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Book Review - Refusing to be Enemies

Book Review - Refusing to be Enemies

Jim Miles
August 10, 2011

Refusing to be Enemies - Palestinian and Israeli Nonviolent Resistance to the Israeli Occupation. Maxine Kaufman-Lacusta. Ithaca Press (Garnet Publishing, Reading, UK), 2011.

Israel has always indicated that there is no partner for peace in its relationships with the Palestinian people. Refusing to be Enemies refutes that idea solidly through its investigation into the non-violent resistance movement taking place in Palestine and in Israel. It also clarifies the nature of the Palestinian resistance and the nature of what non-violence truly stands for. As cited from Mohammed Khatib, “what the state of Israel fears most of all is the hope that people can live together based on justice and equality for all.”

A forward by Ursula Franklin points out that “it is the violent response, the abnormal, that is recorded, and analyzed and taught.” It is also the corporate media that finds the violence agreeable to its narrative of events which for the most part, as indicated by Jeff Halper, depicts “Israel as an innocent democracy and a victim of terrorism that is simply defending itself,” rather than the reality of Israel using “occupation as a pro-active policy by an ethnocracy that is the strong party in the conflict and is engaged in ethnic cleansing.” The “lethal dynamic” of having “Palestinians resisting violently and resisting through things like suicide bombings,” supports the innocent victim narrative. It helps create inside Israel a “war culture that is perpetrating wars.”

As with U.S. foreign policy, linked tightly to that of Israel, having an enemy is very convenient for the distribution of a narrative to the general population; in contrast, as indicated by Franklin, “for individual citizens, refusing to be enemies is a profoundly political act.” This relates very strongly to the often expressed idea that the simple act of living and existing is a form of resistance to the Israeli occupation. In Refusing to be Enemies, Maxine Kaufman Lacusta extends the idea of non-violence beyond the merely passive.

Maxine Kaufman-Lacusta has interviewed many participants in the non-violent organizations participating in resistance to that Israeli occupation and all that it entails. From these many interviews - many of which are transcribed in this work, providing a more personal view of the efforts of the resistance and its many characteristics - several themes and arguments stand out.

The first idea is that of non-violent resistance itself, and what it actually comprises. Obviously violence is not part of the process, but the other extreme of passivity in the face of occupation is also not part of the process. Non-violence in this work becomes a pro-active dynamic, with actions taken that are similar in nature to civil disobedience (in cultures where there is civil law, rather than military rule). Of the main examples referred to in this work relates to the iconic olive tree, and the manner in which non-violent demonstrators from both Israel and internationals have assisted the Palestinians in their age old rhythms of harvesting their olives. Other acts include tax avoidance, peaceful protests against the wall, and against house demolitions. These are not passive acts and can and have led to serious injury and death - but it is the Israeli violence of occupation producing those results.

Another aspect that rises is that of normalization. Normalization was the process before the First Intifada when Israeli governance tried to make life appear “normal” in the occupied territories through various means of trade, labour practices, and non-invasive policing. In this sense, the Palestinians do not want to “normalize” their relationship with Israel, they wish to dramatically alter it to that of equality in all areas. In other words, through non-violent resistance, the Palestinians are not accepting the status quo, are not accepting that the media will be able to present a picture that life continues as normal in the occupied territories.

The non-violence campaign involves mostly the Palestinian themselves, with support from several Israeli groups and from the international community. Without the latter as witnesses, the campaign for non-violence would be met with much stiffer military reaction than already occurs. The work recognizes that while international solidarity is essential, it is the Palestinians who by necessity must perform most of the actual non-violent actions.

With the western media essentially presenting the full Israeli narrative, and with the full support of the U.S. in all dimensions, the non-violent campaign by a similar necessity must be carried on and enlarged by the international community. The boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign is a prime factor in raising people’s awareness of the true nature of the occupation in Palestine. That this campaign is successful is evident by the responses of the Israeli government and other associated governments (U.S. and Canada in particular) to try and quash the campaign as being anti-semitic or a race based hate campaign. The majority of informed global citizens appear to be able to see through this charade.

BDS, as described by George Rishmawi, is “definitely one of the most important methods that can really get people around the world to be part of the attempts to end the Israeli military occupation of Palestine.” The boycott, involves “not only Israeli products but any products that contribute to maintaining the occupation.” As with South Africa, BDS will be a long struggle, as Israel has commercial military ties with most western countries and the corporate elites that rule them. With more information available, with more media attention, and with the ongoing persistence, sumoud, of the Palestinian people themselves, some form of non-violent solution could be attainable. That hope, and it is a hope, supports the resistance, as turnabout, the resistance supports hope.

The discussion at the closing of this work covers the many permutations of one state, two states, federated states, bi-national states, but with the all encompassing underlying idea that yes there is a way to peace, that there are many “partners for peace” looking for a similar response from Israel. The nature of U.S., Canadian, and EU support for the “war on terror” and its creation of the evil other makes this a difficult yet imperative challenge.

Kaufman-Lacusta’s work is part of that effort, a thorough, challenging, and thought provoking read. Non-violence as presented here indicated the partner for peace is available to the Israelis when the time comes that they are capable of recognizing the rights of Palestinians as human beings and as citizens with equality living in a democracy. It is a valuable addition to the library of books supporting the Palestinian cause, and the necessary wider cause of global justice.


Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews for The Palestine Chronicle. Miles' work is also presented globally through other alternative websites and news publications.

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