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Defending the right to resist

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photo credit: Mohammed Saber/EPA

"What would your government do with more than 2,000 rockets raining down at your cities fired by terrorists?" stated Mark Regev, the spokesperson for the Israeli Prime Minister, on CNN. The logic of the Israeli government and its defenders is not without a subversive edge -- if the Israelis have the right to defend themselves, then shouldn't the same go for the Palestinian people? 

Of course the problem with this equation is that it rips the context away from the conflict. Israeli missiles, artillery shells and bombs and Palestinian rockets don't appear out of thin air for no reason. The overriding fact on the ground is one of occupation and siege. This fact more than anything else explains the constantly shifting objectives of the Israeli government. Sharif Abdel Kouddous captures this the best when he describes operation Protective Edge as "a war in search of an objective." The reality is this is not actually a war between two countries, but an occupation and siege. 

Rather than two rights of self-defence meeting each other on the battlefield, it is the might of a powerful occupier versus the right of the Palestinian people to defend themselves from the ongoing brutal occupation and siege of the West Bank and Gaza.

Both those who support Israel and those who want to see an immediate end to the violence (both sides are to blame) usually frame the argument around if only Hamas were to stop firing rockets at Israel and recognize their right to exist there could be peace.

Forget the uniformed argument that sees Hamas as a monolithic political and military force in Gaza. Recognizing Israel in its current form means recognizing the existence of the occupation, it means recognizing the endless siege of Gaza. Israel, because of its ongoing settler program in the West Bank doesn't even have defined borders, which begs the question what is Hamas supposed to recognize? Khaled Meshaal, the head of Hamas addressed this issue in a recent interview stating, "we want peace without occupation."

What Israel means by peace is a peaceful passivity of the occupied and a bigger piece of land for greater Israel. To paraphrase Dead Prez, the problem with peace is that Israelis just want a bigger piece. What people would accept foregoing resistance for a continued occupation?

This brings me to my main point, which is that those of us who are standing in solidarity with the Palestinian people shouldn't shirk the responsibility of defending the right of the Palestinian people to resist the occupation, and sometimes that means defending armed struggle. We cannot defend the right to resist in the abstract. This doesn't mean agreeing with the political program of this or that group, but recognizing the right of self-determination.

Contrary to most narratives of peace in the Middle East the role of armed struggle by the Palestinians plays an important role. Of course liberation of the Palestinian people can't happen by armed struggle alone. There are five major factors that have to come together for that to happen: Popular international pressure through BDS and popular protest (especially in the countries that most staunchly support Israel), popular non-violent resistance in Palestine, a popular movement against the occupation and against the discrimination of Israeli Palestinians in Israel, the rising of the working class against the ruling regimes in the Middle East and the strategic defeat of the IDF through armed struggle.

By strategic defeat of the IDF I don't mean the outright military defeat, rather I mean the shock of a bloody nose -- heavy causalities, the breaking of the aura of invincibility.

Loose parallels can be seen in other national liberation struggles. In 1968 the Vietnamese resistance forces launched the Tet offensive to disable the South Vietnamese and American military apparatus in Saigon. The military operation was in many ways a failure by the Vietnamese resistance (they were completely dejected by the outcome) but the psychological effect of showcasing stiff resistance towards the occupying force was incalculable. Tet more than any other military action created the demoralizing conditions for the anti-war movement to grow in the United States. 

This experience was in many ways replicated by the Israelis in their 1982 invasion and occupation of south Lebanon. The invasion gave way to profound demoralization within the IDF and the Israeli public. Partly this reflected the disgust with the Israeli role in the Sabra and Shatila massacre, but it also was a response to the heavy causalities and stubborn resistance the IDF faced. In 2006 the Israelis bombed and invaded Lebanon yet again, while Hezbollah and the Lebanese bore the brunt of casualties, they were able to inflict a psychological blow on the IDF making an actual ground invasion much less likely in the future. 

The countless other examples of armed resistance in national liberation shows armed resistance by itself doesn't create victories, but it can often create the conditions for just resolutions to occur. 

I am not trying to fetishize violence; in fact I think violent resistance is usually the worst solution. But when the Israeli ruling class, with the support of many governments around the world and a disturbingly high number of Israelis, routinely employs one of the worlds' most battle-tested militaries against an occupied people with predictably devastating results, what are people supposed to do? Israel consistently ignores and brutalizes unarmed protesters, it has turned the bombing of children into a habit, it has elevated the subjection of an entire people to the right of self-defence.  

One statistic stands out for me beyond the others. Over 1,500 Palestinian people have been killed in the latest attack on Gaza, of those 80 per cent are civilians, 59 Israelis have been killed in the conflict, only three were civilians. All the talk of the indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israel and the so-called targeted attacks by the Israelis turns out to be, like so much of Israeli propaganda, the exact opposite of reality.  

Palestinian armed resistance should be defended and seen as an important piece of the puzzle, not merely as a bad strategy that perpetuates the cycle of violence. The uncomfortable truth is that a just peace not only requires BDS and Palestinian non-violent resistance, but the bloodying of the IDF as well. 

photo credit: Mohammed Saber/EPA

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