By Dina Jadallah-Taschler
Recent developments in the aftermath of Israel’s attack on Gaza have once again called into question basic definitions of words and categories used to describe and/or hide events, conditions, demands, and agendas. The preponderance of political players ought not to disguise that there is one very lopsided dominating side. Major states (and their quislings) purportedly represent the weight and gravitas of an international “consensus” regarding a “peaceful resolution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But the picture is different at the level of those who resist oppression and aspire to liberation, be they actively fighting or simply persisting — by their very presence (sumoud) — and maintaining their aspirations for liberation. From their perspective, that oppressive weight of international leaders’ “help”/diktats is illusory, unfair, and unacceptable. Many Palestinians are increasingly dissatisfied with hegemonic (and sometimes deluded) talk focused solely on “ending” resistance and walking the path of “peace.” They have tried that path for a very long time already. For them, this proposed “solution” is, in fact, no such thing. The predominant frame neither rectifies wrongs done, nor restores inherent rights, nor achieves a modicum of justice.
A quick review of events in the last week would reveal the ossified reality of the “solution” and “negotiation” tract and the minimal, but significant, cracks that have emerged in its foundation. Most recently, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated the hegemon’s firm commitment to the “security” of the local strongman and insisted that the victims not deploy their meager rockets against the technological and military goliath. Moreover, Robert A. Wood, acting State Department spokesman, insisted that “Everyone is in agreement that we need to shore up the Palestinian Authority… We don’t want the money to go through Hamas.” (NYT, 3/1/09) Of the $900 million in aid promised by the US, none will go to “rebuilding,” only one third will go to “humanitarian” needs in Gaza, and that will somehow magically be fulfilled without going through the elected Hamas government. The rest will go to sustaining traditional methods of control, like funding “security” and the “budget” of the “moderate” (and term-expired) Palestinian Authority (PA). (LA Times, 3/2/09)
Insisting on a role for their quisling (the PA) and seeking to consecrate what the Israeli attack on Gaza could not, other international donors and “moderate” members of the region are also resorting to the old, tried and true, method of using “aid” as a means of subjugation. (Al-jazeera.net, 3/3/09) “Rebuilding” Gaza has become a bigger chimera than it ever was. The international consensus seems to have decided to abbreviate the aid “process.” Why go through the trouble of giving aid and building economies only to have Israel militarily and economically demolish what was just built? Better to take the shortcut. This time around, reconstruction is supposed to happen without cement – now a suspect and potential terrorist. Feeding the starved population would also have been nice without luxury items like lentils and pasta, but those were reluctantly conceded by the occupiers who expect a grateful response from… the whole world. And restoring infrastructure (inconceivable, given the wrong choice of leadership elected and persisting still in Gaza) will theoretically be achieved via the non-existent administrative ties between the expired – and at best, legally questionable – leadership in the West Bank which will receive the “aid” and enthusiastically redistribute it to some bottomless pockets awaiting their own reconstitution.
Further hurdles for said “aid” are hundreds of Israeli controlled roadblocks, and (probably) a Netanyahu-led government. The latter ripped through the façade of “negotiated settlement” discourse, revealing a rejection of the vaunted “two state solution.” Instead, Netanyahu, not being “semantic” about the word “state,” declared pursuit of a mutant entity that will not threaten “our [Israeli] lives”. (Haaretz, 3/3/09) According to Aluf Ben, this entity will be deprived of sovereignty and missing: “control of its airspace; control of its electromagnetic spectrum; the right to maintain an army and to sign military alliances; and, most importantly, control of the border crossings where arms and terrorists could pass.” (Haaretz, 3/1/09) Moreover, apparently still clinging to the rotten and discredited tenets of neoliberal economic prescriptions for prosperity as well as feigning a concern for Palestinian welfare, Netanyahu promised “to continue political talks and at the same time advance the economic development that has begun and also strengthen the Palestinian security forces.” (Washington Post, 2/27/09)
Given this “carrot” scenario – which is basically one of extended economic dependency, fragmentation, and exploitation — Palestinians are expected to forget about political, nationalist, and territorial rights in order to be left to self-police (for the benefit of the occupier) in “peace.” The post-Madrid and Oslo PA-led- PLO replaced “liberation” with a version of “peace” devoid of rights retained, let alone restored. Palestinians are expected to be grateful for the post-Oslo privilege of being divided into Areas A, B, and C, (aka the West Bank and Gaza Strip) with their concomitant pockmarks of road blocks, check points, borders, blockades, land and water expropriation for expanding “settlements”/colonies, and almost impossible to get, but necessary, Israeli permits for every person and object trying to cross them. What Netanyahu is trying to do is the continuation of what was stillborn at Oslo: namely, the implementation of the hegemon’s “solution” that does not guarantee a minimum of national and political rights for the Palestinians (all of them, especially the refugees).
Moreover, what is really being offered by the international consensus is the continuation of the corrupt, classist and consumerist economic model which gutted the middle class and created a highly unequal distribution of wealth in the Occupied Territories. Oslo created the PA, thereby effectively ossifying Palestinian grassroots political activity and killed the First Intifada. It also gave birth to an economic “development,” if you will excuse the misnomer, known as “’ahd el-sulta,” or the era of the PA. Ali Jarbawi describes the growth of the abuse of official positions for illegitimate gains deriving from corruption, agencies, and monopolies that are wholly dependent on the flow of aid and economic ties with Israel. This, when combined with the PA’s preferred “familial” political method of control that relies on atomized “connections” as opposed to societal level institutions, led to both polarization of the economic classes as well as the growth of opportunism and the silencing of criticism. (1)
Facets of Rejectionism and Reasons for Opposing and Resisting
So this is the present situation confronting Palestinians as they emerge from the onslaught on Gaza: a militarily vicious and disproportionate “retaliation”/punishment; a continuation of political discourse dominated by heeding the international “balance of power” that denies rights to the occupied and victimized in favor of the occupying regional hegemon; an internal political bifurcation between “partners” in the “peace process” and ostensible “rejectionists”/terrorists; the economic devastation, starvation, and poverty that are the product of occupation, blockade, and endless concessions; and a legalistic vacuity that, in its present neo-imperialist form, is almost devoid of justice (for the oppressed) and no longer accepts the heretofore “inherent” right to resist occupation and seek national liberation by any means necessary.
And they ask why do Palestinians resist?! Let me count (some of) the ways. Legally, there exists an original rejectionism of justice. International law dealing with belligerents has (intentionally?) failed to keep up with the evolution of the international system. Political rights for self-representation and liberation seem to have been (effectively) rejected in favor of their subjugation to humanitarian law. (2) That is why we now hear all this emphasis on “civilian deaths.” Morally and ethically, this is fine per se. However, practically, it preserves pre-existing lopsided distributions of power, and their concomitant unequal distribution of privileges. For instance, the laws for soldiers of a state have been extended to non-state actors like freedom fighters who are trying to gain their rights from a decidedly far weaker and often victimized position. In the case of Israeli settlers, the law also conveniently ignores that some of these said “civilians” are occupiers and are frequently armed.
Simultaneously, from a Palestinian perspective, focus on “humanitarian” legalisms seems to exclude their own very real humanitarian needs to be unoccupied and liberated human beings. Additionally, and very importantly, even when there is a will, there is not a way. For the instruments (e.g. UN, ICJ) of enforcing any potential legal claims by disadvantaged groups like the Palestinians seem to be dysfunctional. Increasingly, there is less legitimacy given to the necessary (for justice to be achieved) removal of institutional expressions of racism and colonialism. Zionist Israel is, like South Africa was, a prime example of both. As a state, it lacks a constitution – lest it place itself in the unwanted position of being a state of citizens (of all races and creeds) as opposed to a “national home for the Jews.” The privileging and separating of one group over the other is evident in many of the pronouncements of Israel’s founding fathers (Herzl, Jabotinsky, Ben Gurion, etc…) and is also enshrined in the “Basic Laws” of the state. International law later made “legal” this racism with the adoption of UN Resolution 181 in 1947, which gave the numerically inferior – 30% of the population – (including many imported European) Jews 56% of historical Palestine, while granting the Palestinian inhabitants – 70% of the population — 43% of the land, with the rest being internationally administered Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Other UN resolutions and international agreements have subsequently re-affirmed this legalistic racism and oppression. Obviously, from a legal perspective, the real rejectionism is derived from the international community’s legal framework – the same one that originally ignored Palestinians as a people deserving equal rights with others.
Ideologically, there exists a denial of responsibility and a rejection of equality and civil and political rights for Palestinians. Zionism and the Zionist project are in and of themselves a rejection of enlightenment ideas of democracy and equal rights. Very basically and briefly, majority rule was rejected out of hand, thus necessitating the idea of “transfer” and the use of war as a primary means of inducing terror and forcing Palestinian dispossession. Zionism could not succeed unless it rejected Palestinians as equal. When the enemy is not fully human, then it is possible for the aggressor to proclaim the constant refrains of self-defense and self-righteousness. (3) Historically and archeologically, there is also a rejectionism of Palestinians, famously encapsulated in the slogan “A land without a people for a people without a land” and in the repercussions that derived from that falsehood. The work of historians — Zionist, like Benny Morris, and otherwise, like Ilan Pappe — details the many ways in which the process of removing/ethnically cleansing Palestinians and effacing the remains of their historical presence was achieved. Likewise, in her book, Facts on the Ground: Archeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society (2002), Nadia Abu El-Haj enumerates the ideological manipulation of archeology in the service of Zionist efforts to construct a “history” devoid of their Others.
The many wars launched by Israel further extended their legalistic and military control over Palestinian (and other Arab) territory. The initial example of this behavior was the very same UN GA Res. 181. This was a non-binding recommendation for partition. It was also practically not accepted by the Zionists – for it would have entailed an acceptance of an Arab / Palestinian state. To quote Ben Gurion speaking at an UNSCOP hearing in Jerusalem on 7/7/1947: “To partition, according to the Oxford dictionary, means to divide a thing into two parts. Palestine is divided into three parts, and only in a small part are the Jews allowed to live. We are against that.” (4) This paralleled Palestinian rejection of Res. 181. In any case, it was all soon a discarded legalitistic relic in the aftermath of the fait accompli of the war of 1948 and the declaration of the state of Israel on 78% of Mandatory Palestine. Until today, Israel refuses to define a border. This is yet another example of their rejectionism of the very idea of non-hegemonic expansion.
The rejections discussed above (and many others not mentioned) have significant and harmful repercussions for Palestinians. I will briefly illustrate just a few. In the past as well as in the most recent events in Gaza, Israel (not to mention the US) has rejected the application of international laws to its own conduct. That is always the privilege of the hegemon. Consequently, the laws against collective punishment seem suspended and unenforceable against the “terrorist Hamas” regime ruling Gaza, so Palestinians there end up with an economic blockade that imprisons and strangles them. (For an indepth discussion, see the writings of Phyllis Bennis.) Among many other “laws” that Israel rejects are: the refugees’ right of return, the relinquishing of occupied territory, the removal of “settlements,” the occupier’s legal obligation to the welfare of an occupied people, and so forth…
To this day, this rejectionism and selective application of legalisms continue. Most recently for example, Israel (and the US) has decided to once again not participate in the Durban II Anti-Racism Conference decrying its “repeated and unbalanced criticisms of Israel.” (Ynet, 2/24/08) One could say that they need not have worried too much because the final statement omitted language critical of Israel. (5) But still, even that (ethically-challenged) omission is deemed unacceptable to the hegemons. Why? Because Durban recognized the Palestinians’ right of return. An outrageous proposition if your whole state is built on the denial and rejection of the Palestinians’ very existence. This Israeli (and American) rejectionist position regarding the refugees builds on the previous connivance of international institutional loci of international will and law, like the UN. Just as a small illustration, consider that UNRWA, the UN body created specifically to deal with Palestinian refugees, from the very point of its inception, reassured Israel that it would not demand the implementation of their “legal right” to return as a (whole/collective) ”people,” but merely as “individuals.” (See, Ghada Hashem Telhami, Palestinian Refugees: Pawns to Political Actors (2003): p. 14.) Not that Israel paid any heed to that diminished legalism — individuals weren’t allowed to return either.
The above are just a few examples of Israeli, and international, rejectionism. And yet, despite all the patently rejectionist positions adopted by these actors in the international “consensus” community, the Palestinians (especially resisting ones) are always singled out as the “rejectionist” party. This attitude derives from the victor’s belief of powerful (and hegemonic) actors that things will always be the way they currently are. That power distribution will remain asymmetric. This triumphalism induces the (in the long-term false) prediction that the victims will submit, not challenge, and accept their status.
In reality though, Resistance is not Rejectionist. It is affirmative. It demands rights, justice, more equilibrium and egalitarianism in the distribution of power and resources, among other things. It is precisely because of this challenge to hegemony that discursive mainstream “international consensus” usage of the term “rejectionist” consistently conceals the ethical, moral, political, economic, and cultural grievances feeding acts of Resistance. Challenging injustice and oppression is “rejectionist” only if one believes that these conditions are ideal and ought to be maintained. Israel, being an occupier and built on a policy of racism and ethnic superiority, has a vested interest in this hegemonic system of control (discursive and actual). For its part the PA has enthusiastically cooperated with Israel. The quisling is, of course, rejecting the mission of resistance from the grassroots and has set about diligently arresting hundreds of “wanted” members of Hamas in the West Bank. (Al-jazeera.net, 3/2/09)
On the opposite side are the multitudes of dispossessed and fed up ordinary Palestinians. Gaza was ostensibly “unoccupied,” but only to facilitate control and more destructive punishment. The latest massacre there was a prime illustration. Yet, the occupier’s plan did not achieve its goals. Gaza, and its leadership, endured and suffered. Those who resisted, persisted. This community, this collective of people and resistance groups, this part and parcel of the whole that is Palestine, is now discursively categorized as “Hamas-led terrorist territory.” Attempts at imperiously naming/labeling it and condescendingly dismissing it continue after the latest failed attempts at first toppling, and then, eradicating its elected leaders. Nevertheless, irrespective of the leaders, the core principle and the fundamental right to resist has been re-affirmed. And the question now is if Resistance will once again be restored as a cornerstone of the Palestinian struggle.
Ultimately, this author believes this statement by Gandhi to be true: “When the people lead, the leaders will follow.” One hopes that Palestinian leadership will hear and heed.
– Dina Jadallah-Taschler is an Arab-American of Palestinian and Egyptian descent, a political science graduate, an artist and a writer. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
(1) Ali Jarbawi, “Critical Reflections on One Year of the Intifada,” Between the Lines, vol. 1:12, October: 2001. Author’s note: Here, I have the “Godfather” movies in mind and I extend the descriptive power of the term “familial.”
(2) Mohammed Bedjaoui, International Law: Achievements and Prospects, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1991: p. 769.
(4) See here.
(5) See here.