An Open Letter To My Palestinian Friends – OpEd

As my heart bleeds for those of you suffering in Gaza and elsewhere in
Palestine, I want to add my voice to those who are encouraging you to
consider revising your strategy of resistance to Israeli occupation.
See, for example, ‘Wanted: A new strategy for Palestinian resistance’

In doing this, I wish to acknowledge the long-standing and ongoing
debate over violence/nonviolence as a strategy – discussed again
recently by Ramzy Baroud in his article ‘On Heroes and Preachers: Gaza’s
New Resistance Paradigm’
with other articles cited below it – as well as the long history of
Palestinian nonviolent resistance, recorded in Mazin Qumsiyeh’s book
‘Popular Resistance in Palestine: A History of Hope and Empowerment’

I also wish to acknowledge the sensitivity of some Palestinians to
suggestions from those of us who are only Palestinian in the sense that
‘We are all Palestinian’. I did not choose my nationality. I did choose
to study, exhaustively, strategic theory and nonviolent strategy so that
I could share them with those who might be interested. I have no
interest in doing more than offering this suggestion and my help; if
they are rejected, I will be understanding. And still supportive of the
struggle to liberate Palestine.

Of course, some of you are well aware of my wholehearted support for
your struggle as well as my long-standing position on the issue of your
strategy but it feels appropriate to repeat this offer more publicly at
this time, particularly given the suffering that is now being
experienced. Hopefully, this offer will reach new ears among those of
you who are ‘ordinary Palestinians’ but also strategic thinkers, a rare
capacity in any struggle, as history graphically illustrates (and for
which an argument over the existence or otherwise of a ‘Palestinian
Gandhi’ is not useful).

In essence, I would like to encourage you to seriously consider planning
and implementing a comprehensive nonviolent strategy for the liberation
of Palestine using a book I wrote in the early 1990s: ‘The Strategy of
Nonviolent Defense: A Gandhian Approach’
This book – for which cheap, second-hand copies are readily available
via the Internet – explains how to develop and implement a comprehensive
nonviolent strategy to liberate countries living under dictatorship or
occupation. I used difficult cases such as Palestine, Tibet and China
(each of which I studied extensively) to ground the book. I also
explained why nonviolent strategy, intelligently devised and
implemented, is empirically superior to any military strategy. And I
exposed the flaws in the fairly widespread delusion that the British in
India were ‘civilised’ opponents and this explains why nonviolence
worked in that context.

While simpler and flawed nonviolent approaches have been used with some
success during the Velvet Revolutions in Europe in 1989, the Color
Revolutions and, most recently, the Arab Spring, these approaches are
extremely unlikely, for readily identifiable strategic reasons, to
liberate countries such as Palestine, Tibet, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia,
particularly given the role played by the United States elite in
supporting these occupations and dictatorships. If you need a reminder
of US support for Israel, see ‘Thank You, President Obama. Love, Israel’

Anyway, if you wish, you will get a taste of the strategic thinking in
the above book by reading the brief article ‘The Political Objective and
Strategic Goal of Nonviolent Actions’ recently republished here: This article explains
the vital distinction, which is virtually never understood, between the
political objective and the strategic goal of all nonviolent actions.

This offer is not intended as criticism of the courage of Palestinian
efforts but, if used, the strategic theory and twelve-point strategic
framework in this book would facilitate the development and
implementation of a far more comprehensive and, equally importantly,
precisely focused strategy for the nonviolent liberation of Palestine.
For example, it would help Palestinian strategists to understand how to
more effectively focus and use the tactics of boycotts, divestment and
sanctions (BDS) as part of a comprehensive strategy and to recognise the
importance of identifying many other tactics to complement BDS.

By basing Palestinian strategy on a precise political and strategic
assessment, the definition of a clear political purpose and related set
of demands, the definition of the two strategic aims and the appropriate
strategic goals (of both the defense and the strategic
counteroffensive), by clarifying the conception of nonviolence that will
be utilized, identifying the leadership structure including the process
that will be used to ensure the maintenance of effective strategic
coordination, by nominating communication processes, preparations,
elements of the constructive program, the nature of your organisation
including the decision-making structure and process, the timeframe of
the strategy, the tactics as well as their sequencing and attendant
peacekeeping, and by using a clear evaluation process to gauge progress
in the struggle you will give life to a strategy that can then be widely
communicated to your many allies around the world giving people vast
opportunities for involvement in support of your struggle.

Of course, even the most sophisticated nonviolent strategy cannot
guarantee to prevent insane and genocidal opponents – see ‘Understanding
Obama and Other People Who Kill’ – which have the
backing of key puppets – see ‘Statement attributable to the Spokesman
for the Secretary-General on the situation in Gaza’ and ‘UN’s Ban Ki-moon
is a partner in Israel’s crimes’
– from using military violence against us. But we can plan to minimize
its likelihood, minimize its impact if it is used and to ensure that it
is always strategically counterproductive for our opponents.

I wish to acknowledge some previous responses by Palestinians (most
recently, 18 months ago) to my offer which touch on the problems
Palestinians would face in developing and implementing this strategy.

‘I still believe that our biggest weaknesses are in both vision and
strategy and I also believe that you don’t need to have vision first,
but when learning what you can do, learning that you can actually face
the impossible, then you can also create space for dreaming the

‘I’m glad you have taken this initiative. As an advocate of nonviolence
I can tell you that never before has it been so hard to promote it as is
now. Israel’s heavy handed response to nonviolent protestors, the
constant failures of the PA to secure the rights of Palestinians through
diplomacy and negotiations coupled with the final round of violence in
Gaza and the rise of Hamas’s militant brand of resistance has made
things challenging to say the least.’

So it isn’t going to be easy. But the point is this. Palestinians are
struggling with enormous courage, as they have always done. And the
‘world public’ is really waking up to what is going on. A comprehensive
nonviolent strategy will allow all of us – those of us who are
Palestinian and those of us in Israel and elsewhere around the world who
identify with Palestinians – to play a strategically effective role in
your liberation struggle.

So if you are interested in developing a comprehensive nonviolent
strategy for the liberation of Palestine, I would be happy to assist you
to do so. And there are many solidarity activists and groups around the
world who will no doubt be happy to help implement it.

For the nonviolent liberation of Palestine; Robert

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Robert J. Burrowes

Robert J. Burrowes

Robert J. Burrowes has a lifetime commitment to understanding and ending human violence. He has done extensive research since 1966 in an effort to understand why human beings are violent and has been a nonviolent activist since 1981. He is the author of ‘Why Violence?‘ . His email address is [email protected] and his website is at

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