another people would have joined them, and we would have seen the emergence of an independent and functioning Palestinian state a while ago.
The ongoing violence, both through its spontaneous and popular displays in the first intifada as well as the evil aspects of mass undiscriminating terrorism, extended and perpetuated Palestinian misery. The fact that many Palestinians condemn the violence and are aware that its results are destructive for them does not change a thing: Ever since the beginning of the conflict, the violent approach ruled and suppressed any possibility of another protest.
Yet for Israelis too, the non-violent approach is odd and foreign, unpopular, and seen with contempt by a culture that has become used to violence and aggression from its very inception.
And here lies the conflict's tragedy: Non-violence – this is the key to changing the situation where both sides are losing every day. Until this model is adopted, the change won't come. However, this model suffers from a false image premised on basic lack of understanding regarding the essence of the phenomenon: Non-violence is perceived as a weak and ineffective model of concessions.
Yet as a rule, reality is different: The single student vis-א-vis a row of tanks in China's Tiananmen Square; a mob of young people facing rifles on the streets of Ukraine; and Dr King himself, walking erect in the face of a hostile crowd in Georgia – those are not images of weakness, but rather, of strength and determination.
Violence as a career
Non-violence is the blatant expression of standing up for what one believes in. Being dragged into violence and imitating the conduct of the other side are equal to the renunciation of principles and beliefs, while capitulating and adopting the rules of the game introduced by others.
Many times violence stems from despair, losing one's head, and lack of choice. Non-violence is proud, has many faces, and boasts many choices. Ultimately, it's also a symbol of political efficiency: Following 381 days of a bus rebellion in Montgomery, Alabama, the bus company caved in and allowed African-Americans to sit anywhere they wish; sit-ins at
restaurants and coffee shops managed, despite the beatings, spitting, and harsh humiliation, to curb the phenomenon of "places that are out of bounds"; eventually, non-violence, and only that, led to the annulment of all aspects of racial segregation.
Yet despite its obvious advantages and despite the accumulated historical experience regarding its necessity, resorting to non-violence in our region isn't simple: Many Palestinians and Israelis built a career based on mutual violence and developed their individual identify, meaning of life, and group attachment on the basis of perceiving the other as violent.
The negative and satanic image of the enemy flourished as a result of the occupation on one side, and terrorism on the other side. Non-violence threatens and endangers this outline, which has been created and
reinforced through hard work for many years. How many Israelis, for example, are familiar with the Palestinian organization for non-violence and democracy, which engages in widespread activity at schools and public institutions? Not many, as such familiarity may crack the collective violent image of Palestinian culture.
There is no doubt that similar examples exist on the other side as well – and again, we are trapped in the grim symmetry of the conflict.
If we return to the two great historic revolutionaries – Robespierre and Martin Luther King - we can ask: What did the French Revolution bring us, aside from the recognition that the time of absolute government had passed, and that equality and liberty were needed? It brought us the tradition of violence as a tool for realizing goals.
And what did the violence bring to the 20th century? The deprivation of equality and liberty from many people, in addition to the killing of many others. Such horrific means cannot be sanctified by any goal.
If they are not blind to history, and if they seek life, both Palestinians and Israelis must adopt and preach immediate non-violence in order not to taint the 21st century as well.
Dr Peleg is a political communication lecturer at the Netanya College