By Nir Rosen
When George Bush, the US president, first entered the White House as
the commander-in-chief in 2001, Palestinians were being killed in the
Eight years later, as Bush prepares to leave office, Israel is
carrying out one of the largest massacres in its 60-year occupation
The US, then and now, strongly backs Israel's offensive, justifying
it as being, in fact, defensive.
An Israeli general recently threatened to use military force to set
Gaza back decades in much the same language used before the invasion
of Lebanon in 2006.
But despite the Israeli devastation of Lebanon, Hezbollah emerged
victorious and the Shia resistance and social movement emerged a hero
to the Arab world.
Israel is about to make the same mistake with Hamas.
Its notion of a truce with Hamas was that the Palestinians would
quietly accept the siege. Israel would deny them the basic means of
survival, let alone the basic means to create a functioning society.
If the Palestinians attempted to resist, they would be crushed.
As in Lebanon, Israel should have learned years ago that military
might cannot crush Palestinian resistance movements.
While the Israeli military again bombs the starving and imprisoned
population of 1.5 million Gazans, the world watches their plight live
as Western media scrambles to explain and, in some cases, justify the
Even some Arab outlets have attempted to equate Palestinian
resistance - and homemade rockets - with the might of the Israeli
However, none of this is a surprise; the Israelis just concluded a
global public relations campaign to gather support for their assault,
even gaining the collaboration of some Arab states.
An American periodical once asked me to contribute to a discussion on
whether terrorism or attacks against civilians could ever be
My answer was that an American journal should not be asking whether
attacks on civilians can ever be justified. This is a question for
the weak, such as the Native Americans 150 years ago, the Jews in
Nazi Germany, and the Palestinians today, to answer.
Terrorism is a normative term which is used to describe what the
'other' does, not what 'we' do.
Powerful nations such as Israel, the US, Russia or China will always
describe their victims' struggle as terrorism.
However, they fail to acknowledge as acts of terror the destruction
of Chechnya, the slow slaughter of the remaining Palestinians, the
repression of Tibetans, and the US occupation of Iraq and
Normative rules and what is legal and permissible are determined by
the powerful. They formulate the concept of terrorism in normative
terms and make it appear as if a neutral court derived such
definitions instead of the oppressors.
For the weak to resist becomes illegal by definition.
This excessive use of legal jargon actually undermines the
fundamentals of what is truly legal and diminishes the credibility of
international institutions such as the UN. The law becomes the enemy
of those who struggle.
It becomes apparent that the powerful - those who make the rules -
insist on legality merely to preserve the power relations that serve
them or to maintain their occupation and colonialism.
Colonial powers use civilians strategically, settling them to claim
land and dispossess the natives, be they indigenous populations in
North America or Palestinians in what are today Israel and the
Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Attacking civilians, then, becomes the last, most desperate and basic
method of resistance in the face of overwhelming odds and imminent
The Palestinians do not attack Israeli civilians with the expectation
that such violence will destroy or defeat Israel.
When the native population understands that there is an irreversible
dynamic stripping them of their land and identity with the support of
an overwhelming power then they are forced to resort to whatever
methods of resistance they can muster.
PLO, then Hamas
In 1948, when Israel was being established as a new state, 750,000
Palestinians were deliberately cleansed and expelled from their
homes, and hundreds of their villages were destroyed.
Their lands were settled by colonists who even today deny their very
existence and wage a 60-year war against the remaining natives and
the national liberation movements the Palestinians established around
Israel, its allies in the West and some regional Arab countries have
managed to corrupt the leadership of the Palestinian Liberation
Organisation (PLO) and entice them with the promise of power at the
expense of liberty for their people.
This eventually neutralised and transformed the PLO into a liberation
movement which collaborates with the occupier.
The focus then shifted to Hamas, a movement which won legislative
elections nearly three years ago and thus became a target for the
By enforcing an embargo and allowing Israel's siege of Gaza, the
world has effectively told the Palestinians that they are unfit for
Isolation and radicalisation
By informing them that they are not free to choose the leaders they
trust but must conform to the requirements set in place by others,
the world community is only further isolating and radicalising the
This radicalisation has increased several-fold as Israel pounds
Palestinian infrastructure, saying it is solely targeting Hamas
This is not true, however; Israeli forces have targeted Palestinian
police forces, killing some such as Tawfiq Jaber, the chief of police
- a former PLO official who stayed on in his post after Hamas took
control of Gaza.
With the vestiges of security and order debilitated in successive
Israeli military campaigns, chaos will prevail in Gaza. If Hamas is
weakened it will not be a more moderate Palestinian group which will
take the helm.
It will not be the weakened, corrupted and unpopular Fatah, but a
more extreme group who have been persuaded through blockades and
incessant Israeli attacks that compromise and negotiations with Tel
Aviv are ill-fated.
In the past 60 years, Israeli leaders have toed the line that 'the
only language Arabs understand is force'.
However, it is Israel that has routinely used violence to solve
problems. During the 2002 Arab Summit in Beirut, the Arab League
collectively offered Israel a framework to end the bloodshed and move
towards a comprehensive regional peace deal. Israel responded by
invading Jenin and killing hundreds.
Last month, Fatah launched a media campaign to revive the 2002 peace
initiative, but this, too, has been answered with Israel's extreme
A Zionist Israel is no longer a viable long-term project. Israeli
settlements, land expropriation and separation barriers have long
since made a two-state solution impossible.
There can be only one state in historic Palestine. In coming decades,
Israelis will be confronted with a fundamental question - whether to
ensure the peaceful transition towards an egalitarian society in
which Palestinians are given the same rights as Jews.
The alternative in a few years will become untenable.
History has shown that colonialism has only worked when most of the
natives have been exterminated. But often, as in occupied Algeria, it
is the settlers who flee. Eventually the Palestinians will not be
willing to compromise and accept one state for both people, and the
Jewish colonists will be forced to leave.
Despite its lack of initiative for the Middle East peace process, the
White House has in recent years been unable to dislodge the
occupation of Palestine as the main motive for every anti-American
militant in the Arab world and beyond.
It is the common denominator by which Arab populist policies are
shaped. Invading Iraq or offering economic benefits to frontline
states will not make the Palestinian issue go away.
During my travels and research, I have spoken with jihadists in Iraq,
Lebanon, Afghanistan, Somalia and elsewhere; they all mentioned the
Palestinian struggle as one of their motivations.
The US will pay a price for backing Israel. Soon the so-called
moderate Arab dictatorships that collaborate with the US hegemony in
the region will find themselves in untenable positions.
Loss of credibility
Already we see tensions increasing in the region. Damascus has pulled
out of third-party talks with Tel Aviv and Arab anger has been
mounting not just at Israel, and not just at America, but also at
their own regimes which have collaborated with Washington.
Some Israelis have started to realise their government's flawed
approach. While 81 per cent of Israelis support the military
campaign, a poll has showed only 39 per cent believe it will succeed
in removing Hamas or reducing violence.
An editorial in Haaretz, an Israeli daily, even went so far as to
label Israel "the region's bully".
Barack Obama, the US president-elect, remains silent as Israel kills
Palestinians with impunity. In his silence he expresses his
Nir Rosen is a Beirut-based journalist, fellow at the New York
University Center on Law and Security and the author of The Triumph
of the Martyrs: A Reporter's Journey into Occupied Iraq.