Zionism and Apartheid: The Moral Legitimacy of Palestinian Resistance

Children take part in a rally in the besieged Gaza strip. (Photo: Mahmoud Ajjour, The Palestine Chronicle)

By Dr. M. Reza Behnam

The US-Israeli strategy of attempting to tie the destiny of the Arab world with Tel Aviv and to crush the idea of Palestinian resistance to occupation failed on October 7.

There are some governments that are so cruel and unjust that people have no choice but to resist by force. After 16 years, the steel and concrete wall constructed by Israel to imprison Palestinians in Gaza was breached by Palestinian resistance forces on October 7.

The current challenge is to break through the wall of US-Israeli myths and lies that have been carefully constructed over the decades to maintain Israel’s long history of oppression and injustice against the Palestinians; fabrications that have been used to sustain US-Israeli hegemony in West Asia.

Eleven minutes after Zionist leaders declared, without UN Security Council approval, “independence” on 14 May 1948, President Harry S. Truman became the first world leader to officially recognize the self-proclaimed “Jewish” state.  The lies that began on that date have never ceased; nor has Palestinian resistance to the racist, settler-colonial “state” being built on their land.

There has also been no break in America’s complicity in financing, protecting, and sustaining the Zionist colonial project in the heart of the Muslim world – a relationship that has exacted an unimaginable price on the Palestinians and on all the people of the region.

The United States sees itself in Israel. For it too was founded on racism and built on indigenous land. US history is replete with examples of resistance and rebellion that mirror the attack of that fateful day.

The indigenous people have never ceased resisting US policies of expansion, removal, and extermination.  And the more than 250 acts of resistance by enslaved blacks have been well documented.  The most violent of these slave rebellions took place on 21 August 1831 in Southampton, Virginia.  The Nat Turner Revolt and the reaction to it are uncannily similar to October 7 in terms of the causes and reaction.

Today, historians look back on that August day differently.  The slaughter of over 55 white enslavers, their wives, and children is called a rebellion, insurrection, or revolt.  Although the insurrection gave northerner abolitionists a black hero and a martyr for the movement, most newspapers of that era, especially in the South, denounced Turner’s revolt as a massacre. The event further radicalized American politics and moved the country closer to civil war.

Like the corporate media of today which has accepted Israel’s narrative as fact, editors in 1831 rushed to report news, merely reprinting articles that appeared in Virginia newspapers. And analogous to events unfolding currently, the failure to check facts led to the publication of inaccurate, prejudicial, and harmful misinformation.

Akin to the Israeli regime, which has been conducting genocide in Gaza and the West Bank under the guise of eliminating Hamas, revenge-minded white vigilantes lynched blacks who played no part in the uprising.  Southern writers talked of retaliation, calling for ethnic cleansing and pogroms against the enslaved and free blacks of Southampton County, expressing a willingness to conduct a “final solution” for Virginia’s black population.

There were few, especially in the South, willing to accept that slavery was the root cause of Turner’s revolt.  Similarly, in 2023 the corporate media has drowned out the voices of those contending that the attack by Hamas was inevitable, that it was an act of resistance to 75 years of settler-colonialist violence and Israel’s never-ending war against Palestinians.  The media have instead eschewed context, either ignoring or discounting the severity of the Israeli apartheid regime.

The regimes in Washington and Tel Aviv believe they can crush Palestinian resistance by exterminating the Palestinian political and military organization, Hamas (Harakah al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyyah), an Arabic phrase meaning Islamic Resistance Movement.  It looks as if Israel’s objective is to kill as many Palestinians as they can until the moral conscience of the Western world is stirred.

Israel has never observed international and humanitarian laws demanded of an occupying power.  Its occupation of Palestine is illegal. Therefore, all Israelis living on Palestinian land are colonizers, regardless of whether they live in Tel Aviv or in the occupied West Bank.  Also, all Israeli citizens over the age of 18 have been soldiers, since national military service is mandatory (Palestinian citizens of Israel are exempt).

Under international law, Palestinian resistance, even armed resistance, to  occupation is legitimate.  Conversely, Israel’s claim that it has a “right to defend itself” is illegitimate. According to international law, it does not have that right as long as it illegally occupies Palestine.

Not only does Israel not have the right to defend itself, Miko Peled, Israeli-American peace and human rights activist, has made the case that Israel as an apartheid state—which it is—does not have the right to exist.  And that dismantling the apartheid state and replacing it with a true democracy, one person-one vote, is the only path to peace and security in the region.

In the midst of the current tragedy, it is important to know that before the introduction of Zionism by the imperial powers following World War I, Palestinian Jews lived peacefully with their Muslims and Christian neighbors; harmony that was shaped by a millennium of openness and coexistence.

Continuing the Muslim tradition of tolerance,  Muslims, Christians and Jews lived and thrived together under Ottoman rule (1516-1918).  In the 1500s, the gates of Palestine were opened to Jews fleeing persecution in Spain and other parts of Christendom.  The inscription on the Jaffa Gate (the main western gate into the Old City) reflects that spirit, reads: “There is no God but God, and Abraham is his friend.”

The forceful importation of European Zionist ideology and settler-colonialism into Palestine destabilized Palestinian life and the region. The current tragedy in Gaza can be traced directly to the arbitrary partition of West Asia and the British mandate of Palestine (and Iraq) at the end of the war.   In November 1917, the British government, with no regard for the indigenous population, publicly stated its support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” on Palestinian land.  The Balfour Declaration, as it came to be known, set in motion Israel’s 75-year genocidal war against the Palestinians.  And since 1948, the United States has financed and abetted Israel’s war.

Washington’s hegemonic plans for the region, dependent on its garrison regime in Tel Aviv, have begun to fall apart and pretenses of “honest broker” exposed.  From all appearances, the United States has lost control of the Frankenstein monster it helped create.

On October 7, Palestinian freedom fighters did what the United States and Israel thought unimaginable, they dared to leave the “reservation,” to escape their imprisonment. Until that pivotal event, Washington and Tel Aviv believed they were on a clear path to controlling the region and erasing the Palestinian cause by brokering normalization agreements between Israel and authoritarian Arab Gulf regimes.

Resistance movements in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria and Iran were considered marginalized and contained. The US-Israeli strategy of attempting to tie the destiny of the Arab world with Tel Aviv and to crush the idea of Palestinian resistance to occupation failed on October 7.

At present, the Biden administration has made Israel’s war on Palestinians its war.  Without the consent of the Congress, it has given the Netanyahu regime the green light to continue bombing, slaughtering and starving the 2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza and murdering, imprisoning and terrorizing the over 2 million Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank.

The Biden administration has also refused to support life-saving UN Security Council resolutions calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.  From 1954 to the present, the United States has used its veto power 34 times to block Security Council resolutions critical of Israel and that have attempted to hold it accountable for its violations of international law in Palestine.  Israel has consistently ignored all resolutions pertaining to its crimes against Palestinians and keeps bombing UN institutions and personnel in Gaza today.

Additionally, President Biden has submitted a request to Congress for additional military aid for Israel amounting to $14.3 billion to complete its genocide in Gaza (and the West Bank), a request that is in violation of US law.  Twenty percent of Israel’s military budget is currently financed by US taxpayers. The Leahy Law, named after its sponsor, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and first enacted in 1997, prohibits the US government from providing military assistance to foreign security forces when there is credible information of human rights violations.

Like Israel, Washington is not playing by the “rules-based order” it demands of others and it is not observing the international laws it helped established. The United States is on the wrong side of history, and its decisions are jeopardizing America’s national security and what is left of its standing worldwide, endangering Muslims and Jews in the United States and in every country, fueling violence at home and in West Asia.

History is replete with acts of violent resistance to oppression. Apartheid is violent, and resistance to it is morally required. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us that “To accept passively an unjust system is to cooperate with that system; thereby the oppressed become as evil as the oppressor. Non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. The oppressed must never allow the conscience of the oppressor to slumber.”

– Dr. M. Reza Behnam is a political scientist specializing in the history, politics and governments of the Middle East. He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.

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