The Universal Right to Self-Defense: Remembering the Second Intifada

By Ron Jacobs

I finally got around to reading Ramzy Baroud’s 2006 book The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle on the twentieth day of Tel Aviv’s most recent attack on Gaza.

While debating with various online acquaintances about the possible intentions of Israel’s government and watching streaming video from Al-Jazeera inside Gaza, I began to read this volume. Hoping to understand what I can’t understand–why Israel insists on what seems to be a path towards eternal war that will never guarantee its security–I was drawn into Baroud’s description of the events leading up to the Al-Aqsa intifada that took place for some five years after Ariel Sharon took thousands of Israeli troops and police forces with him to the Al-Aqsa mosque in September 2000. 

In the days that followed hundreds of Palestinians were killed and wounded by Israeli security forces. Soon afterwards, the much criticized Palestinian strategy of suicide bombing began, bringing the death and destruction visited on the Palestinians into the cafes and shopping areas of Israel. These murderous acts were naturally responded to by further murderous acts by Israel, with the end result of hundreds dead and wounded on both sides, although the Palestinians took an exponentially larger number of those casualties.

Baroud, the editor of the Palestine Chronicle, is a partisan observer. He makes no bones about his belief that Palestine should be free and that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands is a crime. His description of events in this book are written with a passion and occasional anger that does not spare Israel or Washington’s role in the ongoing oppression of the Palestinian people. Concurrently, he does not spare his criticism of the Palestinian resistance, the makeshift Palestinian governing body known as the Palestinian Authority (PA), or the strategies undertaken by these forces. Most telling in this latter regard is his discussion of the corruption of the PA and various Palestinian businessmen discovered selling Egyptian concrete to the Israeli companies building the separation wall that divides the Territories into sections Israel hopes to manage by destroying communities and livelihoods. He also roundly criticizes the morality and strategic sense of suicide bombings.  

The question of Palestine is on one level a very simple one. It has the right to exist in peace. This means that its people have the right to conduct their own trade, decide on their own government, live free from the fear of attack, travel freely, and educate its children and give them hope for the future. This can only occur when it is no longer occupied. Israel knows this and, if our eyes are to be believed, has no desire to see such a scenario take place. After all, Israel refuses to acknowledge the results of Palestinian elections, ignores most agreements it has made with any of Palestine’s leaders, refuses to allow Palestinians freedom of movement, restricts education in the West Bank and Gaza, and attacks the territories at will. As Baroud, points out, Israel does all of this not only because it can, but because it is allowed (if not encouraged) to by Washington and many European governments. Until this fact is no longer a fact, Palestine’s future will be one that is defined by more of the same.

The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle is an eloquent and evocative book based in part on the premise that Palestine, like Israel, has the right to defend itself. Over and over Tel Aviv and Washington were told the world that the murderous attacks on Gaza a few weeks ago were justified because Israel "has the right to defend herself." Baroud’s narrative makes a clear argument that Palestine also has that right. Indeed, it is Palestine that needs the world to help in its defense. Unfortunately, unless the people of the West see through the mythology of Israel as victim that pervades our media, Palestine’s day is a long way off. Writers like Baroud take their task to separate the truth of the Israeli-Palestine conflict from the Washington-Tel Aviv mythology seriously. So should the rest of us who care about peace and justice.

Mr. Baroud published this book in 2006. Right before its publication, Hamas won a substantial number of seats in the Palestinian legislature in certifiably free elections.  Israel and Washington quickly disavowed the results despite their demand for democracy in the Middle East and Israel began a blockade of the territories that is supported by the US and many European governments. Hamas and other resistance movements in Gaza fired several thousand rockets into Israel, killing a little over a dozen Israelis. Hezbollah stood its ground against Israel in a summertime war while the West Bank slipped further into economic and political despair. Israel pulled its troops out of Gaza, but left their siege intact via air force flyovers and surveillance. This siege culminated in the December 27th air attacks on Gaza that preceded a ground invasion. This action by Israel killed around 1500 Palestinians, many of them women and children.

– Ron Jacobs is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. (Originally published in CounterPunch.org, Feb 9)

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