Power of Nonviolence

By   Dedrick Muhammad, Harlem Activist


After hours of discussion, planning over a hand drawn map of the area surrounding the Church of the Nativity, sneaking into the Palestinian city of Bethlehem and sending several reconnaissance mission to get the most up to day information on the Israeli army’s security patrols we were ready.  Twenty citizens of Europe and the United States had come together to voice our opposition to the occupation of Palestine by Israel.

We grabbed our Peace in the Middle East signs and marched the streets of Bethlehem toward the Church of the Nativity.

The Church of the Nativity historically is the place believed to be where Jesus Christ was born. The church is believed to be built on this sacred location.  For the last month the Church of the Nativity has been the site of a siege by the Israeli army. When the Israeli army decided to re-occupy Palestine in their war against terrorism Palestinian “gunmen”, most often Palestinian police forces attempted to fight off the military invasion.  The military might of Israel made a defensive effort by the Palestinians impossible so Palestinians in Bethlehem retreated to the one place where they believed the Israeli army dare not invade and that was the Church of the Nativity.  For a month a mixture of clergy, lay people, and Palestinian defense forces some of whom are accused of being terrorist have barricaded themselves in the church with little food or water.

Our mission was to supply those in the church with humanitarian aid: food, water, and mission and let it be known that much of the world is against Israel holding the Church of the Nativity hostage. As we made our way to the church much was learned.  Walking the streets of Bethlehem was a lesson in what it means to live under an occupation and the terror it instills.  Bethlehem had been put under a 24 hour curfew; this town of thousands looked abandoned.  There were no vehicles on the street except for an occasional ambulance, tank, or armored personnel carrier.

There was an eerie silence over the town.  There was no music, no television, and no sounds of children playing.  I begin to wonder are there really people in these buildings surrounding me.

As we walk the streets, signs of life emerge.  At first I hear some commotion in the Apartment building we are walking by.  I look up and see children waiving to us, putting peace signs in the air.  Our group warmly responds in kind.  The children start cheering the presence of the “Internationals” happy to see someone walking the streets even if they cannot.  At this point men and women come to the windows to greet us.

Hundreds of families, thousands of Palestinians have been made prisoner in the own homes for weeks.  For the crime of steeping out on the street or merely looking out the window a Palestinian can unquestionably be shot.  Israeli soldiers when possible ignore “internationals” for it can open up a diplomatic and public relations nightmare.  This allows internationals to resist the occupation in a manner Palestinians never could.

This power, this utilization of American privilege to stand up for those that have no rights anyone is bound to respect made me realize the power of non-violent action particularly by those who are citizens of and therefore protected by Western Europe and the United States and Canada.  As an African-American it reminded me of the protective role white involvement in the Black Civil Rights movement of the South played.

I briefly imagined one thousand “internationals” walking the streets of Bethlehem, escorting families to markets, guarding stores, in effect ending the Israeli closure.  Then I came back to reality and focused on the mission at hand.  None of the twenty “internationals” in our International Solidarity Movement (ISM) thought we would manage anything but to confront the soldiers at the barricades surrounding the Church of the Nativity.  As luck would have it ISM caught the entire Israeli Army around Manger’s Square sleeping.  ISM marched over the unmanned barbed wire barricade and kept going finding ourselves in Manger Square.  Apparently, even the soldiers in the tank parked next to the church were sleeping for our entire delegation made it to the door of the Church of the Nativity delivering our food and water.  We were the first people to break the Israeli siege of the Church of the Nativity and we did it on the Greek Orthodox’s P! ! alm Sunday.

After sitting in at the front of the church with our peace signs, the Israeli army eventually made its way to us dragging and pushing us away from the church.  The soldiers placed us all out of the manger square and told us to stay seated while they brought in a military escort to take us from the area.  Hawaida Arraf, the Palestinian-American who co-founded ISM, led us all to stand up and walk away from the soldiers, refusing

to recognize the authority of the occupation forces.  The soldiers were shocked that we would try to walk away from them and had only stationed a few soldiers to guard us.  After some futile attempts to block our path, the street was too wide to prevent us from going around them, they amazingly gave up and we walked away. 

This experience along with our participation in a Palestinian demonstration in Ramallah where the people of Ramallah marched to the compound of their President who was surrounded by the Israeli army proved the power of non-violent direct action in modern times and the inability of elite military forces to deal with it.

In Ramallah when soldiers started firing live ammunition at stone throwing youth, the ISM formed a barrier between the youth and the soldiers. This stopped the Israeli army from firing their guns at the Palestinians and stopped the Palestinians from throwing rocks.  This important demonstration by the Palestinian people occurred with no fatalities I think partially due to our action.

Government and the US government in particular have violent and exploitative self-interest at the base of their foreign relations.  It is up to the citizens of these governments particularly the citizens of the most war thirsty nation in the world, the US, to look beyond narrow selfishness and embrace true self-interest a world order based on peace and justice. Huwaida, the chief non-violent warrior of the ISM, always wears a button that states “If the people lead the leaders will follow.”  It is time for people world wide to lead in the cause of peace and justice using the age old method of non-violent direct action and maybe our leaders will follow.



“Let us be realists, let us do the impossible.”

“Let me say at the risk of appearing ridiculous that the

true revolutionary is guided by strong feelings of Love.”

Both by  - Ernesto “Che” Guevera