Palestinians have the right to resist occupation by any means, even non violent ones
Monday 1 November 2010 by CEPRID
As a Western supporter (non Muslim/Arab) of the Palestinian cause, I have always find it rather difficult to talk (let alone to advocate) about how best Palestinians can resist occupation, especially when this occupation is usually extremely violent and genocidal at times.
Ramzy Baroud’s self-restrained criticism of Western and some other willing peace teachers, has prompted me to introduce a different point of view, which probably is much more common amongst Westerners than the Palestinians themselves would believe, although the mainstream media, as it happens with many other issues, have successfully managed to keep under a lid.
War in Iraq and Afghanistan are just two outstanding examples. It does not matter how many Westerners speak out and demonstrate against Western intervention (read aggression) in those countries. It does not matter that international law (let alone pure and humble common sense and humanity) prohibits wars of aggression and occupation. The fact is that Western presidents and parliaments “democratically” invade and withdraw as they see fit, “democratically” they are not held accountable in court for these crimes, and their victims are either dead of left to their own devices, also “democratically”.
As Westerners are almost daily fed by the media with news and “analysis” about Palestinian violence, any social sciences high school student who hits the street and asks pedestrians if they are against Palestinian violence, will find that 90% of the interviewees answer yes.
If the question changes to: if you were under a most violent military occupation, would you defend your family and countrymen with an appropriate resistance? If interviewing in France or Yugoslavia: would you consider the anti-Nazi resistance fighters criminals or heroes? In Spain: were the Spanish guerrillas who fought against Napoleon invading army national heroes or bandits? Of course do not ask Vietnamese, Algerians or Lebanese about their own heroes unless you want your homework to fail.
Those who agonise under the occupier know better than any Western politician, member of a non governmental organisation, visitor to Palestine, peace lover, and obviously undercover Israeli/US agent in peace-conversations disguise, how to survive and overcome a criminal occupation.
Only Palestinians (as any other victim of a similar aggression) are entitled to decide how to resist and to get rid of Israel (or any other occupier).
The role of the Palestinian supporter and indeed of the human rights and democracy supporter, is to side with the oppressed and oppose the oppressor.
Any other position is tantamount to siding with the oppressor against the oppressed and hence to share some of its responsibility in the crime.
Palestinian supporters should never fall in the Zionist –and its Western supporters- traps, amongst them what they call the Palestinian “violence”.
There is not Palestinian violence after more than 60 years of ethnic cleansing and the appropriation of Palestinian land, 40 years of military occupation, almost 20 of peace conversations with the result of thousands of Palestinians killed, maimed, robbed, imprisoned, while the whole international community keeps on condoning the aggressor and twisting the Palestinians’ arm to make them accept all that and be prepared to live on charity until they abandon their cause for good.
What Palestinians do is to defend themselves. What others should do is to support their right to defend themselves in a way appropriate to the magnitude of the aggression they are being subjected to for generations and with no end in sight.
Of course this right applies to any other people under aggression and occupation in this criminal and cruel international political system of the XXIst century.
What about international law? Should Palestinians be encouraged to disregard it?
First of all, it is rather shocking to see that well-known international ngos, think tanks and other groups are strict about Palestinians complying with international law, peace conversations regulations, truces and so on so forth. Of course, they also demand the same to Israel, what else could they do while dealing in a “balanced” way with a much more powerful side?
It is shocking because not a single UN resolution, international convention, treaty, covenant, peace process or whatever, has been able to prevent an Israeli soldier to freely shoot at a Palestinian child, demolish his/her house, expel his/her family, steal his/her land… during the last 63 years. I very much doubt that if the advocates of complying with international law whatever happens were the parents of that child, they would be so keen of international law.
The problem for the supporter of justice in the Middle East –and indeed in the world- should not be that the Palestinians could be disregarding it while defending themselves against the Israeli occupation, but that this law has proven useless for the victim, or rather lethally detrimental.
Because of this, it is totally unfair to tie the Palestinians with it, because it is like placing a rope around the neck of the black trying to escape from a white gang lynching.
It is high time for Westerners to shake up the Zionists propaganda and to call a spade a spade. There is violence in Palestine and it is Zionist violence. Palestinians have every right to fight against this violence with any means appropriate to the aggression they undergo and without interference from peace (although obviously not justice) lovers.
** I borrowed from my friend Santiago Alba the sentence “the Palestinians have a right to resist occupation by any means, even non violent ones”.
This shows the trap which Westerners have fallen into while dealing with the Palestinian conflict.
The Violence Debate: Teaching the Oppressed How to Fight Oppression
An American activist once gave me a book she wrote detailing her experiences in Palestine. The largely visual volume documented her journey of the occupied West Bank, rife with barbered wires, checkpoints, soldiers and tanks. It also highlighted how Palestinians resisted the occupation peacefully, in contrast to the prevalent media depictions linking Palestinian resistance to violence.
More recently, I received a book glorifying non-violent resistance, and which referred to self-proclaimed Palestinian fighters who renounced violence as “converts”. The book elaborated on several wondrous examples of how these “conversions” came about. Apparently a key factor was the discovery that not all Israelis supported the military occupation. The fighters realized that an environment that allowed both Israelis and Palestinians to work together would be best for Palestinians seeking other, more effective means of liberation.
An American priest also explained to me how non-violent resistance is happening on an impressive scale. He showed me brochures he had obtained during a visit to a Bethlehem organization which teaches youth the perils of violence and the wisdom of non-violence. The organization and its founders run seminars and workshops and invite speakers from Europe and the United States to share their knowledge on the subject with the (mostly refugee) students.
Every so often, an article, video or book surfaces with a similar message: Palestinians are being taught non-violence; Palestinians are responding positively to the teachings of non-violence.
As for progressive and Leftist media and audiences, stories praising non-violence are electrifying, for they ignite a sense of hope that a less violent way is possible, that the teachings of Gandhi are not only relevant to India, in a specific time and space, but throughout the world, anytime.
These depictions repeatedly invite the question: where is the Palestinian Gandhi? Then, they invite the answer: a Palestinian Gandhi already exists, in numerous West Bank villages bordering the Israeli Apartheid Wall, which peacefully confront carnivorous Israeli bulldozers as they eat up Palestinian land.
In a statement marking a recent visit announcement by the group of Elders to the Middle East, India’s Ela Bhatt, a ‘Gandhian advocate of non-violence’, explained her role in The Elders’ latest mission: “I will be pleased to return to the Middle East to show the Elders’ support for all those engaged in creative, non-violent resistance to the occupation – both Israelis and Palestinians.”
For some, the emphasis on non-violent resistance is a successful media strategy. You will certainly far more likely to get Charlie Rose’s attention by discussing how Palestinians and Israelis organize joint sit-ins than by talking about the armed resistance of some militant groups ferociously fighting the Israeli army.
For others, ideological and spiritual convictions are the driving forces behind their involvement in the non-violence campaign, which is reportedly raging in the West Bank. These realizations seem to be largely lead by Western advocates.
On the Palestinian side, the non-violent brand is also useful. It has provided an outlet for many who were engaged in armed resistance, especially during the Second Palestinian Intifada. Some fighters, affiliated with the Fatah movement, for example, have become involved in art and theater, after hauling automatic rifles and topping Israel’s most wanted list for years.
Politically, the term is used by the West Bank government as a platform that would allow for the continued use of the word moqawama, Arabic for resistance, but without committing to a costly armed struggle, which would certainly not go down well if adopted by the non-elected government deemed ‘moderate’ by both Israel and the United States.
Whether in subtle or overt ways, armed resistance in Palestine is always condemned. Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah government repeatedly referred to it as ‘futile’. Some insist it is a counterproductive strategy. Others find it morally indefensible.
The problem with the non-violence bandwagon is that it is grossly misrepresentative of the reality on the ground. It also takes the focus away from the violence imparted by the Israeli occupation – in its routine and lethal use in the West Bank, and the untold savagery in Gaza - and places it solely on the shoulders of the Palestinians.
As for the gross misrepresentation of reality, Palestinians have used mass non-violent resistance for generations - as early as the long strike of 1936. Non-violent resistance has been and continues to be the bread and butter of Palestinian moqawama, from the time of British colonialism to the Israeli occupation. At the same time, some Palestinians fought violently as well, compelled by a great sense of urgency and the extreme violence applied against them by their oppressors. It is similar to the way many Indians fought violently, even during the time that Mahatma Gandhi’s ideas were in full bloom.
Those who reduce and simplify India’s history of anti-colonial struggle are doing the same to Palestinians.
Misreading history often leads to an erroneous assessment of the present, and thus a flawed prescription for the future. For some, Palestinians cannot possibly get it right, whether they respond to oppression non-violently, violently, with political defiance or with utter submissiveness. The onus will always be on them to come up with solution, and do so creatively and in ways that suit our Western sensibilities and our often selective interpretations of Gandhi’s teachings.
Violence and non-violence are mostly collective decisions that are shaped and driven by specific political and socio-economic conditions and contexts. Unfortunately, the violence of the occupier has a tremendous role in creating and manipulating these conditions. It is unsurprising that the Second Palestinian Uprising was much more violent than the first, and that violent resistance in Palestine gained a huge boost after the victory scored by the Lebanese resistance in 2000, and again in 2006.
These factors must be contemplated seriously and with humility, and their complexity should be taken into account before any judgments are made. No oppressed nation should be faced with the demands that Palestinians constantly face. There may well be a thousand Palestinian Gandhis.
Theremay be none. Frankly, it shouldn’t matter. Only the unique experience of the Palestinian people and their genuine struggle for freedom could yieldwhat Palestinians as a collective deem appropriate for their own. This is what happened with the people of India, France, Algeria and South Africa,and many others nations that sought and eventually attained their freedom.
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