I read something last week which looked very familiar; Myanmar state violence against the Rohingya people was said to be a “response” to an attack on police officers by a small group of “renegades”. This “response” has been completely disproportionate, involving armed security forces against unarmed men, women and children; killings, displacement and ethnic cleansing are the results. Forgotten was the fact that the victims in all of this have been persecuted by the state in what was Burma for decades. The situation has more than a few echoes of Israel’s “responses” – entirely in “self-defence”, of course – to Palestinian “terrorism”, the disingenuous term used to negate the legitimate resistance to Israel’s brutal military occupation of Palestine.
It was no surprise, therefore, to hear that Israel has been arming the military regime in Myanmar; the products of its very lucrative arms industry can be found in trouble spots all over the world. Israel sells its latest weapons on the basis that they have been “field-tested” on live targets in the occupied Palestinian territories. What’s more, Israeli security services train police forces in the West on how to “contain” civil disorder; no wonder US cops are so trigger-happy against American citizens whose Black lives clearly don’t matter. As Jeff Halper points out in such incredible detail in his book “War against the people” (Pluto Press, 2015), Israel is at the forefront of the “global pacification” of civil society by police forces which are taking an ever more paramilitary role in society.
In Israel, of course, such a role has long been the norm. State violence against unarmed civilians is commonplace when the latter are Palestinians; quite apart from the murderous military offensives against the civilians in the Gaza Strip, their compatriots living in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem face Israel’s armed police, border guards and army on a daily basis. All of this is very well-documented and yet Israel has still contrived to convince Western governments that it is the victim facing an existential threat when the evidence so obviously proves the opposite. Israel’s founding ideology, Zionism, and its supporters have such a grip on Western politicians that they are blind to the reality that Israel’s colonial project has eaten away at historic Palestine for almost seven decades, denuding the land of its indigenous people and those people of their rights.
“Since we can scarcely see what is happening before our eyes,” writes Noam Chomsky in “Who Rules the World” (Penguin, 2017), “it is not surprising that events at a slight distance are utterly invisible.” Nowhere is this more blatantly the case, perhaps, than in the response of the West to Israel’s colonial-occupation.
This is a year of significant anniversaries for the conflict in occupied Palestine: the centenary of the infamous Balfour Declaration; 50 years of occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip; and 10 years of the Israeli-led siege of Gaza. All are events steeped in or associated closely with violence. It is also 30 years since the start of the First Intifada, the “uprising” against Israel’s occupation.
The images of Israeli soldiers breaking the arms of young Palestinians caught throwing stones against the troops is one of the defining features of the intifada, and yet it started as a series of peaceful protests against the killing of four Palestinian labourers in Gaza. As Professor Mary Elizabeth King points out in “A Quiet Revolution: The First Palestinian Intifada and Nonviolent Resistance” (Nation Books, 2007), the uprising was shaped by “massive nonviolent social mobilisation”. Prof. King suggests that the media’s focus on the stone-throwers rather than peaceful demonstrations helped to shift the emphasis away from nonviolence.
The same pattern was repeated in Syria in 2011; peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations met a violent response from the government of Bashar Al-Assad, and civil war ensued, aided and abetted by outside agencies. It seems to confirm Halper’s thesis that armed conflict has become the preferred status quo for governments dependent for their power on the military-industrial complex and the “pacification” of their people.
This makes the success of the entirely peaceful Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign all the more interesting. As yet another Palestinian-initiated nonviolent protest against the occupation, BDS is meeting fierce resistance from Israel, which has allocated millions of dollars and a government department to countering the “threat” of the campaign. This alone should tell us that BDS is effective and, without resorting to violence in any way, has the power to bring Israel’s state terrorism to an end.
So effective, in fact, that Western friends of Israel have decreed that BDS is beyond the pale and must not succeed. Activists are persecuted and face prosecution for daring to use peaceful means to try to end Israel’s ability to act with extreme violence and impunity against a civilian population under occupation. Such is the dystopian politics presided over by Zionist zealots in Washington, London and Europe, that a state guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity is given political, economic and military protection against unarmed protesters seeking to make Israel accountable for its actions. You really couldn’t make this stuff up.
However, the fact that it is so bizarre should encourage BDS and other peaceful campaigners that they are on the right path. People power can win, and those governments which pretend otherwise will come to realise that they can’t trample on human rights forever. Indeed, as Israel’s perceived veneer of legitimacy is stripped away by its violent and repressive tactics carried out with contempt for international law, the world will come to understand that the Palestinian response to Israeli violence is far from being the “terrorism” that Zionist apologists and pet media would have us believe; that it is, indeed, remarkably restrained.