3 Key Insights for Building a Powerful and Loving Movement Against Oppression in Palestine-Israel
If you’re reading this, perhaps your eyes are bloodshot from doom-scrolling or tears for the many victims in the current nightmare. We can relate. We humbly invite you to take a breath and pause. For any readers who need this reminder: When emotions run hot, it’s extra important to take very good care of your body, spirit and each other. Our team at Beautiful Trouble has a commitment to reflection and offers a toolkit for community resilience.
As an international network of artist-activist-trainers who created a toolbox documenting the key strategies and tactics that have inspired centuries of people-powered victories, we offer these three insights that can help ground you in this destabilizing moment, and can help guide effective, meaningful action.
1. Framing matters
Like the frame around a photograph, a conceptual frame highlights certain events and facts, while making others invisible. Effectively framing your message can make the difference between winning and losing. Right now, much of the U.S. news is running with a short and horribly incomplete story: that Hamas coordinated surprise attacks on Israel that murdered more than 1,300 people and took hostages. Israel is retaliating by bombing the Gaza Strip, striking a hospital, and coordinating a brutal land invasion. More than 3,000 Palestinians have already been murdered, including hundreds of children. It is, the mainstream media tells us, a horrible situation, nonsensical, out of the blue. To move towards a fuller understanding, we must pan out the camera to see the wider picture, the larger historical context.
For more than 75 years, the Palestinian people have been resisting occupation, dehumanization, ethnic cleansing, forced displacement, imprisonment, the denial of basic human rights and other injustices from the Israeli state. These harms have been categorized, by credible observers, as crimes of apartheid, recalling the brutal white minority rule over Black South Africans. (See Amnesty International’s report).
Five years ago, the U.N. deemed the 25-mile-long area called Gaza, one of the most populated places on Earth, “unlivable,” due to Israel’s illegal land and sea blockade. There are more than two million people — half of whom are children — living in Gaza. Since Oct. 10, Gaza’s residents have been cut off from water, electricity and food by the Israeli military. This is a war crime, endorsed by the Israeli state and tolerated by the United States and its allies.
Today’s horrific reality didn’t begin in 1948 with the creation of the Israeli state, also known as the Nakba (great catastrophe) that displaced thousands of Palestinians. It is built on a legacy of colonialism that carved up the Middle East, as well as a history of violent antisemitic oppression in Europe from pogroms to the Holocaust. Israel was founded, in part, based on the need for a sanctuary for Jewish people. Many Jewish people now feel in a double bind, desiring both safety for their people and opposing the ongoing segregation and oppression of Palestinians.
But this framing is a dead end. The only way to achieve a genuine, lasting, just peace — as Palestinians rightly insist, and many Jewish voices have affirmed — is to address the root causes of the Palestinian struggle by ending Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people. Palestinians deserve to be safe; Jews deserve to be safe; but safety cannot, and will not, come at the expense of Palestinian human rights.
As we pan out, the Palestinian struggle is of a piece with the historic struggles of Indigenous and oppressed peoples worldwide, resisting settler colonialism. The alleged “land without a people for a people without a land” was established on stolen land populated for generations by Arab peoples. The struggle for collective liberation has become an intersectional one linked to people-powered movements around the world who are calling for decolonization and justice.
We can also see how, in an area smaller than New Jersey, the safety of Palestinians and Israelis is intertwined. As Jewish-American author Peter Beinart writes, “This is a point that Martin Luther King tried to make to white America again and again when there were riots in American cities year after year in the ’60s. … Ultimately, there’s no other way but recognizing the moral interconnectedness, which means you have to recognize that [an Israeli] family’s safety and dignity and freedom are dependent on you caring about the safety and dignity and freedom of Palestinians and vice versa.”
Another frame can show us the intergenerational legacies of trauma at play. Neuroscience explains how when we are in a hyperactivated traumatic response, we become unable to think from our prefrontal cortex, our logical brain. We shift into gears of fight/flight/freeze/fawn, whatever our rational minds tell us of the circumstances. How much of the saber rattling for attacks on Gaza is infused with trauma, weaponized as a will to more violence, that creates more trauma? For Jews, who have been persecuted throughout the centuries, this trauma wound can run deep, as can the desire for “revenge,” often suffused with anti-Arab racism. The slogan centered in Jewish-led mass mobilizations in Washington, D.C. this week calling for a ceasefire addresses this well: “My grief is not your weapon.”
Furthermore, ancestral trauma, coupled with actual rising antisemitism, can make fake news seem incredibly real — like the claim on Oct. 13 that Hamas had called for killing Jews around the world. (This allegation led to buffering of security at synagogues and the closure of a college campus that had scheduled a demonstration calling for a ceasefire.) The allegation was proven false, and even discredited by the U.S. State Department. Making room to acknowledge trauma can help us keep out of the trenches of debates with people who can’t hear the facts, offer a hug instead of volleying a fact, and craft spaces to hold grief well, so that we might mourn and organize.
In fact, re-framing the old adage, “Don’t mourn, organize” is necessary here! We must express our profound sense of grief over the lives that have been lost, so that we can work from a place of grounded resolve to stop the further violence. Bypassing this step — and refusing to acknowledge the grief so many are feeling right now — limits our capacity to heal and achieve a just, political peace. It also gives further ammunition to right-wing, Zionist leadership, as well as their right-wing, American backers. Naomi Klein’s framing keeps it simple. She tweeted: “Side with the child over the gun every single time, no matter whose gun and no matter whose child.”
One of the tactics of an oppressive regime is to obscure or confuse an issue, making people who would otherwise have a clear and coherent critique feel disempowered, not knowledgeable enough to engage, or feel that without “skin in the game” they cannot participate in protesting injustice. Most of us in the United States (and around the world) who opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq 20 years ago did not know anyone from Iraq. Still, we knew enough to know that wars for oil and imperial arrogance would harm children, kill soldiers on all sides, exacerbate the climate crisis and line the pockets of weapons manufacturers at our expense.
Framing can help us ensure that we “create many points of entry” so that new people can join the movement and feel empowered to speak up. Utilizing the spectrum of allies tool can help us clarify our audiences and discern messaging and tools for best engaging passive allies and people who were formerly neutral but have just been activated by this crisis.
For newcomers to this crisis, we can help explain the complex narrative by sharing usable tools like this six-minute cartoon. Short, pithy framing such as this list of “5 things you need to know about what’s happening in Israel and Gaza” help break down the issue into usable info. As emergency actions to oppose genocide in Gaza are organized, we can remember to also create teach-ins (like this one centering Palestinian voices, happening on Oct. 19) for people asking “How did we get here?”
Framing beyond the binary can also be helpful when done intentionally. Or reframing the binary: Yes, there are two sides. The side of life and the side of death. As Palestinian poet Suheir Hammad wrote: “You are either with life, or against it. Affirm life.” The bottom line, as Jewish-American activist and author Anna Baltzer shared in her recent op-ed: “All people deserve to live in safety and peace. The only way to achieve that is freedom and justice for all. In Palestine, that means an end to Israel’s colonial occupation and apartheid regime — which no person would accept for their own people.”
2. Studying the beautiful history of Palestinian creative nonviolent resistance can inspire our solidarity actions
Another way to reframe this moment is to explore and celebrate the long legacy of Palestinian creative activism. Learning about this resistance — which so often is left out of dominant narratives — humanizes the Palestinian struggle and decreases the othering going on. It can also help us understand how we got here today, recalling the widespread civil disobedience and mass boycotts during the First Intifada (1987-1993).
In response to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank in 1988, residents of Beit Sahour decided to buy 18 cows and produce their own milk as a co-operative, so they wouldn’t need to buy Israeli milk. These cows became local celebrities, a sign of self-sufficiency and resistance. They were then cruelly placed on the Israeli military’s most wanted list, declared “a threat to the national security of the state of Israel.” Stories like this one — known as the Wanted 18 — illustrate the absurdity of the occupation.
More recently, Palestinian creative resistance has spanned the arts from the stage to the streets, from marches to murals (on the face of the separation wall). The Great March of Return in 2018 utilized the time-honored nonviolent tactic of making a trek that has been practiced from Gandhi’s Salt March to cross-continent walks for nuclear disarmament. The images that went around the world of grandmothers hugging their olive trees as they were bulldozed told the story without needing words, exemplifying action logic. Prisoners detained without charge or trial have organized hunger strikes including over 1,800 prisoners fasting in 2012. Creative tactics have helped galvanize international attention and made the occupation personal.
Children in Gaza set a world record for the most kites flown simultaneously. They flew 12,350 kites at one time from the shores of the Mediterranean Sea in Gaza. “We brought happiness to our country by breaking the world record,” said 13-year-old record-breaker Nadia el Haddad, “[and today] I feel like I have rights and that I’m like everyone else in the world.” The use of so many kites brilliantly illustrates the principle that simple rules can have grand effects. Organizations like the Jenin Freedom Theater and Alrowwad, a center for culture and arts based in Aida Refugee Camp, Bethlehem, whose tagline is “Beautiful Resistance,” have educated the next generations of Palestinian youth on creative expression.
This strategic, artistic activism has sparked countless solidarity actions around the world, and inspired solidarity activists to travel to Palestine to engage in accompaniment, co-resistance, and flotillas to try to break the siege of Gaza and deliver urgently needed aid. Israelis — who understand that their fate is bound up with the wellbeing of their neighbors — have also joined in the struggle. Since 1988, Women in Black have been holding peaceful vigils to oppose Israeli oppression. Young Israelis refusing draft orders have served time in prison, and IDF veterans have spoken out about the crimes they committed while serving in the Occupied Territories. Israeli anti-occupation activists have also joined in civil disobedience to help protect Palestinian neighborhoods threatened with demolition. In the past week, Israelis issued a petition calling for an immediate ceasefire of the attacks on Gaza.
Turning to the nonviolent tactic of activating international mechanisms, Palestinian leadership tirelessly worked toward passing U.N. measures to stop the building of Israeli settlements, which Israel has not heeded. U.N. Resolution 194 aims to ensure the Palestinian right of return, which has also not been enforced. Since 1997, the United States has vetoed more than a dozen U.N. Security Council resolutions criticizing Israel for its actions in the West Bank and Gaza.
And finally, 18 years ago in the aftermath of the violent uprisings of the Second Intifada, Palestinian civil society issued the international nonviolent call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, harkening to the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, and the long legacy of nonviolent economic activism that helped win victories from the Delano grape boycott for farmworker rights to the Montgomery Bus Boycott during the civil rights era. BDS campaigns have emerged around the world and had many wins, from Dump Veolia to Stolen Beauty. Meanwhile, divestment campaigns on college campuses, in churches, and within large pension funds have pressured reputable institutions to divest from war crimes.
Leading human rights organizations, like Amnesty International, have found that “Israel imposes a system of oppression and domination against Palestinians across all areas under its control: in Israel and the Occupied Territories, and against Palestinian refugees, in order to benefit Jewish Israelis. This amounts to apartheid as prohibited in international law.”
One might say that Palestinian resistance to occupation has exhausted Gene Sharp’s well-known list of nonviolent methods. Yet, while this tremendous history of nonviolent resistance has been well-documented, it has not been widely covered in mainstream media, and certainly isn’t in the spotlight now. We must reckon with the enormity of ongoing occupation and ethnic cleansing that continues in spite of these creative and bold actions. We also must understand the severe repression of Palestinian nonviolent resistance and the West’s double-standards when it comes to this violence.
As Peter Beinart pointed out in his New York Times column, “Israel, with America’s help, has … repeatedly undermined Palestinians who sought to end Israel’s occupation through negotiations or nonviolent pressure.” The BDS movement has been particularly stymied, he noted, “including by many of the same American politicians who celebrated the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction South Africa. … About 35 states — some of which once divested state funds from companies doing business in apartheid South Africa — have passed laws or issued executive orders punishing companies that boycott Israel.”
We are now observing the seeming inevitability of armed resistance amidst the severe worsening of the siege of Gaza. As we lament the loss of life on all sides and oppose violence, we must also acknowledge the threads of racism that privilege condemnation of one form of violence over another. Palestinian-American professor and human rights attorney Noura Erakat writes of how the peaceful efforts to oppose occupation have been silenced, demonized and smeared. “The message to Palestinians” she concludes, “is not that they must resist more peacefully but that they cannot resist Israeli occupation and aggression at all.
3. Understanding the Shock Doctrine is the first step to resisting disaster capitalism.
In the chaos following wars, natural disasters and economic panics, military and corporate neoliberals aggressively try to push privatization, deregulation and cuts to social services as part of a “ Shock Doctrine.” This is a critical time to resist these disaster capitalists and defend our human, environmental and economic rights and resources. Remember after 9/11 when President Bush seized the opportunity of national grief and fear to call for an all-out assault on Afghanistan? The bombardment of Iraq was soon to follow.
What is less remembered is that prior to 9/11 there was a growing and effective anti-globalization movement in the U.S. That movement effectively shut down the WTO’s Doha Round of negotiations at the Battle in Seattle. Activists were preparing to shut down the IMF in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 12 to demand systemic anti-poverty changes, but protests were canceled when the country went into widespread grief and panic over the attacks of 9/11. Protesters were attacked as being unpatriotic as the U.S. was “under attack.”
Many civil society activists were fearful and fell in line behind the government and NGO calls to fight external terrorists. A large number of the activists remaining in the streets shifted towards peace or antiwar work in a vain attempt to prevent violent retaliation for 9/11. U.S. anti-corporate globalization work all but ground to a halt.
Prior to the Hamas-led attack on civilians in Israel, there was a strong and growing movement of opposition to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s increasingly authoritarian regime, resulting in historically large pro-democracy movements within Israel and public and governmental outrage around the world. While Israel may have never been a full participatory democracy given the mass disenfranchisement and displacement of Palestinians, these protests created a hallmark fissure in an otherwise impenetrable topic: questioning Israel.
Only four days after Hamas breached the border, Netanyahu was able to rally the necessary support within the country to form a unity government in the Knesset (for the first time in months of turmoil). Israel garnered sweeping support from major Western military powers. And in just a week, the apartheid regime’s flag colors were lighting up major capitals around the world. The surge of support for Israel’s hardline government has greenlighted and legitimated a truly horrific escalation of the collective punishment of the civilian population in Gaza, while the world’s military-industrial billionaires get even richer.
We know if we do nothing, the situation gets worse. If we step into our power, we could potentially build a better future. People around the world are contesting with large-scale mobilizations — amounting to a people’s shock action. We hope to see you beyond the fray of the Facebook wars. We’ll meet you in the streets, the halls of Congress, at artistic vigils mourning the loss of life, and in meaningful dialogue with your family, colleagues, friends and local leaders. Amidst the horrific headlines, skewed mainstream media coverage and institutional Western hypocrisy, we are seeing moving examples of beautiful trouble sprouting around the globe.
If you are in the U.S., you can take immediate action to call on Congress to stop fueling violence, to call for a ceasefire and to stop sending weapons and military support to the apartheid regime. You can send a letter to your representatives via Jewish Voices for Peace, send letters to Congress via the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, or click-to-call your congressmember. For more ideas/background, also visit Beautiful Trouble’s Palestine Solidarity Organizing Set.
Chances are by the time this is published it will be outdated. But the tactics and principles mentioned here won’t be. As we watch the present unfold with grief, we are holding out a drop of hope for that better world that is possible. We derive our hope from the power of sumud, of steadfast persistence — doing what we can today so that, as Paulo Freire puts it, tomorrow, we can do what we cannot do today.
Rae Abileah is a Jewish clergy person, social change strategist, author and editor for collective liberation. She is a trainer at Beautiful Trouble, and co-creator of the global Climate Ribbon art ritual. She was the co-director of CODEPINK, consulted on digital strategy for social justice at ThoughtWorks, and now runs her own consultancy, CreateWell, and facilitates design workshops for The Nature Conservancy. Rae is a contributing author to books including "Beyond Tribal Loyalties: Personal Stories of Jewish Peace Activists." Rae graduated from Barnard College at Columbia University, and received ordination by the Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute.
As an activist artist, strategic nonviolent organizer, and Training Director of Beautiful Trouble, Nadine Bloch explores the potent intersection of art and people power. Find more of her writing in "Beautiful Trouble," "SNAP: An Action Guide to Synergizing Nonviolent Action and Peacebuilding," and "From Airtable to Zoom:An A-to-Z Guide to Digital Tech and Activism 2021."
Waging Nonviolence is a nonprofit media organization dedicated to providing original reporting and expert analysis of social movements around the world. With a commitment to accuracy, transparency and editorial independence, we examine today’s most crucial issues by shining a light on those who are organizing for just and peaceful solutions. We publish all of the content on this site free of charge and without any kind of paywall. Donate