The Electronic Intifada / August 22, 2022
I joined Rania Khalek on her BreakThrough News show Dispatches for a wide-ranging discussion about Palestine, the right to resist and geopolitics.
Khalek started by asking me why Palestine is still central to anti-imperialist resistance.
I told her that it’s because Israel is the keystone of American imperialism in the region.
Palestine remains the last old-fashioned European-style guns-and-jackboots settler-colony and a major unfinished decolonization struggle of the 20th century.
Israel could not maintain its colonial regime without the support it receives from the United States and Europe.
In many European and American imaginations – though I doubt they would put it this way – Israel represents the lost colonial past that they yearn for. Instead, the West talks about its admiration for Israel in terms of “shared values.”
Israel is their settler-colony: Its defense and maintenance provides a justification for US and European hegemony in Southwest Asia – although Europe can be seen more as the wagging tail of American empire, rather than a power in its own right.
And for people around the world, the struggle of the Palestinians represents a David and Goliath story, where the Palestinian David holding very few weapons is arrayed against the Zionist Goliath.
Those are some of the reasons why the Palestinian struggle remains central. It’s also the context in which we can understand Israel’s most recent massacre in Gaza: This is colonial warfare aimed at subduing natives who refuse to be subjugated by their conquerors.
‘To kill and kill and kill’
I told Khalek that Israel’s view is that if it ever stops killing Palestinians it will cease to exist. This is because it is engaged in a demographic war to maintain a regime founded on ethno-racial dominance.
As Israeli government adviser Arnon Sofer put it a year before Israel’s 2005 withdrawal of its soldiers and settlers from the interior of the Gaza Strip, “If we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day.”
“If we don’t kill, we will cease to exist,” Sofer said. “The only thing that concerns me is how to ensure that the boys and men who are going to have to do the killing will be able to return home to their families and be normal human beings.”
As the traumatized survivors of Israel’s successive assaults on Gaza can attest, Sofer meant what he said.
These conditions have made it necessary for Palestinian resistance groups to develop their abilities to fight back, or at least create some measure of deterrence to make Israel think twice before launching its next assault.
Those Israeli attacks, it should be emphasized, are almost always violations by Israel of whatever ceasefire ended the last round of blood-letting, and Israel’s bombardment of Gaza earlier this month was no exception.
Although the situation remains extremely unbalanced, the resistance groups in Gaza went from using missiles that could reach a kilometer or two beyond Gaza’s boundaries to one where they can now reach Tel Aviv and even force a shut down of Israel’s main airport.
Is Palestinian rocket fire illegal ?
Khalek and I discussed both the means and legitimacy of Palestinian armed struggle and the support it receives from Iran, in the context of the regional confrontation between US and Israeli-aligned forces and regimes, on the one hand, and local resistance on the other.
I also elaborated on an argument I recently made on Twitter, countering the regular international condemnations that Palestinian rocket fire in response to Israeli attacks is illegal and even a war crime.
If Palestinians in Gaza have no other means to defend themselves or deter Israeli attacks – because no one is willing or able to provide them with the kind of high-precision weapons Israel has – then the rockets cannot be illegal.
International humanitarian law cannot lead to a perverse situation where only technologically advanced states have a presumed right to self-defense, while the only means available to a colonized and occupied people are rendered criminal. In such a situation, the only effective means of defense and deterrence must be deemed lawful by necessity.
The legal doctrine of necessity is commonly formulated as: “That which is otherwise not lawful, is made lawful by necessity.”
While its parameters and interpretations vary, what it generally means is that a person can employ normally unlawful means in self-defense when there is no realistic alternative and the means used cause less harm than the danger they are intended to prevent.
This is arguably the case with Palestinian missiles. In the recent escalation in Gaza, for instance, “indiscriminate” weapons fired by Palestinians in response to Israel’s surprise attack, caused no serious injuries or deaths, while Israel’s “precision” weapons killed dozens of Palestinians, including many children.
Moreover, Palestinian resistance groups limited and calibrated their response to Israel’s attack, with the goal of achieving a ceasefire. That strategy arguably avoided much greater harm especially for Palestinians, but also for Israeli civilians.
We also talked about what will happen after Mahmoud Abbas, the US-backed leader of the Palestinian Authority, leaves the scene. Will Israel and its backers be able to install another leader in Ramallah to continue PA collaboration with Israeli occupation forces?
Israeli fears about a renewal of armed resistance in the West Bank in a post-Abbas era seem to be driving Israeli attacks there – like the lethal raid in Nablus earlier this month.
But as in Gaza, Israel’s violence in the West Bank is only likely to drive Palestinians to refine their resistance capabilities.
We also cannot ignore how armed resistance in Palestine and Lebanon continues to be criminalized and denounced as “terrorist” by the same Western governments and media that arm and glorify resistance in Ukraine.
Danger of Israel-Lebanon war
As for Lebanon, a dispute with Israel over their mutual maritime border threatens to spark a major military confrontation, an incredibly dangerous situation that has attracted little attention.
The US has been pressing Lebanon to agree to a maritime border with Israel quickly, because a Greek company is set to start drilling for gas in a disputed Israeli-controlled offshore field as soon as September.
Against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine, European countries are in a particular hurry to start buying gas from Israel in order to replace Russia as a source.
But Hizballah, the main Lebanese resistance group, has repeatedly stated that it will not tolerate any violation of Lebanon’s resources or sovereignty, and that while it is not seeking a war with Israel, it is not afraid of one either.
“If Lebanon does not obtain the rights demanded by the Lebanese state, we are heading toward an escalation,” Hasan Nasrallah, the leader of Hizballah, recently warned.
I told Khalek that even if Hizballah never uses military force, the mere threat is enough to keep away international companies that Israel needs to develop the gas fields.
The danger cannot be underestimated.
Hizballah has shown that it has the capability to defeat Israel on the battlefield.
But since that war, Hizballah has greatly enhanced its arsenal. Israel believes its foe possesses 100,000 rockets that can reach any part of the country and which would overwhelm missile defense systems.
Lebanon and Israel have created a sort of non-nuclear deterrence – a non-nuclear mutually assured destruction, I told Khalek. No one in Lebanon has any doubt about Israel’s willingness or ability to destroy the country.
The untested factor is Hizballah’s ability to pay Israel back with something roughly comparable. The Israeli assessment has to be that precisely what Hizballah could do to it is a question better left unanswered.
Khalek and I also discussed the recent attack on The Satanic Verses author Salman Rushdie and whether American progressives have learned the lessons of their support for Barack Obama.
Watch the whole discussion in the video :
Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine (Haymarket Books)