In light of recent events and a few posts that have made rounds, I am reminded of this 2009 piece by Joseph Massad. It’s centered around the use of the phrase “right to defend itself” and it’s relationship to Israel. It’s important to note that article was published by the website on the day after the Gaza War was ceased. The following is an excerpt,
The logic goes as follows: Israel has the right to occupy Palestinian land, lay siege to Palestinian populations in Bantustans surrounded by an apartheid wall, starve the population, cut them off from fuel and electricity, uproot their trees and crops, and launch periodic raids and targeted assassinations against them and their elected leadership, and if this population resists these massive Israeli attacks against their lives and the fabric of their society and Israel responds by slaughtering them en masse, Israel would simply be “defending” itself as it must and should.
After taking a couple of shots at Thomas Friedman, Joesph continues,
The major argument here is two-fold, namely that while Israel has the right to defend itself, its victims have no similar right to defend themselves. In fact, the logic is even more sinister than this and can be elucidated as follows: Israel has the right to oppress the Palestinians and does so to defend itself, but were the Palestinians to defend themselves against Israel’s oppression, which they do not have a right to do, Israel will then have the right to defend itself against their illegitimate defense of themselves against its legitimate oppression of them, which it carries out anyway in order to defend itself legitimately.
This is why, not only does Israel have the right to arm itself and to be a nuclear power and to have a military edge over the combined militaries of the entire region in which it lives, but it also must ensure that the military power of its neighbors is used to quell the Palestinians and not Israel, indeed to help Israel lay siege to the resisting Palestinians. When and if Palestinians try to arm themselves to defend their lives against Israeli invasions and slaughter, Israel makes every effort to prevent them from doing so and considers this “illegal smuggling.”
I’m not advocating for an armed resistance but it is important to note that when we hear the phrase right to defend itself brought up in a discussion regarding Israel/Palestine, it’s always at the expense of any discussion about the right of the Palestinians to defend themselves as well. It’s a phrase that seems to solely exist in the realm of fantasy for those that are being systematically subjugated. Understandably, no Israeli should live with the fear that their child, or anyone in any part of the world for that matter and this includes Palestinians, might die at the hands of a few extremists or a rogue state apparatus. However given the context under which Palestinians are forced to live, I am reminded of Omar Barghouti’s words on Democracy Now!,
What’s important is to place this in context, because for many viewers, they would forget that the context is occupation. Israel continues to be the occupying power that’s controlling Gaza, and it has imposed a very illegal, barbaric and immoral siege on Gaza, causing the slow death of hundred, even thousands, of Palestinians, the pollution of the water supply, and many problems with access to healthcare, education. During the 2008-2009 attack on Gaza, Israel destroyed many houses, hospitals, university buildings and schools and so on, U.N. centers. So that’s the context that we have to see this in. It’s not enough to see it as a ping-pong: Hamas attacked this, and Israel retaliated. Israel is never retaliating, because it’s the occupying power, and occupation, by definition, is aggression and violence.
I believe that this is a very important point that is left out of the narrative and it’s important to remember that final sentence moving forward, occupation, by definition, is aggression and violence. Therefore given that understanding of an occupation, why don’t Palestinians living under the occupation have a right to defend themselves?
Disclaimer: This is not an endorsement of Hamas or any extremist faction, nor is it an endorsement of violence, it’s simply one interpretation of what it means for Israel to have the right to defend itself. The issue is complex one and I don’t mean to simplify it in any form by making it black and white. This is simply some food for thought.
A few links of interest: