Gaza: We must defend Palestinians’ right to resistance
The Israeli occupation army has started a new deadly military campaign against Palestinians in the occupied Gaza Strip, and intensified repressive operations in the occupied West Bank. At the time of the writing, more than 1000 Palestinians have been killed and almost 5,000 injured in Israeli air attacks on Gaza, and raids in the West Bank. In addition to this, more than 180,000 Palestinians have fled their homes to seek shelter in schools managed by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Over 22,000 residential units, 10 health facilities and 48 schools have been damaged and destroyed.
Israel’s Defence Minister Yoav Gallant announced that he ordered a “complete siege” of Gaza, cutting off access to food, electricity, water and fuel, while adding that “we [Israel] are fighting human animals and we act accordingly".
This follows the launch of rockets and the land, sea and air incursion of Hamas fighters into the territories of historic Palestine from 1948, now considered within the state of Israel. Hamas’ military operation has resulted in around 1200 people dead and thousands of others wounded.
''The violence used by the oppressor to maintain its structures of dominations and subjugations should never be compared to, or put on a similar level to the violence of the oppressed attempting to restore its own dignity and seeking to have its existence remembered.''
Western powers, from the US to the EU states, have condemned the Palestinian attack and declared Israel’s “right to defend itself”. This provides an official green light for Israel to launch a new murderous war against Palestinians, while calls to declare Hamas a terrorist organisation have increased.
Indeed, by Israel’s and the West’s logic, it is the colonial occupier that has a legitimate right to self-defence, while the colonised, oppressed Palestinians, are the aggressors who must be destroyed.
This is all part of the long and continual colonial and imperial history of the US and European states, that denies any right of resistance to the oppressed, and labels those struggling against colonial, occupation and/or authoritarian structures, as terrorists that must be violently crushed. This was the case with the National Liberation Front in Algeria, the African National Congress, the Irish Republican Army, Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) prior to the Oslo agreement, Kurdistan Workers' Party, and the list goes on.
This has particularly been the case regarding Palestine’s ongoing struggle for liberation, and more specifically in the occupied Gaza Strip, which has been an open-air prison with a deadly blockade for more than 15 years.
People in Gaza have faced a succession of terrible wars by the Israeli occupation army since 2008, thousands have been killed and there has been considerable destruction across the territory. Peaceful marches and rallies to the Israeli separation fence organised by youth protesters in the past few months, and prior to this in 2018-19 otherwise known as the “Great March of Return”, have all been repressed violently by the Israeli occupation army, including through live fire, tear gas, and even air strikes. Many were killed, and the wounded among the demonstrators designated as terrorists.
In this context, injunctions of Western governments and mainstream media to condemn Hamas’ actions should not be entertained.
Supporters of the Palestinian struggle for liberation and emancipation must reiterate the right to resist of the oppressed facing an apartheid and colonial regime. Indeed, like any other population facing the same threats, Palestinians have such rights, including by military means. Certainly, this should neither be confused with support for the political perspectives of the various Palestinian political parties, including Hamas, nor for all kinds of military actions taken by these actors, notably leading to the indiscriminate killing of numerous civilians.
The issue for the Israeli state is indeed not the nature of the act of resistance by the Palestinians, whether peaceful or armed, or even its ideology, but that any challenge to the structures of occupation and colonisation must be criminalised and suppressed. Prior to Hamas and until today, PLO factions, from leftist organisations to Fateh, Palestinian progressives and democrats, and civilians without any clear ideology, have all suffered Israeli repression.
Beyond the borders of Occupied Palestine, solidarity with the Palestinian struggle and support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign have increasingly been criminalised in Western states. These must be understood in a larger objective of targeting progressive and left-wing politics as we have seen in the UK, France, Germany, and US, and attempts to curtail democratic rights in these societies.
Moreover, it's really important to situate Hamas’ assault within the historical colonial context of Palestine. Israel has always been a settler-colonial project, and to establish, maintain, and expand its territory, the state has ethnically cleansed Palestinians from their land and homes, which led to the Nakba (catastrophe in Arabic) for the Palestinian people. It is estimated that over 750,000 Palestinians were driven out by force from their homes and became refugees. Today, there are more than 6 million Palestinians refugees as those same policies and practices continue.
A rare occasion in media history where a Palestinian has been able to speak freely on live TV without being interrupted. Mustafa Barghouti, gen. sec. of the Palestinian National Initiative, gave evidence-based replies on Palestine during a live CNN interview that has gone viral: pic.twitter.com/nkWeyhPlBX— The New Arab (@The_NewArab) October 9, 2023
Groups like Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International have also characterised the Israeli state as an apartheid regime.
Given the utterly reactionary nature of Israel, the far right’s political hegemony over the last decade should come as no surprise. It is in some sense the logical outgrowth of the its ethnonationalism, institutional racism, and more than 75 years of oppression and dispossession of Palestinians.
More generally, the violence used by the oppressor to maintain its structures of dominations and subjugations should never be compared to, or put on a similar level to the violence of the oppressed attempting to restore its own dignity and seeking to have its existence remembered.
As Nelson Mandela – who went from being considered a terrorist to a recognised and acclaimed international figure – used to recount recalling his negotiations with the South African apartheid regime: "I responded that the state was responsible for the violence and that it is always the oppressor, not the oppressed, who dictates the form of the struggle. If the oppressor uses violence, the oppressed have no alternative but to respond violently. In our case it was simply a legitimate form of self-defence.”
The nature of the Israeli state and its policies created the conditions for the kind of actions that played out in recent days, just like any colonial and occupying actor throughout history, and not the Palestinians.
No viable solution is possible until Palestinians have their full, fundamental rights, including the end of occupation, the end of apartheid, the end of colonisation and the guarantee of the right to return for Palestinian refugees.
Joseph Daher teaches at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, and is an affiliate professor at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, where he participates in the "Syrian Trajectories" project. He is the author of "Syria after the Uprisings, The Political Economy of State Resilience".
Follow him on Twitter: @JosephDaher19
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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.