Why are there are no white flags in Gaza?

Israel may think that bombing – and killing – innocents is a viable strategy. But there is a better option: to actually understand what has been driving Palestinian resistance for all these decades.

Point out the barbarity of Israel’s ongoing attacks against Gaza – as of this writing, more than 80 killed, a quarter of them under the age of 16 – and you’re bound to hear a familiar rejoinder: but what exactly would you have Israel do?

The question implies that the root cause of the current attacks is some – presumably innate – Palestinian propensity toward violence. “They” lob rockets and kidnap our Yeshiva students, so Israel has no choice but to respond.

For a thorough dismantling of this logic, see this clear-eyed analysis from my +972 colleague Noam Sheizaf, a resident of Tel Aviv, who uses the metaphor of “two giant prisons” – one in Gaza and one in the West Bank – to explain the futility of Israel’s deadly actions. You might also have a look at the website of the Israeli NGO Gisha, which offers a no-nonsense compendium of all the ways Israel has kept Palestinians locked up on their own land.

Israeli tanks on the border with Gaza. (photo: Activestills)
Israeli tanks on the border with Gaza. (photo: Activestills)

But whether or not you accept that this latest round of bombing and rocket attacks tracks back to the brutality, not of Palestinians, but of their prison-keepers, this much is unavoidable: even with all the suffering, there are no white flags being flown in Gaza, just as there are none in the West Bank, none in the refugee camps bordering historic Palestine, and none in its historically Arab cities of Yaffa, Haifa, Akka, or Al-Lydd. Palestinians, in other words, are in no mood to accept Israel’s diktats — this despite the state’s attempts to convince them through force and, yes, lollipops.

A diktat, of course, is something imposed by the powerful upon the weak, without the latter’s consent. In the West Bank, for example, Israel would have Palestinians accept the ongoing theft of their land and natural resources in the service of a colonial settlement project roundly condemned by international law and, of late, even the American secretary of state. In Gaza, Israel would have nearly two million Palestinians accept that they have no claim to a future Palestinian state or to accessing villages from which more than three-quarters of them were displaced by Israel’s creation in 1948. And for the rest of Palestine’s refugees, who remain in exile throughout the world, Israel would have them accept that they have no hope of ever returning.

On all counts and by all accounts, Palestinians may have been temporarily mollified, but they have not capitulated. How else can one explain that Palestinians born after 1993, who have lived their entire lives under the illusory “calm” maintained by the so-called Palestinian Authority, are today the bulwark against Israel’s policies, protesting in the streets of Jerusalem, tweeting while the bombs rain down on Gaza, and leading the global Palestinian solidarity movement?

       Live blog: Escalation in Gaza – July 2014

It is only the emperor, it seems, who cannot see that his robes are threadbare. But some in Israel, even its former leaders, have already begun to discern that their country ultimately has only two ways forward if it truly seeks peace — for itself, if not for others. The first option is a sadistic campaign to kill as many Palestinians as it takes, either by annihilating them or forcing them into submission. Consider, for example, this explanation from Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the late, spiritual leader of Israel’s Shas party:

Why are gentiles needed? They will work, they will plow, they will reap. We will sit like an effendi and eat….

The second option before Israel – one that its cooler heads are urging – is to actually understand what has driven Palestinian resistance for all these decades. For a clue, Israel’s leaders might look to Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress, which on Wednesday issued a statement reacting to the ongoing bombing of Gaza:

The ANC reiterates its 2012 policy position that as an organisation we are unequivocal in our support for the Palestinian people in their struggle for self-determination, and unapologetic in our view that the Palestinians are the victims and the oppressed in the conflict with Israel.

And there you have it. Like the victims of South African Apartheid before them, Palestinians have claimed their right to fight back, and no amount of bombing, bulldozing, or burning has silenced them. As the dead multiply, Israelis would do well to consider the true cost, in lives – and hopes – extinguished.

Why I object to this military campaign, even as missiles fall on my city
‘They left us no choice’: On military escalation and its Israeli rationale
Nobody should be a number: Names of those killed in Gaza

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