By Jeremy Salt*
‘We need to return to the basic truth of our rights to this country. This land is ours. All of it is ours. We did not come here to apologize for that.’ Thus spoke the ‘deputy foreign affairs minister’ for the Zionist settler state, a woman called Tzipi Hotovely. So let’s go along with her and return to the basics, especially as the killing of two settlers near Hebron and two in Jerusalem in the past week again reminds us of them.
Since 1967 the people of Hebron have lived under the most, racist, brutal and illegal form of occupation in the world. Arguably, it is the worst place for a Palestinian living in eastern Palestine, also known as the West Bank, as opposed to the East Bank of the Jordan River. The settlers there are heavily armed and live under the protection of soldiers, police and a racist two-tier pseudo-legal system which authorizes apartheid. They put their own lives and the lives of their children at risk by coming to live on someone else’s land, against their wishes and without their consent. Their lives on this land are only made possible by the brutality and illegal actions of the settler state.
The settlers stabbed in East Jerusalem included a rabbi connected with Ateret Kohanim, the most aggressive and extreme of all settler organizations. The photo in the Israeli media showed him in military uniform because he is also part of a military rabbinate justifying the killing of Palestinians and other Arabs wherever and whenever the Zionist settler state decides to attack them. He and the other man who was stabbed chose to live in a city under occupation and therefore are responsible for the consequences of their own actions. There is no intrinsic difference between Palestinians killing Zionist settlers in their occupied homeland and Native Americans killing white settlers in their homeland two centuries ago.
Violence is always to be deplored. Everything said about it is correct. Violence only begets more violence. Its most destructive practitioners in modern times have been ‘western’ governments even as they continue to tell us that violence is not the way. History tells us otherwise: while violence should not be the way it often is. In the context of occupation there is not one occasion anywhere in the world when it has not been resisted violently by the indigenous population. Ending violence begins with ending the violence of the perpetrator, and not the retaliation of the victim.
All of Jerusalem and not just the eastern half – the site of the second recent attack on settlers – is an occupied Palestinian city that has been and continues to be subject to ethnic cleansing. Under the partition resolution of 1947 Jerusalem was to be set aside as a corpus separatum. Violating the wishes of the UN, which they never had any intention of respecting anyway, the Zionists seized the western part of the city, driving out the Palestinians and looting their property. Many of the finest houses in Jerusalem were taken over by Zionist settlers, often by high military or political officials. These buildings remain stolen property and their occupants are plain thieves. In 1967 the Zionists engaged in a second major bout of plunder, destruction and ethnic cleansing when they seized east Jerusalem, where Jewish property ownership was close to nil. In common law the expropriation of Palestinian property across Palestine was nothing less than theft on a grand scale. The Zionists owned almost nothing. Palestine was not theirs and their ability to take and hold it for the past seven decades has depended not on moral or legal right but the continuing application of brute force.
Jerusalem is not recognized as part of Israel or as Israel’s capital even by the government – of the US – that has funded and justified Israel’s occupation and massacres in Palestine and neighboring countries. The city does not have a mayor. It has a pseudo-mayor – an occupier’s mayor whose status is no different from that of any administrator put in place by an occupying army. The presence of settlers in East Jerusalem has no standing in international law except as a continuing violation of that law. The laws and regulations introduced by the occupier have no standing except as occupier’s laws and regulations. Where permanence is the goal of occupation, and that applies to every settler, every building in which they live, every field they plough and every road they build on the West Bank or east Jerusalem, the occupier’s ‘laws’ and ‘regulations’ stand only as a violation of international law. The situation across all of Palestine is analogous. No law ever did or could have allowed the Zionists to dispossess the Palestinians and seize their property. They are entitled to return and reclaim it no matter how much time passes.
The occupation of Palestine has been maintained through successive generations of unrelieved and horrifying violence. Massively and overwhelmingly it comes from one side, partly because the occupied have been denied the weapons needed to defend themselves. It is completely grotesque for Amnesty International to put Zionist and Palestinian violence in the same category and subject to the same indictments. There is the massive violence of the occupier and the massively smaller violence of the occupied. Amnesty prefers not to make the distinction. The Zionist and western media reported two parents being killed in Hebron ‘in front of their children’ in Hebron whereas in Gaza last year and in Gaza and Lebanon in previous years, Zionist forces have murdered thousands of parents along with their children, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and grandparents. They kill not one or two but hundreds at a time. The infant who survived in Hebron was described in the media as a ‘toddler.’ Is there any memory of even one of the thousands of children killed by the Zionists in Gaza, the West Bank being described as a ‘toddler’? The man and woman killed in Hebron were Zionist settlers living on land defined as occupied under international law. That is why they were attacked and that is how they should be described.
On the occupied West Bank and in occupied east Jerusalem the Zionists kill, seize property and humiliate with the ongoing consent and protection of the state. The law is applied according to whether the victim of violence is a Zionist settler or the Palestinian subjected to occupation. Within 24 hours of the killing of the settlers in Hebron occupation forces had pounced on Nablus and rounded up suspected of the attack. Yet weeks have passed without the murderers of the Dawabshe family being arrested. This is not an anomaly. Settler murderers are rarely punished while even stone-throwing young Palestinians are shot dead on sight. The equation is not accidental: acts of Zionist terror hasten the complete engorgement of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. This is the way it has always been: today is no different from 1948. The soldiers and border police who enforce the occupier’s law know the state will protect them whatever the heinous nature of their crimes.
By moving into land which is the private or collective property of another people the settlers put themselves and their children at risk. Their status is no different from that of German civilians moved into Poland and France during the Second World War. It made no difference to members of the French maquis whether the Germans they killed in cafes or on the streets were soldiers or civilians. They were all part of the same occupying presence and there could be no mercy for any of them. When Palestinians retaliate in the same way and for the same reason, the occupiers of their homeland respond in the same way as the German occupiers of France did. They call them ‘terrorists.’ Yet who is ultimately responsible for these acts of violence, the occupier or the occupied who retaliates?
The colonization of Algeria is a close parallel case. Just like the Zionist settler state, massive violence was directed against the native population of Algeria by the occupation forces. The FLN – again, ‘terrorists’ in the eyes of the occupying French government – struck back at settlers as well as soldiers and the colonial administration. Behind the strength of de Gaulle in declaring the end of the occupation lay the weakness of the French state. It was no longer able to hold on to its colonial possessions in Africa or Indochina. Behind the strength of de Klerk in declaring an end to apartheid in South Africa lay the inability of the white minority regime to maintain the status quo any longer. Israel shows no signs of learning from these lessons.
In Palestine – like Algeria – occupation and colonization are directed by a member of the UN in flagrant violation of international law. Does such a state deserve to remain a member of the UN any more than South Africa did? Some settlers may say they come to ‘share’ the land but they do not extend the same ‘right’ of sharing to the Palestinians driven out of their homeland in 1948 and 1967. In any case, professed good intentions (genuine or deceitful) are marginal to the state ideology of settlement and displacement. The killing of Palestinians is only part of a continuing story of murder, theft, deprivation and humiliation at every level and on a massive scale. Zionism is the ideological basis of the most complete form of occupation in modern history. It is the Zionist state that is the ultimate source of violence in Palestine and the Zionist state that stands as the barrier to a rational peace.
The right of resistance is sanctioned under international law and under this law Jerusalem and the West Bank – at least – are legally defined as occupied territories. The occupier’s ‘foreign minister’ simply repeats the lies of generations. The Zionists hold Palestine by force. It is not ‘theirs’ and as her remarks indicate they are not even willing to share it. The Palestinians have every right to resist them.
* Jeremy Salt is an associate professor of Middle Eastern history and politics at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.