New Heroes for Old
In the mid-1980s, Birzeit University instructor Lucy Nusseibeh did something highly unconventional: She invited Mubarak Awad, a proponent of nonviolent struggle against the Israeli occupation, to speak at her West Bank institution. The invitation roiled both students and faculty, as Nusseibeh's husband, Palestinian philosopher-aristocrat Sari Nusseibeh, told me years later: "At the time, to put forward the image of yourself as a nonviolent person was not kosher . . . in the Palestinian community. You had to put yourself forward as a guy with a gun, with ten guns hanging around your waist and shoulders . . . or keep silent."
While devouring news from Tunis and Tahrir Square, I recalled that conversation. I was watching not only the demise of dictators but perhaps also a decisive cultural change: the triumph of a new image of the Arab hero over the old one. There's no official announcement of a shift in myths, no election results or inauguration. One can only be sure after time passes. But if the nonviolent revolutionary has indeed taken the place of the failed fida'i, the guerrilla, as the avatar of Arab courage, the impact could be immense—in the Palestinian-Israeli arena, as well as in the rest of the Middle East.
Awad was a protégé of Gene Sharp, the American strategist of nonviolence who would inspire the Egyptian organizers of this winter's revolution. Awad published an Arabic edition of Sharp's handbook of tactics and added a few of his own, such as planting trees on Palestinian-owned land to prevent Israeli settlement on it. In 1988, Israel deported him to the United