1988 – Intifada in Palestine
Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war expanded its control over Palestinian communities. It imposed harsh military rule, denying Palestinians the most basic rights. Nonviolent protest took hold, and while it failed to end the occupation, its resistance tactics challenged the occupation in unprecedented ways and put the Palestinian struggle for self-determination on the world’s front pages.
The brutal reality of occupation and the resulting resistance came to a head in 1987 with the Intifada – an organized uprising using nonviolent protest. The United National Command for the Escalation of the Uprising in the Occupied Territories (UNC) was set up, distributing thousands of leaflets to Palestinians on peaceful resistance, including boycotting Israeli products, withholding taxes from the Israeli administration, strikes, and refusing to carry ID cards.
The UNC also helped coordinate local ‘popular committees’ to reduce dependence on Israel – for example, when the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) began to beat and shoot demonstrators, the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees set up mobile health clinics to treat the injured. Women and girls collectively cultivated land to produce food and reduce economic dependence on Israel.
Media coverage of the IDF dropping tear gas from helicopters onto demonstrators, and of Israeli tractors bulldozing protesters’ homes, led many European nations to criticize the Israeli government. Israeli peace groups including Women in Black (formed by Israeli women opposing the occupation) and Peace Now also condemned the IDF actions. Despite this – and economic losses of approximately US$1 billion as a result of the Palestinian strike, boycott, and tax withholding – Israel continued and deepened its occupation.
These nonviolent protests failed to end the occupation, but nonetheless they showed that such actions could have significant effects – financially, socially, and on international public opinion. A powerful boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement has now emerged internationally to protest the occupation that has gathered ever-increasing momentum, causing a reactionary backlash from the Netanyahu government that has sought to repress and isolate BDS groups internally and externally.