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« on: Dec 31, 2008 07:24 PM »


Gaza: The Logic of Colonial Power

As so often, the term 'terrorism' has proved a
rhetorical smokescreen under cover of which the strong
crush the weak

By Nir Rosen Guardian (UK) December 29, 2008

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/dec/29/gaza-hamas-israel

I have spent most of the Bush administration's tenure
reporting from Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Somalia and
other conflicts. I have been published by most major
publications. I have been interviewed by most major
networks and I have even testified before the senate
foreign relations committee. The Bush administration
began its tenure with Palestinians being massacred and
it ends with Israel committing one of its largest
massacres yet in a 60-year history of occupying
Palestinian land. Bush's final visit to the country he
chose to occupy ended with an educated secular Shiite
Iraqi throwing his shoes at him, expressing the
feelings of the entire Arab world save its dictators
who have imprudently attached themselves to a hated
American regime.

Once again, the Israelis bomb the starving and
imprisoned population of Gaza. The world watches the
plight of 1.5 million Gazans live on TV and online; the
western media largely justify the Israeli action. Even
some Arab outlets try to equate the Palestinian
resistance with the might of the Israeli military
machine. And none of this is a surprise. The Israelis
just concluded a round-the-world public relations
campaign to gather support for their assault, even
gaining the collaboration of Arab states like Egypt.

The international community is directly guilty for this
latest massacre. Will it remain immune from the wrath
of a desperate people? So far, there have been large
demonstrations in Lebanon, Yemen, Jordan, Egypt, Syria
and Iraq. The people of the Arab world will not forget.
The Palestinians will not forget. "All that you have
done to our people is registered in our notebooks," as
the poet Mahmoud Darwish said.

I have often been asked by policy analysts, policy-
makers and those stuck with implementing those policies
for my advice on what I think America should do to
promote peace or win hearts and minds in the Muslim
world. It too often feels futile, because such a
revolution in American policy would be required that
only a true revolution in the American government could
bring about the needed changes. An American journal
once asked me to contribute an essay to a discussion on
whether terrorism or attacks against civilians could
ever be justified. 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, for the Native Americans in the past, for the
Jews in Nazi Germany, for the Palestinians today, to
ask themselves.

Terrorism is a normative term and not a descriptive
concept. An empty word that means everything and
nothing, it is used to describe what the Other does,
not what we do. The powerful - whether Israel, America,
Russia or China - will always describe their victims'
struggle as terrorism, but the destruction of Chechnya,
the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, the slow slaughter
of the remaining Palestinians, the American occupation
of Iraq and Afghanistan - with the tens of thousands of
civilians it has killed . these will never earn the
title of terrorism, though civilians were the target
and terrorising them was the purpose.

Counterinsurgency, now popular again among in the
Pentagon, is another way of saying the suppression of
national liberation struggles. Terror and intimidation
are as essential to it as is winning hearts and minds.

Normative rules are determined by power relations.
Those with power determine what is legal and illegal.
They besiege the weak in legal prohibitions to prevent
the weak from resisting. For the weak to resist is
illegal by definition. Concepts like terrorism are
invented and used normatively as if a neutral court had
produced them, instead of the oppressors. The danger in
this excessive use of legality actually undermines
legality, diminishing the credibility of international
institutions such as the United Nations. 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.

Attacking civilians is the last, most desperate and
basic method of resistance when confronting
overwhelming odds and imminent eradication. The
Palestinians do not attack Israeli civilians with the
expectation that they will destroy Israel. The land of
Palestine is being stolen day after day; the
Palestinian people is being eradicated day after day.
As a result, they respond in whatever way they can to
apply pressure on Israel. Colonial powers use civilians
strategically, settling them to claim land and
dispossess the native population, be they Indians in
North America or Palestinians in what is now Israel and
the Occupied Territories. When the native population
sees that there is an irreversible dynamic that is
taking away their land and identity with the support of
an overwhelming power, then they are forced to resort
to whatever methods of resistance they can.

Not long ago, 19-year-old Qassem al-Mughrabi, a
Palestinian man from Jerusalem drove his car into a
group of soldiers at an intersection. "The terrorist",
as the Israeli newspaper Haaretz called him, was shot
and killed. In two separate incidents last July,
Palestinians from Jerusalem also used vehicles to
attack Israelis. The attackers were not part of an
organisation. Although those Palestinian men were also
killed, senior Israeli officials called for their homes
to be demolished. In a separate incident, Haaretz
reported that a Palestinian woman blinded an Israeli
soldier in one eye when she threw acid n his face. "The
terrorist was arrested by security forces," the paper
said. An occupied citizen attacks an occupying soldier,
and she is the terrorist?

In September, Bush spoke at the United Nations. No
cause could justify the deliberate taking of human
life, he said. Yet the US has killed thousands of
civilians in airstrikes on populated areas. When you
drop bombs on populated areas knowing there will be
some "collateral" civilian damage, but accepting it as
worth it, then it is deliberate. When you impose
sanctions, as the US did on Saddam era Iraq, that kill
hundreds of thousands, and then say their deaths were
worth it, as secretary of state Albright did, then you
are deliberately killing people for a political goal.
When you seek to "shock and awe", as president Bush
did, when he bombed Iraq, you are engaging in
terrorism.

Just as the traditional American cowboy film presented
white Americans under siege, with Indians as the
aggressors, which was the opposite of reality, so, too,
have Palestinians become the aggressors and not the
victims. Beginning in 1948, 750,000 Palestinians were
deliberately cleansed and expelled from their homes,
and hundreds of their villages were destroyed, and
their land was settled by colonists, who went on to
deny their very existence and wage a 60-year war
against the remaining natives and the national
liberation movements the Palestinians established
around the world. Every day, more of Palestine is
stolen, more Palestinians are killed. To call oneself
an Israeli Zionist is to engage in the dispossession of
entire people. It is not that, qua Palestinians, they
have the right to use any means necessary, it is
because they are weak. The weak have much less power
than the strong, and can do much less damage. The
Palestinians would not have ever bombed cafes or used
home-made missiles if they had tanks and airplanes. It
is only in the current context that their actions are
justified, and there are obvious limits.

It is impossible to make a universal ethical claim or
establish a Kantian principle justifying any act to
resist colonialism or domination by overwhelming power.
And there are other questions I have trouble answering.
Can an Iraqi be justified in attacking the United
States? After all, his country was attacked without
provocation, and destroyed, with millions of refugees
created, hundreds of thousands of dead. And this, after
12 years of bombings and sanctions, which killed many
and destroyed the lives of many others.

I could argue that all Americans are benefiting from
their country's exploits without having to pay the
price, and that, in today's world, the imperial machine
is not merely the military but a military-civilian
network. And I could also say that Americans elected
the Bush administration twice and elected
representatives who did nothing to stop the war, and
the American people themselves did nothing. From the
perspective of an American, or an Israeli, or other
powerful aggressors, if you are strong, everything you
do is justifiable, and nothing the weak do is
legitimate. It's merely a question of what side you
choose: the side of the strong or the side of the weak.

Israel and its allies in the west and in Arab regimes
such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia have managed to
corrupt the PLO leadership, to suborn them with the
promise of power at the expense of liberty for their
people, creating a first - a liberation movement that
collaborated with the occupier. Israeli elections are
coming up and, as usual, these elections are
accompanied by war to bolster the candidates. You
cannot be prime minister of Israel without enough Arab
blood on your hands. An Israeli general has threatened
to set Gaza back decades, just as they threatened to
set Lebanon back decades in 2006. As if strangling Gaza
and denying its people fuel, power or food had not set
it back decades already.

The democratically elected Hamas government was
targeted for destruction from the day it won the
elections in 2006. The world told the Palestinians that
they cannot have democracy, as if the goal was to
radicalise them further and as if that would not have a
consequence. Israel claims it is targeting Hamas's
military forces. This is not true. It is targeting
Palestinian police forces and killing them, including
some such as the chief of police, Tawfiq Jaber, who was
actually a former Fatah official who stayed on in his
post after Hamas took control of Gaza. What will happen
to a society with no security forces? What do the
Israelis expect to happen when forces more radical than
Hamas gain power?

A Zionist Israel is not a viable long-term project and
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 two options. Will they peacefully
transition towards an equal society, where Palestinians
are given the same rights, a la post-apartheid South
Africa? Or will they continue to view democracy as a
threat? If so, one of the peoples will be forced to
leave. 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 seek one state for both people. Does the
world want to further radicalise them?

Do not be deceived: the persistence of the Palestine
problem is the main motive for every anti-American
militant in the Arab world and beyond. But now the Bush
administration has added Iraq and Afghanistan as
additional grievances. America has lost its influence
on the Arab masses, even if it can still apply pressure
on Arab regimes. But reformists and elites in the Arab
world want nothing to do with America.

A failed American administration departs, the promise
of a Palestinian state a lie, as more Palestinians are
murdered. A new president comes to power, but the
people of the Middle East have too much bitter
experience of US administrations to have any hope for
change. President-elect Obama, Vice President-elect
Biden and incoming secretary of state Hillary Clinton
have not demonstrated that their view of the Middle
East is at all different from previous administrations.
As the world prepares to celebrate a new year, how long
before it is once again made to feel the pain of those
whose oppression it either ignores or supports?
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