palestinian girl 311.
(photo credit: AP)
Several months ago, I took part in a symposium organized by the Palestinian Academic Society for International Affairs, entitled “Hamas’s Political Agenda 2010.” It took place at a venue a few meters from the burial site of Yasser Arafat and the office of current PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Independent figures from different academic backgrounds spoke on the podium in an attempt to analyze the political discourse of the Hamas movement, as well as to highlight the growing rift between the Palestinian liberation movement and the peace process.
Following the talks, the floor was opened for discussion. A former member of the Legislative Council representing Hamas commented on the effectiveness of instilling fear through the use of violence, saying: “Israelis became at some point scared to the extent that they did not feel secure anymore – not in their restaurants, buses or streets. This in itself resulted in the undermining of all Israeli plans.”
Such words about targeting restaurants and buses drew my attention, and my spontaneous reaction was to interrupt. I responded that there seems to be a misconception on the Palestinian side regarding the definition of resistance and its methods. Resistance, I said, should not mean violating international laws or killing civilians. As expected, I was immediately accused of promoting a Western colonial ideology and adopting Zionist and American rhetoric.
My accuser argued that resistance in all its forms does not represent war crimes, as the West attempts to present the matter, and that there are no civilians in the Israeli “entity.”
His words were met with the approval of several members of the audience, who cheered him – but I insisted that killing civilians, including children, is not justified.
SINCE THE beginning of the al-Aksa intifada, there have been several attacks in which many Israelis were killed and thousands wounded, including minors. The Palestinian organizations that took responsibility for these acts used several arguments to justify them, the main one being that “all means are legitimate in fighting against occupation.”
Another common position, especially among the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, makes a distinction between attacks inside Israel, which are deemed illegitimate, and attacks in the occupied territories, which some perceive as legitimate. This line of argument raises the question of the status of settlements and settlers in the occupied territories. Are they entitled to the protection granted civilians by international law? And this, in turn, raises the larger question – who is a civilian in this case? Above all, how do Palestinians see Israelis and vice versa?
BUT IT’S not only the Palestinians who must answer such questions. The language of human rights conventions and Security Council resolutions are mired in complications and ambiguities regarding terms like “terrorism,” “resistance,” “self-defense,” “settlements” and “military necessity.”
Moreover, beyond the law itself, it is absolutely necessary to demand that international law is protected from political manipulations. This is particularly important for Israeli and Palestinian societies, among whom international law would have much greater credibility were there a serious attempt to strip the international bodies that employ these laws of vested political influences.
Today, even Palestinians who identify with international norms have
questions regarding the feasibility of putting these principles into
practice. There is strong criticism of what are seen as the political
motives underlying the use of veto power in Security Council
resolutions; these motives are often seen to undermine international
justice. Others rail against what they see as a double standard when
international public opinion demands that the Lebanese or Palestinians
conduct a moral or nonviolent struggle, while not expecting the same
from other parties in conflict.
I would argue that civilians must be protected, and that this is the
responsibility of all players. Perhaps an agreement on this could be a
key in expanding Palestinian appreciation for a nonviolent approach,
which requires the resistor to take responsibility for conflict rather
than always choosing retaliation and bloodshed. We have an obligation to
do all we can to prove that nonviolence is more effective in achieving
understanding between people.
Perhaps we should remember the words of Private Boris Grushenko, a
character in Woody Allen’s comedy Love and Death who said: “The battle
looks completely different to those in the middle of it than it does to
the generals up on the hill.”The writer is a nonviolence activist
from east Jerusalem. This article was originally published in the Common
Ground News Service.