Collective, civil, non-violent action is the only way the Palestinians can neutralize the mighty Israeli army. There was an example of that kind of action in Gaza today, when hundreds of Palestinians gathered at a house that was about to be hit by an Israeli airstrike. The Israelis called the strikes off and are of course using that to show how they avoid civilian casualties. Yes, so far the Israelis won't fire a missile into a crowd of 100, especially with cameras rolling, but they would into a crowd of 10. They have their standards, you know.
This tactic is not new. The women in Beit Hanoun used it a couple of weeks ago to lift the siege from a mosque. More importantly it was used on a daily basis by women in the first intifada: they would surround the young man who was about to be arrested in the street by soldiers and would yell and elbow and do all they can to secure his release. No body used the militaristic term "human shields" then.
I don't like the term "human shields" to describe what's going on. The Israelis are using it to argue that the Palestinians don't respect human life and endanger the lives of their civilians. The Palestinians are trying to redefine it and use it as a term of civil resistance to occupation, but usually the weaker side loses the war of definitions. Moreover, I'm concerned that civil, non-violent resistance can be obscured by the continued use of militaristic terms and metaphors. One other such term is the word "hudna" that Hamas insists on using: they don't want to use the sissy word "peace agreement" because that is now synonymous with "Oslo"--a dirty word--so they adopt a militarisitc term to ask for "peace," giving the wrong impression that the Palestinians too are an army that can cease hostilities.
Not to sound too pessimistic, but the Israelis will try to neutralize this tactic. In other words, they will continue to fire their missiles without giving advanced notice, which is the rule anyway (everytime a missile or tank shell is fired in Gaza it is potentially fired into a crowd, let's not forget that). Therefore, what I hope will emerge from this is a realization that collective, non-violent action has an incredible potential to bring about change and that it will be adopted as a "strategy" of resitance and not as a marginal tactic that we use along side militaristic means. The Qassams and the suicide bombers are ultimately the antithesis of this kind of resistance.
I always believed that civil resistance is the way to go. It's better for Palestinian society in the short and long run, whether we end up with one state, two states, or no state.
This belief hasn't earned me many friends over the years. In fact, every time I express it I lose a few. This time, I'm sure, will be no different.