Palestinians call for non-violent national strike “from the river to the sea” on May 18

A Palestinian half buried in rubble in Gaza signals to rescuers. As Israeli missiles pound Gaza, Palestinians everywhere seem more united in their determination to resist than ever. A nation-wide strike by Palestinians living every part of historic Palestine (West Bank, Jerusalem, Gaza and inside Israel) has been called by civil society organizations. It is endorsed by all the main Palestinian political organizations including Hamas and Fateh. Because it is planned to be a non-violent demonstration of national unity it will be a challenge to Israel. It will also be a challenge to Canada. Read more.

“Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Israel live under different governments and have increasingly developed separate identities. But on Tuesday, Palestinian activists hope to unite people across the three territories in a general strike to protest Israel’s air campaign in Gaza and other measures targeting Palestinians”, wrote the New York Times.

Can the Palestinians pull off a “national non violent demonstration of resistance to 73 years of Israeli displacement and dispossession? If they are successful, it will be the first Palestinian general strike since 1936, which was put down ferociously by British troops. Thousands of Palestinians, including most of the political leadership were killed, jailed or exiled.

“The strike is to “protest Israel’s massacres in Gaza and settler-colonial and apartheid repression and ethnic cleansing against Palestinian communities everywhere”, according to the US digital publication Mondoweiss.

The strike appears to have been organized at the last moment from the bottom up. While both Fateh and Hamas have endorsed, it does not appear to have been initiated by them. Instead it is supported by a broad range of Palestinian civil society organizatins, including the BDS national committee.

On Monday, social media was flooded with calls on Palestinians to participate in the strike and a billboard encouraging Palestinian citizens of Israel to take part was seen in Nazareth, the largest Arab-majority city in Israel.

May 18, 2021, the first national Palestinian strike since 1936

A challenge to Israel

If the call for a strike is followed massively by Palestinians everywhere, it will be a significant challenge for Israel, more accustomed to dominating by military force. A non violent strike by tens or even hundreds of thousands will be more of a challenge.

For many years Israel has succeeded in separating Palestinians into geographical groups – Gaza, West Bank, Jerusalem, those living inside Israel not to speak of the millions of refugees living in neighbouring countries – making contact between the groups very difficult. This “divide and conquer” strategy has served Israel well. When Palestinians in Gaza organized the “Great March of Return” in 2018 for example, there were a few very limited acts of solidarity by Palestinians outside Gaza.

This time around, however, Israeli actions seem to have galvanized the whole of the Palestinian nation. Many Palestinians who have never supported Hamas in the past, now see Hamas as the only effective resistance organization capable of bringing world attention to their cause.

But also a challenge to Canada

On May 16th, after the meeting of the UN Security council, Canada’s foreign affairs minister Marc Garneau issued a statement in which he called on “all parties to take steps to immediately end all violence”. Will minister Garneau therefore endorse the non-violent Palestinian general strike? And if Israel used its overwhelming military advantage to try to break up the non violent expression of anger, will Garneau dare criticize Israel?


Canada Talks Israel Palestine (CTIP) is the weekly newsletter of Peter Larson, Chair of the Ottawa Forum on Israel/Palestine (OFIP). It aims to promote a serious discussion in Canada about Canada’s response to the complicated and emotional Israel/Palestine issue with a focus on the truth, clear analysis and human rights for all. Readers with different points of view are invited to make comment.

Want to learn more about us? Go to http://www.ottawaforumip.or


  1. Hi, Peter. You write: “Many Palestinians who have never supported Hamas in the past, now see Hamas as the only effective resistance organization capable of bringing world attention to their cause.”

    I’m sure that’s true, but how many is many? It might be equally true that many Palestinians see Hamas as subverting the Palestinian struggle by targeting civilians; and believe that Netanyahu’s and Hamas’s brutality serve each other’s needs. At least that’s a view suggested by Muhammad Shehada in Haaretz: “As one Palestinian put it: ‘I feel sad, angry, that Hamas is trying to kill one of the most beautiful peaceful movements that attracted the attention of the whole world, #Sheikh_Jarrah.'”

    The call for a non-violent general strike might be a conscious and wise plan to retake the spotlight from Hamas’s suicidal terrorism, and return it to admirable, even heroic, Palestinians.

    1. Arthur,

      It is worth remembering something that Einstein wrote in 1954, “I have always been a pacifist, i.e., I have declined to recognize brute force as a means for the solution of international conflicts. Nevertheless, it is, in my opinion, not reasonable to cling to that principle unconditionally. An exception has necessarily to be made if a hostile power threatens wholesale destruction of one’s own group.”

      In 1953 he wrote, “I am a dedicated but not an absolute pacifist; this means that I am opposed to the use of force under any circumstances except when confronted by an enemy who pursues the destruction of life as an end in itself.”

      Israelis should recognize these sentiments. He was writing after surviving the Holocaust.

      Looking at what Israel is doing today, he might have added something he wrote in 1931, “You cannot subjugate a nation forcibly unless you wipe out every man, woman, and child. Unless you wish to use such drastic measures, you must find a way of settling your disputes without resort to arms.”

  2. Israel, and its supporters, are simply stalling. Israel seems to have a long list of targets it wants to destroy. As long as the rockets keep coming from Gaza, Israel has US permission to keep attacking those targets even if they destroying things are not involved in the rocket attacks. When, Israel has destroyed everything it wants to destroy, it will destroy most of the rockets and then agree to a ceasefire.

    1. Exactly right, David, and that is exactly what happened in the previous three “wars” between Hamas and Israel, which included 185 Israelis and 3,476 Gazans killed (with another 15,000 Gazans injured). So why does Hamas keep building and firing rockets?

      1. Hey Arthur, your question is a good one. But the obvious answer is that by fierce resistance Hamas has kept Gaza from suffering the fate of the West Bank and East Jerusalem – settlers and soldiers all over the place. When I was in Gaza (both times in fact) daily life felt much more secure and calm than in the WB or Jerusalem where the tension was palpable.

      2. I can only guess. Ask Hamas. Whatever their answer or even if they have no answer, what Israel is doing is immoral. A proportionate response, fully within their capabilities, is to destroy the rockets. Instead, they destroy civilian structures and kill children.

    2. Peter, as a soldier and later as an officer I served in Gaza on quite a few tours between 1991 and 2004, my first impression on my first day in Gaza was that Israel have no practical reason or moral justification to be there, every day felt morally wrong, and stupid, the Israeli settlers we were protecting were a bunch of assholes.

      In 1994, as an officer I witnessed the entry of the PA force from Tunis, on an endless convoy of brand new blue Seat Toledos, I knew it was the end of our stay there, It took another 11 years before Israel left Gaza, but it did finally happen

      What drove Israel was not the ‘fierce’ resistance of Hamas, it was the demographic reality and the fact that the religious Jewish zealots never saw Gaza as an important place.

      1. Ahik, By pulling its citizens out of Gaza, Israel was able to maintain control of Gaza without exposing Israeli residents of Gaza to danger. It was a clever strategic move. They kept their cake and could eat it too. All it takes is wanton destruction from the air every five years or so.

  3. Thank you Peter for pointing this out to our Canadian audience ,although not big enough ,it is building .We certainly must keep sending letters , signing petitions and physically attend events and rallys for showing our support to the Palestinian people in order to finally bring a just peace in this land of unspeakable oppression by the occupiers.

  4. David, what Israel is doing is immoral. Agreed.

    But I’m trying to figure out what Hamas is doing. This is what Amira Hass wrote: “Without a doubt Hamas entered, with its eyes wide open, a new campaign in which its ability to defend its citizens was nil. It knowingly uses its military capabilities and the international shock from the sight of the destruction, to advance its status as the political representative of the entire Palestinian people. And Israel continues to pave the way for it: Both in cutting off the Gaza Strip from the rest of the country, and in its lethal unbridled military policy” ( I think she’s right, and several others have written in that vein. I think Hamas uses its rockets to advance its status at the expense of the Palestinian struggle, with support from Israel.

    Peter, I’ve never been to Gaza but I have never heard anyone suggest that the quality of life was better there (“open air prison”) than in the West Bank — or that Hamas launched its rockets in the interests of Gazan security. Since 2010, something like six times as many Palestinians have been killed by Israelis security forces in Gaza than in the West Bank and East Jerusalem (BTselem).

    1. Arthur, Hamas claims that they did this to stop the Jerusalem evictions and the invasion of the Al Aqsa mosque. This raises two questions in my mind (1) “Was there something else (less violent) that they could have done?”, and (2) Did they achieve their goal. On the first question, I can think of nothing but I wish I could. On the second question, they say that they have achieved their goal and Israel denies it. Time will tell.

      1. Question 1. Residents of Jerusalem, Palestinian and Jewish, too, were already dealing with these matters in admirable and far less violent ways. No deaths at all, I believe. And they had been successful, at least in the short term. Question 2. Will Hamas’s terrorism permanently end home evictions in Jerusalem and IDF/police invasions of Al Aqsa? Well, if history is to be our guide, Hamas’s rockets have been incredibly effective in the past.

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