Fallout from Amira Hass’s article on Palestinian stone-throwing shows that as far as Israelis are concerned, any and every form of resistance against the occupation is illegitimate.
The Yesha Council – the regional council for West Bank settlements, which operates also as the settlers’ political and lobbying arm – filed a complaint with the Jerusalem Police against the Haaretz daily newspaper and its reporter in the occupied territories, Amira Hass.
Hass this morning published a piece discussing the logic of stone-throwing and persecution in the occupied territories. Quotes:
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.
Often hurling stones is borne of boredom, excessive hormones, mimicry, boastfulness and competition. But in the inner syntax of the relationship between the occupier and the occupied, stone-throwing is the adjective attached to the subject of “We’ve had enough of you, occupiers.”
This article, and especially the first sentence, can be read as a description of the reality in the occupied territories – or even the situation under any occupation – but it could also be seen as a call for action. Many on the Right chose the latter interpretation. My Israel, the online network established by the leaders of Jewish Home party, Naftali Bennet and Ayelet Shaked, called on its 100,000 Facebook followers to send Haaretz editor-in-chief Aluf Benn a photo of Adel Bitton, the Israeli child who was critically injured recently following a car accident last month, which was caused by stone-throwing.
Yesterday, a military court in Ofer prison convicted a Palestinian from Halhul with murder following the death of a settler from Kiryat Arba and his baby, also in a car accident which was caused by stone-throwing. Some people who commented on the military court’s verdict and Hass’ article noted that settlers’ stone-throwing almost always goes unpunished. But the real issue is the legitimacy of Palestinian resistance in the eyes of Israeli society – or more correctly, the lack of legitimacy.
Back when he was running for prime minister, Ehud Barak famously said – in a television interview to Gideon Levy – that had he been a Palestinian of the right age, he would have joined one of “the resistance groups.” At the time, it was widely understood that Barak referred to the armed struggle, and not to stone-throwing or general strikes. Mainstream Israelis, let alone mainstream Israeli politicians, do not usually acknowledge the moral legitimacy of Palestinian resistance (although there were always exceptions). More often than not, “understanding” the roots of Palestinian violence is a recipe for trouble in Israeli society, proved by the firing of Larry Derfner from The Jerusalem Post – over something he didn’t even publish in the paper itself. As soon as Hass’ article was published, it was clear that the Right would use it against her and against her paper.
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.
Personally I think that some forms of resistance are illegitimate, and all have moral and legal consequences which should be debated (Hass said so too in her piece), but it’s not for Israelis to set the rules for the ways Palestinians should challenge our oppression, especially at times when Israeli society clearly lacks any interest in changing the status quo. Our role is to end the occupation.
One last comment: following a similar debate, I once asked law professor Aeyal Gross if the Palestinians have a legal right, according to international law, to fight the Israeli occupation, and if so, with what means (I didn’t ask about the moral right, which I believe exists, just about the legal side of the matter). His response was that this is one of the most underdeveloped sides of international law. Prof. Gross referred me to this Harvard International Law Journal by Richard Falk and Burns Weston which tried to make a legal case for the legitimacy of the first Intifada as a rare exception.
The First Additional Protocol (AP1) to the Geneva Conventions recognizes “armed conflicts in which peoples are fighting against colonial domination and alien occupation and against racist régimes in the exercise of their right of self-determination…” However, Israel is not a party-state to the protocol. Prof. Gross also referred me to several U.N. GA resolutions (2625, 2649) that view resistance to foregin domination and struggles for self-determination as legitimate.