Gaza's right to resist Israeli terror

Sherry Wolf, press officer for the Russell Tribunal on Palestine hearings in New York City, argues for a critical component of support for the right to self-determination.

Residents of Gaza City carry the victims of the Israeli assault on PalestiniansResidents of Gaza City carry the victims of the Israeli assault on Palestinians

OF THE 1.7 million people currently living under Israel's terror in Gaza, 44 percent--or around 730,000 people--are under the age of 14. The 140-square-mile Gaza Strip, about the size of Philadelphia, is surrounded by the most heavily militarized border anywhere in the world on three sides, and by the Mediterranean Sea, patrolled by Israeli naval vessels, on the fourth.

By any objective measure, the Gaza Strip is an open-air prison.

So there was more than a whiff of 1984, George Orwell's famous novel about Big Brother, when President Barack Obama declared: "[T]here is no country on earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders. So we are fully supportive of Israel's right to defend itself from missiles landing on people's homes."

In other words: Nuclear-armed Israel, with one of the most powerful militaries in the world, has the right to resist. But the inmates of the Gaza prison, apparently, do not. Obama's argument flips justice on its head.

It is not simply the fact that Israel provoked the current war with the assassination of Ahmed al-Jabari, a leader of Hamas, which won elections to lead the Palestinian government--nor that Israeli leaders pulled the trigger on the brink of a negotiated cease-fire with Hamas. Nor is it Israel's phony timeline of events in the weeks leading up to the current massacre, which conveniently eliminates "details" such as the November 8 killing of 13-year-old Ahmad Abu Daqqa while he was playing soccer.

Even if no cease-fire were on offer and even if Israel hadn't been made repeated violent incursions into Gaza, the right of Palestinians to resist the terror of the Israeli military machine must be defended on principle by anyone who stands with the oppressed.

As American University of Beirut professor Rami Khouri pointedly argued in a recent column:

As long as the crime of dispossession and refugeehood that was committed against the Palestinian people in 1947-48 is not redressed through a peaceful and just negotiation that satisfies the legitimate rights of both sides, we will continue to see enhancements in both the determination and the capabilities of Palestinian fighters--as has been the case since the 1930s, in fact. Only stupid or ideologically maniacal Zionists fail to come to terms with this fact.

Professor Khouri is right. People living under military occupation not only will resist, but they have every right to do so--and solidarity activists should defend that right unequivocally.

Some Westerners who are horrified by Israel's assault on Gaza are nonetheless queasy about defending Hamas' right to fire rockets into Israel. Yet whether solidarity activists agree with Hamas' tactics or not is irrelevant--we are not the ones who must suffer under Israel's bombs and occupation.

Asserting one's horror at the occupier's aggression, yet denying the occupied their right to use whatever means available to rebel isn't solidarity--it's pity.

Gazans living for years in a prison without access to sufficient food, medicine, infrastructure and any semblance of a decent life do not need our pity. They need our active support with their fight for self-determination.

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IN THE media, Hamas is depicted as an organization of crazed Islamists who oppose all modernity, aim to destroy Israel, and are misogynistic and homophobic to the core. In fact, since its founding in 1987 at the start of the first Intifada, Hamas has combined the aspirations of a national liberation movement with the tenets of modern Islamism. It does hold positions that are socially reactionary, as do orthodox Jewish and evangelical Christian groups--though unlike evangelical Christians, Hamas is not anti-science.

But the truth is that Hamas is the democratically elected leadership of Gaza--it won elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council in 2006 in a vote that international observers judged to be fair and proper. Israel and its U.S. backers didn't like the results of a democratic election--and so they imposed the crippling embargo on Gaza and continue to inflict collective punishment on its population for the "crime" of voting for the wrong party.

In these circumstances, Hamas' military resistance to Israeli occupation is a source of tremendous pride. Hamas forces may not be able to match up to the murderous Israeli military, armed to the teeth with the most advanced weaponry by the U.S. military-industrial complex. But they remain a symbol of the determination of Palestinians not to surrender to oppression and violence.

Any meaningful defense of the right of Palestinians to self-determination must include the right to select their own leadership and the right to organize a response to the Israeli military's slaughter.

At the height of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, antiwar activists in the U.S. expressed similar hesitations about the nature of the resistance in Iraq as well. A clear response such doubts came from Arundhati Roy, the famous Indian author and activist. Her words are equally relevant now:

Like most resistance movements, [the Iraqis] combine a motley range of assorted factions. Former Baathists, liberals, Islamists, fed-up collaborationists, communists, etc. Of course, it is riddled with opportunism, local rivalry, demagoguery and criminality. But if we were to only support pristine movements, then no resistance will be worthy of our purity.

Before we prescribe how a pristine Iraqi resistance must conduct their secular, feminist, democratic, nonviolent battle, we should shore up our end of the resistance by forcing the U.S. and its allied governments to withdraw from Iraq.

Likewise, Palestinians living under the brutality of occupation--and now an all-out war in Gaza--have not asked for global ideological approval. Instead, they have asked that we do whatever is in our power to help end their misery and stop the bombings, years-long siege and occupation.

To heed their call for solidarity means defending Palestinians' right to resist Israel's terror.