The Roots of the Intifada? Revisited

“When I said last week that the Palestinians should end their violent uprising” begins Marcus Gee, the international affairs columnist of Canada’s newspaper of record, The Globe and Mail, in his 22 March 2001 column, The only path to peace: Palestinians must stop attacking, “many readers wrote to differ.”
Among those readers were people like me.
In this week’s column Mr. Gee argues that Palestinian leaders reneged on their promise, made in the 1993 Oslo accords, to renounce violence. But he doesn’t mention Israel’s provocations, and bad faith, which are central to understanding why Palestinians launched their Intifada. He says nothing of how Jewish settlements continued to be established in the occupied territories, and continue to be established to this day, or of Israel’s refusal to recognize the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.
Mr. Gee thinks that the right of return isn’t on, because it would change the ethnic character of Israel (a view which says maintaining the ethnic homogeneity of a state is more important than international law or what’s just), but Israel’s intransigence on the matter, whether he think it’s justified or not, remains an important part of the explanation of why the Intifada arose. It didn’t just pop up, ex nihilis, or out of some Palestinian predilection for violence.
Unfortunately, because Gee advances a circular “the Palestinian uprising is caused by the uprising of the Palestinians,” his argument on the origins of the Intifada is, at best, vacuous, and at worst, racist, inasmuch as it implies that Palestinians are, well, just inherently violent.
He also passes over what Ariel Sharon, a man many Palestinians consider a war criminal for his involvement in the Sabra and Shatila massacres, said at the Al Aqsa mosque. Israel will never cede Jerusalem, he declared, as provocative to Palestinians as a Palestinian saying Israel has no right to exist is to Israelis.
Mr. Sharon’s visit to the Al Aqsa mosque was perfectly legal, Gee writes, dismissing the view that Sharon’s visit was a legitimate basis for the uprising that ensued. But a neo-Nazi might make a perfectly legal, but provocative, visit to a Jewish temple, decked out in neo-Nazi regalia, declaring that the temple will be taken over. If he was then set upon, would it be said, “His visit was perfectly legal. The worshippers just chose to be violent”?
Gee has an admirable disdain for violence, but one, it seems, reserved for the violence of the oppressed against the powerful. Israel’s military occupation, backed by the barrel of a gun and helicopter gun-ships and extra-judicial assassinations, is, by definition, violent, too.
But disdain for the violence of the powerful against the oppressed is something, if Gee has it at all, that he keeps safely locked away, preferring instead to spin elaborate realpolitic rationalizations to justify the violence of an important US client state. He could, I suspect, bring forth a thousand justifications of Israeli mistreatment of Palestinians — Israel can’t quit the occupied territories now — chaos would reign; Israel can’t allow refugees to return — it would no longer be a Jewish state — but not a single explanation of Palestinian reaction to their decades-long mistreatment at the hands of the Israelis.
The violence would end tomorrow if Palestinians put an end to their Intifada, he writes. But not the violence of the military occupation.
Equally, it could be said, that the violence would end tomorrow if Israel withdrew from the occupied territories, where it is has no right to be, and if it allowed Palestinian refugees to return to the land they never should have been driven out of.
Mr. Gee probably won’t begin next week’s column with “many readers wrote to differ,” but I’ll let him know that this week’s column is also one-sided , that it emphasizes the Israeli perspective to the exclusion of the Palestinian point of view, and that while it denounces the violence of Palestinians, it accepts the violence of Israelis, in support of an illegal occupation, as legitimate.

Mr. Steve Gowans is a writer and political activist who lives in Ottawa, Canada.