People Power is Stronger than any Occupation

It struck me the other day just how mind-blowing people power really is. In Palestine, people have the opportunity each and every day to prove this in the face of Israel’s unrelenting measures of occupation. On one of the many days I had to stand among dozens of others waiting to cross the Qalandiya checkpoint, the soldier behind bullet proof glass began screaming at the people to step back. Apparently, too many Palestinians at once proved to be a bit too unnerving for him. After waiting for half an hour just to get into the iron caged cubicle facing the soldiers inside, no one was willing to just go back. So, in a moment of amazing defiance, we all decided that we simply would not go back, come what may.

After the initial anxiety of what the soldiers might do – including the very plausible possibility that they would shut down the checkpoint and we would be stranded there indefinitely – we knew that nothing could harm us. “Let them shut it down,” we told each other. “We’re not moving.” And guess what? We were let through after the soldier threw up his hands in resignation. Such a tiny gesture suddenly felt huge.

On a much larger scale, the same theory has been proven elsewhere. After four years of weekly protests, the village of Bilin has finally begun to crack the surface of Israel’s pretentious security justifications, in this case for the separation barrier. Finally, after the nonviolent protests that brought together Palestinians, internationals and Israeli peace activists, Israel has said it would reroute a part of the wall that separates the people of Bilin from their land. While this may seem like a small step in the bigger scheme of things, it is huge in terms of Palestinian popular resistance that takes a higher ground. In the face of the world’s fourth most powerful military which does not shy away from using brute force, Palestinians in Bilin, Nilin, Nabi Saleh and numerous other areas have shown Israel that they will resist them with their determination and the power of sheer numbers.

Of course, the people of Bilin say the battle is far from over. The wall continues to separate them from their land, cutting deep into the village in contravention of international law. But it is a baby step and a direct result of a resistance that has proven its effectiveness throughout history and across peoples and nations.

Alice Walker is the perfect example of the silent strength of a soul determined to resist in the name of what is right. The 67-year old Pulitzer Prize winner will sail into the Gaza Strip on the ship “The Audacity of Hope” undeterred by the possibility that Israeli navy commandoes may storm the carrier, arrest them, attack them or even worse. She will sail into Gaza, not carrying weapons or even medicines –” just letters of love and support for the people of Gaza, especially its children.

This is the kind of resistance and determination great people and perhaps great nations are made of. Walker alludes to Gandhi by no coincidence. Her own books portray the difficulties of black life in America and the inner strength that pulls them through and makes them even stronger.

Alice Walker is sailing on the flotilla in spite of the dangers because she knows it is right and she knows it is just.

“It is justice and respect that I want the world to dust off and put – without delay, and with tenderness – back on the head of the Palestinian child. It will be imperfect justice and respect because the injustice and disrespect have been so severe. But I believe we are right to try,” she writes in a piece entitled, “Why I’m sailing to Gaza.”

She has shown what the determination of a boatful of people can achieve. In our little battle at the checkpoint, we won, not because we stooped to the soldiers’ level but because we rose above and stood up for what is truly right. In Bilin, the tireless protesters return week after week demanding that a simple God-given right be granted to them. And piece by little piece, they, just like all Palestinians, will achieve it.