Monday July 28, 2014





A Question for the Ages

Expert tutors TRU students on how to achieve revolutionary results while maintaining peace
Keith Anderson

Maxine Kaufman-Lacusta speaks to staff, guests and students Tuesday in the TRU Arts & Education Building.

It's a question that has plagued mankind since the beginning: how to win when your foe has all the power?

The answer, according to some of the most influential men and women throughout history, is to fight creatively through non-violence.

The method proved successful most famously for the likes of Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr., who each led historical marches for their causes.

And today, we see it in actions such as the Idle No More demonstrations, Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence's hunger strike and protests against the Northern Gateway pipeline.

But such efforts often leave activists feeling futile. Once the signs and drums are put away, does it really make a difference?

"It's a question that I wrestle with," says Carole Hebden, a member of the Kamloops chapter of the Council of Canadians who routinely participates in demonstrations.

"Yes, I have hope. Am I optimistic? That's a different question."

Last week Hebden travelled to Kelowna to protest the Enbridge pipeline proposal during Canadian Environment Agency review panel public hearings.

"I maintain hope that our voices of resistance are being heard," she said. "I take the actions that are available to me. I write letters. And I'm at a loss to know what else I can be doing."

For some locals, the answer came to Kamloops last week in the form of Maxine Kaufman-Lacusta.

The Quaker Jew and dual citizen of Canada and Israel spoke to dozens of Thompson Rivers University students and Kamloops residents on the topic of non-violent resistance.

Although Kaufman-Lacusta's area of expertise — the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the West Bank — is significantly more volatile than Canadian politics, her resistance methods could fit any cause that's on the weak end of a power imbalance.

Her recently released book, Refusing to be Enemies: Palestinian and Israeli Non-violent Resistance to the Israeli Occupation, compiles more than 100 interviews of men and women involved in non-violent actions.

Although non-violent philosophy is multi-layered and complex, some of Kaufman-Lacusta's subjects have a knack for boiling it down to its essence.

"One who is right does not need to use violence. Its truth is very strong," said Nuri el-Okbi.

El-Okbi is an activist and Bedouin who was routinely pushed off his father's land by the Israeli army, despite possessing a deed and other proof of ownership.

He has returned to the land more than 40 times, knowing he faces imprisonment or worse.

Huwaida Arraf, who co-founded the International Solidarity Movement, uses a contemporary analogy for non-violence.

"If you're going to fight Mike Tyson you're not going to want to do it in the boxing ring," she says.

This was the theory when Arraf helped organize peaceful activists from around the world in the now infamous flotillas to the Gaza strip.

The action was meant to antagonize as well as provide aid, and it enraged her organization's Israeli foes, whose attack resulted in the deaths of nine activists.

The demonstration fulfilled two tenets of non-violence: it ensured that violent repression would backfire politically and it grabbed the attention of people who didn't know about the issue — i.e. potential allies.

The 1960s pioneer of non-violent scholarship, Gene Sharp, suggested four ways to succeed in a non-violent struggle.

Conversion is seen as success since it persuades the adversary to the activist's point of view.

Coercion can convince opponents to back down without convincing them of the protester's views.

Accommodation establishes the rival's concession without granting everything a campaign demands or relinquishing power.

And disintegration was a means that Sharp added when Soviet-aligned regimes lost so much legitimacy that their power over people disintegrated.

Kaufman-Lacosta also spoke to Yonatan Shapira and Ali Jedda, who embody the notion that there's power in bringing together individuals from both sides of the fight.

The pair came to their non-violent vocation only after they shed other people's blood.

Shapira was an Israeli air force pilot who, with 27 other officers, signed a letter denouncing selective bombings that they say ostensibly targeted the enemy but actually killed innocent residents.

They denounced the bombings as war crimes, and for speaking out, were discharged from the military.

That was the basis for the formation of Combatants for Peace in 2005, which brings Palestinians and Israelis together to peacefully protest Israel's intrusions on the West Bank.

Jedda, formerly a violent Palestinian resister, served 13 years in prison for placing a bomb that injured nine Israelis. While incarcerated, he had a change of heart.

Now both men serve the same cause while denouncing violence.

"Rather than treating employees of our opponents as inanimate tools, non-violence tries to create possibilities for them to rethink their allegiances," states War Resisters' International.

But the most powerful tool ever created to advance non-violent action is social media, said Kaufman-Lacusta.

It has been credited for fanning the flames of the Arab Spring. It even appears to be loosening the notoriously restrictive realm of Chinese politics.

It's also helping connect those slightly aimless Kamloops activists with a potentially more effective campaign.

They, along with a wide array of disenfranchised and discouraged Canadians, are uniting under the newly formed umbrella called Common Causes.

The group was launched last Monday in response to what members call targeted attacks by the Harper government on indigenous communities, environmental protection, public services, workers' rights, women's right to choose, charitable organizations and civil liberties, as well as migrant, immigrant and refugee rights.

Anita Strong, Kamloops Council of Canadians organizer, said individuals across the country are fighting for these various causes in isolation.

She advocates coming together to gain strength.

"Even the most ruthless dictatorships can be made to listen," she told an Idle No More gathering earlier this month.

Strong's views appear to be those of the minority, since the Harper government gained power through legitimate forms of democracy.

But can this mobilization effort change the course, or at least the dialogue, of the next federal election? Time will tell.

spaillard@kamloopsnews.ca


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