Friday, October 20, 2017

The Palestinian Struggle for Self-Determination & the Right of Resistance to Occupation

There are only two ways. The one currently pursued by the Israeli government, in all its agencies, is the path of violent, stubborn coercion. The extreme nationalists of the Israeli right have a vision that is easy enough to comprehend; it is embodied daily in a thousand acts and signs. They want to crush Palestinian nationalism as a historical force, and the Palestinian people as a collective; to hem the Palestinians within isolated enclaves and to cut off any hope of their sustaining a national existence with a basis on the ground; and, in the course of achieving this, to annex as much land (with as few living Palestinians attached to it) as possible. In short, this is an uncompromising vision of domination and control. The right, clinging to all the violent memories of the past, fears the Palestinians and inhabits a mental universe in which the only safe option is to attack, punish, destroy, incarcerate, and contain. Such people perceive any alternative approach or action, based on compromise and negotiation and on acknowledging one’s own responsibility for what has happened, as an existential threat. Thus they are prepared to live indefinitely with ongoing occupation, in one form or another; they are also willing to make occasional, relatively minor sacrifices, like the withdrawal from Gaza, in order to ensure the continuation of the main colonial enterprise. A regime of total control, constant application of brute force, the rape of the land—all these are acceptable, indeed necessary, if the Jews are to survive.—David Shulman, Dark Hope: Working for Peace in Israel and Palestine (University of Chicago Press, 2007)
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Perhaps it goes without saying, but I’ll say it: a nation lacks the political, let alone moral, authority to ask or demand (as part of one or more conditions, say, for negotiations or ending its aggression or repressive forms policing or ‘security’) groups or organizations struggling for collective self-determination to renounce all use of violence to achieve their ends—particularly if that denial of self-determination is, as is often the case, part and parcel of outside and more powerful parties systematically failing to recognize their human rights: civil, political, social, cultural, and economic—all the more so if the demanding state itself achieved collective self-determination through violent means (war, rebellion, revolution, terrorism, what have you) or typically resorts to violence when conventional and nonviolent political methods (diplomacy, negotiation, sanctions, etc.) fail or, and often relatedly, employs state violence to assert its political will on other nations (for whatever reason: ideological domination, regime change, resource exploitation, a more congenial economic environment …). Conceding this does not amount to an implicit or roundabout justification or warrant for the particular means of violence such groups or organizations may choose in their struggle (although it’s not difficult to understand why those who are frequently subject to state terror often defend themselves with terrorist means readily available to them) for which they are morally responsible, hence accountable (consider the Sorelian-like celebration of violence or the romantic militarism that finds easy justification for acts of terrorism).1 Indeed, it may be the case that the humanitarian-inspired constraints of just war theory (especially jus in bello) should, more or less, be applied to groups like the Palestinians in their struggle for collective self-determination (this applies as well to those seeking to secede from existing states, which I believe, with Allen Buchanan, should be understood only as a remedial right, a ‘last resort response to serious injustices’2).
Speaking of the Palestinians, it’s useful to remind ourselves that, under international law, in the words of Richard Falk, “Palestinian resistance to occupation is a legally protected right,” one that arises in the first instance from two documents: the 1960 Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples and the Fourth Geneva Convention and its subsequent protocols. As argued in a couple of articles Falk co-authored with Burns Weston,
“Israel’s failures as a belligerent occupant to abide by international law amount[s] to a fundamental denial of the Palestinian right of self-determination, and more generally of respect for the framework of belligerent occupation—therefore giving rise to a Palestinian right of resistance.”
In short, Palestinians have an inalienable moral and legal right to resist an illegal and violent military occupation.
For its part, Israel has reacted to all manner of Palestinian resistance, be it violent or non-violent, with routine reliance on “excessive and disproportionate use of lethal force, including the apparent targeting of civilians and children [as well as torture and various forms of “collective punishment].” Both the creation of “facts on the ground” (e.g., ever-expanding settlements) “and the use of such force … constitute repeated and fundamental violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention, violations that amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
1. This called to mind the following from C.A.J. Coady: “Those who enthuse about violence and war with a focus only on the virtues it may promote are like people who recognise the bonds of loyalty and honour amongst certain sorts of thieves and take this as a ground for advocating theft.” After William James, Coady reminds us, the “activities and contexts in which the virtues and values [e.g. the fight for justice, enthusiasm for action, striving and struggle, courage, perseverance against adversity, comradeship, overcoming of obstacles, solidarity, and self-sacrifice] that can be exhibited in war have a chance to be less damagingly embodied [indeed, Gandhi’s theory and praxis of nonviolence provides a compelling exemplification of this possibility].” Lest the wrong inference be made, I’m well aware that governments or government agencies often resort to terrorist methods for political purposes and, given the State’s monopoly (de jure or de facto) on the means of violence, among other reasons, the horrific consequences of its terrorist acts are far exceed (to date at least) those used by non-state political actors: guerrilla groups, rebels, revolutionaries, nationalists, etc., as any student of the indiscriminate bombing of civilians during the twentieth-century can attest.
2. Please see ch. 8, “Self-Determination and Secession,” in his book, Justice, Legitimacy, and Self-Determination: Moral Foundations for International Law (Oxford University Press, 2004): 331-400.  Buchanan combines his Remedial Right Only Theory with a “supportive stance toward forms of self-determination within the state,” in other words, various forms of intrastate autonomy. On this, see ch. 9, “Intrastate Autonomy:” 401-424.
References and Further Reading:
  • Barghouti, Omar. BDS: Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions—The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights. Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books, 2011. 
  • Bröning, Michael. The Politics of Change in Palestine: State-Building and Non-Violent Resistance. London: Pluto Press, 2011.  
  • Buchanan Allen. Justice, Legitimacy, and Self-Determination: Moral Foundations for International Law. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. 
  • Coady, C.A.J. Morality and Political Violence. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.  
  • Cypel, Sylvain. Walled: Israeli Society at an Impasse. New York: Other Press, 20016. 
  • Falk, Richard. “International Law and Palestinian Resistance,” in Joel Beinin and Rebecca L. Stein, eds. The Struggle for Sovereignty: Palestine and Israel, 1993-2005. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006: 315-323.  
  • Falk, Richard and Burns H. Weston, “The Relevance of International Law to Palestinian Rights in the West Bank and Gaza: In Legal Defense of the Intifada,” Harvard International Law Journal 32, no. 1 (1991): 129-150. See also Falk and Weston, “The Israeli-Occupied Territories, International Law and the Boundaries of Scholarly Discourse: A Reply to Michael Curtis," Harvard International Law Journal 33, no.1 (1992): 191-204. 
  • Lim, Audrea, ed. The Case for Sanctions Against Israel. London: Verso, 2012.  
  • Makdisi, Saree. Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2008. 
  • Pappe, Ilan. The Idea of Israel: A History of Power and Knowledge. London: Verso, 2014.   
  • Shenhav, Yehouda. Beyond the Two State Solution: A Jewish Political Essay. Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2012. 
  • Tilley, Virginia. Beyond Occupation: Apartheid, Colonialism and International Law in the Occupied Territories. London: Pluto Press, 2012.
Further Research:
  • My bibliography for the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict” is here.
  • A compilation on for “Nonviolent Resistance in the Middle East (with an emphasis on the Palestinian struggle),” is here.
  • A transdisciplinary bibliography on the “Moral, Legal, and Political Dimensions of Violent Conflict & the Laws of War,” is here.
  • A bibliography for “Zionist ideologies” is here.


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