After a recent offensive on Jenin refugee camp, Israel continues to justify its actions through propaganda & criminalising Palestinians. But Palestinians exercising self-defence is not terrorism, they have a right to resist, argues Emad Moussa.
In Jenin, only the defenders of the refugee camp were exercising a legitimate right under international law, writes Emad Moussa.
As Israel set out on a major offensive with nearly 2000 soldiers and hundreds of military equipment into the Jenin refugee camp, another campaign was being waged on the media front. PM Netanyahu and almost every politician in Israel hammered the virtual space with the same old mantra of ‘terrorism’ and ‘Israel’s right to defend itself.’ “In recent months, Jenin has become a haven for terrorism, we are putting an end to it,” he stated.
For this mantra to resonate, the Israeli hasbara divided Palestinians in Jenin between a majority of neutral ones, the submissive “good ones”, and a minority of terrorists residing amongst them, the non-conformist “bad guys.” This Afghanisation of the Palestinian context is meant to frame Palestinian fighters as external elements with no affiliations with the local society or its political consciousness.
Joining this choir were several individuals, with some going as far as claiming that ‘Palestinian militants’ have been taking Jenin residents hostage - somewhat repeating the ‘human shields’ rhetoric the Israeli government repeatedly deployed against Palestinian resistance in Gaza.
''Because Israel cannot ethnically cleanse Palestinians as it did in 1948, it expects Palestinians ‘to behave themselves’: to remain overly passive and accept the occupation and all its evils as a matter of normal existence. Failure to abide has an immediate off-shelf label of terrorism, and that invokes a violent but “legitimate” Israeli reaction under the doctrine of “self-defence.”''
Amongst them was Israeli-British Rabbi Leo Dee, whose wife and two daughters were killed in a shooting attack in the occupied West Bank. He wrote a piece for the Jewish Chronicleclaiming that Palestinians “silently thanked God for the Jenin operation.” The Rabbi, who consulted no Palestinians for such a conclusion, divided Jenin residents between the “terrorists” and the “good ones.”
This position of self-perceived victimhood and righteous reasoning has long created a delusion of universality. As if to say, since we, Israeli-Jews, believe Palestinian dissidence is terrorism, so must the rest of the world.
The mindset is validated by Biblical mythologies assigning Palestine to the Jewish people exclusively as their ancestral land. And with that, there is now a growing belief amongst Israel’s mainstream that the military occupation does not exist, or at least, it is a point of view. Here, the Palestinian physical reality, the historical context, and the stack of international law clauses and the states behind them are of little relevance.
This delusional belief - that all Palestinian dissidence is terrorism - is legitimate as long as it stays confined within the Zionist narrow worldview and is not scrutinised against the occupier-occupied dynamics, public opinion, international legal standards, and moral criteria.
Terrorism is deeply subjective and lacks a universally agreed-upon definition. It has notoriously been used and abused by governments and other authoritative entities to play down the legitimacy of their opponents and justify illegal and immoral behaviours towards them.
Particularly in a settler-colonial context, ‘terrorist’ is a matter of perception typically weaponised against anyone standing up to colonial power. And Israel, more than others, has no other label or categorisation for those who oppose its oppressive policies outside that definitional circle.
The word ‘terrorist’, mechabel in Hebrew, is almost reflexive for most Jewish-Israelis and nonchalantly thrown at all forms of Palestinian activities deemed unfavourable of Israel, be it peaceful or violent. Even Palestinian international lobbying for human rights was called “diplomatic terrorism” and several Palestinian human rights organisations were labelled “terrorist organisations.”
Because Israel cannot ethnically cleanse Palestinians as it did in 1948, it expects Palestinians ‘to behave themselves’: to remain overly passive and accept the occupation and all its evils as a matter of normal existence. Failure to abide has an immediate off-shelf label of terrorism, and that invokes a violent but “legitimate” Israeli reaction under the doctrine of “self-defence.”
This practically, and rather ironically, means that for Palestinians to avoid Israeli aggression and be labelled “good people,” they are supposed to act outside their human nature, to never react to injustice. They are banned and condemned, in other words, for acting out their right to self-defence.
The fallacy is astounding. It suggests that colonial powers have the right to brutalise, torture, siege, and murder those whose land has been stolen under the rubric of “self-defence.” It also suggests, as Western media outlets casually have it, that the context is a dispute between two equal parties; therefore passingly described as a ‘conflict,’ ‘cycle of violence,’ or ‘escalation.’
And even with such false symmetry, Palestinians are judged based on different and rather harsher standards compared to Israeli-Jews. Hardly if ever do these media outlets ask against whom Israel’s right to defend itself is exercised.
The fact remains that under the General Assembly Resolution 37/43 of 1982, member states recognise “the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples for independence, territorial integrity, national unity and liberation from colonial and foreign domination and foreign occupation by all available means, including armed struggle”. The resolution refers not to a hypothetical scenario, but rather specifically to the rights of the Palestinian people.
Palestine under international law is an occupied territory of Israel and not a separate state against which the right of self-defence - by another state - can freely be exercised. Thus Palestinians have the right to defend themselves against their occupier with armed force if necessary. This, ipso facto makes the very concept of Israel’s right to self-defence in this context is not guaranteed.
All states are guaranteed a “right to self-determination” - defined as jus cogens (pre-emptory norm) of international law - a principle that supersedes all other legal claims. This means that when a state deliberately denies the right to self-determination of another collective, its actions are deemed a violation of international law. For Israel to make the claim of self-defence, it must legally ensure that Palestinians exercise their right to self-determination, by treating Palestine as a separate, sovereign entity. This was never the case.
In Jenin, therefore, only the defenders of the refugee camp were exercising a legitimate right. The Israeli army was not, regardless of whichever righteous claims or self-entitlement the Jewish state and its apologists attached to the offensive. There is no such thing as equal legitimacy in the colonial context.
Dr Emad Moussa is a Palestinian-British researcher and writer specialising in the political psychology of intergroup and conflict dynamics, focusing on MENA with a special interest in Israel/Palestine. He has a background in human rights and journalism, and is currently a frequent contributor to multiple academic and media outlets, in addition to being a consultant for a US-based think tank.