Rockets and the Gaza resistance

July 16, 2014

Israel claims its assaults on Gaza are a defensive response, but there's really no comparison between the rockets of Hamas and the missiles of Israel, writes Siddharth Patel.

GAZA HAS already suffered through more than a week of bombing massacres as part of an offensive Israel has named Operation Protective Edge. The Israeli military has killed nearly 200 Palestinians--80 percent of them civilians and about 20 percent of them children.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the "targeting and destruction of residential properties in Gaza is the main cause of civilian casualties." Clearly, these casualties are not "collateral damage"--in practical terms, they are intentional.

Air strikes on the homes of suspected Palestinian "militants" are really a form of collective punishment, since they target the families, family property and neighbors of anyone Israel puts on its kill list. And that's besides the fact that the term "militant" in this context is meant to cover up the reality that the Palestinian resistance is made up largely of civilians, without much training or weaponry.

Despite all this, the mainstream media narrative about the violence today is that they grow out of mutual "hostilities" and an "exchange of fire." If only Hamas would stop firing rockets from its territory in Gaza, Israel would consider a ceasefire, so the story goes.

Above: Aftermath of a Gaza rocket attack on Israel that left none dead, none injured and no infrastructure damage; below: Aftermath of an Israeli missile attack on Gaza that left 42 dead, 69 injured and a residential area obliterated
Above: Aftermath of a Gaza rocket attack on Israel that left none dead, none injured and no infrastructure damage; below: Aftermath of an Israeli missile attack on Gaza that left 42 dead, 69 injured and a residential area obliterated

Never mind that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has given no such conditions for a ceasefire. Never mind that the current round of collective punishment ostensibly began in response to the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers who were known to be dead before the assault began.

Even if we in the Palestine solidarity movement reject entirely the mainstream framing of the current attack on Gaza, it is still worth taking the time to answer the question: What do we say about the rockets fired at Israeli cities?

First, any comparison of the tonnage and capabilities of the rockets and missiles exchanged to date between Israel and Gaza would show that there is no comparison to speak of. Even more telling is the comparison--or lack of comparison--between the casualties caused on either side. Nearly 200 Palestinians have died, and more than 1,000 have been injured--compared to one dead and 22 injured on the Israeli side (and most of the Israeli injuries have not been from Palestinian rockets).

In terms of damage to infrastructure, the outcomes of the rocket attacks are so uneven that Diane Sawyer and ABC News resorted to using an image of destruction in Gaza while lamenting damage done to Israel.

So there is really no material comparison between Palestinian rocket fire and Israeli air and missile strikes. None.

What's more, the vast majority of Palestinian resistance is nonviolent--in the form of demonstrations at the apartheid wall, hunger strikes in prison, or the global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, to name just a few. We should recognize and reject the distorted lens that the corporate, imperial media apply to the Palestinian resistance.

THAT SAID, there is a philosophical or moral quandary voiced from time to time: Isn't it still wrong to fire rockets at civilians? I want to look at this question, without getting into a debate about nonviolence as a principle.

We should start with the fact that Gaza and the West Bank are under military occupation by Israel. International law consistently upholds the right of occupied people to armed resistance against the occupier. Even if it didn't, the Palestine solidarity movement should base itself on the principle of self-determination for the oppressed, which in this context means we can't make our support for the struggle contingent on the resistance meeting certain conditions.

The strategy and tactics of the Palestinian resistance are to be determined by Palestinians themselves. That doesn't mean that we have to celebrate all acts of the resistance, included armed resistance, but it does mean the decisions belong to Palestinians.

More to the point, we should understand that the somewhat indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza isn't how the Palestinian resistance would choose to fight. Palestinians would rather have rockets with precision guidance systems. Better yet, they would prefer an Iron Dome of their own to stop Israeli missiles. Still better, radar and anti-aircraft weaponry to shoot down or deter Israeli fighter jets and drones, and anti-tank weapons to use against Israeli armored vehicles.

As an Algerian resistance leader famously said to a French journalist in the film The Battle of Algiers: "Of course, if we had your airplanes, it would be a lot easier for us. Give us your bombers, and you can have our baskets." Or, as the Palestinians might say to the Israel Defense Forces, give us your F-16s, and you can have our rockets.

Lastly, we should not dismiss the value of even ineffective armed resistance. While I am a strong supporter of the BDS movement with its aim of altering the political balance of power that cements Israel's dominance, one can argue that for periods of time during the last three decades, armed resistance has prevented Palestinians from being totally ignored or crushed.

In addition, as noted by another member of the Algerian resistance, Frantz Fanon, there is some measure of dignity and humanity that comes from physical resistance. Sarah Ali, a writer and teaching assistant at the Islamic University of Gaza, was quoted in a recent article for Mondoweiss saying as much:

Most of us are just filled with anger. Rockets help us keep the little dignity we have, and they show Israel that bombing civilians has consequences. excellent, but whether people admit it or not, it's mostly violence that works with Israel. For instance, the 2012 attack on Gaza stopped, and we got some concessions...because Israel asked Egypt to negotiate with Hamas to stop the rockets.

Whether one agrees with Ali's assessment of the 2012 assault, it shouldn't be denied that responding militarily to Israel's overwhelming violence is a meaningful act of resistance that can't be ruled out for the oppressed. Indeed, it was the armed resistance of Hezbollah that succeeded in finally driving Israel out of southern Lebanon in 2006.

So where does this leave the Palestine solidarity movement?

We have no real way to level the military playing field for the Palestinians, and I don't think that's a realistic or effective strategy in the near term anyways. But through BDS, all of us can help open second, third and fourth fronts in the war of international public pressure on Israel.

The Israeli establishment recognizes the potential of BDS and is actively organizing to counter it. Every university, every union, every church that withdraws support for Israeli crimes is one more precision guided salvo against the edifice of settler colonialism and apartheid. Let's get to it.

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