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29 years of nonviolent resistance - Mya Guarnieri

May 25, 2011 2:34 P.M. (Updated: May 28, 2011 8:41 A.M.)
By: Mya Guarnieri
"Here comes your nonviolent resistance," The Economist proclaimed in an article two days after the events of Nakba Day.

The writer pointed out that the demonstrations demanding an end to occupation and the right of return for Palestinian refugees that took place on May 15 were in the spirit of the First Intifada which was, by and large, nonviolent.

My colleague Joseph Dana voiced the same sentiment, in an article on Alternet:

"Many in the international press are claiming the Nakba day protests show that the Arab spring has arrived in Palestine…It was Palestinians who organized mass unarmed resistance against Israeli occupation in the late 1980s…It is in villages like Bil'in, Budrus and Nabi Saleh that Palestinians have continued this spirit of unarmed resistance every week for the past eight years despite continued Israeli attacks. The Arab spring has not arrived in Palestine; it has always been here."

I endorse these articles. They offer important, nuanced takes on the Nakba Day protests, the First Intifada, and Palestinian resistance to the occupation.

But they’re both wrong.

Just as the siege on Gaza did not begin, suddenly, in 2006 as a tremendous majority of journalists and commentators say (the closure was gradual, starting with movement restrictions during the First Intifada. And economic de-development of the Strip began even earlier); neither did nonviolent resistance to the Israeli Occupation begin during the First Intifada.

Nor did it begin in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Nonviolent resistance began in 1982, in the Golan Heights.

Israel—a country whose leaders have condemned Palestinian plans to unilaterally declare a state—annexed the Golan, unilaterally, in December of 1981 with the Golan Heights Law. The move was condemned by both the United States and the United Nations, with the latter going on to issue multiple resolutions against it. Before annexation, the Golan spent 14 years under the Israeli occupation that followed the 1967 war.

In early 1982, 15,000 Israeli soldiers poured into the Golan Heights in an attempt to force citizenship—in the form of blue ID cards—on the less than 10,000 Syrians that lived in the area. That’s more than one soldier per person.

But the army encountered widespread resistance. Nonviolent resistance. Massive strikes and protests against the annexation began on February 14, 1982 and went on for six months. The Syrian residents of the Golan were partially successful—while they didn’t manage to end the occupation or annexation, they were not forced to take citizenship. They became, instead, permanent residents.

Every year, on February 14, these Syrian residents of Israel mark the anniversary of their resistance with a protest in Majdal Shams.

I attended the annual demonstration, where I met Siham Monder. She stood on Shouting Hill, which overlooks the demarcation line between the occupied Golan and they Syrian Golan, waving a Syrian flag at the crowd that had gathered on the other side of the border.

Monder was 14 in 1982, during that six month period she called "the Intifada of the people of the Ramat Golan."

When the army attempted to distribute the teudot zeut- the compulsory identity document - Monder and other Syrians threw them on the ground. Some flung them in the soldiers’ faces.

Monder and the other locals I interviewed all described the same scene: the streets were blue from all the Israeli ID cards.

As for the soldier’s reaction?

"The police and the army used violence against them even though the people didn’t have weapons," Monder said. "And almost every day, we went out into the streets. All the people, everyone—little children, grown-ups—joined in."

The Golan merits attention for another reason—the elderly residents are eyewitnesses who challenge the Israeli "they attacked, we defended ourselves" take on history.

I sat down with several older men from Majdal Shams. They were elegantly dressed, their crisp, button-down shirts and sweaters topped off by paperboy caps. We sipped coffee and ate baklava. They smoked cigarettes. I did not.

When I asked Hael Abu Jabal what he remembered about the 1967 war, he answered, "I was 25 in 1967. I remember everything."

I pointed out to Abu Jabal that many Israelis say the Golan was "empty," that the occupation and annexation don’t count because "there was no one there."

Abu Jabal laughed and gestured to his friends. "And we know this is a lie," he said. "Let’s start with 1948," when all of the Golan Heights was under Syrian control, and Palestinians were being driven out of their homes by Jewish forces during the war that would culminate in the declaration of the state of Israel.

"The Palestinians fled to here, from their land, from their earth, and they came here looking for refuge. There was hope that they would get their rights, but the powerful don’t give justice and, today, they’re sitting as refugees in all the lands.

"So from the time of 1948 to 1967, I grew up. And, as I got smarter, I noticed how every so often, the Israeli soldiers came into the area and they would come close and the Syrians would shoot at them."

The Israeli army went on like this, darting across the Green Line, until 1967, Abu Jalal said, "when they started a war so they could occupy the Golan."

The work of Jerome Slater and other historians confirm this version of events.

"And after the Israelis entered [during the war], they began to force the people to leave… They shot into the air and forced people from their homes."

According to the Al Marsad Arab Centre for Human Rights in the Golan, some 131,000 Syrians were expelled from the area shortly after the 1967 war—which is how the place became "empty," open for settlement.

That the Golan’s history of nonviolent resistance went overlooked in last week’s parsing of the Nakba Day protests hints at what could happen in the West Bank, if Israel annexes it.

The world could forget.

Israelis have. Over the years, public support for returning the Golan has dropped. According to Haaretz, a 2009 poll found that 60 percent of Israelis oppose any withdrawal.

And so the Syrian residents of the Golan go on—paying taxes, receiving little in return, enduring the pain of families split between two "enemy" countries—and waiting for the world to help.

The author is an Israeli-American journalist based in Tel Aviv.
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