Responding to a friend’s Facebook post a few days back I ran into a familiar refrain from apologists for Israeli bombing campaigns. A fellow wishing to challenge a woman who posted a Guardian article critical of recent Israeli attacks asked, “Would you expect the US government to ignore daily missiles on Boston?” This question or one very like it is familiar to anyone organizing for Palestinian liberation. Several fine responses have been made that locate the impetus for Palestinian rockets in Israeli repression of Palestinians in Gaza. For example in response to Israel’s ground invasion and bombing spree during the 2008-2009 Operation Cast Lead, The Daily Show With Jon Stewart on 5 January 2009 offered a biting reply to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s take on the above question:
Michael Bloomberg: Let me just phrase it for you, something that’ll bring it home. If you’re in your apartment and an emotionally disturbed person is banging on the door screaming, “I am going to come through this door and kill you,” do you want us to respond with one police officer, which is proportional, or with all the resources at our command?
Jon Stewart: I guess it depends if I forced that guy to live in my hallway and make him go through checkpoints every time he has to take a shit.
Another recent example is activist Daniel Sieradski’s correction of an ADL justification for Israel’s most recent bombardment of Gaza. Sieradski asks, “What if your neighborhood was a giant prison?” He then lists decades of repressive Israeli actions before concluding, “That’s why Palestinians are fighting back.”
Both of these interventions posit Israeli repression as the instigating violence. So many progressives and mainstream critics ask whether Israel’s response to Palestinian rockets is proportionate, thus locating the initial violence as coming from Palestinians and validating Israel’s attacks in principle while only questioning their breadth. A minority of these, such as Noura Erakat on Democracy Now! on 11 July, insightfully contextualize the disproportionality in long-term Israeli violence.*
Another framework offers a corrective to both the crude propaganda query and the far more pervasive colonial geography. A perfectly fine response to, “Would you expect the US government to ignore daily missiles on Boston?” is, “Well, it depends on who is firing the missiles.” Are the rockets aggression or resistance to aggression? Is it the indigenous Moswetuset/Massachusett population that has been genocided, forcibly removed and marginalized from their lands (not as in their private property, but as in the physical, cultural and political geography in which virtually all populations base their cosmos) over the last few centuries? From an ethical perspective that demands a very different response than if another economic power like Germany, China or the U.K. were firing missiles for reasons of economic gain through imperialist war. Meaning, whatever concerns we might have with the specific articulation of resistance that rockets are, those resisting have unambiguously and incontrovertibly righteous claims. To focus on the rockets and not their reason is to obscure any long-term solution to rocket fire and, more importantly, the injustice that create rocket fire. (I’m using hypothetical instance of indigenous resistance to American settler colonialism to answer a frequent propaganda hypothetical. Actual native resistance to U.S. settler colonialism today is dynamic and diverse tactically, ideologically and geographically.)
So who is firing the rockets? Some two-thirds of the Gaza Strip’s population are refugees expelled from their homes mostly from 1947-49 but also from the Naqab throughout the 1950s with another sizable group arriving in 1967 during the Naksa. This is frequently lost when discussing “Free Gaza” or when describing all people living in the Gaza Strip as “Gazans” as these frameworks as they are commonly deployed erase that so many are ‘Gazan from Ramla’ or ‘Gazan from Jaffa’. Alternately put, much international discourse fixes a Gazan indigeneity onto Palestinian refugees no matter their origin and ignores the right of return – central amongst Palestinian demands though frequently decentered in mainstream and progressive discourse. This cooperates with colonial geographic terms like “Israel proper” and with liberal internationalist interpretations of the right of return as resettling Palestinians refugees now in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and elsewhere in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Demanding an end to the siege on Gaza without specifically contextualizing that demand in the right of return restricts Palestinian liberation to the 1967 borders. For Free Gaza to enact Free Gazans, it cannot be separated from Free Palestine. This is never so obvious as now when Israel continues building settlements while the world focuses – understandably – on the one part of Palestine where it is not constructing settlements.
The rockets are directed towards the very lands from which Palestinian refugees in Gaza are dispossessed and to which they demand return. There is debate – amongst Palestinians first and foremost – about the ethics and efficacy of all forms of resistance including rockets, armed resistance directed (intentionally and unintentionally) at Israeli noncombatants, street protests, diplomatic lobbying and more. Different folks can come to different conclusions about any of these for political, ethical and tactical reasons. But what potentially frames a path forward and is not seriously debatable is that Palestinians were forcibly removed to Gaza and refugee camps elsewhere.
Alternately put, the Gaza Strip is the geographic construction of an ethnic cleansing campaign. The massive influx of Palestinian refugees transformed the area from a grouping of small, coastal fishing villages and agricultural towns to a densely populated urban enclave. Palestinian resistance from Gaza is for sure related to the current siege, the constant drones flights overhead, the ID card regime put in place after 1967, particular events such as the murders of specific Palestinians and more. Fundamentally though, it stems from the 1947-49 mass expulsions and massacres of Palestinians that transformed the Zionist settler society into the Israeli settler state. This much is clear in that Palestinian resistance from Gaza – armed and unarmed, confrontational and noncooperative and everything in between – begins with Palestinian dispossession to the Gaza Strip and its production as a geography of ethnic cleansing. More simply and in terms correcting Zionism’s most famous myth: Palestine was made a land without people by creating a people without land, the refugees expelled to Gaza and elsewhere.
So what should we demand of the U.S. government were Lenape militants firing rockets into Manhattan? By every conception of justice but for those explicitly White supremacist, Manhattan is Lenape land. Any response from the settler regime regardless of the ethics of the rockets themselves must account for that should the regime actually want the rockets to stop. The fundamental violence is Palestinian dispossession in all its forms. Ending Palestinian rocket fire means subverting the geography of ethnic cleansing. Responding to absurdities like, “Would you expect the US government to ignore daily missiles on Boston?” means locating the impetus for rocket fire. Ideally not just in describing present day Israeli repression but contextualizing the rocket fire in the ongoing ethnic cleansing of 1947-49 that created the Gaza Strip and gave birth to resistance from Gaza which, for the last several years, has included rocket fire. Because it matters who is firing the rockets as “who” goes a long way to explaining “why.” It is as true about the rockets of 2014 from Gaza as it was about the rockets of 1982 from Lebanon.
* Note that not included in the list of helpful interventions is historian Juan Cole’s problematic blog post that, amongst other problems, asserts the U.S. effectively decolonized after World War II – the exact moment when the Indian Termination policy was put in place.
This article is dedicated to the memory of the revolutionary, brilliant, powerful, hilarious and loving Detroiter Charity Mahouna Hicks who has joined the ancestors. So much of our vision and understanding in Detroit stems from her wisdom and interventions towards justice through Black liberation and grassroots social change. The world is infinitely poorer without her and the screed above is a wholly insufficient tribute and contribution to her memory and legacy. I am infinitely blessed to know her as friend and sister in struggle. #WageLove.