Palestinian Resistance: The Political, Social and Human Right of Self-​Defense

Once again the bombs are falling on the Gaza Strip, a stretch of ter­ritory ex­cised from Palestine proper as a result of con­tinuing il­legal and il­le­git­imate ac­tions by Israel. In fact, Gaza has be­come a closed ghetto, first cut off from Palestine in vi­ol­a­tion of the par­ti­tion plans and polit­ical pro­grams and then turned into a sealed ghetto, fol­lowing the demo­cratic elec­tions which brought the Islamic Resistance Party ­­— Hamas — into power. Categorized as a ter­rorist or­gan­iz­a­tion in the United States, with some of its leading sup­porters there im­prisoned for over twenty years for sending hu­man­it­arian aid to Palestinians in Gaza, it can come as no sur­prise that the Israeli and Western media ac­cuse Hamas for at­tacking Israel with rockets, rather than re­porting that Hamas sent off the rockets as a re­sponse to an Israeli attack!

This method of re­porting is part of con­tinued ef­forts of de-​legitimization of the Palestinian struggle for freedom from the yoke of Zionist gen­o­cidal op­pres­sion and vi­ol­ence. Furthermore, the con­dem­na­tions have not been ac­com­panied by ref­er­ence to the his­tor­ical re­cord: that the Zionist war, both cold and hot, against the Palestinians has not stopped for even one day since 1948, and that it went into re­lent­less high gear since 1967 and con­tinues un­abated. This con­tinuous ag­gres­sion — ad­min­is­trative and mil­itary — is never brought into the Western vision or un­der­standing, al­though a quick per­usal of the web­sites of the Palestine Center for Human Rights loc­ated in Gaza City, Mahsom Watch and Betselem provide chilling and de­tailed in­form­a­tion of this con­tinuing quo­tidian warfare.

For anyone who has not suc­cumbed to Zionist pro­pa­ganda, it is a known fact that when rockets are fired from Gaza it is al­ways in re­sponse to an Israeli at­tack, es­pe­cially when this at­tack is a blatant and pointed act of vi­ol­ence given high vis­ib­ility by the Israelis. Although Israel had begun pounding Gaza on 13 November 2012, which ap­par­ently led to a truce agree­ment being for­mu­lated, the as­sas­sin­a­tion of Ahmed Jabari on 14 November 2012, the head of the Palestinian res­ist­ance forces, was ex­ecuted in order to jus­tify full-​scale Israeli war­fare. High vis­ib­ility in this case was the cre­ation of a video of the event up­loaded on the web­sites of the Israeli news out­lets so that the viewers could enjoy a re­peat per­form­ance! The reason for this latest at­tack is given on the Israel Defense Forces [sic] web blog:

On November 14, the IDF em­barked on Operation Pillar of Defense[sic], meant to de­fend Israel’s ci­vil­ians from the in­cessant rocket fire they’ve suffered during the past 12 years, and cripple the terror or­gan­iz­a­tions in the Gaza Strip.

Their English trans­la­tion of the name of the mil­itary op­er­a­tion is in­ac­curate, and I sus­pect that this is de­lib­erate. The name in Hebrew is ‘Amud Ashan — Pillar of Smoke — a meta­phor cre­ated to elicit de­lib­erate com­par­ison in the Israeli mind with the pillar of fire and the pillar of clouds from the bib­lical story of the Exodus ac­cording to which God led the Children of Israel out of their slavery in Egypt on their journey to freedom in the Promised Land! Of ne­ces­sity, this name and this image brings about an in­ver­sion of the roles of the Israelis and the Palestinians: the Israeli ag­gressor once again be­comes the per­se­cuted victim, as per the Exodus story, while the Palestinians, im­mob­il­ized and strangled in the ghetto-​prison of Gaza, en­closed within elec­tri­fied walls and fences, are trans­mog­ri­fied into the pharaonic ter­ror­ists re­lent­lessly and heart­lessly per­se­cuting the in­no­cent Israeli vic­tims. This in­ver­sion in­volves more than la­bels: be­sides in­verting the moral order and the facts of reality, it serves, once again, to re­in­force the image of the Palestinian as enemy, as demon, as sub-​human, an en­tity not en­titled to any re­spect or con­sid­er­a­tion! It is a tried and tested for­mula for dis­tracting at­ten­tion and blame from the real per­pet­rators of death and de­struc­tion on to the vic­tims of those acts of aggressions.

Political as­sas­sin­a­tion is the spe­cialty du jour of Israel, a praxis ad­opted whole­heartedly by President Obama and his own per­sonal drone “kill list”. Using murder to de­lib­er­ately un­der­mine the polit­ical ech­elon in the hope of weak­ening it with re­spect to the pos­sib­ility of polit­ical re­cu­per­a­tion after a war is an act which vi­ol­ates the third prin­ciple of le­git­imacy of the laws of war — the prin­ciple of chiv­alry — a prin­ciple re­cog­nizing the hu­manity of the enemy. The enemy must be treated with re­spect in order for normal so­cial life to be com­menced or re­sumed at the end of hostilities.

Clausewitz’ aph­orism — that war is a con­tinu­ation of politics — is not de­scriptive but pre­scriptive. Negotiations leading to peace must be the pur­pose of a le­git­imate war of de­fense. It is in this light that one should un­der­stand the in­form­a­tion re­leased by Gershon Baskin, an Israeli polit­ical act­ivist, that the Palestinian lead­er­ship in Gaza, in­cluding Ahmed Jabari, had re­ceived a draft for a truce agree­ment just hours be­fore his as­sas­sin­a­tion. It is there­fore ob­vious that the as­sas­sin­a­tion was ex­ecuted for the spe­cific pur­pose of pre­venting such a truce. What this in­dic­ates, at the very least, is flag­rant bad faith on the part of the Israelis, but more im­port­antly, it is an­other in­stance of pro­voc­ative treachery, a sub­ject which de­serves a sep­arate ana­lysis.

The right to pro­tect human life is ab­so­lute, even if the means used are con­di­tioned. Therefore, ac­cording to all human norms, nat­ural law, legal norms and in­ter­na­tional law and jur­is­pru­dence, the Palestinians have a le­git­imate right of response. It must be re­membered how­ever, that the Palestinians have been denied a state and an ac­com­pa­nying army by Israel and the United States. Therefore the re­sponse avail­able to the Palestinians in Gaza is ex­tremely lim­ited and is con­fined to rockets fired into Israel. These rockets are prim­itive weapons and not ex­tremely ac­curate which is why they have been defined as fire­works. But that is all that the Palestinians have for their de­fense. This re­sponse is the only av­enue open for a so­ciety under mil­itary at­tack to try and force the ces­sa­tion of such an at­tack when the ag­gressor will not ne­go­tiate with you in good faith.

The Israelis are proud of the fact that their army is the fourth largest in the world, and as far as they are con­cerned, also the best, the most ef­fective and the most moral! Because of the ex­po­nen­tially huge dis­pro­por­tion in power between Israel and the Palestinians, the Palestinians simply cannot af­ford to react to each and every at­tack against them. They have to care­fully and pruden­tially weigh their pos­sib­il­ities of re­sponse which is the reason why the Israelis never have to cease their re­lent­less at­tacks of varying in­tensity. But it is also the dis­pro­por­tionate at­tacks by the Israeli army that vi­olate the prin­ciple of pro­por­tion­ality un­der­lying le­git­imate warfare.

The Right of Resistance is the Right of Self-​Defense

It can be ar­gued co­gently that since the right to self-​determination was de­lib­er­ately and ex­pli­citly denied the Palestinian people fol­lowing the col­lapse of the Ottoman Empire, with no right or jus­ti­fic­a­tion what­so­ever in the cir­cum­stances, the Palestinians are still en­titled to de­mand and fight for such rights. (see endnote).

Instead of freedom, they were faced with a reality of the col­on­iz­a­tion of Palestine by for­eigners against the wishes of the local pop­u­la­tion, a col­on­iz­a­tion which ul­ti­mately led to an ex­pul­sion of nearly 90% of the in­di­genous Palestinian pop­u­la­tion cre­ating a long-​festering and long-​suffering Palestinian refugee problem. A struggle for self-​determination is le­git­imate in in­ter­na­tional law, as it ex­presses a struggle for freedom, the basic quality of life ne­ces­sary in order for human be­ings to be able to ful­fill their po­ten­tial as in­di­vidual per­sons and as so­cial be­ings. Those who deny such self-​determination are guilty of vi­ol­ating that same in­ter­na­tional law. That this denial of such a right is the case with re­spect to Palestinians can be found in sev­eral let­ters of cor­res­pond­ence of British min­is­ters. In a letter to the Prime Minister by Lord Arthur Balfour dated 19th February [1919 LB] he states:

… The weak point of our po­s­i­tion of course is that in the case of Palestine we de­lib­er­ately and rightly [sic LB] de­cline to ac­cept the prin­ciple of self-​determination. If the present in­hab­it­ants were con­sulted they would un­ques­tion­ably give an anti-​Jewish ver­dict. Our jus­ti­fic­a­tion for our policy is that we re­gard Palestine as being ab­so­lutely ex­cep­tional; that we con­sider the ques­tion of the Jews out­side Palestine as one of world im­port­ance and that we con­ceive the Jews to have an his­toric claim to a home in their an­cient land; provided that home can be given them without either dis­pos­sessing or op­pressing the present inhabitants…

In a later memor­andum ad­dressed to Lord Curzon by Lord Balfour on 11 August 1919 a sim­ilar no­tion is repeated:

… The con­tra­dic­tion between the let­ters of the Covenant [League of Nations Covenant LB] and the Policy of the Allies is even more flag­rant in the case of the ‘in­de­pendent na­tion’ of Palestine than in that of the ‘in­de­pendent na­tion’ of Syria. For in Palestine we do not pro­pose even to go through the form of con­sulting the wishes of the present in­hab­it­ants of the country, though the American Commission has been going through the form of asking what they are.

The Four Great Powers are com­mitted to Zionism. And Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-​long tra­di­tions, in present needs, in fu­ture hopes, of far pro­founder im­port than the de­sires and pre­ju­dices of the 700,000 Arabs who now in­habit that an­cient land.

In my opinion that is right. What I have never been able to un­der­stand is how it can be har­mon­ized with the de­clar­a­tion [Anglo-​French of November 1918], the Covenant or the in­struc­tions to the Commission of Enquiry.

I do not think that Zionism will hurt the Arabs, but they will never say they want it. Whatever be the fu­ture of Palestine it is not now an ‘in­de­pendent na­tion,’ nor is it yet on the way to be­come one. Whatever de­fer­ence should be paid to the views of those living there, the Powers in their se­lec­tion of a man­datory do not pro­pose, as I un­der­stand the matter, to con­sult them. In short, so far as Palestine is con­cerned, the Powers have made no de­clar­a­tion of policy which, at least in the letter, they have not al­ways in­tended to violate…

(Doreen Ingrams, Palestine Papers 1917 – 1922 Seeds of Conflict [London 1972] pp. 61 and 73).

Despite the Great Powers flag­rant denial of Palestinian rights at the time, such denial did not and does not give rise to either their loss or their falling into de­su­etude. As long as a people wish to realize such rights, they have the right to de­mand their real­iz­a­tion. The Palestinians never re­lin­quished these rights, al­though they have made in­nu­mer­able at­tempts to reach a modus vivendi with the Zionist state. Their ac­com­mod­a­tion has been re­jected for the very reason that a com­promise and shared con­dominium in Palestine is not part of the Zionist pro­gram and never was.

We could there­fore come to the fol­lowing con­clu­sion at this point. The Palestinians have the right to resist on sev­eral grounds. Firstly in re­sponse to the Israeli pro­voca­tion in the form of the as­sas­sin­a­tion of Ahmed Jabari . (We can ima­gine an Israeli re­sponse to an as­sas­sin­a­tion of Ehud Barak or any other min­ister). Secondly they have the right of res­ist­ance to the ac­tual dec­ades long Israeli gen­o­cidal con­trol over Gaza which is bringing about the ac­tual phys­ical de­mise of the pop­u­la­tion which ex­hibits a gen­eral level of ill-​health at­trib­ut­able dir­ectly to the Israeli strangle­hold over the ter­ritory. Thirdly, they have the right of res­ist­ance against the con­tinuing in­cur­sions, raids, ar­rests, im­pris­on­ments, and sup­pres­sion of eco­nomic activity in the West Bank/​East Jerusalem. And fourthly, the ac­tual fact of their being for­cibly denied their polit­ical rights jus­ti­fies resistance.

So why are the Palestinians in gen­eral, and Hamas in par­tic­ular, de­picted as Terrorists?

The term ‘ter­rorist’ is not a legal term and has no legal ref­er­ence. It has been man­u­fac­tured in order to by­pass the lim­it­a­tions that in­ter­na­tional law im­poses with re­spect to the manner of dealing with an ad­versary. It is used to de­monize those people who do not agree with the US/​Israel/​European he­ge­monic de­mand and rule of the world and it is es­pe­cially used in order to deny such people the right of res­ist­ance, the right to struggle as freedom fighters. It is this ter­min­o­logy which has cre­ated such con­fu­sion and dis­crep­ancy in the gen­eral public’s un­der­standing with re­spect to the reality in Palestine and the ac­tual state of af­fairs that pre­vails there. But we may ask the fur­ther ques­tion as to why Palestinians are seen in the West as “ter­ror­ists” and in­transigent mur­derers, a people who un­der­stand only vi­ol­ence and not peace.

In order to un­der­stand this conun­drum, it is ne­ces­sary to un­der­stand the nature of American so­ciety in par­tic­ular, and its mech­an­isms of con­trol. The United States is a cap­it­alist so­ciety in which power is ex­er­cised by the financial-​media-​military-​industrial com­plex. A main source of cap­it­alist ex­ploit­a­tion is the oil de­posits in the Middle East, its re­fine­ment and dis­tri­bu­tion to the rest of the world. It is a sine qua non for the con­trolling cap­it­alist elite that it con­trols these re­sources and their dis­pos­i­tion. Such con­trol is not in the in­terests of the local pop­u­la­tions of the ter­rit­ories in which the oil is de­pos­ited, who are nearly all Muslims.

In order to min­imize, if not elim­inate, the critics and cri­tiques of cap­it­alist ex­ploit­a­tion, the United States uses the media to ma­nip­u­late the minds of its pop­u­la­tion, as Professors Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman ex­plained in their book Manufacturing Consent. However, since the second Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) — a title straight out of George Orwell’s 1984 — was formed to ex­er­cise fur­ther con­trol over the pop­u­la­tion through the use of poli­cing power. The events of 9/​11 have been ex­ploited ex­po­nen­tially by both the media and the DHS to­wards the de­mon­iz­a­tion of Islam and Muslims, and Palestinians auto­mat­ic­ally fall into this cat­egory. All are deemed to be ter­ror­ists or po­ten­tial ter­ror­ists, and there­fore they are, by defin­i­tion, the enemy. The level of pro­pa­ganda gen­er­ated by the media branch of this com­plex, to which the pop­u­la­tions in the West are sub­ject, in par­tic­ular in the United States and Israel, has brain­washed the pop­u­la­tion into an auto­matic neg­ative re­sponse to all Muslims, Palestinians included.

The Muslims as ter­rorist, Islam as a re­li­gion of vi­ol­ence and hatred, the Jew as eternal victim, the Holocaust as a unique his­tor­ical event, the unique­ness of which is echoed in the polit­ical mani­festo of ‘mani­fest des­tiny’ and ‘ex­cep­tion­alism’ of the United States of America, the ‘good guys” of World Wars I and II, con­sti­tutes the cur­rent pro­pa­ganda pas­tiche de­term­ining the limits of polit­ic­ally cor­rect dis­course. Any cri­ti­cism against Israel is auto­mat­ic­ally trans­lated into anti-​Semitism and cri­ti­cism of the United States is un­pat­ri­otic or even treason.

The Palestinian polit­ical party of Hamas is on the ter­rorist list in the US and sev­eral Muslims have been con­victed and im­prisoned for ex­tended periods, in one case for more than twenty years, for the crime of aiding and abet­ting ter­ror­ists by sending hu­man­it­arian aid to Palestine. Israel has never ceased to refer to Palestinians as ter­ror­ists and treats them as such ac­cord­ingly. As men­tioned earlier, it has broken and/​or un­der­mined all its agree­ments with the Palestinians, the most egre­gious vi­ol­a­tion being the con­tinu­ation of the building of Jewish set­tle­ments in the West Bank conquered in 1967, be­coming a col­on­izing power, which is in direct vi­ol­a­tion of in­ter­na­tional law. In ad­di­tion, Israel has vi­ol­ated all United Nations Resolutions but is pro­tected by the US veto, thus providing it with a long leash to do what it wants in Palestine. The reality of Israeli force, the reality of its il­leg­al­ities con­sti­tutes a vi­ol­a­tion of both the moral and the legal order. It is known by both Israel and the US and there­fore there is such vi­cious con­tinuing pro­pa­ganda against Arabs, Muslims and Palestinians.

There can be little doubt that there is no easy solu­tion for the Palestinians. Despite their rights de iure as well as de facto and their le­git­imate res­ist­ance and struggle and the use of weapons that do not come up to the min­imum stand­ards of a modern army, it is only the vic­tim­ized people of the world who un­der­stand their plight to­gether with those coming from the West who are termed rad­icals. At this junc­ture in his­tory the people have no power, but it be­hooves us to con­tinue the struggle for freedom and justice in any way we can, without des­troying the planet, as our friends the cap­it­al­ists are doing. If, how­ever, there is one iron law of life and ex­ist­ence, which must sus­tain our hope and en­ergy, it is that all in­sti­tu­tions, all powers, ul­ti­mately col­lapse be­cause everything is chan­ging and tem­porary in our con­tin­gent world. Situations cannot help but change. When such a change comes in the dis­tri­bu­tion of power, we should be ready to in­sti­tute a reign of justice and peace for the well-​being of all of mankind.

End note

The en­tire en­ter­prise of a Jewish state in Palestine is built upon an ex­press re­jec­tion of in­ter­na­tional law. The only le­git­imate grounds for polit­ical sov­er­eignty of an in­di­genous people are the laws of ius soli or ius san­guine as re­cog­nized in in­ter­na­tional law, which trans­lates into a right of sov­er­eignty based upon hab­it­a­tion in a par­tic­ular ter­ritory or being a des­cendent of someone in a par­tic­ular ter­ritory. The third op­tion granting a right to sov­er­eignty would be the dis­covery of a terra nul­lius that is an un­in­hab­ited ter­ritory. Palestine was never a terra nul­lius, and its in­hab­it­ants were en­titled to a sov­er­eign state in Palestine as part of Greater Syria, if they so chose, ac­cording to the ius soli fol­lowing the de­mise of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I in 1917 and 1918. If their chil­dren were out of the country at the time of its es­tab­lish­ment at a par­tic­ular time, then they would be granted cit­izen­ship on the grounds of the ius san­guine if they had not been born in Palestine or Greater Syria.

European Jewry did not ful­fill either of these qual­i­fic­a­tions in 1917, when the Balfour Declaration, a doc­u­ment pre­pared by in­ter­na­tional Jewish lead­er­ship, and ad­dressed by Lord Arthur Balfour, the United Kingdom’s Foreign sec­retary at the time, to Lord Walter Rothschild, a scion of the leading Jewish banking family in the world, res­ident in England, was written sup­porting a Jewish home­land [sic] in Palestine.

The carving up of his­tor­ical Palestine to ex­cise the bulk of its ter­ritory for an im­ported un­equi­voc­ally for­eign pop­u­la­tion at the ex­pense of the in­di­genous so­ciety was re­cog­nized not to be a polit­ic­ally le­git­imate ac­tion. Its de­structive con­sequences should have been ob­vious a priori, and his­tory has proved such ex­pect­a­tion ac­curate. Such an ex­cision has harmed the in­di­genous pop­u­la­tion in every and all as­pects of its life: polit­ical, eco­nomic, so­cial, edu­ca­tional, cul­tural, re­li­gious, his­tor­ical and geo­graph­ical. The de­struc­tion of Palestine, the ex­pul­sion of the over­whelming ma­jority of its pop­u­la­tion and the de­lib­erate and con­tinuing gen­o­cidal at­tacks on the re­maining pop­u­la­tion living under Jewish con­quest, only high­lights the il­le­git­imacy of the Jewish pres­ence and its con­tinuing ag­gres­sion against the Palestinians.

Lynda Burstein Brayer, a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Faculty of Law, is a rad­ical polit­ical and legal com­ment­ator who prac­ticed human rights law in Palestine/​Israel rep­res­enting Palestinians in their struggles against house de­moli­tions, land theft, and family de­struc­tion and in their ef­forts to ob­tain travel per­mits for health, study and family reasons. She lives in Haifa and can be reached at lyndabrayer@​ymail.​com

Lynda will be pleased to re­spond to any com­ments and queries via the com­ments sec­tion below.

  7 comments for “Palestinian Resistance: The Political, Social and Human Right of Self-​Defense

  1. 21 November 2012 at 2:23 am

    I simply want to thank you for this his­tory. And beyond: for caring. Just as res­ist­ance is the secret of joy, caring for others as for ourselves is the secret of peace.

    Enduring news of the brutal murder of de­fense­less friends is per­haps the hardest reality to ex­per­i­ence. All that makes it bear­able is learning that they, and we, are not alone.

    Alice Walker

  2. 21 November 2012 at 1:20 pm

    Thanks Lynda for your “sus­tain­able” thinking and cr­tit­ical writing.
    I quote Ms Walker and modify, “Just as un­just ag­gres­sion is the secret of in­tol­er­ance, caring for others as for ourselves is the secret of humanity”

  3. Richard Lightbown
    30 November 2012 at 8:45 pm


    In the end­note you wrote “The only legit­im­ate grounds for polit­ical sov­er­eignty of an indi­gent people are the laws of ius soli or ius san­guine as recog­nized in inter­na­tional law,…”.

    I did not know the word ‘in­di­gent’ and had to look it up. Oxford Dictionaries on­line defines it as
    poor; needy:
    a charity for the re­lief of in­di­gent artists
    a needy person.”

    Is there an­other meaning i.e. legal or US which might make more sense of this sentence?

    Which laws re­cog­nized in in­ter­na­tional law (and ex­isting in 1917) are you re­fer­ring to please?



    • Admin
      30 November 2012 at 9:02 pm

      Dear Richard,

      The word ‘in­di­gent’ was a typo and has now been corrected.

      Kind re­gards,


      • Richard Lightbown
        1 December 2012 at 2:48 pm

        Dear Lynda,

        Can I just re­mind you that you have not yet replied to the second part of my post i.e. Which laws recog­nized in inter­na­tional law (and exist­ing in 1917) are you refer­ring to please?

        • Lynda Brayer
          2 December 2012 at 2:05 pm

          The two terms ius soli and ius san­guinis are the laws. The meaning of ius or jus is law. These are the most basic of con­ven­tional law and have been in­cor­por­ated into all modern legal sys­tems as a matter of ne­ces­sity. One has the right to cit­izen­ship in the ter­ritory — on the soi — on which one is born and/​or (de­pending on the legal system) either or as well, one has the right to cit­izen­ship as a des­cendent of a cit­izen of a par­tic­ular territory.

  4. imnottellingmyname
    13 April 2013 at 5:23 am

    I cannot be­lieve what i have just read, you have stated what I have al­ways felt about the Middle East situ­ation using cited ex­amples and proofs in a very lo­gical manner that i could not have pos­sibly been able to ex­plain in my own words. I feel now as if you read my thoughts and put them in a read­able lan­guage on paper. I must say again that I still cannot be­lieve how ac­curate you where to what i was thinking all this time but un­able to say due to lack of words and proof. Thank you so much for writing this, I feel so re leaved there are people who feel the same way I feel. Thank you for posting this.

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