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This week’s Nonviolence Radio show shares the stories and wisdom of two guests: Osama Elewat, an activist from Combatants for Peace (a volunteer organization that brings together ex-combatants from Israel and Palestine to find peaceful solutions to the cycle of violence in the region) and Michael Beer, the director of Nonviolence International (an organization that advocates for active nonviolence and supports creative constructive nonviolent campaigns worldwide). Both guests speak about the power of nonviolence in practical terms, revealing how its strategies can be effective even in the face of terrible conflict, specifically in Palestine and Western Sahara.
Real change in Palestine-Israel relations, Osama suggests, calls for a dramatic shift in perspective: we must see the process itself as the end and we must realize that the foundation of the conflict resolution process is the rehumanization of our perceived enemies:
…we are honored to plant this seed of different ideas for resistance. If it doesn’t work now, it will work in the future. We are sure the situation will change in the future. And we want to tell our grandchildren in the future, if they ask us about what we have done to end this conflict, we want to say that yes, we saw each other as human beings.
This profound yet simple idea can take many forms and Michael talks about how it can be expressed in a range of nonviolent tactics. He encourages us to see that these tactics are already at work all around us, they are simply often overlooked. By becoming more conscious of the many creative forms nonviolent action now takes, we can choose take part ourselves, to strengthen existing expressions of nonviolence and enlarge its scope:
We want people to realize that nonviolent action is used in every country in the world, almost every single day. It’s used on a vast scale. And we want people around the world to realize that there’s an enormous toolbox of actions and tactics that people can consider to use.
Osama and Michael ask that we open our eyes to the reality of persistent violence in the world and become aware of suffering, whether or not it is on the front pages. Most importantly, however, they show us the ways in which nonviolent action is simultaneously powerful and accessible — by taking small steps, we can all work nonviolently to bring about change.
Stephanie Van Hook: On today’s show we speak with Osama Elewat, from an organization called Combatants for Peace. It’s a nonprofit volunteer organization of ex-combatant Israelis and Palestinians. Men and women who have laid down their weapons and rejected violence. In fact, they’ve adopted the means of nonviolence. Let’s hear from Osama.
Osama: My name is Osama Elewat. Combatants for Peace is an organization of ex-fighters from both sides who decided there is another way and violence is not the way and there’s no military solution to the conflict.
Stephanie: How did you get involved in Combatants for Peace? You were born in Jerusalem, you said?
Osama: Yes, I was born in Jerusalem. We moved to Jericho when I was a kid. I joined the resistance when I was 14 because of so many issues. Especially, the army was in front of my school and my house every single day. In 2010 one of my friends invited me to a peace meeting with a group of Israelis. I went there. I was mad at them, and I was really not convinced to be there. They have another vision or another narrative than we hear all the time. They believe in my rights, and they believe that peace is the way, and everyone should get his rights to live on this land. We both are equal. It was my first step in this peace field. And I started to work with the Combatants for Peace in 2012.
I worked in the beginning as a coordinator for the Jericho-Jerusalem group. And now I am coordinator for the education department.
Stephanie: I read in your bio on the Combatants for Peace website that when you were first arrested by Israeli soldiers when you were 14-years-old or 13-years-old, it was for raising a Palestinian flag.
Osama: Yeah. That was before the Palestinian Authority, where the Palestinian flag was forbidden, and it was a big crime to raise it. And the kind of resistance, the peaceful resistance, I started with my friends to make Palestinian flags, because it wasn’t in the market – by cutting old shirts and stuff and sew it together and make flags. We used to put the flags on the electricity cables or the high trees in the neighborhood. I was caught for this, and I was arrested as an administrative prisoner.
This is a law in Israel that the Israeli army – because we in the West Bank live under military rules. So, the military, the soldiers are policing us. And there are rules for us. The law here is not the same, like the law in Israel because we live under occupation. So, they can keep any Palestinian up to three years without going to court. And they kept me for nine months.
Michael Nagler: What was your first introduction to nonviolence, Osama?
Osama: Actually, it was my first resistance, which is like writing graffiti on the walls when I was 14. I wanted to resist, and I didn’t know the way. And I wasn’t strong enough to resist. So, I decided with my friends to buy something like spray brush and to write graffiti on the walls and to raise the Palestinian flags. That’s how I started. But I didn’t mean to resist nonviolently.
But when I met Combatants for Peace and I started to meet Israelis, I created a group called, “Visit Palestinian.” I started to bring Israelis to the West Bank to live in what is occupation. And I saw that this way of resistance, it helps a lot much better than violence because this way people can understand each other. And people-to-people is a sacred way to resist. And resisting occupation together, it can affect the situation much more than fighting each other to resist the occupation.
Stephanie: So, it seems that Combatants for Peace, as an organization, has a commitment to nonviolence.
Osama: Yeah. We are looking for a solution. We don’t know what is the perfect solution. What we are trying to do is to make pressure on the leaders on both sides to sit and talk and find a solution for us. No matter what is a solution, we don’t want this blood flow to keep going, we want to stop it. We still want to end the occupation, so peaceful resistance is the way and the only way to make it without threatening each other.
According to the peace agreement in 1994, the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli’s decided to divide West Bank into zones: Area A, which is under full Palestinian control, is 20 percent of the West Bank; Area B, which is under the Palestinian Authority, are given services to the people, but the Israeli army are responsible of the security over there, it’s 18 percent of the area; and Area C, it’s under full Israeli control and it’s 62 percent of the area. And this should be ended by 2000.
But what happened in 2000 — Ariel Sharon, the Prime Minister, by then, when he lost the elections, he went to the Al-Aqsa Mosque. And then the Second Intifada started. And the whole disagreement crushed.
Michael: I was just wondering, is this situation improving among the populations on the two sides? Are they responding to the nonviolent resistance?
Osama: Yeah. So, first of all, I think our first message is to bring people together because the system here works hard on separating us, on keeping us separated — both sides. We are living very close to each other, but very far at the same time. What we have done at the beginning is like we met each other as a human being, and we understand we are all humans and there is another way to sit and to talk. And we decided to bring people together. And that was our goal.
Because Mahmoud Darwish has a very famous Palestinian poem. He was like the poet of the revolution for years and years and he was in love with a Jewish woman — or lady. Her name was Tamar. So, when he was expelled in the 70s to live alone, she sent him a message. “Mahmoud, when are we going to meet?” He said, “After a year and the war.” She asked, “When will the war end?” He said, “The time we meet.”
So, for us, bringing people together is very important to meet as a human being. The situation here, unfortunately nowadays, people are disappointed from both sides. Especially from the Palestinian side. So, like the Palestinians feel we are negotiating just for negotiations. We are not getting or gaining anything from this negotiation. That’s why they started to disrespect this idea of whole peace. Because as soon as we started the whole peace process, Israelis are confiscating and taking land, piece by piece.
And we are not making big changes, actually, political changes on the ground. That’s why people don’t believe in us. But we are making small changes. Hopefully, it will lead to the big change. Like we are helping the Palestinian communities who are living in Area C, mostly, to stay, to survive and stay on their land when Israelis are preventing them of building buildings. Israelis are doing their best to ethnic cleanse Palestinians from Area C and to build more settlements.
Since the agreement, the number of the settlers raised from 150,000 to 600,000 settlers today. So, people don’t really believe that this is the way. But we keep believing that there is no other way. If we take it or don’t take it, this is the only way. Peace is the way to end this conflict. Fighting each other – we have been fighting for ages, for more than 75 years and nothing happened. So, I think we have to try another way.
If it doesn’t affect the people or it doesn’t affect the situation, it affects us on the ground. I always say how I keep hope. When people ask me how I keep hope, I say, “If I didn’t succeed to bring peace to their land until today, I succeeded to bring peace to myself.” If I don’t live in peace, peace lives in me. And that’s what’s important for me and that’s the big change that happened to me.
And we are making small changes on the ground, like we are hiring lawyers to prevent demolition in Area C in South Hebron Hills or in Jordan Valley area. We are taking water tanks to people because they are not connected to any water sources there — in order to survive. Sometimes we volunteer for them, like solar panels for electricity because they are not connected to the electricity.
Also, we walk with shepherds in the morning because the Palestinian shepherds need protection sometimes because of the settler’s attacks and the army attacks. So, we Israelis and Palestinians go to walk with them. Why I need the Israelis is because I’m using the rules of the system against the system itself because the Israelis who are living next to me are citizens even though they are living five meters away from me. They are citizens of Israel. The army don’t have the right to arrest them like me. And they can arrest me without blinking — as an administrative prisoner.
So, we protect each other and protect the people and help them to survive and to stay on their lands. That’s our big duty. And we know sometimes it’s the small changes, but it means a lot to the Bedouin who are living there and to the communities who are living there, to give them a small caravan or a tent or just a roof to sit under when it’s 50 degrees here, I mean 130 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s a big help for them. These are small changes.
And we are also changing minds of people. Like we have joint memorial day that we are doing every year, to mourn the victims from both sides of the conflict. Before, we used to call the Israeli, “Occupier,” and the Palestinian, for us, he’s a fighter. And for the Israelis, he’s a terrorist. And the other way around. But we decided to show people that people are people, no matter what. And we all are victims of the same system. And we are using this pain and this hate and this suffering to build bridges of love and connect people together.
So, now, you can see an Israeli mom or father and the Palestinian mom or father who lost their beloved, sitting next to each other, holding the hands of each other, trying to find another way. And that, for me, is a big change.
Sometimes we sit and talk and feel sorry for all the violence we took part in. And we are happy about our decision. I’m sure we have done mistakes. We don’t talk about the details because sometimes it hurts people, talking about the details. And for Palestinians also, it’s very dangerous to talk about everything they have done. They could be arrested, even for something they have done 10 years ago.
So, we talk about what is the next system, what we are going to do first, and the next step. Sometimes we apologize for seeing each other as enemies. And we visit each other. We built also, out of the partnership in this, we also became friends, close friends to each other. So, we visit each other, and we sit together, and we affect our kids and our neighbors and our partners.
So, it’s a lifeway. It’s not something like we are doing just once a year or once a week. It’s a lifetime. This is our voice and this is our choice. And we all are strict to this choice, and we all believe in it. And yes, we have done a lot of things before — from both sides. But we don’t want to stick with the past, to be honest. People change, and we believe that people are willing to change, and we believe that the way we participated and risked our lives to keep up the violence is not the right way. And now we are trying to fix the future of the new generations who are coming, inshallah.
The situation doesn’t show that we are making a big change, recently. But I think we are honored to plant this seed of different ideas for resistance. If it doesn’t work now, it will work in the future. We are sure the situation will change in the future. And we want to tell our grandchildren in the future, if they ask us about what we have done to end this conflict, we want to say that yes, we saw each other as human beings. We break the walls of that — that they wanted to keep us, and we changed ourselves, and we are willing to change other people. And we are still changing the other — changing and inspiring people by telling them our stories and telling them what we have done.
And people are joining us, slowly. The main problem is, people have lives too. And we don’t have a big international support for the peace field. And people need to work. When they get married and have families, they don’t have as much time. And they have to work more and stuff like this. So, this is our big challenge. And from the Palestinian side, also, it’s like not easy to convince people to come and work with Israelis and make change while the Israeli army are creating facts and ethnic cleansing people from their lands. But it’s happening, especially when we do joint activities on the ground.
For example, picking olives, when we go to help Palestinians. Some Palestinian lands are close to the settlements. And these settlers don’t allow Palestinians to reach their lands. So, when we go together with the kids, the Palestinian kids and the Israeli kids, we give them the opportunity to play together and to meet as a human being. And I think that’s the beginning of the big change.
Stephanie: I also want to ask you about — like one critique of the global reporting on the war in Ukraine, for example, the Russian aggression in Ukraine, and the world is, you know, putting sanctions on Russia. And all the Western countries are coming together to support Ukraine. And people are saying, you know, what about the Palestinians? What about what’s happening in Israel-Palestine? Where is the world’s support?
And this is, you know, you want to see bravery and acts of courage and acts of creative nonviolence? Look at Israel-Palestine, look what’s happening.
Osama: Thank you. This is a very important question. Yeah. As we see the whole media and the things about the war in Ukraine, which is not right. We don’t support any kind of violence or any war. And we wish this war wouldn’t happen because then the people that are going to pay the price and the leaders will sit and shake hands and celebrate their victory together.
But at the same time, we feel like why when this happened in Ukraine, the whole world, the whole European countries and the whole world — and the Americans are attacking Russia, which is right. I don’t support Russia. But why it’s not happening when Israel is attacking us for more than 50 years? Why doesn’t it happen when America attacks Iraq? What doesn’t it happen when Saudi Arabia attacks Yemen? Why doesn’t it happen when NATO attacks Libya?
So, all these things — like, we see the double standards in this war. We feel like the European blood is more important than the Arab’s blood. And no one really cares about us. By the way, the Israeli — all the international agreements, all the international agreements and all the peace agreements, by the way. And America used veto more than 80 times to protect Israel from international decisions.
And now, I guess Putin, I feel, the whole world is going against him, which is right because he’s killing innocent people which is — like I don’t want to compare my pain with other pain because you can’t compare pain. I think it’s not right. But I think it makes me feel like the world doesn’t care about me like they care about Europeans. Or actually, it’s more political interests. Where it fits them more, where it’s given them more, they go for it. And it’s not about the humanity. And it’s about the humans who are losing their lives every single day, unfortunately. So, it’s not right, the support for one side and not for everyone.
I’m not asking for a lot. What I’m asking for is something I should get by birth. I’m asking for enough water. I’m asking for freedom of movement. I’m asking to be a citizen of a state. When I was in Germany, they told me that I’m stateless, even though I’m carrying the Palestinian passport because they didn’t — I can’t travel to Germany by it, but they did recognize it as a state. So, this whole situation makes me feel like the whole human rights in this world is not really fact, but it works according to the leaders of this worldview.
Michael: You know, historically, Osama, the way people have awakened the awareness of others to the fact that they’re fully human is by practicing nonviolence. So, you are doing exactly the right thing. And, you know, we’ll do our small part to try to get this better known to a public over here, but if there are other things that you think the people in the international community could do that would help, feel free to let us know that.
Osama: Yeah. I think the people in the international community should come and see what’s going on here. I don’t believe in the leaders and the political leaders. I believe in the power of the people and not the people in power, to be honest. Sometimes when you talk to people, either Israeli’s or international – Israeli’s using antisemitism like as a big issue. So, anytime you go against Israel or against occupation, they raise this flag that it’s antisemitism. And they always say, “Judaism has nothing to do with occupation. And being against it has nothing to do with antisemitism.”
Israel is occupying us according to the international law. There are many rules and decisions by the international community, 242, 338, 2334, it’s all international decisions that Israel should give West Bank and East Jerusalem back to the Palestinians. And they are not doing that. There is an international community decision that all the settlements are illegal and Israel keeps building settlements.
Again, I want to go back to the Ukraine situation. Like when the Ukrainian was throwing Molotov cocktails, the whole world called them heroes and their pictures were everywhere. And when we throw stones, they call us terrorists. I don’t know why. I don’t know why the one who is fighting for his freedoms is called terrorist and the one who is fighting to keep occupying other people is called IDF or Defense Forces. So, all these names.
And why, if I fight, the whole world is against me. And why if they fight now, the Ukrainians, the whole world is supporting them. So, all these things are complicated. But I believe that war and weapons don’t bring anything but more hate to this world, no matter who’s right and who’s wrong. We should keep going this way. And as they say in nonviolence communication, we should sit and talk. And we should use the connection before correction. And to meet people where they are and not where we want them to be.
Sometimes when I give talks to Israeli pre-army schools, I don’t go and attack them and say, “You, you, you,” because I can’t change people’s minds in one second. But I believe the biggest thing here, the biggest issue here first, the international one-sided support to Israel. Second, is the trauma of the two people. We are two traumatized people who are fighting over history. And actually, there is nothing called history. It’s always his story or her story. Everyone is telling history according to what he has heard.
Like, Jericho is 12,000 years old and Jerusalem is 5,000 years old. And they say, “This land is mine.” I mean, a lot of people lived on this land before Jews and before Muslims and before anyone else. We should understand that this land does not belong to anyone. We all belong to it.
Stephanie: You know, as they’re sending weapons, civilian based defense is now part of the Lithuanian Ministry of Defense. That citizens need to defend Lithuania in the case of a Russian occupation. And that’s also what we’re seeing in Ukraine is citizen-based defense. And we’re seeing an Israeli-Palestinian citizen-based defense.
And we’re sending in so many weapons and fighters, you know, of violence, guns and machinery to fight the war. I think your perspective of nonviolence can be very helpful. What premonitions do you have about seeing the world flooding a conflict with more weapons?
Osama: I think this is the problem of the world. The Americans are sending Israeli billions of dollars as weapons every year. And we in the peace world don’t have sometimes gas to fill our car to go and do activity over there. If the international community supports peace as much as they support war, it will be different.
I went to America to talk about peace in 2019. I was detained from John Kennedy Airport because I was in Israeli jails. The reason I was in Israeli jails because I raised the Palestinian flag. And my friend who was in the Israeli army carrying weapons, fighting, he passed easy.
So, unfortunately, the world isn’t in a state of sending us hope and sending us more peace messengers and sending us more tools to change the situation, they are sending weapons when they want to support one side. And I don’t think weapons will help anyone. They can send as much weapons as they want, but we’re still here, and we still keep raising our voice. And we still believe that we’re going to bring the change. And the few things that we are small enough to make change, try to sleep with a mosquito in the room.
Michael: Osama, listening to you, it sounds to me like I’m listening to the future.
Stephanie: So, how can people get involved and help your mission? You said you want people to come visit. How else can they support?
Osama: To come visit. To help us. To help us. Like, if I want to go and talk about what we are doing, I need to ask for a visa and ambassadors. And here and there sometimes they give us. And sometimes they don’t give us. But when the Israeli army is sending a group of soldiers to talk about something, they get visas easy. I think we need more support from the governments on both sides. The governments do not support us, even though the Palestinian Authority don’t attack us, but they don’t really support us doing stuff on the ground.
The Israeli government is trying all the way to prevent all the supporters who are coming around the world. Like if you, as an American or European, come, and they find you in a peaceful demonstration, you will not be allowed to come back again to Israel.
I believe this conflict needs justice. All the conflicts need justice. Like for example, if the whole world now – I’m not saying about Israel or anyone else. If I am doing wrong, boycott me. Don’t allow my ambassadors to come to you. Don’t allow my citizens to fly. Don’t allow my politicians to fly. Stop taking my products until I make a change.
There is no interest in the international community to stop our conflict here, unfortunately. And I think we need more pressure from the international people and their governments to end this conflict because I have the right and my kids have the right to live free, like all the kids in the world. And no one will be free in this world as long as I am not.
And the world has to understand that there is something very strong, which is the power of love. The power of love is much stronger than the love of the power. And that’s what we need in this world, to understand.
Osama: I want to say we want support from the whole world to send nonviolence education systems to our kids in the schools on both sides, on the Israeli and Palestinian sides, to teach people about the power of nonviolent resistance, to take the lessons from the people who have done this, like Nelson Mandela and like Gandhi and like Dr. King, who changed the world. They wrote their names in history by using nonviolence, by teaching us how we can change the situation by being human and not by just fighting each other.
We need to add this to our education system. We need support. We need international pressure on our governments to make nonviolence part of our education system because it’s not there.
I believe this is not a political thing only. Peace is peace with your own spirit, with your own soul. Peace with Mother Earth, peace with the animals, peace with your neighbors, with your family. If you can’t change the small environment, you won’t be able to change outside. You start from yourself. And this is the place – if you want to start nonviolence, you should start it from your own family and your people in the neighborhood. And then it will go to other people around.
Stephanie: Thank you.
Osama: Thank you. Thank you so much.
Stephanie: On today’s Nonviolence Report, we are speaking with Michael Beer from Nonviolence International. Welcome to Nonviolence Radio, Michael Beer.
Michael: Thank you. And it’s great to speak to all of the listeners to this great radio show.
Stephanie: Now, Nonviolence International has some breaking news. You’ve been involved in helping to protect civilians in Western Sahara with nonviolence. And this is breaking news. I’d love for you to talk about it.
Michael: Beginning a week ago, on the 15th, 16th of March 2022, the Human Rights Action Center along with Nonviolence International and Solidarity 2020 and Beyond and other Shanti Sena groups sent a delegation of three U.S. citizens and one Indian citizen to the Western Sahara to break the siege of the Khaya sisters’ home by Moroccan forces.
They have been under siege for 482 days, repeatedly attacked inside their home. Raped repeatedly in front of their mothers, furniture destroyed, chemicals spewed around the house. They’ve been injected with substances they don’t know, with needles. Their electricity has been turned off most of the time. Their water has been poisoned. And yet, they still insist to go on the roof every day and wave a Sahrawi independence flag because they are strongly supportive of Western Sahara being an independent country which, as the last colony in Africa, the United Nations and the International Court of Justice have determined that they have the right to a referendum and to decide what they want to do.
Morocco, unfortunately, invaded in 1975 and has occupied the country and is now settled the country with lots of Moroccans and has resisted any efforts by the international community and the U.N. to hold a referendum. And so, they’ve been engaged in a lot of repression and oppression of the Western Sahara people, who continue to protest in the cities of Western Sahara in particular, for self-determination.
Our team of four people went in. We snuck through the siege, got into the house, and immediately, within a few hours, the Moroccans figured out that we were in there and backed off a few blocks away. And the community came out and celebrated it spontaneously in an enormously moving way.
People crying. People hadn’t seen each other in years. The Khaya sisters hadn’t seen some of their siblings in a few years. They hadn’t had people in their house. They’ve been very isolated and abused. And so, to have the community come out and celebrate with them, the kids were waving flags and jumping all around. It was just such a moving scene. Many of these people worried that when they went back home that evening that they would be abused or put on a list and subjected to repression themselves.
They’re all very fearful that when the Americans leave that there will be revenge and horrible events forthcoming. We do not intend to leave any time soon. And we are hoping that this unarmed civilian protection effort will continue, with U.S. and other citizens providing a presence there to prevent the Moroccan forces from doing open attacks and abuse of the kind that we’ve seen for the last almost 500 days.
So, it’s been quite a tremendous experience all around, particularly for our four volunteer delegation members. But also, the Sahrawi people, they feel abandoned by the world. They feel like they’re not heard. In fact, they are a country that is recognized by 80 states in the world, by the United Nations, by the International Court of Justice. And they feel like they’re like Ukraine. They’ve been invaded by a neighbor and nobody is paying any attention.
Unfortunately, the United States has tacitly supported Moroccan occupation for many decades. And under Trump, in his last weeks in office, he became the first country in the world to recognize the illegal Moroccan annexation. In exchange, Morocco said that they would recognize Israel if the U.S. would recognize their annexation 00:07:58.0 Western Sahara.
So, this is called the Abraham Accords. And this is the deal that was enacted. We are never going to get rid of war if the world permits countries to grab territory by military force. And we need to have a strong united agreement around the world that we will not accept any country doing this. Most countries in the world have historical claims on neighboring territory. Countries have evolved over time. There have been wars. Countries have been cobbled together in rather random ways.
And we can’t just use this excuse that there’s historical claim on a territory, the way Russia is saying they have historical claims to Ukraine. We have to say, “Look, since 1945 in the United Nations, we started the zero. These imperfect lines are for all to agree to. And if somebody wants to change the lines, it has to be done through persuasion and acceptance by the populations and the governments involved, and we cannot permit countries to grab territory by force. And there are only a few left that meet this criteria. You’ve got the Western Sahara grabbed by Morocco. You have the Golan Heights in east Jerusalem grabbed by Israel. You have Russia trying to grab some territory now.
Some people would include Kashmir in this category. And some might include Cyprus, possibly the Azerbaijan-Armenian conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. There are not that many of these cases. We need to be really consistent about them and hold the line because we’ll never end war if we allow and just to give a green light to this kind of atrocities.
Stephanie: Michael, I’d like to ask you more about the situation in Western Sahara and these tourists breaking the Moroccan siege. Who are the Khaya sisters, and why are they being targeted by the Moroccan military in particular? Is it random?
Michael: They are not the only ones targeted by the Moroccan forces. But they are high profile. They’re willing to speak out and be very bold. And their resistance has inspired others to also resist.
There is a eastern part of Western Sahara, near Algeria and Mauritania, that is under the control of the Western Sahara independent government. Sometimes we refer to that as the Polisario. But they have a specific name, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. And they do have an armed struggle of sorts out there at the desert. But the vast majority – and there’s a couple hundred thousand refugees that live out there in very difficult conditions.
But the majority of people, Sahrawis, live along the coast where Moroccans have control. And that resistance is entirely nonviolent, 100% nonviolent resistance throughout these occupied territories. In fact, in the 48 years of what has been a war and then a ceasefire, and then war again, and then nonviolent struggle, I’m not aware of even the armed actors of the Sahrawis ever attacking or killing a Moroccan civilian or any civilian. So, we’re really talking about an exemplary resistance.
There are many nonviolent actors, particularly women, in Western Sahara. This is for two reasons. One, is that Western Sahara women have probably a stronger social and political role in their society than any other Arab society. And the other reason is that Sahawari men are particularly abused and repressed by the Moroccans from a young age. And so, Western Sahara men are reluctant to engage in nonviolent action because they face so much repression and abuse.
That’s saying a lot, given the fact that I just talked about the Khaya sisters facing repeated ongoing rapes in their own home. In fact, Sultana Khaya had her eye gouged out when she was 19, in a protest, years ago. So, there is lots of abuse that happens to women as well.
So, the resistance in the Western Sahara is cultural resistance, where they try to maintain their language and their cultural Bedouin type of lifestyle when they can. In 2010, at the beginning of the Arab Spring – and some people say the Arab Spring started there and not in Tunisia – they engaged in just an unbelievable action where they all abandoned the city, capital city of Laayoune, and set up an alternative free city with tents in the desert. This was attacked by the Moroccans in December of 2010 and quite a few people, unfortunately, were killed, and the tents were all – many were destroyed. But this is a very dramatic action to show strong resistance to Moroccan occupation.
The resistance manifests itself in a variety of ways. For example, any time Algeria plays Morocco in soccer – football – the Sahawaris will go out and support the Algerians on the streets. And this enrages the Moroccans. So, of course, you can jump up and down if you’re a football fan, but you can’t jump up and down if you’re protesting independence directly within getting bashed on the head.
So, they use other fora to show their loyalties and show their feelings. And so, they use sports sometimes as a way to share their feelings.
They are trying to expand the battlefield to the world. That’s the great thing about nonviolence, it really is a – it’s something that you can really expand easily. I mean, of course, you can use violence around the world too, but that often gets you running into people thinking you’re terrorists – and understandably so. But they’re trying to get allied groups around the world to support them and to engage in boycotts, sanctions, and disinvestment.
In the United States last year, a new campaign has started, the U.S. campaign to end the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara. It’s led by Bill Fletcher Jr., a legendary South Africa solidarity activist and labor leader here in the United States. And there are many other solidarity efforts going on around the world to try to encourage civil society as well as governments to engage in boycotts, divestment in sanctions, and other means to pressure Morocco to end its maligned behavior.
The work in the United States is particularly needed because the United States is the only country in the world that is supporting this annexation. And it really violates international law. It kind of clearly throws into question President Biden’s statements that he is supporting international law by opposing the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and that he’s also supporting democracy. Morocco is not a democracy. It’s a very brutal dictatorship led by a monarch. And so, you can’t justify Morocco’s occupation on the grounds that it’s a democracy. And you can’t substantiate it or support it based on international law grounds, either.
So, we want the United States to be consistent as a leader in the world when it comes to human rights and international law. And our goal here is to pressure the United States to have a much better policy.
Stephanie: Michael Beer, while we have you with us, we should ask you about your recent book, Civil Resistance Tactics in the 21st Century. It’s available for free on your website, Nonviolencelnternational.net. Tell us about what this book is and how civil resistance is playing out in current events, and what people can get from the book.
Michael: Thank you very much for this question about our new book, “Civil Resistance Tactics in the 21st Century.” It’s intended to be something of an update of Gene Sharp’s Book 2, of his 1973 trilogy, the Politics of Nonviolent Action, in which he enumerated 198 methods of nonviolent action.
We have now collected 350 methods that we’re calling “tactics.” As people understand, this “tactics” word commonly. And there are many more that we are still collecting and will collect.
We want people to realize that nonviolent action is used in every country in the world, almost every single day. It’s used on a vast scale. And we want people around the world to realize that there’s an enormous toolbox of actions and tactics that people can consider to use. Because depending on the context of a conflict or a country, some actions are more readily or useful than others.
So, we have a website called Tactics.NonviolenceInternational.net, where we show pictures of these various tactics, and we would welcome people to send us new examples of new tactics with new exampled photos. And we’ll continue to grow that.
Some other things we do in this book is that I have come up with what I think are the three mechanisms for how nonviolent action actually works. And that is that nonviolent action works through three levers. One is what we call, “constructive action,” that maybe uses persuasion as a way to induce change. A second way is coercion or a confrontational action. And the third element is controlling resources or manipulating resources of any kind, whether you’re gathering a big crowd or whether you’re turning off the electricity or manipulating somehow the universe electronically or materially.
You come up with these three inducements or a combination of these three inducements, and we have a table of categories that then emerges that organizes these tactics in a way that people can understand. Generally, you can manipulate resources in one of three ways. You can manipulate resources through speech or expression. You can manipulate resources by not doing something, acts of omission, or some people call it, “noncooperation.” Examples of this might include a boycott or a strike. A boycott where you refuse to buy something. And a strike where you refuse to sell your labor. These are examples of noncooperation or not doing something.
And then a third way of manipulating resources is sometimes called intervention or creative intervention, constructive intervention. This is a category of actions where you do something materially to change the power dynamics in a society. And you can do this either constructively again or confrontationally.
So, we think that we’ve helped understand how nonviolent action actually works at a tactical level through these three inducements. And we welcome people to take a look at and see if they can improve upon our understanding and share this with others.
We’ve seen, in the last 50 years, lots of new movements which have expanded the diversity and creativity of nonviolent tactics. We’ve documented many in the cultural realm where you can have all kinds of tactics, whether it’s wearing clothes, or the kind of food you cook or grow, or songs you sing, or the arts.
And there’s an enormous amount that’s being done to support nonviolent action, to engage in nonviolent action through culture. The women’s movement, the trans-les-bi-gay movements have all brought new tactics to bear. We’re also seeing just the sheer – the spread of knowledge about nonviolence to all countries of the world, including the most harshly closed, like North Korea. We’re seeing nonviolent action being used everywhere, almost every single day.
So, obviously, the internet has had an enormous impact on nonviolent action as well, which is very exciting. Not only are there original kinds of actions taken on the internet, through flash mobs or TikTok kids registering and flooding registration events for Trump or something. You’ve probably heard about this, preventing people from going and actually signing up to go to the Trump event.
You’ve had all kinds of electronic interventions, but you also have the role of the internet as the magnifier or augmenter of ordinary nonviolent action that then is shared around the world – amplified.
I have another example of a new kind of tactic that’s being used, which is the tactic of “sousveillance”. This is the opposite of surveillance. Surveillance is what the state or the corporations do to us from above. But sous is S-O-U-S is the French word, “From below.” And so, we sousveil the authorities. We sousveil the police. One example of this that’s well known is the murder of Mr. Floyd in Minnesota who, a young woman, I think – even a girl – videoed his mistreatment and murder by the police officers there. When they told her to stop, she refused to stop filming – videoing.
And she sousveilled the police and then distributed this film all over the world, and we had a Black Lives Matter’s movement really emerge very strongly from this act of sousveillance.
So, we’re calling on people around the world to be very active with their cameras and with their sousveillance of the authorities to try to balance the power here because we know we’re being surveilled by corporations and governments very intensely.
Stephanie: Thank you very much, Michael Beer, for joining us today on Nonviolence Radio.
Michael: Thank you, Stephanie. It’s been a joy as usual. Thank you.
Stephanie: You’re at Nonviolence Radio. I want to thank our guest, Osama Elewat from Combatants for Peace. I want to thank Michael Beer for joining us on the Nonviolence Report today, to Matt Watrous, Annie Hewitt, to our mother station, KWMR, and all of our listeners on KWMR, also across Pacifica. Until the next time, everybody, take care of one another.