How Israel weaponizes International Law

Palestinian rally - Abou Ghost, 1936

Palestinian rally – Abou Ghost, 1936

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How Israel weaponizes International Law

[This version of the article first appeared on the Portside Snapshot page on 7th June 2021.]

In an article published last winter in the Harvard International Law Journal, legal scholar Naz K. Modirzadeh criticizes contemporary scholars working on the laws of war for their “distanced, remote, and abstract” work. Often devoid of both political context and historical background, such scholarship, Modirzadeh laments, often makes “no reference to . . . people, to their experience of war, to our political responsibility for the war they [live] through, or to our fundamental and simple sense of how international law did and should see them.” Instead, Modirzadeh implores scholars to engage in “passionate” writing that “reflects a kind of moral situatedness, a willingness to take seriously the professional ethics and moral agency of writing about international law and war to audiences that have power to make decisions about war.”

Against the backdrop of yet another Israeli onslaught against Palestinians in Gaza, I hope to heed Modirzadeh’s call—to speak about Israel’s violent weaponization of international law not from a place of manufactured scholarly neutrality but from within the colonial context that has made Israel’s repeated crimes in Gaza, as well as the rest of historic Palestine, possible.

This reality—more than seventy years of Israeli settler colonialism and ethnic cleansing—has long been crystal clear to Palestinians themselves, to scholars of Palestine, as well as to Israelis, many of whom support these policies. It is just beginning to make its way into mainstream media discussions of Palestine in the United States. But most Western legal analysis of Israeli violence in Gaza still ignores this colonial backdrop, as well as the anticolonial nature of Palestinian resistance to it. This context is vital to understanding the Israeli government’s manipulation of international law to avoid its humanitarian obligations in Gaza and wantonly kill Palestinians living in the besieged strip.

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Attacking Gaza. . . Again

To appreciate Isreal’s legal distortions and their relationship to its colonialist project, it is essential to place the current crisis in context. The latest onslaught in Gaza was prompted most immediately by various Israeli actions in occupied East Jerusalem over the last few weeks. In April Israeli police raided the al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, on the first night of Ramadan and then barricaded Damascus Gate plaza, a popular gathering place—severely limiting what little remains of Palestinian communal space in the city.

Israeli authorities also joined forces with Israeli Jewish settler groups trying to evict and displace Palestinian families living in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Throughout April and early May, Israeli forces harassed these families and brutally cracked down on protests and sit-ins organized in Sheikh Jarrah to support Palestinian efforts to remain in their homes. As this repression continued, Israeli forces escalated events even further, starting on May 7 and continuing throughout the last days of Ramadan, by once again attacking the al-Aqsa mosque compound, where they launched stun grenades, rubber bullets, and tear gas, including against worshipers praying inside the mosque.

All together, these various incidents sparked solidarity protests organized by Palestinians across historic Palestine. Though it is hard to pin down the exact date, these demonstrations appear to have substantially increased in early MayIsraeli police and military forces, in tandem with roaming groups of armed Israeli Jewish settlers, responded to these protests with lethal violence, home invasions, and arrests, in the West Bank as well as in various cities within Israel itself.

Hamas, which won political power in Gaza in 2006 elections, responded with a warning to the Israeli government: either stop the attacks or face armed resistance. Israel’s attacks did not cease, so on May 10, a few days after issuing its warning on May 4, Hamas launched its crude unguided rockets into Israel. While its Iron Dome defense system repelled most of these rockets, Israel pummeled Gaza with its advance weapons technology. By the time a ceasefire took hold on May 20, Israel had killed at least 243 Palestinians, including 66 children. Israeli violence has also injured approximately 1,900 Palestinians and displaced 90,000 residents of Gaza; Hamas rockets killed 12 Israelis, including 2 children.  

But even these recent events do not tell the whole story. Understanding Israel’s violence inside Gaza today requires a longer-term perspective on how occupation and colonialism transformed the region into an extreme site of Israeli state violence.

Since the 1967 Six-Day War, the international community has recognized Israel as occupying Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem. Given the long-standing, indefinite nature of this occupation—including large settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank—United Nations officials have begun to refer to it as an “occu-annexation.” While Israel asserts that its occupation of Gaza ended with the withdrawal of settlements there in 2005, the claim is obviously belied by the unconscionable facts on the ground and rejected by the international community. Hamas has only nominal political authority; effective control of the area remains with Israel. In 2007 the Israeli government supplemented its occupation of Gaza with an economic and military siege of the strip, which continues to this day. In addition to controlling Gaza’s air, land, and sea borders, Israel dominates all aspects of Palestinian life in Gaza, from access to food and medicine to the availability of electricity. As a result of this occupation and siege, Israel has effectively turned Gaza into a “maximum security prison” that, according to the UN, became unlivable in 2020.

Inside Gaza, nearly 2 million Palestinians reside in a space of only 140 square miles, making it one of the most densely populated areas in the world. This extreme density is the result both of Israel’s current occupation and siege of Gaza—which makes it nearly impossible to leave the area—as well as the ethnic cleansing Israel conducted in the 1947–48 war. That war, fought by Israeli forces against the indigenous Palestinian population and its Arab allies, aimed to secure as much of historic Palestine with as few Palestinians as possible for a future Israeli state. As Israeli historian Ilan Pappé has shown, to achieve that goal Israeli forces pursued an official policy of ethnic cleansing and displacement of the indigenous population. As a result of this policy, 80 percent of Palestinians fled their homes, and many sought refuge in Gaza, which fell under Egyptian control after the war. Today approximately 1.4 million Palestinians in Gaza—about 70 percent of the strip’s population—are refugees or the descendants of refugees displaced by those eliminatory policies.

Israel’s subjugation of Palestinians continues to this day. As various organizations have documented—Palestinian (including Al Haq, amongst several others), Israeli (B’Tselem), and international (Human Rights Watch)—the Israeli government has systematically pursued an apartheid policy of ghettoizing, discriminating against, and displacing Palestinians across all of historic Palestine for decades.

Israel has pursued these policies of subjugation and ethnic cleansing in their most absolute and unrelenting form in Gaza. In 1969 the Israeli cabinet considered a plan to transfer Gazan Palestinians to Paraguay, while in 1992 former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, hailed in Israel as a peace-maker, declared that he “would like to see Gaza drown in the sea.” In 2007 Rabin’s monstrous dream became Israeli state policy. As part of its siege of Gaza, Israel has purposefully worked to negatively impact the health and well-being of Gaza’s population. As part of these efforts, Israel monitors and controls the caloric intake for Palestinians in Gaza, which has resulted in chronic (and intentional) malnutrition of the local population. As a result of the siege, the neonatal mortality rate in Gaza is seven times higher than that in Israel. Israeli authorities have also systematically prevented vital medical equipment and medicines, including COVID-19 vaccines, from entering the region, and made it nearly impossible for Palestinians in Gaza to leave in order to receive medical care elsewhere. In the words of one doctor who has worked in Gaza, this situation makes “the prevention, treatment and management of . . . chronic diseases much harder and causes avoidable death and disability.”

But it is the full-scale, Israeli-launched massacres in Gaza—including the current onslaught as well as other massive attacks launched in 20082012, and 2014—which have resulted in thousands of deaths that make Israel’s onslaught against Palestinian life in Gaza clearest. In various ways, this long-standing war on Gaza has much in common with the colonial wars waged by European imperial powers in the nineteenth century—including Israel’s legal acrobatics to justify and legitimize its attack on Palestinians.

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Israel’s Rewriting of the Laws of War

This historical perspective is crucial for understanding the way Israel has simultaneously avoided and exploited the law to facilitate its violence in Gaza. On the one hand, Israel has denied that occupation law—a branch of IHL that incorporates human rights norms and is made up of provisions from the Hague Regulations of 1907, the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, and Additional Protocol I of 1977—applies to its actions in Gaza. At the same time, Israel has relied on colonialist arguments about the laws of war to justify its actions against the Palestinians of Gaza. Through these efforts, Israel has attempted to situate its relationship to Gaza within a war paradigm, which allows Israel far more flexibility than it would have under occupation law to engage in broad-based military attacks.

Israel’s claim to self-defense is a prominent example of these dynamics. In attempting to justify its massive onslaught on Gaza, Israel has repeatedly invoked the right of self-defense, which is recognized by Article 51 of the UN Charter as well as customary international law. The right of self-defense allows a state to do what it is generally forbidden to do: unleash military force against another state.

But there are a number of problems with Israel’s self-defense argument in relation to Gaza. First, as the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has held, the right of self-defense is only a right that states have against other states. Israel and the United States disagree with this view, while others subscribe to the ICJ’s position and still other states take an intermediate perspective. Though the issue remains unsettled, the contention that states can invoke the right of self-defense to justify military attacks against non-state actors is rooted in part in the practices of European colonialist states. Take the 1837 Caroline Affair, which arose when Canadian rebels, actively fighting against British colonial rule, escaped from Canada and took refuge in the United States. British forces pursued the group into U.S. territory where they attacked the Caroline, a ship the insurgents and their supporters had been using. In defending its actions to the U.S. government, the British claimed they were acting in self-defense.

Since then, the Caroline Affair—steeped in the colonial interests of the British crown—has often been cited to justify the claim that states can, in certain circumstances, attack non-state actors residing on another sovereign’s territory. This has been particularly true since the September 11 attacks in 2001, when the question of whether states have a right of self-defense against non-state actors has become increasingly pressing. Like the Caroline Affair itself, the post–9/11 push to recognize such a right has had colonialist reverberations. While the response to 9/11 was immediately framed in terms of war and self-defense, the decision to adopt such a framing, in the words of Antony Anghie, reflects the view that “the threat of terrorism can be addressed only by the reconstruction of a new, imperial order.” Through this war framing of self-defense, the “terrorist,” like the colonial “other,” could be “excluded from the realm of law, attacked, liberated, defeated, and transformed”—results that have been clearly on display in the creation of the Guantanamo Bay military detention regime, as well as other U.S. counter-terrorism policies.

But even if there is a right of self-defense against non-state actors located on the territory of third-party countries, that right arguably does not apply, at least in its conventional sense, against groups that are subject to the occupying power of the state invoking that right. Though some of its judges dissented from this position, in an advisory opinion issued in 2004, the ICJ rejected Israel’s argument that it could invoke the right of self-defense against the Palestinian people. As the Court held, because Israel exercises control over the Palestinian territories and the purported threat to it “originates within and, not outside, that territory,” the right of self-defense does not apply.

Expanding on this position, legal scholar and human rights attorney Noura Erakat and others have shown, occupation law requires that occupying forces defend themselves through the use of traditional police powers. This police authority is “restricted to the least amount of force necessary to restore order and subdue violence.” Though there are some situations where lethal violence can be used, it must be “a measure of last resort.” And while even military force may be permitted in exceptional circumstances, it must be “circumscribed by concern for the civilian non-combatant population.” As Erakat argues, Israel’s use of the far more expansive right of self-defense may protect its “colonial authority,” but it comes at the “expense of the rights of civilian non-combatants” under occupation law.

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Israel’s Manipulation of International Humanitarian Law

As with its approach to self-defense, Israel’s interpretation of international humanitarian law (IHL) has colonialist overtones. As positivist international law began to emerge in the nineteenth century, European countries insisted that IHL did not apply to the “uncivilized”—non-European, non-Western people of color—and, therefore, did not apply to Europe’s wars to take and occupy foreign lands. By placing people of the Global South outside the law, European colonialist gave themselves carte blanche to wage war as they pleased against those populations.

While this overt exclusion of non-Westerners faded away during the course of the twentieth century, it continues to be practiced by some states in other forms, most notably by the United States in its pursuit of its War on Terror policies. In Israel, as well, the government has extended IHL’s colonial legacy by creating new legal categories and interpreting elements of IHL in ways that aim to give itself carte blanche authority to target the Palestinian population.

These efforts are the subject of Craig Jones’s new book, The War Lawyers: The United States, Israel, and Judicial Warfare (2021), which demonstrates, in part, the extent to which Israel and its military lawyers have exploited and rewritten IHL to fit Israel’s colonial ends. Israel’s first major innovation was to create a completely new kind of “armed conflict.” Under IHL, armed conflicts are classified as either international or non-international. As Jones demonstrates, in order to unleash the full force of its military against its occupied Palestinian population, Israeli military lawyers invented a new category in 2000: “armed conflict short of war.”

Though Jones’s book does not unpack the underlying rationale, the scheme is designed, much like Israel’s efforts to invoke self-defense, to shift focus away from occupation law, which places limits on the force Israel can use, and emphasize instead the more malleable and potentially expansive categories of IHL that apply to armed conflicts. These categories revolve around four basic principles: military necessity, which limits attacks to strictly military objectives; distinction, which allows only combatants and military objects to be directly attacked and requires they be distinguished from civilians and civilian objects; proportionality, which prohibits attacks that would cause disproportionate or excessive losses to civilians or civilian objects compared to the anticipated military advantage of the attack; and humanity, which prohibits all suffering, injury, or destruction that is unnecessary to realizing legitimate military objectives.

As Jones’s book describes, in early 2001, the Israeli military wove these basic principles of IHL into a six-point test for killing Palestinians under its newly specified regime of “armed conflict short of war.” Under this test, several conditions must be met. First, the military advantage gained by the killing must be proportional to anticipated civilian casualties and destruction of objects of civilian life. Second, only combatants and those who engage in “direct participantion” in hostilities can be targeted. Third, if arrest rather than killing of a suspected “terrorist” is possible, then arrest must be attempted. Fourth, the obligation to arrest rather than kill only applies to those under “Israeli security control.” Fifth, Israel’s defense minister or prime minister must provide approval prior to a planned attack. And sixth, attacks have to be aimed at “terrorists” who plan to carry out violence in the “near future.” In 2006 the Israeli High Court—the supreme judicial body in Israel—set out its own test for the military’s extrajudicial killings, broadly adopting these same categories.

At first blush one might think this framework comports with Israel’s obligations under occupation law. After all, it seems to combine the basic principles of IHL with the human rights obligation to rely first and foremost on civilian policing. But because Israel claims that it does not occupy Gaza or have effective control of the strip, it does not consider itself bound by policing norms at all. As Jones’s book demonstrates, the test also has a number of other problems under laws of war, including adopting a very broad definition of what violence planned in the “near future” means (a point Erakat has also made).

But perhaps the most problematic aspect of Israel’s extrajudicial killing policy is its definition of “direct participants,” as well as its more general views on who counts as a combatant in Gaza. As Jones shows, from Israel’s perspective, “direct participants” include not only leaders, commanders, and foot soldiers, but also, as a result of the Israeli High Court’s 2006 decision, anyone who provides “support” to these individuals. As Jones points out, such support can include a range of activities, from someone who simply serves as a driver for Hamas politicians to those providing “political or religious support” to groups Israel has labeled as enemies.

Israel’s rules of engagement (ROE)—which are informed by IHL but provide more specific guidance to commanders and soldiers as to when force can be used—reinforce and further expand upon its expansive approach to categorizing combatants. In 2015 the organization Breaking the Silence—composed of active duty and retired Israeli soldiers exposing Israel’s crimes in the West Bank and Gaza—released a report detailing the ROE for Israel’s last major onslaught against Gaza in 2014. According to that report, Israeli soldiers “said they were told by commanders to view all Palestinians in the combat zones as a potential threat, whether they brandished weapons or not. Individuals spotted in windows and rooftops—especially if they were speaking on cellphones—were often considered scouts and could be shot.”

This broad definition of combatants is perhaps the most overt way that Israel’s approach to IHL aligns with colonialist approaches. As Frédéric Mégret observes:

It is arguably at this stage that the discrimination that had been abolished at the level of the actual operational rules of warfare sneaks back in and niches itself at the heart of the laws war. From ‘how should one deal with ‘savages’ in war?,’ the question becomes ‘who is a combatant?’ (and the implicit answer. . . is ‘not a savage’).

As part of its expansive, colonialist approach to who is or is not a combatant, Israel has pathologized Palestinian life itself as a potential threat. This policy is rooted in the ideology of Zionism, which treats Palestinians as a demographic threat to Israel’s existence as a Jewish state, and it has been operationalized through the Israeli government’s long-standing effort to make Palestinian identity synonymous with terrorism—another key word in Israel’s six-point test for killing.

Since at least the early 1970s, Israel has worked hard to transform “terrorism” from a neutral descriptive term for a particular kind of violent tactic to a normatively infused rhetorical weapon synonymous with unacceptable evil and existential destruction. As many scholars have argued, Israel’s goal in repurposing terrorism was to use it as to delegitimize Palestinian resistance to Israeli violence, colonialism, and occupation. This de-legitimization campaign has come to include all forms of peaceful Palestinian resistance and advocacy for Palestinian human rights. For example, in a report issued in February 2019, Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy insisted that peaceful Palestinian advocacy amounts to terrorism in a new form. “Terrorist organizations see the ‘civilian’ struggle against Israel—demonstrations, marches, fundraising, political lobbying and the so-called ‘peace’ flotillas—as a complementary effort of their armed attacks against the State of Israel,” the report says.

As far as the Israeli government is concerned, it is not just armed or peaceful Palestinian resistance that represents a form of terrorism; Palestinian life itself is connected to what Maya Mikdashi calls the “civilian infrastructure of terrorism.” As Mikdashi writes:

You do not have to pick up a gun in Palestine to be a revolutionary or an ‘enemy’ of Israel. You do not have to protest or throw stones or fly flags to be dangerous. You do not have to rely on underground tunnels for food and cancer medication in order to be deemed part of the civilian infrastructure of terrorism. To be a threat to Israel is easy: You just have to be Palestinian.

The vastly disproportionate numbers of Palestinian civilians killed in Israel’s bloodiest attacks on Gaza are the inevitable manifestation of these policies. In 2008, this toll amounted to 759 civilians out of 1391 Palestinians killed in Gaza; in 2012, 87 civilians out of 167; and in 2014, 1,462 civilians out of 2,104. By contrast, in 2008 just 3 Israeli civilians were killed; in 2012, 4 were killed; and in 2014, 7 were killed.

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The significance of these facts is clear. Israel’s latest attacks on the people of Gaza is part and parcel of Israeli settler colonialism and ethnic cleansing. It is based on the Israeli government’s view that all Palestinians, especially those in Gaza, represent a potential or actual threat to Israel. It is grounded in the pathologizing and devaluing of Palestinian life. And it is all undertaken through uses and abuses of the legitimizing power of the law. It is unacceptable for people of conscience to deny or ignore these facts—especially in the United States, where taxpayer money and diplomacy have both fueled Israeli crimes against Palestinians and shielded them from accountability for decades. As Americans, we have a responsibility to reckon with our complicity.

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Maryam Jamshidi is Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, where she teaches and writes in the areas of national security, public international law, the law of foreign relations, and tort law. Find her on Twitter @MsJamshidi.

The ‘Palestinian Problem’ is really the Israeli Problem

Attack on Gaza

Attack on Gaza

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The ‘Palestinian Problem’ is really the Israeli Problem

The biggest problem of the ‘Palestinian Problem’ is that the world doesn’t really give a toss what happens in Palestine until the Zionist, Israeli Settler State enjoys another period of slaughter of the Palestinian people. And even then criticism of the ‘ethnic cleansing’ is muted.

The fact that Palestinians, on a daily basis, are treated like second class citizens, who really don’t have a right to live in their own land is forgotten. The fact that they are probably being treated in a manner which makes the white supremacist South African apartheid regime pre-1990s seem quite ‘civilised’ is ignored. The fact that Palestinian land is being stolen from those whose families have lived there for generations – against all international ‘laws’, supposedly adopted to prevent such activity – happens on a daily basis with impunity. The fact that Palestinian children are dying and being injured at the hands of the Israeli military and police in numbers which would be received with shock and horror in those countries who seek to determine what happens in the Middle East and passes by without comment. The fact that Zionist fascist thugs roam the streets of the Palestinian occupied land, reminiscent of what occurred in Germany in the 1930s, isn’t even considered newsworthy.

It’s shameful that it was only shortly before the 73rd anniversary of the Nabka that two reports were published (one by the Jewish organisation B’ Tselem, This is apartheid, published in January 2021 and the other, A threshold crossed – Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution, published by Human Rights Watch in May 2021) which openly condemned Israel as being an apartheid state.

For decades the Zionists had cynically hidden behind the Holocaust whenever their activities were challenged. They had become so confident (probably over-confident) in their propaganda exercise that they had started to conflate, and equate, criticism of the Settler State of Israel with anti-Semitism. This has had the effect, in the last year or so, of stifling debate about the rights of the Palestinians. That charade is starting to look slightly thin now when the forced evictions in East Jerusalem (highlighted by the Palestinian refusal to let it happen quietly) has made it difficult for the Zionists to deny the accusation that their racist state has been applying a policy of apartheid and ‘ethnic cleansing’ for decades.

It took the world a long time, far too long a time, to universally criticise and ostracise the racist South African regime. For the capitalist and imperialist countries (most of whom were racist in many respects) the existence of a tame attack dog in Africa which was willing to fight against any national liberation movements and stem the move toward Socialism was worth more than the local, national inconvenience of supporting a racially, unjust society. When the apartheid regime had run out of its usefulness changes in the society were accepted by the capitalists – although they did so in a manner which meant that capitalism wasn’t seriously challenged in the most industrially developed country on the African continent. (It should also be remembered that at the height of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa Israel was that country’s closest military and diplomatic ally.)

Now Israel plays the slavish (but willing) role of imperialism’s attack dog in a part of the world that is politically and economically crucial for the short term existence of imperialism The more the Zionists crow about their right to live on stolen land; the more they spout about independence as a State; the more they prowl around the Middle East like an over-confident bully and gangster the more the reality they only exist due to the grace of the imperialist powers, mainly the United States of America, becomes evident.

How long will it be before the world opens its eyes to the crimes of the Zionist Settler State of Israel?

One of the other consequences when the simmering war goes on the boil is that there are a lot more articles from those who support the Palestinians in their fight for freedom and from injustice. Not that they’re not out there generally but when peoples’ concentration is directed to the situation in Palestine then more comments and information is forthcoming.

Below are links to some articles which have been published in the last week or so with salient comments to make on the reality of the past 73 years, on how the world sees Palestine and the biased manner in which Israel is treated by capitalist politicians and media.

However, although it is reasonable to condemn the approach of the leaders of the capitalist countries that doesn’t mean the people of the world, workers and peasants, equally maltreated by the economic and political system they live under, are totally blameless. Those politicians are in positions of power due to the action or inaction of the populace. Whether by crimes of commission or omission we are all guilty of what has happened, is happening and likely to continue happening if something is not done to prevent it for the foreseeable future in Palestine.

Long Live Palestine!

For further background information (mainly material from the 1960s-1980s) on Palestine you can click here.

(Notwithstanding the recent ‘cease fire’ the issue will not just go away. All those matters addressed below won’t disappear because the guns have fallen silent. A long term solution will have to be found and it will mean the State of Israel having to substantially change. The so-called ‘two state’ solution has been dead in the water for a long time.)

Sheikh Jarrah Shows that Palestine’s Nakba Never Ended

Two residents of Sheikh Jarrah write about their community’s fight against eviction – and why this month’s Palestinian uprising is just the latest chapter in a decades-long struggle against dispossession.

Another Nakba: ‘This Is My House, This Is My Door, You Are a Thief’

In the days leading up to the 73rd anniversary of the Nabka the aggressiveness and arrogance of the Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem was such that it would have been a surprise if matters did not reach a head close to the time of the date of the establishment of the Israeli Settler (and apartheid) State. (Note the contempt expressed in the faces of the young Zionists in the top picture.)

The Palestinian Body Is Whole Once Again

Palestinians disconnected from each other have struggled immensely to maintain a national project with clear objectives. Now, struggling together across the entire geography of historic Palestine, the Palestinian body is coming back together.

A Nightmare of Terror Across the Landscape of Palestine

As Israeli lynch mobs roam the streets attacking Palestinians, and as Israeli war planes drop bombs on Gaza, it’s essential to understand how we arrived at this moment.

On Palestine, the Media Is Allergic to the Truth

This article looks at how the media in the vast majority of capitalist countries falls over itself in support of the Israeli Settler State by always addressing matters as if the ‘both sides’ in the battle were on an equal footing – and forgetting the history of the conflict in general and always looking at matters as if they were all short term flare-ups.

Nine children killed in Gaza Strip as violence escalates

Although events got worse before they got ‘better’ – an uncertain cease fire – this article documents the cavalier attitude the Israeli Defence Forces have towards the lives of Palestinian children.

How the United States helps to kill Palestinians

U.S. policy has perpetuated the crisis and atrocities of the Israeli occupation by unconditionally supporting Israel in three distinct ways: militarily, diplomatically and politically.

Israeli forces kill 17-year-old Palestinian in Arroub refugee camp

The Israeli Defence Forces have been killing children on a regular basis for years. This is just yet another example where extreme and deadly force is being used against young people.

Gaza conflict: no matter how powerful Israel’s military becomes it still can’t win

‘ …. an apt summary is of a state that is impregnable in its insecurity. It is impregnable in the sense that it cannot be defeated, but insecure in that the underlying threats will not go away – as is evident in the current violent confrontations.’

Peaceful Coexistence in Israel hasn’t been shattered – it’s always been a myth

‘As a Palestinian from within Israel I have long been a second-class citizen, denied basic rights.’

Life inside Gaza during 11 days of bombardment

Guardian journalist Hazem Balousha describes living in, and reporting from, Gaza, under heavy bombardment until a ceasefire began on Friday, while historian Rashid Khalidi discusses the history of the Palestinian struggle for statehood. (Podcast)

Israeli social fabric is ripping at the seams

Israel has reached apartheid, the antithesis of Judaism’s long tradition of social justice.

Palestinian youth are leading a Popular Uprising to end Israeli Apartheid

The latest Palestinian uprising firmly rejects the conquest and division of our people legally and geographically, into separate, besieged, apartheid parcels of land similar to the Bantustans of Apartheid South Africa.

Why is accountability for alleged war crimes so hard to achieve in the Israel-Palestinian conflict?

‘The failure of the international community to bring about a resolution in the decades-long conflict reflects the highly politicised nature of international law.’

Likud Must Pay for Its Criminal Culture

The ruling party’s rap sheet is too long to be tolerated any longer.

And taking another historical perspective on Palestine;

What we did: How the Jewish Communist Left failed the Palestinian Cause

Although this article concentrates on the attitude of the Jewish Left in the United States in the late 1940s – at the time of the establishment of the Settler Sate of Israel – a similar approach would have been taken by many Communist parties throughout the world when the Soviet Union changed its approach to the ‘two state’ ‘solution’ of the situation in Palestine. Although a long term supporter of Comrade Stalin (and still am) this is one policy decision I have been unable to reconcile with his world view in general.

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Break the fear barrier and speak up for Palestine

Palestine uprising - May 2021

Palestine uprising – May 2021

More on Palestine

Break the fear barrier and speak up for Palestine

Today (15th May, 2021) marks the 73rd anniversary of the Nabka (The Catastrophe) – the name given by Palestinians to the day that the state of Israel was established on their land. Even before that date the Israeli fascists, represented by the terrorist groups Irgun and the Stern Gang, had started a terror campaign and what has been become to be known worldwide as ‘ethnic cleansing’ against the civilian Palestinian population. One of the most notorious of those events was the massacre at the village of Deir Yassin on 9th April 1948 – when at least 107 men, women and children were murdered, with many more being injured.

But these attacks on the Palestinians didn’t stop with the (criminally) international recognition of the Zionist settler state. The intervening years have seen countless abuses perpetrated against the Palestinian people and even though there has been condemnation of such actions (and even resolutions in the United Nations) nothing has interrupted the aim of the Zionists to establish a greater Israel which stretches ‘from the Nile to the Euphrates’.

The reason Israel has been able to follow this aggressive, racist and fascist programme for three generations is due to the fact that Israel is merely a subservient, client state of imperialism (mainly the United States) and acts as the toady of capitalist interests in a economically and politically strategic part of the globe. Without such support the Zionists would not be able to act with such impunity as they have for so long.

It is only recently that the state of Israel has officially been recognised as an ‘apartheid’ state – although it has been following those norms established in racist South Africa for most of its existence. This was obvious in the years before the fall of the white supremacist regime in South Africa as the two countries were the closest of diplomatic and military allies – Israel being the biggest supplier of military equipment to the white dominated South African regime.

But Israel has not confined itself to the persecution of the Palestinian people on a daily basis – including the theft of their land. It is quite happy to act as the local gangster and carries out sabotage and murder at the behest of the American imperialists on the soil of those countries the US considers to be a threat to their dominance in the region. At the moment that is manifested in attacks upon individuals in and the infrastructure of Iran.

Neither has Israel forgotten the importance of propaganda – apart from the destruction of villages and the dehumanising of the indigenous population – which they learnt from the Nazis. Cynically using the murder of millions of Jews during the Second World War to establish sympathy for a people who were targetted by the Hitlerites (although only one of many groups that were singled out by the German fascists – which included Communists, Socialists, the Romany, disabled and homosexuals) they have succeeded in creating a climate where criticism of the actions of the state of Israel have been conflated into anti-Semitism.

However, the necessity to speak out against the fascist, apartheid regime in Israel is even more important as we arrive at the 73rd anniversary of the Nabka – when the Israeli ‘Defence’ Forces (IDF) are using hugely powerful bombs, guided missiles and artillery to attack targets within Gaza with a total disregard to the ‘collateral damage’ this is causing. To the Israelis this is common place, the death of one Israeli Jewish citizen (Arab-Israelis don’t count) has to be countered by a factor of at least 25 Palestinians – the statistic that came out of the last major shooting war in 2014.

The disproportionate response of the IDF, following years of provocation and increasing encroachment on the small amount of land still in the hands of Palestinians, gets the response from capitalist governments and the so-called ‘impartial’ media of the likes of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) for ‘both sides’ to come to an agreement to cease hostilities. This attitude perpetuates the idea that there is equal responsibility in outbreaks of violence in Palestine.

Just to give a small example. On 13th May 2021, the BBC website had the following headline; Israel-Gaza: Rockets pound Israel after militants killed. Whatever else might follow, in the body of the text, the reader will always be left with the impression that it is Israel that is being attacked – an approach in the British mainstream media which has existed for decades. At the time of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War the impression being peddled in Britain was that it was plucky, alone Israel that was being attacked by the evil Arab nations – without a scintilla of analysis of the actual situation.

Below is reproduced an article that addresses this idea of ‘self-censorship’ by many throughout the world when it comes to criticising the activities of the Zionist state and the consequences that are becoming the norm in an effort to silence any and all criticism. It was published just as the present conflict in Palestine was starting to escalate but think it has enough points for consideration to be reproduced here.

In the present circumstances it is even more important for people to speak up in support of the Palestinians who are facing yet another attempt to expel them totally from their own land. Those who say they are fighting against oppression and exploitation cannot remain silent when it comes to Palestine for if Palestine is not free no other country be able to call itself a civilised state.

(This article first appeared on the Aljazeera website and this particular version on portside.org.)

Break the fear barrier and speak up for Palestine

by Mark Muhannad Ayyash

Scholars of social movements, civil disobedience, liberation struggles, and revolutions have long known that fear is one of the greatest barriers to overcome. For the oppressed to move from inaction to action, they must break this fear barrier.

In extreme cases, such as Palestinians living under Israeli settler colonialism, the fear is based on lived experiences of torture, imprisonment, maiming and killing, daily humiliations and dehumanisation, loss of income, livelihoods, homes, dignity, freedom, and rights.

These last few days, the Palestinian people across colonised Palestine have shown the world, not for the first time and not for the last, their deep and awe-inspiring courage in the face of this fear.

For decades, the Israeli garrison state, as Hamid Dabashi accurately describes it, with its massive apparatus of settler-colonial violence as well as its armed civilians have been creating and building this state of fear in the everyday lives of Palestinians.

I had a relatively privileged childhood in Palestine, but still, I am acquainted with this fear, which you learn, not just by witnessing or experiencing violence, but in the course of seemingly non-eventful and ordinary days.

As a child in the early 1990s, I attended the Freres School within the old city of al-Quds (Jerusalem). During recess, we would see armed soldiers patrol the top of the city walls, looking down on us the way that self-perceived superior beings look down upon a caged animal. And when we would leave school and walk down the roads of el-Balad el-Qadeemeh (the old city), we would regularly be confronted with armed Israeli civilians walking around with their guns out in the open, asserting their supremacy, reminding us that we ought not to look at them the wrong way or else.

On many of these walks, conversations between us children would turn to stories we heard about torture methods that the Israelis use, the beating a friend or relative took at the hands of Israeli soldiers, an armed Israeli civilian cursing and spitting on a Palestinian, the long imprisonment and suffering of relatives and friends. This is merely the background picture – and a relatively benign one at that, relative to Palestinian standards, and certainly things seem worse today than they were in those days.

Nevertheless, those days and stories pile up one on top of the other, along with experiences of violent acts and events, building and instilling in Palestinians a state of fear that we carry with us everywhere we go and move.

That fear barrier was instilled inside me from the moment I became conscious of the world as a child. And despite overcoming it now and again, it never disappears. Even after immigrating to Canada, after tasting some freedom, holding citizenship for the first time in my life, feeling somewhat protected by a state structure (very much a false sense of protection), that fear never leaves you. It did not take long for me to realise that in these Euro-American spaces, I had to be afraid of even speaking about Palestine.

The fear in Euro-America has a different basis though. Fear in those spaces is based on lived experiences of being censored, fired, disciplined, not hired or promoted, dragged through frivolous legal cases, defunded, harassed, intimidated, and silenced.

This fear has become so naturalised, so ubiquitous, that some people in Euro-American spaces seem to genuinely think now that they do not actually fear this fear!

Let me, first, be very clear: this fear is not the main barrier standing in the way of states like Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, etc, placing pressure on Israel. These states and their political, academic, economic, and media institutions are on the whole strategically aligned with the Israeli state. These states and their institutions are actively participating in and driving the colonisation, exploitation, oppression, and settler colonisation of much of the world, as they have been for centuries.

But I want to speak here to people working within these institutions who genuinely want to transform them, to decolonise them, but yet are always quick to evade the question of Palestine and true decolonial liberation. From privileged politicians to academics to journalists to civil society organisers to artists, a litany of excuses other than fear is often proclaimed as to why they will not touch Palestine. A main feature of these excuses is the claim that the issue is “complex and controversial”.

Of course, it is perfectly normal to not know enough about a particular topic, issue, or question. There is nothing wrong with wanting to learn more before commenting or taking a position. Asking questions is a healthy exercise when you do not know.

But every topic is complex and controversial. How your food ends up on your dinner table is complex. But that does not stop the majority of people from talking about food production, distribution, how they want to shop ethically, and so on. The economics of sports is also controversial. But that does not stop millions of people from spending countless hours talking about player salaries, advertisement money, revenue sharing among the clubs, and so on.

Palestine-Israel is not unique in its complexity or controversy. And while most topics and issues are framed as complex and controversial for the sake of commencing a deepened entry into the topic, exploring its many dimensions, the statement that the issue of Palestine and Israel “is complex and controversial” serves instead as an end to the conversation. When it comes to Palestine, this statement is almost never the beginning of a quest for more knowledge and better learning. Rather, this statement is the extent of the learning process. It puts a stop to it. It ends the conversation by declaring a non-position on the matter.

When politicians, executives, journalists, academics, etc, proclaim this statement, their intended goal is for the question of Palestine to go away, to be removed off their desk. Why? In many cases, because they are afraid of the consequences that I have outlined above. This is what everyone admits and knows in private conversations, but almost never openly acknowledges. Therefore, what actually drives this non-positionality is the very fear that most people deny having.

The non-positionality of the statement, “it is complex and controversial”, is far from neutral. This statement indeed maintains the status quo by ensuring the continued toxification of Palestine and Palestinians in Euro-American public discourse.

Israeli propagandists are the only beneficiaries of a statement that posits for itself a non-position. Because non-positions are always ultimately concealment of reality. When you declare that you will not take a position, when you end the conversation because something is controversial and complex, you are declaring that the reality of the situation is hopelessly and infinitely indecipherable. You are declaring that you do not know what position to take because nobody knows the reality of the situation.

This statement thus declares that the reality of Palestine-Israel is unknowable, which is precisely the conclusion that Israeli propaganda is entirely comfortable with. Only the oppressed and colonised Palestinians and their supporters are attempting to communicate the reality of settler colonialism and apartheid to the world. Only they are making it knowable.

Israeli and Zionist propaganda in Euro-America and elsewhere is designed to conceal and hide that reality because it does not serve the Zionist political project. Therefore, a declared non-position that clouds reality and conceals it is in fact a statement of support for Israeli propaganda.

This does not mean that Zionism does not understand its own reality. In fact, within some Zionist discursive spaces, a space where, for example, Zionist settlers speak freely, as we saw in the most recent viral video, you will find a basic description of the brutality of that settler colonial and apartheid reality: “If I don’t steal your home, someone else will steal it.” They know that they are stealing, that they are there to eliminate and replace the native Palestinians.

Palestinians have broken a fear barrier the likes of which the privileged in Euro-America will never know or experience. The lived experiences of fear in Palestine are far more violent and coercive than the lived experiences of fear in Euro-America. I am not discounting the burden of the Euro-American based experiences of job precarity, defunding, harassment and so on. These are real fears, and they are deeply consequential for their victims, especially for Palestinians and other racialised people, who face the most severe consequences.

But those consequences are already a reality for those who speak up for Palestinian rights. And for change to happen, there must be a collective will and action to break the fear barrier and to face the consequences for it together. And here is the good news: as we have seen in many other cases, when action is collectively undertaken, those consequences are neither strong nor do they last.

It is time to say, enough: enough of this imprisonment, occupation, colonisation; enough of evading the issue; enough of this fear. Palestinians continue to break their fear barrier. If you have not yet done so, then, my dear reader, if you genuinely want to transform the world, then you will have to.

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