Home / In the Media / Can civil disobedience work if the media stays away?

Can civil disobedience work if the media stays away?

Bruce Wolman | Mondoweiss

11 June 2009

What if Palestinians turned to non-violent protest and none of the media showed up to cover their actions?

President Obama in his Cairo speech insisted the “Palestinians must abandon violence.” He exhorted them to imitate the methods of the Civil Rights movement in the United States:

“Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and it does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America’s founding.”

Obama went further and stated, “This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia, to Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It’s a story with a simple truth: violence is a dead end.”

But would the freedom rides and marches, lunch counter sit-ins and bus boycotts have succeeded if the media had not been on the story? Had the New York Times and other papers not sent reporters to witness the protests, or had the television networks not sent crews to film the events, had Americans heard only the explanations of the George Wallaces and the Bull Connors juxtaposed with the testimony of the protesters, would the non-violent approach of Martin Luther King Jr. had succeeded?

In case President Obama is unaware, Palestinians have been non-violently protesting the occupation for some time. Tomorrow is Friday, and most likely Palestinians, left-wing Israelis and international peace activists will meet up in Niilin (also transliterated to Naalin and Nil’in) to protest the Israeli security wall running through the village, as they already have for many weekends.

On the previous Friday’s demonstration, the IDF wounded Akal Sarur and four others. Sarur later died in the hospital. Although the IDF would not confirm it, media reports stated that border police fired on Sarur using a “low-velocity gun specially designed to disperse riots.”

According to the IDF, the protest “turned into a violent riot shortly after it began.” Protesters hurled rocks at the troops and tried to damage the fence. Moreover, the IDF claims that several soldiers were attacked by a group of men, some of them masked. The soldiers then used “established crowd control measures,” which contributed to Sarur’s death.

Later, the IDF added that the victim Sarur had been throwing rocks at the soldiers, and was a known member of Hamas .

According to Jonathan Pollak, of Anarchists Against the Wall,

“clashes between the IDF, residents of Nil’in and activists began earlier in the day when the IDF tried to occupy a home in the village….” The IDF used “sniper fire against the demonstrators who headed to the “wall” after praying at the mosque. Sarur was killed by sniper fire as he tried to evacuate one of the wounded demonstrators. He was not throwing stones at the time he was shot. It was possible he had thrown stones earlier.”

Pollack went on to ask, “Even if he was throwing stones, since when do people who throw stones get the death penalty? We are talking about a sniper who was 40 meters away barricaded behind a wall and standing there very coolly, and aiming and taking a shot.”

Earlier this year in mid-March, Tristan Anderson, an American activist from Oakland, California, was severely injured when hit by a tear-gas cannister during one of the protests in Niilin. The IDF claimed there was 400 violent demonstrators throwing rock at the soldiers that day. A Swedish school teacher, Ulrike Anderson, said that the crowd had mostly disappeared at the time Tristan Anderson was hit. Whose version is accurate?

Will Isabel Kershner or Ethan Bronner of the New York Times, or any of their stringers be at Niilin tomorrow? Will Howard Schneider of the Washington Post be there? Will Reuters, the BBC, CNN or NBC send someone out? It’s not as if there have been no previous signs something newsworthy might happen. Five people have already died this year in Niilin, besides the injured American, Tristan Anderson.

If another protester is injured or killed tomorrow, will we once again have to read that the IDF claims this, while the activists claim that? What did the Mississippi police claim after Freedom Riders were harassed and killed in the old south? Did anyone care?

Tomorrow brings another potential clash in the Holy Land. Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem plan to protest for a second weekend “against the opening of a municipal parking lot at city hall – free of charge and staffed by a non-Jew – on Shabbat.”

“Last Saturday, thousands of ultra-Orthodox men clashed with police, first near the Kikar Safra parking lot, and then at the entrance to the Mea She’arim neighborhood, throwing bottles, rocks and dirty diapers, and lightly wounding six officers.”

Despite the fact that rocks were thrown and police were injured, none of the crowd control techniques regularly used by the Police and IDF in Niilin were applied to the Haredim Jews. And it’s not because these Ultra-Orthodox are Zionists, they are not. They are simply Jewish.

Will any of the Western media be on hand to compare what happens during the day at Niilin with what occurs at night in Jerusalem?

If Obama wants the Palestinians to engage in non-violent protest, and in fact they already are doing just that, then he needs to urge the “free Western media” to be brave and cover the protests as if it was Birmingham and Mississippi in the Fifties and Sixties. There may even be a Pulitzer Prize to be won.