The overwhelming and ongoing atrocities have left most Palestinians with little space and peace of mind to ponder and intellectualize over the moral question of our resistance; most of the time our reactions to events are instinctive and emotional. Those few who still consider the moral, political and strategic aspects of the Palestinian struggle may find themselves at an impasse due to all the contradicting factors: the cruelty of war that hurts the conscience and boggles the mind.
In assessing the Palestinians’ resistance, one must take into consideration the troubled context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The occupation of Palestine started with an ideology that denied the very existence of the Palestinian people and pursued a colonial agenda asserting divine claims to acquire the "land without the people." It was in order to gain recognition as a national group, thus defying the colonial agenda, that Palestinians resorted to hijacking in the seventies.
Still today, Palestinians have no state or conventional army. We are subjected to curfews, expulsions, home demolitions, legalized torture, and a wide variety of human rights violations. There is a glaring contrast between the level of official responsibility and the systematic nature of the violence exchanged between Palestinian individuals and the state of Israel. The media has attributed our search for freedom to “terrorism”, thus making the Palestinian the international prototype for the terrorist. This impression has shaped Western public consciousness and resulted in an international bias that tends to convey instances of violence against Palestinian civilians in neutral language, reducing Palestinian losses to mere statistics, while using emotional language and visuals to describe Israeli losses.
The negotiations with Israel have given us nothing but promises of autonomy over our impoverishment, implementing what is acceptable to the mighty and treating facts established illegally as the basis for a settlement. Most missing in this peace process was an honest peace broker. The United Nations has been unable to take steps to ensure the implementation of Palestinian rights. The world has offered not a single remedy for the numerous wrongs Palestinians have endured; the American veto in the Security Council has been used repeatedly against the broad consensus calling for an international monitoring presence in the West Bank and Gaza. The relentless denial of Palestinian rights without an effective international response has left us acutely aware that self-help is our only hope. We are facing a brutal occupation with bare chests and empty arms.
International law gives a people fighting an illegal occupation the right to use “all necessary means at their disposal" to end their occupation, and the occupied “are entitled to seek and receive support" (I quote here several United Nations resolutions). Armed resistance was used in the American revolution, the Afghan resistance against Russia, the French resistance against the Nazis, and even in the Nazi concentration camps, or more famously in the Warsaw Ghetto. Palestinian resistance varies from that which is non-violent and widespread: simply continuing to live, study, pray and plant in occupied land despite all the odds, to active resistance and the use of violence. This violent resistance can be defensive (and to my mind morally acceptable), such as the resistance of the fighters of Jenin refugee camp as Israeli death machines approached, or in the form of unacceptable offensive acts, such as the bombing of Israelis celebrating a Passover meal. In all these cases, it is individuals that choose their form of resistance; the choices they make should not color the entire nation. And, as we have seen, both peaceful and violent resistance is met with profound state violence from the Israeli side. The death of American activist Rachel Corrie is evidence of that.
Violent resistance arises from an inhuman military occupation, one that levies punishment without fairness, denies the possibility of livelihood and diverts the prospects of a promising future. The Palestinian people have not gone to another people’s homeland to kill or dispossess. Our ambition is not to blow ourselves up in order to terrify others. We are asking for what all other people have and deserve, a decent life in a homeland.
What is most troubling about the critiques of our resistance is that they seem to care little about our suffering, the withholding of what we once possessed, and the violation of our most basic rights. Our murder leaves those critics cold. Our peaceful, everyday struggle to have a decent life leaves no impression. There is outrage and condemnation when some of us follow the instinct of retaliation and revenge. Israeli security is deemed more important than our livelihood; Israeli children more human than ours; Israeli pain more inflammatory than ours. They dismiss us as terrorists, enemies of human life and civilization. And so I emphasize, it is not for their sake that we must revisit our resistance, but because we care about Palestinian morality and morale.
To submit to injustice is incompatible with psychological health. Resistance is a right, a duty and a remedy for the oppressed. It is important, however, to design limits for the use of arms. Palestinian resistance must be explored and assessed from the perspectives of law, morality and politics, taking timing and context into account and with sensitivity for widely-shared norms of behavior. Palestinians need to be creative in providing effective peaceful alternatives for resistance that can invite the progressives of the world to join our struggle. The strength of the Palestinian plight lies in its moral, humanitarian characteristics; we should find moral, humanitarian means to protect that strength.