Who may resist (or, ‘Do you see any smokestacks?’)

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For any active colonial enterprise, the answer is that no one may resist, not violently, not nonviolently—not in any way, because the business of a colonial power is to maintain itself as a colonial power. To that end, it demands the passivity, compliance, and collaboration of the colonized people. When, historically, compliance is not forthcoming, the colonial power responds with repression and violence.

Israel—with its relatively small (by the numbers; think India, by contrast) but still very real colonial occupation—is no different. Colonial powers do not acknowledge that there’s anything wrong with what they’re doing; indeed, they defend their actions as legal and just. Thus, it is the resistance that is the crime. Think about American slavery: it was the “lawful” status quo. Violence against slaves (and abolitionists) was the acceptable norm. Escaped slaves—property gone missing—were hunted down and brought back in shackles. A slave uprising (as with a colonial uprising) was the crime; John Brown is the terrorist, not the slave owners.

This is a schematic presentation, I know, but I think it holds.

Regarding today’s Israel, ask the members of Netanyahu’s coalition; ask the members of AIPAC; ask lots of even well meaning American Jews. They’ll insist that Israel, (the unacknowledged) colonial occupier, is the victim and that those who resist must be punished, lest the phenomenon (of resistance to illegal occupation) spread.

And if you ask the major apologists who work at finessing the truth, you’ll get the answer that, sure, the settlements were Israel’s biggest mistake ever but, they’ll also tell you, Palestinians are the criminals for resisting. And they’ll tell you that those who support their resistance are anti-Semites.

It breaks down to whether you support the occupation by justifying it and calling it something else or whether you believe that the occupation must end (and ending the occupation, as they well know, would entail a lot of decolonizing).

Amira Hass has the heart of a lion. She stands apart for her decades-long struggle as a journalist to expose the ugly, suppressed truth about the occupation and to challenge it. Read the comments that accompany her articles and you’ll see the vitriol directed at her. Yesterday she wrote about resistance

Throwing stones is the birthright and duty of anyone subject to foreign rule. Throwing stones is an action as well as a metaphor of resistance. Persecution of stone-throwers, including 8-year-old children, is an inseparable part − though it’s not always spelled out − of the job requirements of the foreign ruler, no less than shooting, torture, land theft, restrictions on movement, and the unequal distribution of water sources.

It has generated the virulent response one would expect, with settlers accusing Haaretz of being anti-settler. See Noam Sheizaf’s commentary at +972

[T]he real issue is the legitimacy of Palestinian resistance in the eyes of Israeli society – or more correctly, the lack of legitimacy. . . .

In the Israeli political conversation, all forms of Palestinian resistance are forbidden. Those advocating for Israel view every Palestinian action as a form of terrorism, and as such, they become inherently illegitimate and justify repercussions and unilateral moves by Israel. The BDS movement – which is clearly non-violent – is often referred to as “cultural terrorism” and “economic terrorism,” the UN statehood bid was “diplomatic terrorism,” stone-throwing is “popular terrorism,” and so on. The Israeli government is taking active measures to suppress all those forms of resistance, and the debate in Israel isolates and punishes those who support them. The sad reality is that by doing so, Israel leaves more and more Palestinians to wonder on the value of such non-violent acts, as opposed to that of the real, armed terrorism.

There is an aversion in Israel to admitting that there is even an occupation (they still babble about “disputed” territories, not occupied territories). But as of June this oppressive occupation will have been running for forty-six years. How can one argue with Amira Hass’s contention that “throwing stones is an action as well as a metaphor of resistance.” Richard Goldstone in his eponymous report acknowledged the right of an occupied people to resist—with the warning that legal resistance did not permit harming civilians. It seems, unfortunately, that in the case at hand it is the occupiers who are permitted to harm civilians, as we see the Israelis doing routinely with international impunity.

For me there was irony in the publication on the same day as the Hass article the piece by Robert Rozett about Jewish resistance during the war. He is challenging the once regnant Israeli wisdom that the Jewish heroes of the Holocaust were those who engaged in armed resistance, whereas the rest went shamefully like sheep to the slaughter. Rozett says, no, resistance and the struggle to stay alive and human take many forms. In fact this notion is not new; an undergraduate course about the Holocaust that I took at Columbia in 1970 or so had a week or two on the syllabus devoted to readings that the professor understood in this way. But it’s an important point; the macho understanding of resistance is a cruel hoax. In the Jewish world, Jews are valorized for resisting in whatever way, for their amidah (taking a stand); Palestinians, however, may not resist and their sumud (steadfastness) is to be condemned. This, I believe, is unacceptable. 

My parents moved to Israel in the late 1970s. My father and I argued vehemently and nonstop about the matter of Palestinians, a Palestinian state, the occupation, and the wars from even earlier, from the mid-1970s until his death four years ago. It was he who, really irritated with something I’d said, countered with, “Do you see any smokestacks?” Meaning that until there are gas chambers and ovens, there’s nothing  to discuss: for him, Palestinians were simply barbaric terrorists. End of story. What a paltry standard of (in)justice it is that allows the prism of the Holocaust to distort everything. I saw my father, whom I loved very much, as a typical Israeli (or, perhaps, he was simply a typical American Jew).

It has become the thing in Israel today to crow about how “quiet” things are in the occupied territories—they boast that there’s no terror even as they exploit talk of terror all the time. In 2012, they tell you, no Israelis were killed at the hands of Palestinians. By contrast, according to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, the IDF has already killed eleven Palestinians in 2013. The campaign talk in Israel a few months back was about how it was unnecessary to even think about Palestine: the natives, that is, were not restless. But in fact they are.

It is the right of peoples under occupation to resist. Why should the Palestinians be the only people in the Middle East denied this right?

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