“Palestinians need a Gandhi.” It’s become commonplace to hear Western observers lamenting the absence of a nonviolent movement in Palestine, an appeal that is especially resonant after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel. The violence against civilians perpetrated that day was morally unjustifiable. And practically speaking, nonviolent campaigns have historically been much likelier to achieve their goals compared to violent rebellions.
Yet all too often, calls for nonviolent action in Palestine come devoid of context, delivered as moralizing lectures rather than forthright and sober assessments of the possibilities for effective nonviolent action against Israeli occupation.
To begin with, faulting Palestinians for their purported failure to embrace nonviolence elides a lengthy history of Palestinian nonviolent activism. As with many other nonviolent movements, Palestinian activists have not always been perfect models of Gandhian ahimsa. Nevertheless, they have frequently employed various nonviolent tactics, suffering courageously for nonviolent principles. Thus far, those efforts have yielded largely bitter fruit.