The overall context of Israeli action is that of occupation and terrorism. The overall context of Palestinian action is a legitimate struggle against occupation.
—Israeli Knesset member Haneen Zoabi
Israeli Member of the Knesset Haneen Zoabi responds to questions by host Rina Matzliach on Israel’s “Meet the Press” on June 21. Photo by YouTube/Richard Silverstein
Read a companion piece to this article written by Truthdig contributor Scott Tucker here. Also posted below.
If you were held down by a pack of people and beaten mercilessly, would you think it fair if during and afterward, onlookers and those involved described what happened as a fight? Would you think you were justified in doing anything you could to protect yourself? Could the same characterization of aggression be applied to their assault and your fraught effort at self-defense? These are questions supporters of Palestinians, including Haneen Zoabi, the first female Arab Israeli to represent an Arab party in Israel’s legislature, where she has served for five years, desperately want observers worldwide to consider as residents of the Gaza Strip endure a second week of assaults. Up to hundreds of missiles a day have been rained upon the region by Israel, which targets schools, mosques and houses it says are bases of military operation.
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The air campaign by the Israel Defense Forces, which had killed 159 Palestinians as of Saturday night—the majority of them civilians, medical sources say—comes after the abduction and slaying of three Israeli teenagers by unconfirmed attackers in the West Bank, a part of Palestinian territory into which Israeli settlers have encroached under the aegis of official policy for over four decades. The strikes also follow a steady barrage of rockets fired by Palestinian militants led by the Islamic group Hamas, which has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007, into Israel’s populated areas, including the cities of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Amnesty International recognized Israel’s decision to attack the population in general rather than the combatants among it as “collective punishment,” saying, “Justice will not be served by Israel seeking revenge by … committing other violations of Palestinians’ rights.”
No Israelis have been reported killed by rocket fire since the beginning of July, though a number have been confirmed as injured. But Israeli leaders intend to inflict maximum punishment. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said in the offensive’s early days, “The operation against Hamas has not ended. It will continue. We will continue to act agaist Hamas, to strike its people. At every opportunity and every place, the organization will pay a heavy price for its actions.”
The standard response to the questions raised above from those whose sympathy extends only to Israel’s Netanyahu government was clearly put by White House press secretary Josh Earnest last week: “We strongly condemn the continuing rocket fire into Israel and the deliberate targeting of civilians by terrorist organizations in Gaza,” he told reporters. “No country can accept rocket fire aimed at civilians, and we support Israel’s right to defend itself against these vicious attacks.” This is an adequate summary of the conflict between the leaders of both areas only if it is ignored that the Israeli government, a well-organized, politically and militarily dominant, and internationally backed and funded organization, has been far more effective in recent decades at killing Palestinian civilians than the militant wing of its opponent’s divided leadership has been at killing Israelis—at a reported ratio of more than 5 to 1. Substitute “Palestine” for “Israel” and Earnest’s assessment would be significantly more credible.
This is not to say, Zoabi insists, that violence from Palestinians is desirable or pardonable. That is precisely what she has been accused of saying, however, by some in Israel’s media. In a late June interview with Israeli television’s “Meet the Press,” host Rina Matzliach asked Zoabi about her view, expressed in an earlier interview, that the kidnappers of the three Israeli teenagers mentioned above were not “terrorists.” Zoabi responded (in Hebrew, with her statements translated) that she was sorry that “there is not a strong enough struggle opposing the [Israeli] occupation.” She then attempted to explain, through repeated interruptions and attempts at diversion from her host over a period of 20 minutes, that Palestinian behavior toward Israelis, including violence, has to be understood as a desperate response to Israeli dominance and aggression rather than a string of thoughtful, deliberate acts committed without influence. Absent the refusal to end settlements, release prisoners and generally end the long, ongoing provocation, she insists, Palestinians would have no reason to resort to violence. Their actions therefore must be understood sympathetically as panicked bids for self-defense in a deeply unfair fight, however misguided and reckless they may be.
“Does it seem strange to you that people under occupation kidnap?” echoed the recording of her earlier interview. Emphasizing that she did not condone the kidnapping and wanted the victims returned immediately and without injury, the kidnappers, she told Matzliach, “are not terrorists because I look at the macro level.” As to the strategy she endorses on the part of Palestinians and their sympathizers, Zoabi spoke of “a just struggle within the limits of international laws [and ‘human morality’] against the occupation.”
This piece is a response to Truthdig assistant editor Alexander Reed Kelly’s July 13 column on Israeli legislator Haneen Zoabi.
Israeli MK Haneen Zoabi. Photo by Fora do Eixo (CC BY-SA 2.0)
We, the people, are not expected to be experts in weapons of mass destruction when we vote and act against war. Nor are we expected to be climate scientists before we take action against corporate polluters. Very few of us follow the demographic statistics of each country south of the U.S. border, yet we must still make up our minds to help when thousands of refugee children cross the same border. So like most people, I am free to confess wide areas of ignorance.
But I am not free to resign myself to passivity, unless I am willing to abandon all civil liberties and freedoms. We face the same problems when we respond to the entanglement of the U.S. government in the brutal colonial regime that exists in Israel. For example, do I get a “proxy” vote only through a person who can claim direct experience of living in Israel, as can my husband, Larry Gross? The mere 10 days I spent in Israel hardly counts as a full education in the “facts on the ground.” I can learn and study by many other means, including paying attention to dissident scholars such as Noam Chomsky and Gideon Levy, and to Palestinians engaged in open resistance such as Haneen Zoabi. I am, however, a public citizen. On that ground I take my stand.
Colonial oppression exists in the very assumption that everyone else “in good standing” gets a vote on the freedom of Palestinians, other than the Palestinians themselves. We can argue till kingdom come about their methods of struggle, their commitment to peaceful or violent resistance, their temperate or zealous language. That belongs in our realm of freedom. But any people under daily assault and deprivation also gets a collective vote in determining their own path of struggle.
Consider the abysmally self-serving “evolution” of career politicians in regard to the struggle against the racist regime in apartheid South Africa. Was that struggle a nonviolent trajectory from first to last? By no means, yet people such as President Obama and Bill and Hillary Clinton—in other words, people who are among the architects of state terrorism—edit out the episodes of armed struggle when they heap Nelson Mandela with laurels. Was Mandela a lone hero? By no means, and he acted in concert with people such as the members of the South African Communist Party, including Joe Slovo, who had been a leader of the armed resistance. Ruth First, his wife, was later assassinated by a letter bomb sent by the South African security agency. In remembering Mandela, let’s not forget his own real history. And his many comrades, both armed and unarmed. Let’s extend such honesty to all history of resistance.
When I was very young, in my early teens, I made up my mind that “I shall not cease from Mental Fight, Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand, Till we have built Jerusalem In England’s green and pleasant Land.” I borrow the words of Blake, and then by analogy, of course. When I was very young, I made two binding moral and political vows: I will never put on a military uniform for any cause or country, and I will not lie about my values and desires simply to put any mob of bigots at ease. Back then, my vow had a religious (quasi-Quaker) bias toward pacifism. Today I still incline to nonviolence, though not to any formal religion. And in certain circumstances, such as the Warsaw Ghetto (God forbid that experiment should be repeated), I would fight. In self-defense, I have sometimes fought in street confrontations with bigots determined to harm my comrades and myself. So I defend the right to self-defense, though I detest war and militarism. All people on earth have the human right to stand their own ground, to resist the call to arms of the ruling class and to defend their own lives when necessary.
What have we learned from this recent administration of “hope and change”? Never again, I would hope, will we ever give our votes or confidence to the career politicians of the capitalist parties. Any politician who refuses to condemn the Israeli colonial regime and to defend the right of resistance among Palestinians loses my vote and my confidence. Make up your own minds on that subject. Because Hillary Clinton will be asking for your votes, if you are still inclined to vote for a party of war and empire.
Of course, here we have “only one issue” among many others of public importance. But it remains an issue of international importance, not least because it underscores the continuing imperial reach of the United States. So Hillary Clinton must not be asked, in the most general and idealistic manner, if she gives “equal support” to the human rights of Israelis and Palestinians. Any calculating politician would answer yes, unless he or she belongs to the Christian apocalyptic branch of Zionism. The real question Hillary Clinton must answer is whether she opposes the colonial regime in Israel and supports the right of resistance of the Palestinians. All other questions—the drawing of borders, the right of return for Palestinians, a two-state solution, or even one secular and democratic state for all people—follow in due course, but honesty begins by affirming the right of resistance.
“The overall context of Israeli action is that of occupation and terrorism. The overall context of Palestinian action is a legitimate struggle against occupation.” I agree with the words of Haneen Zoabi. Though it may be tempting to narrow this argument to an inner circle of Israeli Jews, since that gives us a better chance of choosing our favorite champions of justice without risking the charge of anti-Semitism, we must break out into risk and freedom.