One evening, almost two decades ago, I was on CNN’s Crossfire sitting opposite a Democratic Congressman (who is no longer in office, having repeatedly disgraced himself in “sexting” scandals). We were there to debate Israel’s botched assassination of a Hamas leader in Gaza. They did kill him, but in their “precision bombing” of a densely crowded area, Israel also killed a dozen others – whose only crime was to be both Palestinian and in the wrong place, at the wrong time.
When asked what he thought about the Israeli attack, the Congressman began by saying that it was regrettable, but then added that, “sometimes we have to do things like this.” I know it was off-topic, but I couldn’t resist asking him what he meant by “we?” I reminded him that he was a US Congressman, not a spokesperson for the Israeli government.
Back on topic, I made two points, one related to “precision bombings” and the other to the stupidity and immorality of the entire cycle of violence. I pointed to an individual in the middle of the theatre and observed that if I targeted that person with the kind of massive bomb Israel had used in the attack, everyone around that person would also die. Since Israel did this repeatedly, such acts of murder couldn’t be dismissed as “accidental” or sloughed off as mere “collateral damage.” When you know what will happen and you do it anyway – it’s murder, plain and simple.
In that sense, what the Israeli Air Force did was no different than what the terrorist does. Both kill innocent bystanders who happen to be in the wrong place, at the wrong time. And both use lethal force with the mistaken belief that they’re “teaching the enemy a lesson,” which is the classical definition of terrorism – the use of force against innocents to create fear in order to advance a political agenda.
Two decades later, we are witnessing the same deadly stupidity still playing out. Israel still apparently believes that because they possess overwhelming power, they can wield it with impunity and achieve their desired result – to squash the resistance to their occupation. Their murder of an Islamic Jihad leader, illegal by any standard of international law, only served to bring a hail of retaliatory rocket fire from Gaza. As could be expected, Israel then responded with massive bombardments of Gaza, killing dozens, including a Palestinian family with a number of little children blown to bits.
If history provides any lesson, this will not be the end of it. Islamic Jihad is, no doubt, plotting its revenge and the cycle will continue.
What’s equally disheartening is the American and Arab reactions to this Israeli and Palestinian “dance until death.” The US Press and political leadership responded with familiar expressions of support for “Israel’s right to defend itself” – ignoring the reality that this round of violence, like so many others, began with an Israeli assassination and ultimately involved bombings that took the lives of Palestinian innocents. This is not self-defence. It’s terrorism and murder.
Equally distressing were the comments from some in the Arab media who continue to refer to Islamic Jihad and Hamas as “the resistance.” The suicide bombings of old weren’t resistance – they were terrorism and murder. Today’s rockets blindly fired across the border also can’t be classified as resistance. The only purposes they serve is to cause fear among civilians and provide Israel with the opportunity for a lethal response – in that sense, these rockets are also suicidal and weapons of terror.
After decades of this, it’s time for a new vision and new strategy of real mass resistance to challenge and end oppressive Israeli rule and end the cycle of violence.
BDS is one component of such a new strategy, as is the move towards Gandhian “self-reliance” that’s working to wean Palestinians away from the Israeli economy. The March to Return had great promise but didn’t deliver for several reasons: Israel’s unconscionable violent response to the marchers was met with a change in Palestinian tactics, and the division within the Palestinian polity meant that the march wasn’t joined by the Palestinians in the West Bank and those in exile.
Imagine for a moment, if the Gaza marches had been joined by tens of thousands of Palestinians marching towards Jerusalem saying “Let our people in”. And thousands more marching to both sides of the Wall and closing roads and checkpoints; and Palestinians in Jordan and Lebanon marching peacefully to the borders. If they sustained this and maintained a peaceful discipline, it would, I believe, hasten the end of Israel’s oppressive rule.