The Arab Spring Comes to Israel

Today a young Palestinian I know was arrested at a West Bank demonstration, put in a prison near Ramallah, and--according to preliminary reports by Palestinian activists on Twitter--charged with pushing an Israeli soldier. The trouble is that there's pretty strong video evidence that pushing a soldier isn't what he was in fact arrested for. He seems to have been arrested for speaking--and, yes, gesticulating animatedly as he spoke, perhaps in a manner that Israeli soldiers found threatening or otherwise excessive.

But judge for yourself: The arrest is at the 3:29 mark on this Facebook video. (The orange stuff on his face is the pepper spray applied as he's first being subdued, shortly before the soldier shoves his abdomen into the rear bumper of the police vehicle.) [Update, 2/26, 5:45 p.m.: A second video of the episode has now surfaced, and here are both videos, along with my assessment.]

Fadi Quran is a remarkable guy. He grew up in the West Bank, graduated from Stanford with a double major in physics and international relations, and then returned to the West Bank. He works in the alternative energy field, and his avocation is nonviolent resistance to the Israeli occupation. Here's a snippet of a conversation I had with him a few months ago, in which he contends that nonviolent resistance can ultimately succeed, even if it seems to face daunting odds now. Below the video player are some thoughts on the significance of his arrest.

Fadi's arrest is a reminder of how two key ingredients of the Arab Spring--digital media and nonviolent protest--can complicate life for authorities. The reason his arrest is well documented is digital video, and the reason you're reading about his story here is Twitter.

The upshot is that more and more people outside of Israel are going to become aware that for 45 years Israel has been ruling a people who don't have basic political rights--like the right to due process (Fadi could in theory spend months in jail with no charges filed) or the right to vote for or against the government that ultimately controls their fate, even though that government is part of a democratic state.

I don't think it has been the intention of Israelis to sustain this horrible situation. In principle, most would like a two-state solution. But the traditional Israeli narrative--that the absence of a solution is the fault of the Palestinians, so they'll have to live with it--is going to run into trouble if people like Fadi Quran have their way. Demonstrators seeking basic rights have an easier time gaining international sympathy than suicide bombers seeking vengeance.

I'll close with another clip from my conversation with Fadi, in which he explains why his family so often lacks running water. This is a story Palestinians couldn't easily convey to Americans before the digital revolution. Now they can. [Update: Jake Horowitz, a friend of Fadi's from Stanford, has an update on Fadi's situation as of late Saturday morning Eastern Time. It looks like Jake may be updating that page periodically.]

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Robert Wright is the author of The Evolution of God and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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