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Saturday, October 26, 2002 Cheshvan 20, 5763 Israel Time:  16:45  (GMT+2)
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In favor of Gandhi's legacy
By Akiva Eldar

Shadan Abu-Hajla was 50 years old when she died on Friday from an Israeli soldier's bullet as she sat embroidering in Rafadiyeh park in Nablus. Her husband, an elderly, well-known doctor, was wounded in the head, and their son got a bullet in the neck. Abu Hajla was the neighborhood coordinator of a Nablus women's organization which, since the intifada, has been providing aid to the needy and preaching non-violent civil disobedience as a form of resistance to the occupation.

Anan Kadri, a nurse, is one of the group's leaders and paid a condolence call on the Abu Hajla family yesterday. She said that even after the terrible murder she and her friends would keep marching toward Israeli tanks, armed only with fresh flowers. No act of Israeli violence will change their minds, which have not been changed by the events of the last two years, that the struggle against the occupation does not justify violence against Israeli civilians.

The political and military establishments have been slow to recognize the value of the transition, particularly in the West Bank, from a violent intifada to non-violent popular unrest. Even now, the Shin Bet insists that these are local groupings, essentially marginal and that the Fatah and Tanzim have lost control over dozens of gangs scattered amid the neighborhoods and villages. But Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon, who is informed by Military Intelligence, has deigned to recognize the importance of the change, saying his iron fist should get the credit for the "Palestinian soul-searching."

Emphasizing the seemingly intrinsic and obvious connection between the tough measures the IDF is taking in the territories and the institutionalization of the internal criticism of the suicide bombings is not merely patting oneself on the back. The message between the lines is that now is not the time to stop. Let the IDF win a little bit more, and more Palestinians will lay down their weapons. Let Ya'alon "exterminate the terrorist nests in Gaza" and you'll see how they will also understand that violence doesn't pay.

Maybe that's why the IDF is in no hurry to expose the peace marches by the women and children in Nablus to the Israeli public and to world opinion: Ya'alon needs a few more months (years?) to finish his mission of "searing the Palestinian consciousness." If they take the cessation of violence too seriously, it could increase international pressure on Israel to end the renewed occupation. The joint demonstration on Saturday by Palestinian peace activists and hundreds from Ta'aysuh, the Israeli Jewish-Arab cooperation group, was rebuffed by tear gas fired by IDF troops.

In the Fatah leadership they're saying that if the situation were not so sad, Ya'alon's superficial patting of his own shoulder would amuse them. True, they understand that the terrorist attacks won't move the Sharon government from a single settlement ("or, as you call them, outposts"). But they have no intention of accepting the occupation and won't give up a centimeter of the 22 percent of historic Palestine they claim as theirs. Unlike you, they say, we have reached the conclusion that what wasn't achieved through force won't be won by more force, and that a child pushing a flower into a tank barrel advances our cause a thousand times more than a thousand bullets bouncing off that tank.

The proponents of non-violence in the territories say they won't allow anyone - not the Hamas zealots who prefer violence, and not even Yasser Arafat, who grew used to speaking in two tongues - from budging their principled position against violence. On the one hand, Arafat's declining stature in the world and especially in Israeli eyes, doesn't leave him any chance to turn into the Palestinian Mahatma Gandhi. On the other hand, there's no outstanding charismatic leader in the Palestinian political and intellectual communities who has gone down to the street and stood at the front of the crowd. At most they appear briefly in front of the TV cameras and then go home to wipe off the dust.

In Israel, meanwhile, the only reference to Gandhi is to the one from the Transfer party. True, a poll published recently by Tel Aviv University on behalf of Search for Common Ground shows that every second Israeli (57 percent) supports the right of the Palestinians to non-violent protest. But these many, good people, who could do a lot to get the violence out of the conflict, aren't getting out of their armchairs. Unfortunately, particularly for those who will lose loved ones, the established, Zionist left still hasn't shaken off the traumatic myth that "Barak gave the Palestinians everything and they responded with violence."

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