Anj — Joseph Massad — Israel's right to defend itself

Topic(s): Palestine / Israel | Comments Off on Anj — Joseph Massad — Israel's right to defend itself

To understand the horrific absurd, one sometimes needs to work with the language of the absurd. -rg
Israel’s right to defend itself
Joseph Massad, The Electronic Intifada, 20 January 2009
Palestinians inspect a mosque in Gaza City destroyed by Israel during
its 22 days of attacks on the Gaza Strip that killed more than 1,300
Palestinians, 18 January 2009. (Wissam Nassar/MaanImages)
Common Western political wisdom has it that when Western countries
support Israeli military action against Arab countries or the
Palestinian people, they do so because they support Israel’s right to
defend itself against its enemies.
This has always been established wisdom in Israel itself, even before
the colonial settlement was established, wherein its predatory army is
ironically named the Israel Defense Forces, not unlike the South African
apartheid army, which was also known as the South African Defense
Forces. This defensive nomenclature is hardly exclusive to Israel and
South Africa, as many countries rushed after World War II to rename
their Ministries of “War” as Ministries of “Defense.” Still, Israel’s
allegedly defensive actions define every single war the colonial
settlement has ever engaged in, even and especially when it starts these
wars, which it has done in all cases except in 1973.
Thus the war of 1948 which Zionist militias started against the
Palestinian people on 30 November 1947, a day after a Western-controlled
United Nations General Assembly issued the Partition Plan, is presented
as “defensive,” as was its expulsion of about 400,000 Palestinians
before 15 May 1948, i.e. before the day on which three Arab armies (the
Egyptian, Syrian, and Iraqi armies) invaded the area that became Israel
(Lebanon hardly had an army to invade with and hardly managed to
retrieve two Lebanese villages that Israel had occupied, and Jordanian
forces only entered the areas designated by the UN plan for the
Palestinian state, and East Jerusalem which was projected to fall under
UN jurisdiction).
Yet until this very day, Israel, its Western and Arab and Palestinian
allies, seem to agree with the major Israeli lie that the refugee
“problem” resulted from the 1948 war which Israel fought as a
“defensive” war and that the responsibility of the refugees lies with
the Arab governments who “started” the war. While the remaining 370,000
Palestinians Israel expelled were driven out after 15 May 1948 and
before the end of January 1949 (when armistice talks began), they could
ostensibly be included in the argument that their expulsion was a result
of the war, but it remains unclear why the first 400,000 would be
included in that category. The thousands of Palestinians who would be
expelled after the armistice agreements were signed, especially those of
the city of Majdal, now Ashkelon, whose population was loaded onto
trucks and expelled to Gaza, does not even enter these calculations.
The argument in fact must be extended to the post-15 May refugees. After
all, it was Zionist expulsions of the Palestinians for over five months
prior to the Arab armies’ intervention in May 1948 that was used as a
casus belli for the Arab armies whose intervention was carried out under
the banner of defending Palestine and the Palestinians against Zionist
aggression. None of this however seems to matter and Zionist aggression
against the Palestinian people and their UN-designated state continues
to be presented as part of “Israel’s right to defend itself.”
Ironically, Israel’s unprovoked invasion of Egypt in 1956 and occupation
of Sinai also seems to fall under the category of Israel’s right to
defend itself as far as the Israelis were concerned, although United
States President Dwight Eisenhower and the Soviet Union thought
otherwise at the time, which forced Israel to withdraw. Israel’s massive
invasions of three Arab countries in 1967 was/is also presented as
another defensive war, wherein if it is ever admitted that Israel is the
party that started the war, the admission is quickly followed by the
“explanation” (hasbara in Hebrew, which is also the word for
“propaganda”) that it was a “preemptive” war in which Israel was
“defending” itself. This also applies to Israel’s 1978 and 1982 and 2006
invasions of Lebanon, its continued occupation of the West Bank and East
Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, its siege of Gaza, and its massacres
against the Palestinians there in the last three weeks.
The logic goes as follows: Israel has the right to occupy Palestinian
land, lay siege to Palestinian populations in Bantustans surrounded by
an apartheid wall, starve the population, cut them off from fuel and
electricity, uproot their trees and crops, and launch periodic raids and
targeted assassinations against them and their elected leadership, and
if this population resists these massive Israeli attacks against their
lives and the fabric of their society and Israel responds by
slaughtering them en masse, Israel would simply be “defending” itself as
it must and should.
Indeed, as The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, the best friend
of Israel and the Saudi ruling family, has argued recently, in doing so,
Israel is engaged in a pedagogical exercise of “educating” the
Palestinians. Perhaps many of the Arab businessmen’s associations who
regularly invite Friedman to speak to their organizations in a number of
Arab countries and pay him an astronomical speaking fee can invite him
back to educate them on Israel’s pedagogical methods and on The New York
Times’ war propaganda on behalf of Israel.
The major argument here is two-fold, namely that while Israel has the
right to defend itself, its victims have no similar right to defend
themselves. In fact, the logic is even more sinister than this and can
be elucidated as follows: Israel has the right to oppress the
Palestinians and does so to defend itself, but were the Palestinians to
defend themselves against Israel’s oppression, which they do not have a
right to do, Israel will then have the right to defend itself against
their illegitimate defense of themselves against its legitimate
oppression of them, which it carries out anyway in order to defend
itself legitimately.
This is why, not only does Israel have the right to arm itself and to be
a nuclear power and to have a military edge over the combined militaries
of the entire region in which it lives, but it also must ensure that the
military power of its neighbors is used to quell the Palestinians and
not Israel, indeed to help Israel lay siege to the resisting
Palestinians. When and if Palestinians try to arm themselves to defend
their lives against Israeli invasions and slaughter, Israel makes every
effort to prevent them from doing so and considers this “illegal
The recent signing of an agreement between Israel and its US sponsor and
the volunteering of European countries (France, Britain, Germany, Italy,
and Spain) to police the waters and borders of Gaza with Egypt to
prevent the Palestinians from “smuggling” arms to defend themselves is
the most recent application of this understanding. Israel’s US sponsor
and European allies are horrified by the Palestinians’ attempts to arm
themselves (to which they have no right) in order to defend their very
lives against Israel’s right to slaughter them in order to defend
Indeed, Israel has included the erstwhile Palestinian leadership for the
last 15 years in its efforts to repress all Palestinians who resist its
right to defend itself by oppressing them. This is precisely why the
Palestinian Authority (PA) was created in the first place. The PA that
the Oslo Agreement established on paper in autumn 1993 and came to life
in the form of institutions and a collaborating Palestinian elite in
1994 has finally, however, come to an end in the winter of 2009. While
the PA tried its best to be a repressive force on behalf of Israel and
has killed scores of Palestinians who resisted the occupation and PA
collaboration since 1994, its ability to control the surge of
Palestinian resistance was checked by its failure to win the last
elections and its failure to defeat Hamas militarily. Fifteen years
after its establishment, the PA has run its course. In Gaza, Israel
destroyed all the bureaucratic and administrative offices of the PA run
by Hamas and thus has returned Hamas by default to its erstwhile status
as the major Palestinian guerrilla group resisting Israel’s illegal
occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Israel’s criminal siege
of Gaza, and Israel’s ongoing ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian
In the West Bank, the process of finishing off the PA has been more
gradual. While an ambivalent war against the PA started with Israel’s
reinvasion of West Bank cities and towns (around which it had redeployed
earlier) in 2002, a reassessment occurred after Yasser Arafat’s death
and after his successors promised to collaborate with Israel as much as
Arafat used to before the Camp David talks in the summer of 2000.
Israel’s kidnapping of Hamas officials elected in January 2006 to the
Palestinian Legislative Council and its government ministers, followed
by the war launched against Hamas officials and rank and file members by
the Fatah leadership who lost the elections, and by the illegal coup
d’etat staged in collaboration with the US and Israel against Hamas with
success in the West Bank and with utter failure in Gaza by Mahmoud Abbas
and his cronies, have sealed the fate of the PA. The final coup de
grâce came in the last few days when the term of Abbas in office
ended on 9 January 2009, his ongoing illegal attempts to extend his term
for one more year notwithstanding.
Abbas was the only member of the collaborating group in the West Bank
that still had any legitimate and legal status given to him by the
elections. Today, as a result, there is no longer a Palestinian
Authority as a legal entity or as one that has any popular or juridical
legitimacy. The PA was born by Israeli fiat and a collaborating
Palestinian elite and has died by Israeli fiat and the actions of the
collaborating Palestinian elite. Mahmoud Abbas’s absence from the Arab
summit in Qatar a few days ago, which convened to support the resisting
Palestinians in Gaza, and his characterization of the summit as an
“ambush” to divide the Palestinians have exposed him further in the eyes
of the Palestinian people as an unrepentant collaborator with the
Israeli occupation and with the Arab dictators allied with Israel and
the United States. His subsequent attendance of the Sharm al-Sheikh
summit with European powers that seek to help Israel decimate the
Palestinian people is therefore hardly surprising.
As the PA continues to usurp political power in the West Bank, it
remains clear that nothing short of a third Palestinian uprising there
will end the illegitimate rule of the PA whose collaborators continue to
refuse to pack up and leave. Indeed, the new move by the US and European
allies of Israel is to shower money on the PA in the form of
reconstruction funds slated for Gaza in the hope of seducing the
Israeli-impoverished, -butchered, and -devastated Palestinians in Gaza
to stop supporting Hamas and switch allegiance to the illegitimate and
collaborationist PA whose European funds will be dangled before them as
If a generation of Palestinian and Arab intellectuals came to believe
since the 1970s that armed struggle would not be able to end the Israeli
occupation and that negotiations would be the only way to do so, a whole
new generation of Palestinian and Arab intellectuals (some of whom are
liberal) now understand that negotiations with Israel have only served
to intensify the occupation and will only serve to do so in the future.
The benefits of 18 years of negotiations with Israel, as is evident for
all to see, has been not only more Jewish colonial settlement and more
massacres and more confiscation of land, but also the destruction of the
Palestinian national movement through imploding it from within. It is
true that negotiations have enriched the Palestinian business class in
the West Bank and Gaza as well as the comprador intellectuals and the
bureaucratic and military class that were inducted in the PA game of
non-governmental funding via the so-called peace-process, but these
benefits have been delivered to the few by taking away the livelihoods
of the many.
What has ended then with Israel’s ongoing butchery in Gaza is not only
the Palestinian Collaborationist Authority but also negotiations as a
viable or a credible path to ending the occupation. This is the
situation that the incoming rabidly pro-Israeli American President Obama
will be facing soon. The half-white and fully Christian Obama, who, when
denying the accusation of being a Muslim assured Americans that not only
was he raised by his white Christian mother and her family but also of
his belief that the blood of Jesus Christ will “redeem” him, and that he
prays to Jesus every night, will continue, along with his pro-Israel
operatives, to support Israel’s war crimes and to buttress the illegal
authority of the Palestinian collaborators in the West Bank.
Israel destroyed the PA in Gaza because it could no longer ensure its
collaboration there after Hamas was elected and assumed political power
there. After Hamas won the free elections, Israel arrested the majority
of Hamas elected officials to ensure that the Fatah leadership continues
to collaborate unhindered. The PA survives as an illegal entity in the
West Bank today, because Israel still banks on its collaboration, most
evident in PA police repression of demonstrations across the West Bank
which sought to show solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza. Injecting the
illegitimate and illegal PA with more funds with which to torture the
Palestinian people and stuff the pockets of its collaborators will
hardly make it a more attractive choice to the majority of poor
Palestinians who have been the ultimate losers of PA rule and the Oslo
In the meantime, the West and Israel will continue to defend Israel’s
right to defend itself and to deny the Palestinians the right to defend
themselves. While some call this international relations, in reality it
is nothing short of inter-racial relations wherein Jews, who since World
War II have been inducted into the realm of whiteness, have rights that
the Palestinians, like their counterparts elsewhere in the non-European
world who are forever cast outside the realm of whiteness, do not.
Thomas Friedman is right; Israel has been trying to educate the
Palestinians that it will punish all their attempts to check its white
colonial power to oppress them and that they must understand that they
deserve to be punished and defeated for not being white.
The problem is that the Palestinians, students of a universal humanism
in which they consider themselves equal to everyone else, keep failing
Israel’s racial lessons and tests. What the Palestinians ultimately
insist on is that Israel must be taught that it does not have the right
to defend its racial supremacy and that the Palestinians have the right
to defend their universal humanity against Israel’s racist oppression.
Will Israel and its allies ever learn that lesson? Israeli history tells
us that as students of racial supremacy, Zionists have always failed the
test of universal humanism.
Joseph Massad is Associate Professor of modern Arab politics and
intellectual history at Columbia University in New York. He is the
author of The Persistence of the Palestinian Question (Routledge, 2006).