To the Editor:
In his JTA Op-Ed, Rabbi Kenneth Cohen dismissed the Palestinian nonviolence movement as irrelevant as "a Flat Earth Society in Gaza" and opposed an alleged overconcentration on that movement by Churches for Middle East Peace and by Quakers. As a Quaker lobbyist representing the Friends Committee on National Legislation on the CMEP board, I am grateful that CMEP’s advocacy conference featured Palestinians and Israelis working for nonviolent solutions to the conflict. Even the Israeli government has acknowledged that the growing nonviolence camp is no Flat Earth Society and must be reckoned with.
What else could explain the deal struck between Israel and Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike? The Israeli government implicitly affirmed the power of this nonviolent action by agreeing to some of the prisoners’ demands in exchange for an end to the strike and a denunciation of violence. More than 1,500 Palestinian prisoners joined the strike, or more than a third of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, making it one of the largest hunger strikes in history. The response from the U.S. government was as one might expect toward the Flat Earth Society: radio silence.
Rabbi Cohen wrote that “to the extent that there is a [Palestinian] nonviolent movement, it is just one small cog in an overall strategy characterized by indiscriminate violence.” There is no question that some Palestinians have committed horrific acts of violence against Israeli civilians. Palestinian nonviolence, however, is no “small cog in an overall strategy,” but rather it is in itself an “overall strategy” with a rich legacy that harkens to civil resistance under Ottoman rule. The Friends Committee on National Legislation has compiled a list of Israeli and Palestinian peace-building organizations for a glimpse into today’s movement.
Rabbi Cohen’s statement that I “made disparaging remarks about end-of-days fundamentalist support of Israel” is inaccurate. I criticized support from some Christian groups for settlements and other policies that threaten rather than support Israel’s security.
FCNL and CMEP advocate for the U.S. to empower peace builders and undercut the false appeal of violent extremism. The nonviolence movement in Israel and the Palestinian territories warrants recognition from the U.S. public and U.S. government.
Friends Committee on National Legislation