The undeniable Palestinian right to resist occupation

Posted: December 21st, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements, unarmed protest | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off
Slingshot found on Palestinian protester Mustafa Tamimi (photo: IDF Spokesperson)

Following the killing of Mustafa Tamimi in his village Nabi Saleh, Spokesperson for the IDF presented pictures of a slingshot Tamimi had on him when he was brought to the hospital. This was to be the indicting evidence that the protester was taking part in hostile action against the army – i.e. throwing stones – and therefore responsible for his own death.

Only in the context of the occupation can throwing stones at a bullet-proof army jeep be seen as an offense deserving the death penalty, carried out on the spot (clearly, the soldiers weren’t acting in self-defense). Furthermore, as recent attacks by settlers on soldiers – including a brick thrown from close range on the IDF regional commander – demonstrated, the army’s treatment of Jews is very different (to be clear, I don’t call for shooting Jewish stone-throwers either). But there is a larger issue here, concerning the whole notion of “legitimate” resistance to the occupation.

Facts and context are important: Israel took over the West Bank and Gaza more than 44 years ago. Since then, the Palestinians have been under military occupation, which denies their basic human and civil rights. The Palestinians can’t vote. They are tried in military court, where the conviction rate is astonishing. They don’t enjoy due process. Their property rights are limited, and their lands – including private lands – are regularly seized by Israel. All this is well-known and well-documented.

As far as Israel is concerned, this situation can go on forever. Israel is not attempting to leave the West Bank – it actually strengthens its hold on the territory – and it doesn’t plan to give the Palestinians equal rights within the state of Israel.

The Palestinians therefore have a moral right to resist the occupation. It’s as simple as that.


Asked how what form of protest against the occupation Israel can allow, Peter Lerner of the IDF spokesperson unit wrote this tweet:

To start, this is simply a lie. Israel doesn’t allow any form of protest in the West Bank (well, except for settler protest). Military law demands IDF permission for any demonstration of more than 10 people. The IDF regularly declares the villages of Nabi Saleh, Bil’in and Ni’lin, where protests take place, as Closed Military Zones, and it charges Israelis who attempt to join those demonstrations with violating of this order. Palestinian protest organizers are tried for long prison terms in military courts.

But more important, the kinds of protest Major Lerner is suggesting are effective under civilian authority, not under military control. Major Lerner is part of Israel’s media war for the hearts and minds of Westerners, and the answer he gives is something that people in democracies can identify with. But this is not the situation in the occupied territories: For all Israel cares the Palestinians can have sit-ins and rallies until second coming; it wouldn’t affect Israeli policy one bit. It is worth remembering that in the two decades following 1967, strikes, rallies and general assemblies were the main protest methods in the West Bank and Gaza. Israel used these years of relative calm to introduce its massive settlement project. The only thing that made Israelis notice the Palestinians and start seriously discussing their rights is the the first Intifada.

In recent years, it seems that the West’s favorite sport is to tell the Palestinians what constitutes a “legitimate” way to fight for their rights, and what doesn’t – as if the Palestinians were full members of society and not subject to a form of control that Amira Hass rightly calls “Israeli dictatorship.” Nobody would denounce Egyptian or Tibetan protesters for such acts, but reports of unarmed Palestinian resistance are usually met with Israel claiming evidence of Palestinian “violence” – mostly stones thrown at soldiers, with the occasional Molotov cocktail. As if those could justify the occupation, while in reality they are the reaction to it.

The same goes for those organizations and Israeli propaganda units specializing in the hunt for “Palestinian incitement.” Any suggestions of the Palestinians not  viewing IDF soldiers in a positive light is presented as proof of the fact that “they are not ready” to enjoy their rights to justice, freedom and dignity – as if those are someone’s to give. What is the meaning of the word “rights,” if they can be denied collectively for half a century? Is freedom a trophy you need to win from your oppressor? What do people expect of a prisoner to think of his or her guards? Good relations and understanding can be built after the resolution of the occupation – not in the midst of it. Yet Palestinians are expected by the world not only to live under Israeli military control, but also to like Israelis.

Strange as it may seem, even critics of Israel repeat such demands, or ask, “Where is the Palestinian Gandhi?,” as though a failure to present one means that Palestinian demands are not to be taken seriously.

By the way, the Palestinians have their share of Gandhis - you can find them in Israeli prisons.

I oppose violence, in whatever form. More than anything, I oppose violence against civilians. I think that the Palestinian choice of unarmed resistance and of civil society campaigns against the occupation is both wise and heroic. But the real violence is the occupation, and all its victims are civilians.

It is not for Israel to tell Palestinians how to resist our occupation.

Netanyahu: Clinton administration was “extremely pro-Palestinian”, I stopped Oslo agreement

Posted: July 15th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off

A couple of months ago I discussed here the debate between Peter Beinart and Jeffrey Goldberg regarding Bibi and Oslo. As some readers might remember, Goldberg accused Beinart of fabricating facts in claiming that Netanyahu rejected the peace agreement.

Last Friday, channel 10 broadcast a homemade video of a visit by Netanyahu to a settler family in 2001, two years after his defeat to Ehud Barak. Netanyahu is seen answering the family’s questions, referring to the Clinton administration as “extremely pro-Palestinian” and boosting how he managed to stop the Oslo agreement – while publicly endorsing it – well before the second intifada broke.

This is from Richard Silverstein’s transcript of the video:

Woman:  The Oslo Accords are a disaster.

Netanyahu: Yes. You know that and I knew that…The people [nation] has to know…

What were the Oslo Accords? The Oslo Accords, which the Knesset signed, I was asked, before the elections: “Will you act according to them?” and I answered: “yes, subject to mutuality and limiting the retreats.” “But how do you intend to limit the retreats?” “I’ll give such interpretation to the Accords that will make it possible for me to stop this galloping to the ’67 [armistice] lines. How did we do it?

Narrator: The Oslo Accords stated at the time that Israel would gradually hand over territories to the Palestinians in three different pulses, unless the territories in question had settlements or military sites. This is where Netanyahu found a loophole.

Netanyahu: No one said what defined military sites. Defined military sites, I said, were security zones. As far as I’m concerned, the Jordan Valley is a defined military site.

Woman: Right [laughs]…The Beit She’an Valley.

Netanyahu: How can you tell. How can you tell? But then the question came up of just who would define what Defined Military Sites were. I received a letter – to my and to Arafat, at the same time – which said that Israel, and only Israel, would be the one to define what those are, the location of those military sites and their size. Now, they did not want to give me that letter, so I did not give the Hebron Agreement. I stopped the government meeting, I said: “I’m not signing.” Only when the letter came, in the course of the meeting, to my and to Arafat, only then did I sign the Hebron Agreement. Or rather, ratify it, it had already been signed. Why does this matter? Because at that moment I actually stopped the Oslo Accord.

I agree with Gidon Levy: this item should have gotten much more attention. One could only imagine how history could have looked if Netanyahu carried out Israel’s part in the peace agreement.

The frontline of Palestinian protest: a Friday visit to Naalin and Nabi Salih

Posted: April 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News, The Right, The Settlements, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Friday was full of events for Israeli lefties: the usual afternoon demonstration took place in Sheikh Jerrah, the NIF held a gathering in south Tel Aviv which happened to take place on the same day another smearing article against them appeared on Maariv; and I joined activist/blogger Joseph Dana on the weekly protest in the Palestinian villages of Naalin and Nabi Salih.


Naalin, West Bank – The first thing that strikes you in Naalin is how small the protest is. Listening to the Israeli media describing the demonstration against the security barrier, one imagines thousands of Palestinians, accompanied by violent leftwing and international activists, marching on the nearby settlements and from there to Tel Aviv. In reality, there are several dozens of young Palestinians and a handful of activists who desperately try to keep the fight to get their village’s lands back alive.

The story in Naalin is very simple: the village was one of the victims of Israel’s decision to construct its security barrier well inside the West Bank, on Palestinian land and around most big settlements. A fence – and later on, a wall – was built a few hundreds meters from the houses of Naalin, separating the village’s poor farmers from about a quarter of their land.

The peak of the protest was during the work on the fence, around 2008. The army’s responds was brutal: 5 protesters, including an 11 years old kid, were killed, many more injured. Most Palestinian activists were arrested and are kept under Administrative Detention. Israelis who tries to help the villagers are constantly harassed and arrested as well, international activists are deported.

In the early afternoon, a few dozens Palestinians, men and boys, walk with flags walk to the wall at the edge of the village. They start shouting in Arab, Hebrew and English “this wall will fall”. Behind the wall is the security fence itself. The protesters try to plant a flag on the wall and some throw stones on the fence. The soldiers on the other side of the fence respond immediately with tear gas. The protesters move back, than some throw stones, the soldier respond with more gas, the protesters move back, and this goes on for a couple of hours.

The handful of Israelis and international activists are not throwing stones nor shouting. Most of them just stand quietly; some take pictures and videos of the events. The assumption is that their presence helps tame the soldiers and brings comfort and moral support to the village’s people. The soldiers keep shooting tear gas, four or five grenades at a time. From time to time the wind carries the gas in our direction. At one point, my eyes and mouth burn real bad, but the effect lasts just for for a few minutes.

Read the rest of this entry »

It’s the occupation, stupid / some thoughts on the Intifada’s 22ed anniversary

Posted: December 13th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, The Right, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »
Hebron, 1990 (photo: Nathan Alpert)

Hebron, 1990 (photo: Nathan Alpert)

Last week marked 22 years to the first Intifada, the Palestinian popular uprising which broke in Jebalia refugee camp following a deadly car accident near the Erez Crossing on December 8th, 1987.

Surprisingly enough, I hardly saw any mention of this on the Israeli media. It is not one of this nice “round’ anniversaries that editors love, like 10 or 25 years, but given the importance of the Intifada – alongside with the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, it’s probably the central event of the decade in the Middle East – you would expect something.

On second though, perhaps this momentary amnesia is understandable. There is something about the first Intifada which doesn’t fit the Israel narrative regarding the relations with the Palestinians. We tell again and again the story of the peace-seeking-Israelis and the Arab-rejectionism, yet prior the first Intifada Israel had 20 years to hand the Palestinians some rights, but we didn’t seem to be in a hurry. Israel did promised to hand the Palestinians autonomy – not even independence, just a chance to manage their own business – as part of the 1979 peace agreement with Egypt, but when the moment came to deliver, we chose instead to built more settlements.

By today’s standards, the first Intifada was almost a peaceful struggle. There were violent demonstrations and stones throwing, as well as cases of stabbings, but rallies and general strikes played an important part in the protest. In the first few days, even weeks, the Intifada had no leaders – certainly not the PLO, who was just as surprised as Israel by the events. The Israeli Right likes to see every Arab move as part of “the phased plan” against Israel, but no reasonable person can find in the first Intifada this sort of well orchestrated attempt to destroy the Jewish state. It was a popular uprising. A violent one, perhaps, but given the living conditions of the Palestinians (Jebalia Camp, where the Intifada started, is said to be one of the most crowded places on earth, if not the crowded), the twenty years of military rule they suffered, the taking of their lands, and the total lack of hope that things might get better – the Intifada was justified.

It was not about destroying Israel. It was about the occupation.

More than ever, it is important to remember this fact. when it comes to the Palestinian problem, Israeli governments have been raising all sort of Issues, demands and sub-narratives, sometimes very successfully.  But in the last forty years, the fundamental problem is not security, because Israel wasn’t willing to leave the West bank or give the Palestinians their rights even when there wasn’t terrorism; it is also not some Arab governments’ refusal to normalize relations with Israel; it is not Iran or Syria, and it is not the lack of water or the question of access to holy places. All these are important issues that influence and are influenced by what’s happening between Israelis and Palestinians, but the heart of the matter is that Israel is keeping millions of people for 42 years now without civil rights, and without offering any serious solution to this problem.

Here is a naïve question: why is it the world that has to beg Israel to freeze the settlements or hand the Palestinians their rights? Don’t Benjamin Netanyahu or Ehud Barak – who take pride in “the only democracy in the Middle East” – understand that you can’t keep people with no rights for decades, so they must have Barack Obama explain that to them? And if Obama didn’t exist, and Netanyahu could have gotten everything his way, what does he think should be done with the Palestinians?

Me and some other reporters tried to ask Netanyahu this when he came to my paper just before the elections. He didn’t come up with a serious answer.

It’s not about Obama, It’s the occupation, stupid. Read the rest of this entry »

Back in the West Bank (part II)

Posted: August 16th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: this is personal, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

It’s been nine years since my previous military service in the West Bank. Back than, I promised myself that it was the last time I took such an active part in the occupation, but I didn’t keep my word. In the last three weeks I have been stationed in a small base in the Jordan Valley area, north of Jericho. I have a few more days to go. In my previous post I discussed the reason that brought me there. Now I’d like to report some of the things I’ve seen and learned.

The first thing one notices upon returning to the WB are the increased limitations on the Palestinians’ lives. When I was called to the territories for the first time, in 1993, Palestinians traveled freely into and out of the West Bank. During the Oslo days, the WB and Gaza were sealed. Now, after the second Intifada, Palestinians can’t even travel freely between their own towns and villages (though some of the roadblocks were removed recently). Most Palestinians are not allowed to use highway 90, going along the Jordan Valley, and some other main roads as well. The result is that on the West Bank Highways, you only see cars with the yellow Israeli license plates.

There are, however, exceptions. Some Palestinian Authority officials are allowed to pass through roadblocks. Others have permits to work at a certain settlements, or inside Israel, on the other side of the Green Line. Some live near the major highways, so they are issued a special permit to use certain roads which are normally reserved for Israelis. All this leads to an incredibly bureaucratic system of permits and approval, issued and renewed every few months by the army and with the supervision of the Shin Beit (the powerful internal security bureau). In most roadblocks and checkpoints one can find thick leaflets explaining the rights granted to the Palestinians by every permit. And when the permits are not enough, each Palestinian is registered on the IDF computer, so it’s possible to check where he is allowed to be, if he can use a specific “Israelis only” road, where can he work, etc.

This complicated system is operated, at ground level, by 20 years old kids or by reservists on units such as mine. Read the rest of this entry »

Nonviolence? Israel prefers the Hamas

Posted: April 22nd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off

Ibrahim abu-Rakhma, a 31-year-old Palestinian, was killed during Friday’s weekly anti-separation fence demonstration in Bil’in. Abu-Rakhma was shot in the chest with a tear-gas grenade, launched from a distance of some 30 meters from him by IDF soldiers. The soldiers were under no threat at any stage of the demonstration, as this video of the incident clearly shows.

The death of Abu-Rakhma, a civilian from Bil’in who protested the taking of his own village’s land, is not only sad and unjustified, but also carries a bad lesson for both Palestinian and Israelis.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Problem with Barak

Posted: November 2nd, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: The Left | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Colonel Yaakov Vilian had one of the most sensitive jobs in the Israeli administration: until a year ago, he was the intelligence officer of the Prime Minister’s office. Every day he had to prepare a resume of the most important information gathered by the IDF and the other security services, including the Mossad and the Shabak, report it to the PM, and be prepared to answer any question. To Ariel Sharon he even read the daily briefing out loud sometimes.

Vilian was considered a very professional and non-partisan officer. That’s why he was able to serve under four different PMs, from the right and the left alike. This weekend he gave Ben Caspit from Maariv his first interview ever, in which he revealed some very interesting inside information on Ehud Barak’s negotiations with the Palestinians and the Syrians during his short term in office (the second Intifada started after the failure of the Camp David talks between Barak and Arafat on the summer of 2000; the negotiations with Syria collapsed several months earlier). Here are some experts from this interview:

Q: Didn’t the Intelligence warn PM Ehud Barak from another round of violence in case the Camp David negotiations fail?

A: “They did. And there were memos written, but the head of state can decide do what he wants. That’s why he’s there. He has the right to ignore the intelligence. Maybe he thinks the intelligence units are unaware of all factors, that he can still make it. In his view, [going to] Camp David was a daring move, a leap forward, and one couldn’t tell which way it would turn. So he was warned that if he fails it will end in a clash, but in his mind he didn’t give up anything there, not an inch of land. By the way, it wasn’t only the intelligence that warned him. [Then ministers] Shimon Peres warned him, Haim Ramon warned him. Everyone did.”

Q: Did Yasser Arafat initiate the Intifada, or was he dragged into it?

A: “when the violence started, Barak sent me a note asking me just that. I wrote him my opinion… it could well have been that Arafat had lost control over the events. It could have been that even if he would have ordered to stop the violence, his people wouldn’t understand how to interpret this, if it’s for real or not. The Intifada fed itself. It moved on i’s own.”

Q: The Question is whether Arafat wanted it or not.

A: “I can’t say if Arafat planned for it to go on for years. He might have wanted something much shorter, but it got out of hand. I don’t know of any meeting between Arafat and his people in which he ordered them to start the Intifada. But I don’t know of any opposite order as well.”

In his famous 2002 interview to Bennie Morris in the “New York Review of Books”, Barak (who already left his office) rejected the notion that the Palestinians were dragged to Camp David, and that the talks were bound to failure. He also claimed that the level of violence on the Palestinian side was under Arafat’s complete control at all times. But as we learn now, Barak was warned that he is pushing the Palestinians into a corner, and that the outcome might be catastrophic.

In the months and years to follow Camp David, Barak continued insisting it was a bald move that “exposed Arafat’s true face.” He continue to claim so even now. I think Camp David also exposed some things about Ehud Barak, his style of decision making and his political philosophy.

On two matters it seems that Barak did do the right thing, at least in Colonel Vilian’s opinion:

The first is that contrary to what some of Barak advisors had said in the past, Vilian believes that there was no real opportunity to reach a peace agreement with Hafiz al-Assad when Israel and Syria met in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, on January 2000.

Assad the father was in no condition for a move like that at the time,” says Vilian. “He was shifting between Alzheimer and Parkinson, and suffered from dementia attacks, and Barak knew it. I wrote him a memo on the matter. Physically, Assad couldn’t have gone for such a move.”

Vilian also gives Barak credit for a correct reading of the situation on the matter of the withdrawal from South Lebanon:

He [Barak] was warned [by the intelligence] from something that eventually didn’t happen. He was told that if we were to leave Lebanon, the North of Israel will immediately turn into a war zone. He was warned that it will be a catastrophe. It didn’t happen. You got to give him credit for that.”

What’s the final score for Barak? It has been, and will be for some time, the big debate in the left wing in Israel. I think Barak has a tendency towards dangerous arrogance, that leads him believe strongly in unilateral acts (even when they are disguised as a bilateral process, like in Camp David). But some people, like Meretz’s Zehava Gal-On, think he is the only leader willing and able to take the bald steps necessary to move forward the peace train. This has yet to be proven.