Remembering the Palestinian Declaration of Independence

A Palestinian hangs a photo of the symbolic Palestinian Declaration of Independence, written by Darwish in 1988. (Photo: Al-Ittihad)

“We have triumphed over the plan to expel us from history.”

— Mahmoud Darwish

Twenty-three years ago today, on November 15, 1988, the Palestinian Declaration of Independence was presented by Yasser Arafat in Algiers on behalf of the Palestinian people, and “in the name of God, the most compassionate, the most merciful.” The document was written by the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish one year into the nonviolent movement that would become known as the first Intifada, literally, “shaking off.”

Today is an opportunity to reflect on the progress, or at least the developments since then, not only in Israel and Palestine but around the world. For nonviolence is rapidly becoming a global phenomenon that may even—dare we say it—finally shake off the empire of globalization that is threatening to throttle human aspirations everywhere.

We would like to concentrate here not so much on the quantitative spread of nonviolence (Richard Deats and Walter Wink calculated that more than half the planet had seen a nonviolent campaign of major proportions back in 2000, and they are already out of date) as on lessons learned, new habits and institutions formed, networks built and best practices assimilated.

What is qualitatively new in the Palestinian struggle? Well, the obvious: that they have applied to the UN for recognition as a state. This moves toward fulfillment of the 1988 Declaration:

In the context of its struggle for peace in the land of Love and Peace, the State of Palestine calls upon the United Nations to bear special responsibility for the Palestinian Arab people and its homeland. It calls upon all peace-and freedom-loving peoples and states to assist it in the attainment of its objectives, to provide it with security, to alleviate the tragedy of its people, and to help it terminate Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.

From the grassroots also, with the two recent waves of flotillas courageously attempting to relieve the siege of Gaza (and successfully drawing international attention to that violation of international law) we saw a kind of nonviolent “pincer movement” with international action mirroring a renewed struggle from the West Bank villages themselves. Among those villages a far greater sense of commonality arose—despite the extreme difficulty of communication imposed by the Occupation—under the auspices of the Palestinian Popular Resistance Committee and similar organizations.

International recognition and internal solidarity are potent factors in a nonviolent campaign; and we are reminded how in the First Intifada itself there arose a combination of “constructive program” projects and active resistance that had rarely if ever been seen since Gandhi’s great campaign. That it came about more or less of necessity is testimony to the creativity that nonviolent struggle tends to bring out in people and to the fact that most innovation in nonviolence has been stumbled on serendipitously—but that is changing.

One of the most significant signs of progress worldwide has been the beginning of systematic learning across movements, of which the input of American scholar Gene Sharp and Serbian youth activists from the successful Otpor movement of 2000 in Egypt was only one relatively well known example.

It is well known now that the important things we learn we learn most efficiently from story-telling. Here is one:

Shortly after the First Intifada a twelve-year-old boy came to our friend Mubarak Awad, one of the movement’s leading figures and a major proponent of its nonviolence, with a complaint. The boy had thrown a stone at an Israeli jeep and a soldier from the jeep had chased him down and beaten him badly. But that was not his complaint. In fact, with increasing difficulty, he had waited for the patrol the next two days and again thrown his defiant stone, only to be beaten once again. But on the third occasion when the soldier caught up with him, he gave him a hug and went back to the jeep. “Why did he hug me?!” he asked Mubarak. Who told him, “because he is human.”

If there is one thing characteristic of nonviolence, and a principle that we cannot forget, it is that the nonviolent vision, this form of struggle, awakens the humanity of oneself and one’s opponent. This renewed sense of connection is not merely a fruit of the tree of nonviolence, it is its very core and our highest victory, because from it will emerge new ideals, stronger communities and healthy children.

Given the spirit of this twelve-year-old that has now resonated throughout the Arab Spring, matched with the spread of learning about nonviolence, we dare hope that the inspiring words of the Declaration will come true in our lifetime:

The State of Palestine is the state of Palestinians wherever they may be. The state is for them to enjoy in it their collective national and cultural identity, theirs to pursue in it a complete equality of rights. . . Governance will be based on principles of social justice, equality and non-discrimination in public rights of men or women, on grounds of race, religion, color or sex, under the aegis of a constitution which ensures the rule of law and an independent judiciary. Thus shall these principles allow no departure from Palestine’s age-old spiritual and civilisational heritage of tolerance and religious coexistence.

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