PALESTINE: Rejecting victimhood: the case for Palestinian resistance
By Rana Baker
Seeing rocket fire from Gaza as a counter-discourse. This method of resistance is less about fatalities than undermining privilege structures in an anti-colonial context.
I wonder whether, when the settler-colonial army of Israel is pounding Gaza, Palestinians should grab guitars, pianos, and white ribbons, look up at their oppressors flying over their heads in apaches and F16s, and sing a lullaby of peace. Perhaps, then, we can impress Middle East “experts” and “non-violent resistance” -mind you, I am using the V word- butterflies. I wonder, moreover, what authority, defined by what experience, entitles these experts and butterflies to ask us, the Palestinians, to put down our arms. Nonsense.
The question here is one of privilege, one which must be fought and broken down to its innermost core. Like the Jacobins of the French Revolution, whose “radical” demands fell short of demanding freedom for black slaves in Haiti and elsewhere in the French colonies, the Jacobins of today advocate a version of freedom which involves asking –actually telling- Palestinians to sit by and not only sing for peace just as they are being lynched, but to denounce armed struggle as well. Lest I not do the French Jacobins justice, they did demand equality, but only to free mulatto owners of black slaves. Ironically, this latter demand of equality resembles, in more than one way, calls by “progressive” elements in the Israeli Jewish society and around the world to “elevate” the second-class citizens of Israel, the Palestinian minority, to the privileged position of their Jewish counterparts. This elevation or integration, which I prefer to call assimilation, regards the state as the ultimate protector of its citizens, the source of justice, rather than as the genesis of racist colonial ideology and practice, as is very clear in the colonial State of Israel. In other words, this proposition presumes that the Palestinian community’s problem is with the laws of the state rather than the state per se. In fact, the liberal distinction between “state” and “law” is questionable itself.
Resistance rockets fired from the Gaza Strip provide a necessary counter-discourse. The Israeli Jewish public must understand that there shall be no security so long as they do not turn their anger and frustration at their very supremacist privilege and ideological system which is embodied in the Israeli government, left-wing, centrist, or right-wing. No one is asking them to leave, but they must accept Palestinian resistance insofar as they accept the arrogance which characterises the Zionist ideology. The radical potential of Palestinian rockets, of sirens going off, lies in these rockets’ ability to disrupt a system of privilege which Israeli Jews enjoy at the expense of colonised and displaced Palestinians. Rockets, in other words, are a radical declaration of existence and unmediated expression of self-determination. Jacobins, too, must learn to understand this.
The Jacobins of today, some of whom are Palestinian elites who probably suffer from the Stockholm Syndrome, use –consciously or not- very similar rhetoric to the Israeli official line, which is deployed to incite the population against the resistance. Hamas, they say, is responsible for civilian casualties in the Gaza Strip. Hamas rockets, they opine, are futile and only cause Israel to retaliate; Hamas flourishes at the expense of the civilian population which it lets be pounded to death while its leaders hide behind them. This is a non-argument precisely because it misses the point. Israel cannot retaliate. Retaliation by Israel is a Kantian impossibility. Israel was born in May 1948 after a mass wave of ethnic cleansing which led to the expulsion of more than half the native Palestinian population. This is the aggression to which every Palestinian rocket, demonstration, and burned tire, is a response. Until Palestine is liberated, and by Palestine I mean historical Palestine, Palestinian resistance cannot be expected to wane. To be clear, Palestinians fire rockets into what belongs to them in the first place.
On a slightly different, but related, note, observations about the “futility” of rocket fire are short-sighted; Palestinian resistance did not start yesterday and will not end tomorrow. The path to liberation is, as “path” suggests, a process rather than a point that exists in the singular. Rocket fire, like civil disobedience, is part and parcel of this process which began well before Israel came into existence. The 1921 Yaffa (Jaffa) Riots, Great Revolt of 1936-1939, and first and second intifadas are all examples of events in a larger process which Israel, supported by the US and European Union, does its best to eliminate from Palestinian political consciousness.
Defeatist and apologetic discourses resurface each time Israel bombards the Gaza Strip or conducts a military operation in the West Bank, usually invoking civilian deaths as moral grounds for anti-resistance condemnation. These discourses are confused at best and hypocritical at worst. Like any colonial power, Israel needs no reason to attack civilians. Indeed, whether or not Palestinian armed groups launch rockets, the colonial state of Israel beats up, murders, arrests, and discriminates against the Palestinians on a daily basis. For instance, Tariq Abu Khdair, a 15-year-old Palestinian boy who was severely beaten by Israel’s settler-colonial soldiers, was subsequently arrested, put under house arrest, and made to pay a fine of $900 all without charge or trial for, basically, doing nothing. Mohammad al-Durra, who was murdered in his father’s arms on 30 September 2000 in Gaza is yet another example of ruthless aggression committed by a colonial power which systematically dehumanises its subjects.
Palestinian armed fighters must be placed in this wider context; they are colonial subjects of Israel who, like Sans Souci of Haiti, the FLN of Algeria, and IRA of Ireland, reject the subjugation of their people under colonial rule. Blaming the oppressed, to which Palestinian fighters belong, for fighting their oppressors is a moral question which pacifists, defeatists, and apologists fail to address. The murder of civilians will not end when the Palestinian resistance refrains from fighting alongside its people, but when Israel decolonises Palestine.
Finally, the al-Qassam Brigades of Hamas has never been the only armed group in Palestine. Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades of Fatah, Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades of the Marxist-Leninist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and al-Quds Brigades of the Islamic Jihad, though to varying degrees, remain active in the anti-colonial struggle in Palestine. Homogenising Palestinian resistance as “Islamist” is, therefore, counterfactual and only allows Israel to fuel Islamophobic hatred already rampant among its Jewish citizens.
Back to Haiti, a certain Jean-Baptiste Sans Souci, mentioned earlier, was a black slave under French colonial rule. During the Haitian Revolution of 1791, Sans Souci, having been abandoned by Toussaint Louverture, a Creole revolutionary leader who gave in to the French, rebelled against Louverture’s submission, took up arms, and fiercely fought the French. Having seen the moral zeal of Sans Souci and his troops, Louverture, who aligned himself with the French following his defeat, joined revolutionary ranks again. Though Sans Souci was assassinated in 1803, Haiti gained its independence one year later in 1804. There is much more to be written about the Haitian revolution than space allows me to do here, but in this excruciatingly brief account I wish to underline a couple of points. First, Haiti gained its independence not by striking a peace deal with France as Louverture had done, but through the moral force of arms which obliged the French to submit to the will of the people it enslaved. Second, Sans Souci’s arms achieved more than a military victory against the far superior army of France; the morality of the cause for which Sans Souci fought knocked out inferiority complexes –exemplified in Louverture- and undermined privilege structures.
The Palestinian revolutionary model must be 1791 Haiti, not 1789 France.