Issa Amro is the director of Youth Against Settlements, a non-partisan NGO based in the West Bank city of Hebron that seeks to end the Israeli occupation through non-violence. The organization’s activities include presentations, screenings, and tours intended for Israelis, Palestinians, and the international community. They also take advantage of social media and YouTube to disseminate information about what’s happening in Hebron, and how to use non-violent means to oppose it.
On Friday, Amro organized a non-violent protest in support of Gaza, which 30,000 people attended, many of them women, children, and the elderly. Amro said the protest was non-violent, and video footage seems to support his claim. Israeli soldiers began shooting at the protestors with live fire, which is illegal under international law. According to one report, 90 people were wounded, 72 from live ammunition. An IDF spokesperson reported 140 injuries, 15 caused by live fire. But Amro said this is par for the course, telling me that at every non-violent protest he’s organized, soldiers have started shooting, which then causes protestors to respond violently.
“They know how to shoot, that’s it,” Amro told me when we spoke by phone. “That’s all they know what to do. The soldiers are trained to react violently.” Because they are so often met with violence, many Palestinians reject Amro’s chosen method of resistance. But Amro always tells them the same message: “We tell them, we should be non-violent for us, not for them.”
Amro cleaves to the idea that non-violent resistance can make change. “I believe strongly in non-violence,” he said. “I am by nature a non-violent person. Not only me, many many Palestinians too. By nature, a human is not violent.” He said that he has been influenced by Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. and that he reads a lot of Gene Sharp, the founder of the Albert Einstein Institution, a non-profit organization committed to the study of nonviolent action (and probably the oldest person ever to be featured in T, the New York Times’ fashion supplement). His non-violent resistance began in 2003, when the Israeli army closed down his university in Hebron, and he organized a student sit-in. Six months later, the university was reopened.
I asked Amro, a Muslim, how he would respond to people who say that Islam is a violent religion. “For me, all the religions are the same, and you can interpret them as you want. If you want to interpret them for violence, you can.” But it is not the religious interpretation he favors, and before the current war in Gaza, he says he was able to recruit a lot of people to his non-violent cause. Now, not so much.
“When there is war, we see children dying, it shows that the violence campaign is winning.”
Still, while Amro is committed to non-violence, he won’t critique Hamas. “I disagree with some points for them, I agree with some. Hamas is trying to end the occupation in their method. If the occupation ends, I won’t accept Hamas at all. But as long as the occupation lasts, I can’t tell them not to use weapons. Settlers have guns. Settlers are shooting. Soldiers are shooting. Occupation is the main feeder for violence. I need to end the occupation to have something for my people to convince them how to be non violent.”
Batya Ungar-Sargon is a freelance writer who lives in New York. Her Twitter feed is @bungarsargon.