Once again we hear that Israel has bombed the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip “in retaliation” for something that they’ve done against Israelis. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that his country will “respond”. Many people would agree that a person in his position has a duty to protect his citizens. Certainly, those in the White House and Downing Street do, which is why Israel gets away with murder, quite literally. It’s all down to legitimate self-defence; or so we are led to believe.
What, though, is the reality? Why is that right of self-defence never extended to the people of Palestine? After all, it is their land which is under occupation; it is their land which is being stolen and colonised; it is their land from which they are being excluded in a decades-long act of ethnic cleansing that its proponents hope will never end.
If retaliation and responses are the effects, then the occupation and colonisation of Palestine have to be the causes. There is no other way to look at the asymmetric conflict in the Holy Land. Despite what Israel and its apologists would have us believe, this is not a clash of equals, nor is it a case of a defenceless state struggling for its very existence in the face of overwhelming odds. It is, in fact, a nuclear-armed state, backed by the word’s superpowers and armed to the teeth with conventional weapons, most of them self-produced (and sold to the world for a staggering $7 billion a year boost to Israel’s economy), occupying, colonising and threatening a largely civilian population armed, at best, with AK47s and other small arms.
Israel is an occupying power; its occupation of somebody else’s land is the cause, and the resistance to the occupation by the Palestinians is the very legitimate effect; Israel doesn’t do retaliation, it is merely continuing to do what it has done for sixty-five years and counting, killing Palestinians and taking their land. That is the ugly reality of the situation. It is all very well for Netanyahu to say that his country will “respond” to acts of resistance by the Palestinians, but it is much more valid and legitimate for Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh to say that action from Gaza is his people’s response to Israel’s brutal military occupation. That is a more accurate narrative for us to follow and accept.
Should anyone still doubt this, it is worth looking to history for further confirmation. It is reasonable, I think, to start not with Theodor Herzl’s The Jewish State, published in 1896, as he did not advocate a state in Palestine, but with the infamous Balfour Declaration of 1917. This letter sent from the then British Foreign Secretary, Arthur James Balfour, to Zionist leader Lord Rothschild was a “declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations which has been submitted to and approved by the Cabinet”. The issue was never discussed and approved by parliament and it has no legal status, then or now. Balfour told Rothschild that the British government “view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people… it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine…” It was written a month before the British army entered Jerusalem during the First World War and does not mention a state, just a “national home”. Such ambiguity was quite possibly deliberate. In any case, it is interesting that the Palestinians are described by what they are not (“non-Jewish”) rather than what they are; a typically-demeaning imperialist tactic to describe the Other as not being of Us.
In 1919, the US-established King-Crane Commission determined that “a national home for the Jewish people is not equivalent to making Palestine into a Jewish State; nor can the erection of such a Jewish State be accomplished without the gravest trespass upon the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.” That has to be one of the most accurate of political prophecies of all time.
A year later, on 1 July 1920, the first British High Commissioner for Palestine, Sir Herbert Samuel, a Jew openly sympathetic to the Zionist cause, read a message from King George “to the people of Palestine”. In it, the king assured the Palestinians that despite the existence of the Balfour Declaration and “measures” to be taken to put it into practice, such measures “will not in any way affect the civil or religious rights or diminish the prosperity of the general population of Palestine”.
Samuel went on to say, in 1921, that the British government would never consent to a policy which takes Palestinian-owned land and gives it to “strangers”. HM Government, he insisted, “would never impose upon [the people of Palestine] a policy which that people had reason to think was contrary to their religious, their political and their economic interests.”
The Zionists had other ideas and the result is that there is now a state in Palestine whose founders declared it to be a “Jewish State” in 1948 and which insists that the Palestinians, upon whose land the state was built, recognise it as such as a precursor to any meaningful peace agreement. What will happen to the 20 per cent of Israeli citizens who are Palestinians in such a “Jewish State” has never been explained; some on the Israeli right want to expel them to Jordan, completing the ethnic cleansing started in 1948. Whatever happens, they certainly won’t be treated with justice as Israeli apartheid sinks its roots ever deeper in occupied Palestine.
Cause and effect; action and reaction; decide for yourself: whose land was taken from them and given to another people? Whose land has been colonised? Whose land is being stolen from them on a daily basis? Who are the aggressors and who are more justified in asserting their right of self-defence; Israelis or Palestinians?
By any reasonable legal and moral yardstick, it is the Palestinians who are responding to Israeli aggression; Israel cannot claim with any justification whatsoever that when it bombs an overcrowded refugee camp, as it did this week, and kill Palestinians, it is merely “retaliating” for something done by Palestinians resisting the occupation. Israel doesn’t do retaliation, it never has. It just does more of the same and what it has been doing for more than 65 years: taking Palestinian land and lives through violent and illegal means. The sooner that journalists and politicians acknowledge this and start to deal with the conflict in a fair and balanced way the sooner that a just and lasting peace may be possible.
Until then, we will no doubt continue to see Israel’s aggressive and expansionist colonialism dressed-up as the acts of a democratic state desperate for peace with its unreasonable neighbours. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.