When Will the West Publicly Endorse the Right of the Palestinians to Defend Themselves?

A Palestinian mother and daughter mourn the loss of their beloved son and brother during the latest Israeli assault on Gaza. (Photo: Mahmoud Ajjour, The Palestine Chronicle)

By Ilan Pappe

The last Israeli brutal assault on the Gaza Strip exposed once more the hypocritical and immoral response of the West to the ongoing genocidal policies of Israel in the occupied territories. The continuation of the callous policies and the Western governments’ responses, in particular the American and British ones, can naturally lead to desperation and paralysis.

However, despair and inaction are a luxury Palestinians under apartheid, siege and occupation cannot afford; therefore, the solidarity movement as well should do its best not to give in to a sense of helplessness of hopelessness. It is important to record the continued insincerity of the West, as it transpired once more this time, condemn this duplicity and counter it by exposing the fabrications and distortions on which it is based.

The American President, the State Department, and the American envoy to the United Nations “supported Israel’s right to defend itself” in reaction to the Israeli assault as did the British foreign secretary, who will probably be the next prime minister in September. It is quite incredible to hear these statements: at a time when every major human and civil rights organization on the globe defined Israel as an apartheid state, the Western political elites chose to hail its right to self-defense.

We should not tire and remind the world that the people who have the right to defend themselves are the Palestinians and that they possess very limited means to do so, whether by armed struggle or by appealing to international law and institutions. In many cases, they were unable to defend themselves, neither in Gaza this month, nor anywhere else in historical Palestine since 1948. When they do succeed in doing so, they are accused of being terrorists.

The Western governments seem to care very little for the Palestinian right to life, dignity, and property. The UN committed to doing so in Resolution 181 of November 29, 1947, and stood by when all these rights were violated during the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Since then, and in particular since 1967, none of the Western governments ever attempted to protect the Palestinians, when the Israeli army shot, killed or wounded them – with weapons supplied by the West or developed with its help. It also did nothing when their houses were demolished, their livelihood destroyed or when they were ethnically cleansed.

We can look at July 2022 alone and record some of the Palestinian victims whose right to self-defense has not been recognized by the President of the USA or the Foreign Minister of Britain. These politicians were silent when, during this month, Saadia Faragallah-Mattar, a 64-year-old mother of 8 and a grandmother of 28, died in the Damon jail, where she had already spent 6 months detained without trial. No one defended or acknowledged the right to life, in this very same month, of Amjad Abu Aliya, a 16-year-old boy who was shot by Israeli soldiers.

The list of those murdered just this month is long. It includes Nabil Gahnem, 53 years old, who tried to return home safely from working in Israel and was shot dead by Israeli soldiers last July, and Taher Khalil Mohammad Maslat, a 16-year-old boy shot on his way to school by Israeli snipers who aimed at him from a distance of 100 meters and killed him. Odeh Mahmoud Odeh was shot dead in July, in al-Midya, a village near Ramallah, in a week that also saw the killing of Ayman Mahmoud Muhsein, aged 29, a father of 3 and a political prisoner for 3 years, who was killed in the Dheisheh camp near Bethlehem, and Bilal Awad Qabha, aged 24, killed in Yabad.

As the month just started, Muhammad Abdulla Salah Suleiman, a boy from Silwan, was shot on Route 60, a settler apartheid road, by Israeli soldiers sitting on a watchtower. He was left to bleed for about two hours, with Israeli soldiers preventing a Palestinian ambulance to reach him, by firing on anyone approaching him. Muhammad died later from his wounds.

Israeli watchtowers are also spread near the Gaza Strip fence, but they are not manned. They are loaded with machine guns operated from the distance by young Israeli women soldiers, who were hailed by the Israeli Radio as heroines defending their homeland when they explained how they use a joystick on their computer to kill anyone approaching the fence.

Since January 1, 2022, and until the Israeli assassination of Shireen Abu Akleh, Israel forces killed 61 Palestinians; these killings were part of what local and international human rights organizations described as a “shoot-to-kill policy” against Palestinians; prodded by the Israeli Prime Minister at the time, Naftali Bennett, to use lethal force at Palestinians who did not pose an imminent threat. Hundreds were wounded during Ramadan this year, in particular at Haram al-Sharif.

And the death toll grew in this last attack. Children such as Momen Salem, aged 5, and Ahmad al-Nairab, aged 11, in Jabaliya were killed together with another 14 children between the ages of 4 to 16.

Palestinian children also die because of Israel’s policy of denying medical permits to Gaza’s children. Around 840 children have died while awaiting permits between 2008 and 2021.

Nobody in the Western media or mainstream politics talked about the right of the Palestinians who were maimed by Israeli shots this month to defend themselves. Nassim Shuman, a student walking on a sideroad near Ramallah, lost a leg and his friend Ussayed Hamail was left paralyzed in a wheelchair after they were shot by Israeli soldiers. A similar fate, this month, awaited Harun Abu Aram from Yatta, who remained paralyzed from head to toes after he tried to prevent the soldiers from stealing his neighbor’s generator.

Similar silence was heard loud and clear when the Palestinian community of Ras al-Tin, 18 families, were expelled from their homes last July and when families in Masafer Yatta became targets for the Israeli military training. Nobody in London or Washington last July talked about the right of the Palestinians to defend themselves in the wake of the Israeli Supreme Court’s decision to approve the army’s plan to expel about one thousand Palestinians from the Masafer Yatta region.

And nobody in the official West talked about the right of those Palestinians who are tortured by Israel to defend themselves. Last July, we learned from “the Public Committee against Torture in Israel” (PCATI) that the situation has become so bad that it decided to refer Israel to the International Criminal Court. PCATI concluded that Israel “is not interested and unable to stop the use of torture against Palestinians”; a policy that constituted a war crime. It said that after 30 years of fighting torture it had “reached the unfortunate conclusion” that Israel has no wish to end torture, honestly investigate victims’ complaints and prosecute those responsible”.

In July, we were exposed to the horror tale of Ahmad Manasra, jailed when he was 13 years old, suffering from a mental breakdown. Despite calls by the UN to release him, Israel responded by putting him in solitary confinement.

And we do not have time to enumerate those Palestinians used as human shields, whose houses were demolished, their fields burnt, and their businesses destroyed.

Surely, they all had the right to defend themselves – but who defended them? Not the international community, not the Palestinian Authority, not the PLO wherever it is, not the Palestinian leaders inside Israel, not the Arab world. Were they supposed to remain without any defense at all then, and are they expected to do so in the future?

Israel now offers Hamas what it offered the PA – a model of an open prison, where those incarcerated would be at the mercy of the Israeli jailers – offered limited basic rights to live and work in return for “good behavior”. Any attempt to live a liberated normal life is immediately branded as terrorism, and the might of the army is instantly activated. The “open prison” model is replaced with a “maximum security prison” model, where collective punishment appears in the form of aerial bombardment, siege, and a long list of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

I ask again, who will defend the Palestinians from the need to choose between two callous options in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip? No one offers a third option. When will the leaders of the West publicly endorse the right of the Palestinians to defend themselves – as they do for instance in Ukraine? And when will we in the solidarity movement succeed in pressuring those leaders into doing it, so that we will all be able to prevent the next killing, maiming, and expelling of innocent Palestinians? Hopefully soon, before it is too late.

Until then, the Palestinians who defend themselves should have our full support and admiration.

- Ilan Pappé is a professor at the University of Exeter. He was formerly a senior lecturer in political science at the University of Haifa. He is the author of The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, The Modern Middle East, A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples, and Ten Myths about Israel. Pappé is described as one of Israel’s 'New Historians' who, since the release of pertinent British and Israeli government documents in the early 1980s, have been rewriting the history of Israel’s creation in 1948. He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.

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3 Comments

  1. Should Gaza be called a prison of war camp (or possibly internment camp)?
    In WW2in UK,prisoners of war were allowed to leave the camp for work(permits to work in Israel agrees with this model).
    Guards though not physically present at all the times patrolled and could enter whenever they wished(drones are more effective and can kill too).
    No one can leave, by land air or sea. Gaza isn’r just a prison it’s a prisoner of war camp – internment camp…

  2. When will the American Empire and its sycophant “allies”: Britain, the EU, Canada and the rest of the world’s settler-colonial states acknowledge openly, that they need to have this ally in Apartheid Israel right in the midst of resource rich Arab states, to destabilize them and ensure their dependency upon the American Empire?
    Most callously, with no pretence of humanitarian guise, the sacrificial lamb in this ploy are the Palestinians: Palestinian Lands, Palestinian Homes, Palestinian Businesses, Palestinian LIVES.
    The only solution is to ensure ONE DEMOCRATIC STATE for all from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean. Everyone wins, even the USA!

  3. Answer: When Palestinians stop targeting civilians. When they cease and desist from indiscriminate ballooning, missiling, etc.
    When they cease their collaboration with greater israel zionists. Terror begets occupation begets terror begets occupation…
    I submit greater israel zionists want perpetual war to continue to reduce the population of Palestinians in Israel/Palestine. And Paestinian terrorists are collaborators.

    Palestinians could claim the higher moral ground if they only targeted legitimate, military targets which I submit should include politicians such as Netanyahu.

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