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Gaza, Israel, and the Fluidity of “Terrorism”

Sunday, December 28, 2008

This blog is 1300 words, the length of a front page news story.

Flag of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a Marxist-Leninist organization.

Flag of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a Marxist-Leninist organization.

I want to specifically address the situation in Gaza in as few words as possible and on the idea floating around that somehow Hamas is responsible for the Israeli attacks on Gaza and that Hamas terrorism is alone responsible for the plight of Palestinians and how Israel itself used terrorism to fight for its own foundation as a country; thus connecting a fluid line between previous Haganah and Irgun terrorism and PFLP, Hamas, and PLO terrorism.

I won’t try to get into too much detail in this post about the specific situation in Gaza right now as I will more than likely create a blog post on that within the next few days (for now you guys can look at my del.icio.us account).  What I do want to address is the constant and never ending talking points by pro-Israeli politicians and pundits, Israeli spokespersons, and the like on their assertions that Hamas if fully responsible for the plight of Gazans in the strip and that Israel was just minding its own business since it pulled out in 2005 and finally had enough and tragically needed to do something about those pesky rocket attacks in southern Israel.

This line of rhetorical attack against the Gazans (and all Palestinians, all though Abu Mazen and his ilk don’t seem to care too much about their folks as they are paid by Israel) falls apart on close inspection.  This line of attack is no different then the line of attack the apartheid South African government used against the ANC, no different than the southern states speaking of reacting against radical Blacks within the NAACP and the SCLC, and no different then dictator Marcos justifying his suspension of democracy and imposition of martial law because of the First Quarter Storm.

During this truce Palestinians have slowly been dying, one by one, disease by disease, and bullet by bullet (through self-imposed and outer-imposed civil war with political maneuverings inside and outside Gaza).  Israel controls (in the West Bank and Gaza) all checkpoints within Palestinian territory, they control water, electricity, licences to fish, who can leave the territory, who can enter, they pay the Palestine government workers, the pay the government leaders, the issue passports, the control absolutely every aspect of life within the territories save for Hamas controlled schools, hospitals, and daycare (a vote for Hamas, Rashid Khalidi observes, is not necessarily a vote for “terror” but a vote for the competence of Hamas institutions that serve the masses of Gazans).  What Israel has been doing over these years since the pullout is creating a gigantic open air prison with 1.5 million Palestinians as its prisoners.  Power has been sporadic (Israeli controlled) and disease has been running rampant as hospitals are unable to get supplies from the outside world (Israeli controlled).

What can be said of this is quite logical and simple.  The Egyptian brokered truce between Hamas and Israel (tenuous at best) has been an utter failure for Palestinians and a victory for Israel as it has not been an equal and real truce.  While there were no firing of weapons the attacks on Gaza did not stop as innocent Palestinian civilians have been dying.  As Lenin says:

The difference between the far right parties and Kadima is that the far right wants to ethnically cleanse Palestinian towns in Gaza and incorporate them into Israel, using the Qassam rocket fire into Sderot as a pretext, while the Kadima administration has so far preferred to do it gradually, starving Gaza and depriving it of electricity and water.

So what is a Gazan supposed to do in the face of such odds?  Is it any wonder why the reactionary right-wing (yet widely popular) Hamas movement has broken the cease fire?

With this I turn to the very hard and uneasy question of terrorism.  In their latest book The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Raja Halwani and Tomis Kapitan tackle the question of violence and in their book ask:

When does a group of people have a right to govern or possess a certain territory? Under what conditions are people entitled to political self-determination? What rights accrue to those who have been the victims of territorial aggression? How do political institutions, states or resistance organizations gain moral legitimacy? Is a state ever entitled to territorial expansion and conquest of foreign territory? When is violent resistance to military occupation justified? Can recourse to terrorism ever be legitimate in the context of political struggles?

Palestinians carry the body of a victim of an Israeli air strike in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, 27 December 2008. (Hatem Omar/MaanImages)

Palestinians carry the body of a victim of an Israeli air strike in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, 27 December 2008. (Hatem Omar/MaanImages)

What are a people supposed to do in the face of a genocidal and ethnically cleansing onslaught?  What happens when the only way to get heard is to resort to terrorism?  Before the Munich massacre few had ever heard of the Palestinian cause (note: I do not support what happened in Munich, duh!, but I am asking a hard question that hopefully someone can answer).  What happens when a people see no hope and turn from secular resistance (PLO and PFLP) to religious militant resistance and find this world so horrible (thanks to occupation) that blowing themselves up doesn’t sound so bad after all?

On this:

Kapitan instances three grounds tending to prove that “retaliatory terrorism against those who pose a radical existential threat is morally justifiable.” Firstly, the right of self-defense may be taken to include acts of retaliation having “too great a deterrence value to warrant their suspension in the absence of a reasonable hope of success of ending or reducing a particular existential threat.” Secondly, the acquisition by any state of near-absolute power would leave only terrorism as a means of retaliation. Thirdly, in the face of “a humiliating unjustified annihilation of oneself … without the power of retaliation,” terrorism “can be a valuable means for reducing misery and retaining dignity while enduring the threat of destruction, before the twilight falls.”

This, my friends, is a frank, honest, and bleak assessment on terrorism and resistance.  Especially if we look at the history of resistance movements.  While Israel now condemns terrorism it itself is built off the terrorism of its founders which was (not at the time but gradually became) “morally justifiable” in order to set up a Jewish state.  Ignoring the 1948 implementation of the state and the IDF and looking at the fight against Arab militias and British troops we can see a fluidity between Israel and Hamas on the terrorism issue.

The Haganah and Irgun used tactics describe by many as terroristic.  They ambushed British troops (the same troops we call heroes who fought back fascist Germany and Italy), bombed civilian targets, and butchered Arab militias.  There was a threat to the Jewish population in Israel and they needed a course of action to meet that threat head on and drive out the British and Arabs by any means necessary.  A classic example of terrorism used to further the cause of statehood the Haganah and Irgun bombed the King David Hotel and killed 91 people (despite giving warnings); this act was meant with condemnation world wide.  Yet, after the set up of the state, those terrorists of the Irgun and the Haganah were enshrined as heroes morally justified to do what they did in trying times.

The PLO, long known for terrorist activity, used many acts to fight against the IDF.  They ambushed and captured soldiers, they bombed civilian targets, and indeed killed innocent civilians (what the U.S. calls collateral damage).  Yet, despite all of this, the PLO got a seat at the table with Israel and were able to negotiate the Oslo Peace Accords which created the PA, a temporary transition government before full separate state-hood.  This is complete justification for PLO terrorism (which many right-wing Israelis would agree with) and yet, as of now, the PA is an ally to Israel and is sanctioned by and paid by Israel.  Terrorism brought them this far.

What are the differences between the old Irgun, Haganah, PLO, and Hamas forces when we look at them from the angle of “terrorism?”  While there are obvious differences there are also many similarities and those similarities seem to bind these forces all together in this ever spiraling event of perpetual war in the Holy Land.

A solidarity with Gaza rally in San Francisco on the corner of Market and Powell St. which I attended.  Photo by Uda Olabarria Walker

A solidarity with Gaza rally in San Francisco on the corner of Market and Powell St. which I attended. Photo by Uda Olabarria Walker

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