Roots of Resistance: We all have a responsibility to turn resistance into liberation

Israel/Palestine
on 11 Comments

This post is part of the series “Roots of Resistance: 25 year retrospective on the first intifada.” Read the entire series here.

The first Intifada (actually the second if we include the Palestinian Revolt of 1936-39, both derided as “riots” and “disturbances” in Israeli historiography) stands alongside other historical acts of popular resistance to oppression, occupation or colonial rule. Some succeeded in overthrowing that rule: the Arab Spring comes immediately to mind, as do the strikes in Gdansk led by the Polish Solidarity movement; the Russian Revolution; the Viet Minh and Viet Cong in their prolonged struggles against the French and Americans; the many anti-colonial movements in Africa; peasants movements in Mexico, China, Algeria, India and Cuba; the sustained campaigns of the ANC in South Africa, the Taliban of Afghanistan and many more – all of which should give us hope when confronted by those who ridicule people power. Others did not succeed – the Tiananmen Square protests, the Tamils of Sri Lanka, the Tibetans, the Native Americans or Black nationalists of the US – but their grievances, though suppressed, continue to fester, waiting for the next round. Still others, hundreds of others, large and small, are ongoing, still unable to achieve their aims yet too strong to be suppressed and normalized, Palestinian resistance prominent among them.

Logo design2
A Palestinian woman facing barbed wire belonging to the
Ansar II prison camp in Gaza, January 8, 1988.
(Photo: Sven Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images)

Powerful state oppressors invariably cast resistance movements as violent, irrational, terroristic, lacking any legitimacy whatsoever. They often succeed, at least for a time. Ultimately they are undone by the blatantly oppressive measures they must take to control or quash the uprising. The modicum of sympathy for the “terrorists” thus released allows at least the critical among us to articulate the legitimacy of their cause. Over time the moral and legal legitimacy of the oppressor recedes until a tipping point is reached, after which the regime becomes vulnerable, its sustainability thrown into doubt, its hold loosening despite its overwhelming power and ever more draconian policies.

Granted, this has been a prolonged process in the case of Israel and the Palestinians. The ability of the oppressor regime, Israel, to muster international support, is considerable. Recalling the persecution of the Jews and, ultimately, the Holocaust, conceals Israel’s power as well as the injustice, illegality and wanton brutality of its treatment of the Palestinians. It also enables Israel to cast itself as the victim, although this is wearing thin. Other factors are at play as well. Jews are seen as white people, one of “us,” with all the implications and privileges that entails. Leon Uris’ book Exodus, translated into more than 50 languages and perhaps the most effective piece of PR ever produced, etched into the public consciousness the image of heroic, handsome, freedom-loving but tough Jews (Paul Newman played Ari Ben Canaan in the Otto Preminger film, music by Henry Mancini and sung by Andy Williams) overcoming the traumas of the Holocaust to bravely defend themselves against nameless “gangs” of swarthy, blood-thirsty Arabs. Even today Israel belongs to the European soccer and basketball leagues, and participates in the awful but popular Eurovision contest. (Americans, be glad you don’t know what that is.) Writ larger, Israel, partly by dint of its military prowess, has become part-and-parcel of the Global North, located solidly on the “civilized” side of the Clash of Civilizations, a leader in the campaign to pacify those resisting global capitalism.

Israel still has the ability, though a diminished one, to mobilize influential if patchy sectors of the international community: Christian Zionists, the guilt-ridden, pro-American peoples of Eastern Europe and Germany, parliamentarians and members of Congress, key government officials and, not least, powerful defense contractors – not to forget, tragically, the organized Jewish community. But we should notice contrary trends as well. One hundred and thirty countries, more than 70% of the member states of the UN, voted to recognize a Palestinian state, isolating the nine who voted against: the United States, Israel, Canada, the Czech Republic (the only European country to vote no) and five Pacific atolls. Already in 2003 a Gallup Poll of Europeans found that 59% saw Israel s the main threat to peace, followed by Iran, Iraq and….the US. Even in the US views seem to be changing: witness the three voice votes in the Democratic Convention that failed to produce a majority recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The significance of the first Intifada, in my mind, is that it initiated this process of revelation and table-turning. The success of Israel in portraying itself as an innocent victim rather than an oppressing power has run its course. No longer can it demonize the Palestinians and deny them their national right to self-determination and still muster international support. This was no mere PR campaign, of course. Thousands of Palestinians paid with their lives or their health or their property. Though the Intifada was mounted by an unarmed population, more than 1300 Palestinians died and tens of thousands were injured, including almost 30,000 children who required medical treatment for beatings endured during the first two years of the intifada, a third of them under the age of ten. Some 120,000 people were arrested at a time when Israel’s security services were perfecting methods of torture that fit the Supreme Court’s guidelines of “moderate physical pressure.” 1500 homes were demolished. The UN General Assembly characterized Israel’s actions as “war crimes and an affront to humanity,” charging it with “annexation, deportation, expulsion, destruction, collective punishment, administrative detention, torture, illegal exploitation, curtailing of free press, killing and wounding of defenseless demonstrators, breaking of bones and limbs of thousands of civilians, use of toxic gas and arming of Israeli settlers with the purpose to perpetrate and commit acts of violence against Palestinians.”

With their very lives the Palestinians who rose up in the first Intifada broke Israel’s monopoly over how the public viewed them and their struggle. They gave us the infrastructure – the exposure after years in which Israel tried to pacify and normalize its Occupation, the moral and political case, the ability to demand Israeli accountability under international law, indeed, the inspiration – upon which our current struggle is based. It was one of the most significant popular uprisings of the neo-colonial era. For its significance goes far beyond Palestine itself. The Palestinian struggle is a microcosm of larger but similar struggles on the global stage, the world as a Global Palestine, if you will. It is a bellwether of how well we are doing. Palestinian success in freeing themselves from the domination of a Global North country provides a measure of the degree to which collective and individual human rights, backed by international humanitarian law, actually affect political reality. By the same token, Israel’s ability to mobilize support for its policies of occupation, deny Palestinians their human rights, openly defy international law with the connivance of the American and European governments and employ with impunity the harshest military measures reveals how far we have to go.

The first Intifada, significant as it was, could not have ended Israel’s Occupation by itself. Just as the Palestinians represent the billions of others struggling for their own basic rights, for sustenance and for a place in this world, culturally and individually (including the poor, the immigrants, the marginalized and the dissident within the Global North itself), so too do they need the support of the strong publics in that very Global North that it exploiting and marginalizing them. And herein lies our challenge. The first Intifada could reveal the injustice, anger and unwillingness of the oppressed to live under oppression, it could provide direction to those who fighting the Occupation and substance to their political and legal arguments, but only governments can actually end the Occupation and, guided by the people, achieve a just peace. We the people are in a bad marriage. Unelected, possessing limited power and no official mandate, we can neither negotiate nor sign treaties. We need governments to do that. But governments, it seems, will never do the right thing of their own accord; they engage in conflict management, not conflict resolution. The people, civil society, play a crucial role in forcing governments to act. Whether from the ground up as in the first Intifada, in creating global instability as in the Muslim world’s refusal to normalize relations with the US until the Occupation ends or in our own campaigns such as BDS, public advocacy and turning to international law, civil society can make the Occupation unsustainable. To hasten its end by forcing governments to act (and if they won’t, like the US and Israel, then finding governments that will by-pass them, as in the UN vote) – that is our role.

We must pick up our end if the first Intifada will in fact represent the beginning of a process of liberation or will become simply a brave but futile act. That means, in my view, formulating the most effective strategies for translating the people power of the Intifada into government policy and, ultimately, to compel the Israelis to end the Occupation and enter into a just peace, whatever form that may take. The Palestinians cannot overthrow the Occupation on their own, the Israeli Jewish public has been neutralized and simply doesn’t care, and our own governments would rather manage the conflict for another century rather than end it.

The good news is that we, all of us, Palestinians, progressive Israelis and you (who we call “internationals”), have made the Palestinian issue one of the two or three central issues across the globe. Literally hundreds of organizations actively pursue Palestinian rights, supported by trade unions, political and human rights groups, churches, intellectuals, students and vast sectors of the public. Even as I write this the World Social Forum on Palestine has just concluded in Porto Alegre, Brazil – some 3500 activists from throughout the world, convened in part by Via Campesina, the international peasant movement. But we have to build on our successes. We have to ask: beyond BDS and the different to campaigns we have initiated over the years, how do we continue to mobilize new sectors of society, change public opinion and, in the end, influence governments’ policies. Since governments follow where the people lead, our task is to join with the Palestinians in parleying the opportunity they gave us in the first Intifada into effective actions.

A lot is at stake here. If the Occupation wins – and don’t doubt for a moment that Israel believes it has already beaten the Palestinians – it is not only the Palestinians who have lost, but all of us. If oppression prevails and on the southern border of Europe, in the Holy Land visited by millions of pilgrims and tourists each year, human rights and international law are trampled at will in Palestine, a chilling message is sent to oppressed peoples living in places far less transparent than Israel/Palestine – and to us as well. If the Occupation prevails due mainly to American complicity, how hollow will that render any talk of the Global North about democracy and freedom. And if, irony of ironies, Jews become the new Afrikaners, the insistence of Israeli leaders that they represent the entire Jewish people meaning that Jews anywhere who do not distance themselves from Israeli policies are in fact complicit, the enlightened leaders of the American Jewish community at the head, the lessons of oppression the Elie Wiesels among us press upon the world will be considered self-serving at best.

The people who rose up in the first Intifada began the task of liberation; it is our responsibility to join with our Palestinian colleagues to formulate the most effective strategies possible to turn their resistance into genuine liberation.

About Jeff Halper

Jeff Halper is the Director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). He can be reached at [email protected]

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11 Responses

  1. seafoid
    December 18, 2012, 9:15 am

    link to irishtimes.com?

    The Israeli embassy in Dublin has apologised for a post on its Facebook page which said if Mary and Jesus were alive today they would “probably end up being lynched in Bethlehem by hostile Palestinians”.

    The post, which was made on the Israel in Ireland Facebook page at about lunchtime today, showed a picture of Mary and Jesus. It was accompanied by the comment:

    “A thought for Christmas…If Jesus and mother Mary were alive today, they would, as Jews without security, probably end up being lynched in Bethlehem by hostile Palestinians.

    Just a thought…….”

    By 3 pm it had 20 ‘likes’, though several comments expressed distaste for the post.

    Among them was one saying: !Have you no regard for honesty whatsoever? If Jesus & Mary were alive today, they would be protesting against the Israeli occupation of Palestine, along with all the Palestinian Christians currently living in Bethlehem.!

    The post was reported in the major Israeli on-line news site, Haaretz as well as on the Washington Post site today.
    When contacted a spokesman for the embassy confirmed the page was an official embassy site. Asked who posted to it he said: “Different members of staff at the embassy post to it.”
    He then asked if The Irish Times was doing a piece on it and was told it was a possibility.

    The post was removed about half an hour later and replaced with a statement.
    “To whom it may concern: An image of Jesus and Mary with a derogatory comment about Palestinians was posted without the consent of the administrator of the Facebook page. We have removed the post in question immediately.Apologies to anyone who may have been offended. Merry Christmas!”

    A spokeswoman for the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign described the original post as “outrageous and extremely cynical, but not surprising”.
    “The fact that it was published on a site representing the Israeli state is particularly appalling. It is indicative of the racism that underpins the whole Zionist project.”
    The Department of Foreign Affairs declined to comment.

  2. yourstruly
    December 18, 2012, 12:32 pm

    why concentrate on israel/palestine rather than china’s takeover of tibet, or turkey’s suppression of kurds, etc. etc.? aren’t these equally just causes?

    because the palestinian independence struggle is the bellwether for resistance to colonialization

    justice for palestine will advance these other liberation struggles?

    same way as the defeat of germany & japan almost 70 years ago advanced the cause of independence in china, indonesia, cuba, egypt, algeria, vietnam & elsewhere

    • Hostage
      December 19, 2012, 9:24 am

      why concentrate on israel/palestine rather than china’s takeover of tibet, or turkey’s suppression of kurds, etc. etc.? aren’t these equally just causes?

      Those are certainly just causes from the standpoint of discrimination, but the members of those groups are citizens. The Palestinians are not eligible to vote on those 6,000 new housing units built on their territory, much less live in them.

      • Annie Robbins
        December 19, 2012, 12:36 pm

        when i read that sentence i couldn’t help but recall reut’s deligitimization firewall pdf w/debate instructions. if i am not mistaken the first line of defense was going on the offensive about the accuser’s (the deligitimizer’s) lack of concern for other areas of conflict in the world and the implication this was anti semitic.

        it’s basically no different than utilizing the numero uno hasbara score pointing crutch, the ad hominem attack. it’s a diversion from addressing the topic byway of turning the argument against the character of the person making the argument, instead of the criticism against israel’s crimes.

        he’s got a fancy reputation but his critique is as old as hasbara itself and as worn out as an aged dishrag.

      • Obsidian
        December 21, 2012, 12:29 am

        Hostage.
        Are you telling us that ethnic Tibetan citizens of China can vote on how the province of Tibet is governed?

        If that’s what your saying, then why have Tibetans been immolated themselves in protest these past few months?

        That’s not how you vote.

      • Hostage
        December 23, 2012, 3:17 am

        Hostage. Are you telling us that ethnic Tibetan citizens of China can vote on how the province of Tibet is governed?

        I’m saying that China has made them citizens, unlike the case of Israel and the Palestinians. What that means is that China, unlike Israel, is accountable and has agreed to report to human rights treaty monitoring bodies on its efforts to end racial discrimination in ethnic minority dominated areas like Tibet and Xinjiang. It also is asked to explain why other regions, like Hong Kong and Macao, can be granted autonomy under the “one state, two systems” doctrine, but not places like Tibet.

        Israel refuses to even report on the Occupied Palestinian territories it governs. It continues to ignore the rulings of the treaty monitoring bodies and the ICJ which have advised that the UN human rights treaties apply to all of the territory where Israel exercises jurisdiction.

        Israel claims it can treat Palestinians however it likes, because they are not citizens and the territory is part of an armed conflict, not subject to its jurisdiction. China does not make any similar claims.

  3. MHughes976
    December 18, 2012, 5:16 pm

    What impresses me about this problem is its sheer uniqueness. There’s nothing on earth very like it. The arguments used to defend Zionism are astonishing, yet very widely accepted. That makes it important and urgent to say and to keep saying that they are seriously mistaken.

    • yourstruly
      December 18, 2012, 10:49 pm

      worse than being seriously mistaken, cause the truth invariably is the opposite of what they say

    • Avi_G.
      December 19, 2012, 12:52 am

      The Palestinians should sue the British government for forcibly handing over their ancestral homeland to the foreign Zionist colonizers. Britain occupied the land by force and then gave it away when it wasn’t its own to give.

      • Theo
        December 19, 2012, 1:41 pm

        Avi

        Great idea, but waste of time.
        GB is broke like most of the western world, there is very little to hope for. However, a world court decision would carry immense political values.

  4. Avi_G.
    December 19, 2012, 12:39 am

    Speaking of Palestinian resistance, here is a good chronology of events from 1917 to 1947.

    1917, Nov. 2
    The Balfour Declaration.

    1917, Dec. 9
    Ottoman forces surrender in Jerusalem: allied forces led by General Allenby conquer Palestine; Jerusalem under British military administration.

    1918, Jan. 27-Feb. 10
    First Palestinian National Congress meets in Jerusalem, sends two memoranda to Versailles Peace Conference rejecting Balfour Declaration, demanding independence.

    1920, April
    British remove Musa Kazim al-Husseini, mayor of Jerusalem, from office for opposing their pro-Zionist policies. San Remo Peace Conference assigns the Mandate for Palestine to Great Britain.

    1921, May-June
    4th Palestinian National Congress held in Jerusalem, decides to send delegation to London to explain Palestinian case against Balfour Declaration.

    1922
    Britain obtains League of Nations mandate to rule Palestine; Jerusalem becomes capital under British civil administration.

    1922-1939
    Period of Palestinian revolts against British occupation and massive Jewish immigration.

    1925, March
    Palestinian general strike to protest against private visit by Lord Balfour to Jerusalem.

    1928, June
    7th Palestinian National Congress convened in Jerusalem.

    1928, Nov.
    Islamic Conference meets in Jerusalem, urges protection of Muslim property rights at Wailing Wall, itself a Muslim holy site.

    1929, Aug. 28-29
    Palestinian up-rising in reaction to militant demonstrations at Wailing Wall.

    1931, Dec. 16
    Pan-Islamic Congress held in Jerusalem, 145 delegates from Muslim World attend.

    1933, Oct.
    Demonstrations in Jaffa and Jerusalem protesting against British pro-Zionist policies.

    1936, May 8
    Conference of all National Committees in Jerusalem calls for ‘no taxation without representation’. General strike begins.

    1946, July 22
    Irgun and Stern Gang Zionist groups blow up King David Hotel, Jerusalem.

    1947, Nov. 29
    UN Partition Resolution 181 recommends that Jaffa be part of the proposed Palestinian state and that Jerusalem and Bethlehem be a corpus separatum under a special international regime administered by UN Trusteeship Council.

    Source: link to passia.org

    *************** ******************
    In other words, Israel was an extension of colonial rule in the Middle East.

    India, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and others all got their independence, except for Palestine; the colonizers still rule it.

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