Throwing stones in social science: Non-violence, unarmed violence, and the first intifada

Cooperation and Conflict
2017, Vol. 52(4) 519 –536
© The Author(s) 2017
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/0010836717701967
Throwing stones in social
science: Non-violence,
unarmed violence, and
the first intifada
Jeremy Pressman
Social scientists treat stone-throwing as a non-violent act or argue that protest movements
may be primarily non-violent despite stone-throwing. However, this study of an iconic example,
the first intifada (Palestinian uprising, 1987–1993), demonstrates that stone-throwing is better
characterized as unarmed violence. Definitions of violence underscore that throwing rocks is a
violent act. Moreover, informed observers and data collected on stone-induced injuries during
four years of the intifada illustrate the bodily harm caused by stones. The throwing of stones was
central to the intifada and its identity and definition. Stone-throwing was the most visible tactic
Palestinians used in the first intifada. Lastly, most scholars emphasize the protestors’ perceptions
when it might be that the targets’ perceptions matter more for understanding definitions of
(non-)violence and subsequent policy changes. These findings challenge important social science
work and the mainstream Israeli and Palestinian narratives about the first intifada.
Israel–Palestine, non-violence, political violence, security, uprising (intifada)
I have a rock from Jerusalem sitting in my office; it is somewhat larger than a baseball.
In the fall of 1989 during the first Palestinian intifada (uprising), I was riding Bus 23
from downtown Jerusalem back to Hebrew University on Mt Scopus. Route 23 was usu-
ally a faster trip back to Mt Scopus because, unlike other routes, it cut through Palestinian
neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, such as Sheikh Jarrah and the American Colony.1
Other routes avoided these neighborhoods and instead took a circuitous route via Mea
She’arim, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood, and French Hill, one of the first large
settlements Israel built across the green line on land it captured from Jordan in 1967. I
Corresponding author:
Jeremy Pressman, University of Connecticut, 365 Fairfield Way, U-1024, Storrs, CT 06269, USA.
701967CAC0010.1177/0010836717701967Cooperation and ConflictPressman
520 Cooperation and Conflict 52(4)
still remember the thump-thump of the rocks hitting the bus as we passed Jerusalem’s
Old City, the driver speeding up, and the woman whose now-bloody hand had been
perched on a slightly open window.
How should we categorize protest movements that use stone-throwing? Many schol-
ars have counted such movements as non-violent campaigns by relying on at least one of
three arguments. First, rock-throwing is not a violent act. Second, rock-throwing may be
violent but did not constitute the majority of protest actions; the majority of actions uti-
lized non-violent tactics. Third, the way to determine how to characterize a campaign,
non-violent or violent, is based on the range of protestor actions rather than on how the
targets perceived those actions.
Each of these arguments is problematic, as a close study of the first intifada demon-
strates. First, a look at scholarly definitions, the views of knowledgeable observers of
the first intifada, and numerical evidence of injuries during the first intifada make clear
that groups of protestors throwing rocks is a form of unarmed violence. It is an unarmed
but violent act. Second, almost no one has put forward data for the first intifada that
comprehensively distinguishes between different tactics. An oft-cited Israel Defense
Forces (IDF) report does not support the claim that the intifada was predominantly
non-violent. Third, the protestors’ distribution of tactics may vary significantly from the
impression different tactics leave on the target. Even if one assumes the mix of Palestinians
tactics was meant to be largely non-violent, Israeli Jews felt they faced a largely violent
uprising. When tactics are mixed, violent ones will often stand out and overwhelm any
other tactical pathways.
Thus, the primary purpose of this article is to delve into stone-throwing and how the
characterization of stone-throwing affects social science categorization and conclusions.
The article suggests we treat stone-throwing as unarmed violence, one stop along the
non-violence/violence spectrum. Moreover, the article brings into the open the potential
of a meaningful perception gap. The gap may be of two types: (1) two or more actors
with different perceptions of reality (Krause, 2013; Wohlforth, 1993) or (2) one actor
with a different perception than reality (Christensen and Snyder, 1990). On the question
of stone-throwing in the first intifada, scholarly coding conflicts with target perceptions,
affecting important works such as Chenoweth and Stephan (2011) and Pearlman (2011).
From a theoretical perspective, this article illuminates the categories of (non-)vio-
lence by being more intentional about the meaning and shadings of different terminol-
ogy. Armed/unarmed and violent/non-violent are not interchangeable terms. By drawing
on existing social science definitions of violence, we are able to better specify and cate-
gorize different types of protest actions and (non-)violent interactions, including stone-
throwing. Nuance helps lessen ambiguity.
The disagreement about categorizing stone-throwing as violent or non-violent action
also illustrates that certain tactics are better suited to mass protest while others are based
on more selective participation, a point noted by Chenoweth and Stephan (2011) in rela-
tion to non-violence. Unlike gunfire, stone-throwing was a tactic that could work hand-
in-hand with mass participation.
Also, the disagreement about naming violence is ultimately about what actors depict
as good or at least legitimate forms of political protest. If stone-throwing is seen as non-
violent, it is also likely to be widely accepted as legitimate protest. If it is seen as violent,

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT