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On dual standards and the hypocrisy of peace

Israel has no problem asserting an inviolable right to self-defense, while repeatedly denying the same right to Palestinians. The same state that decries Palestinian violence has no qualms meeting non-violent protests with fully armed aggression.

By Nadia Naser-Najjab

The ongoing conflict in Gaza has led international actors to reassert Israel’s right to self-defense. Any objection that these same actors have repeatedly failed to recognize, much less support, a Palestinian right to self-defense is routinely rejected upon the basis that it is not the international community’s role to take sides. Needless to say, in a context of open oppression and subjugation, this self-sanctifying neutrality is a form of ‘taking sides.’

In the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, concepts such as balance have long assumed almost Orwellian overtones: in this context, balance has been equated with the imposition of a range of inequitable requirements on the Palestinians, without any similar requirements being placed upon their Israeli counterparts.

A man sits in a destroyed building which was attacked last night by Israeli airstrike, in Al Tuffah neighborhood, July 16, 2014. As of July 16th, 196 Palestinians have been killed in the Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip, and more than 1,400 have been injured.

A man sits in a destroyed building which was attacked last night by Israeli airstrike, in Al Tuffah neighborhood, July 16, 2014 (photo: Activestills)

Palestinians are occupied and they resist like any other nation in the same circumstances. As Israel intensified its measures over the years, Palestinians intensified their resistance. Israel sliced up the land and separated Palestinians into different categories: good Palestinians and bad Palestinians. But for the Israelis the good are not good enough. We are all suffocated and strangled by the occupation, yet Gaza suffers the most. The situation affects all Palestinians and Israelis, but the Palestinians are affected on a much larger scale and physically, not only psychologically. Furthermore, we never include all the Palestinians who have suffered extensive trauma from constant Israeli aggression and attacks.

At the same time that international actors insist upon an impossible balance, official Israeli rhetoric is predicated upon a set of binary distinctions: it is as if Israel can only define itself in Manichean terms: civilized versus barbaric, sanctity of life versus culture of death. At all times there is a sustained refusal to conceive of Palestinians as equals, as if to even acknowledge the subject would somehow be a denigration of one’s own rightful status and prestige.

In similar terms, Israel has no problem asserting an inviolable right to self-defense while repeatedly denying the same right to Palestinians; or in celebrating its own “liberal democratic” character while instituting an occupation regime that is predicated upon the arbitrary and widespread use of both direct and indirect violence. The same state that decries Palestinian violence has no qualms meeting non-violent protests with fully armed aggression.

Read +972′s coverage of the latest round of violence in Gaza and Israel

As with historical colonialism, Israel’s self-righteousness is matched only by its hypocrisy. Whenever I hear Israeli spokesmen talk of a Palestinian culture of violence and hatred, I think back to the 1980s when my village routinely encountered curfews, home invasions and calculated, systematic acts of violence by Israeli troops. Local men were driven to the village schoolyard in the middle of the night to be humiliated and beaten. Birzeit University in the West Bank was closed several times by military order; I was not able to graduate on time. This punishment was consciously collective in character – there was, as there is now, no respect for fundamental human rights or any attempt to distinguish non-combatants from combatants.

It is therefore surprising to hear Israeli politicians now calling for Palestinians to disavow violence. This is just another example of the dual standards that have historically sustained colonial power: “our” violence is inherently moral, yet “their” violence is further confirmation of an inherent barbarity. The Oslo Accords did nothing to address this dual standard and, in fact, further institutionalized it.

Over the course of the 1990s Palestinians were subjected to an increasingly wide range of restrictions and prohibitions, all under the aegis of an illusionary “peace” process and in part due to the settler roads that carved up Palestinian land. Ironically, prior to the so-called peace process, it was possible for me to meet friends in Gaza and Jerusalem, and relatives in Haifa. Now we keep in touch via social media.

Travel within the West Bank is similarly difficult. Trips that previously took 5-7 minutes now routinely take 35 minutes. The short journey between Birzeit University and Ramallah has at times taken me several hours due temporary checkpoints set up along the road. There is no longer any room left for a contiguous Palestinian state.

Israeli canons at an army deployment area near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip, on July 16, 2014. Operation 'Protective Edge' enters it's ninth day of Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip as yesterday's ceasefire agreement proposed by Egypt has failed to restore calm (photo: Activestills)

Israeli canons at an army deployment area near Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip, July 16, 2014 (photo: Activestills)

There is also no sense of normality when everyday life is subject to the arbitrary decisions of the occupation’s administrators. The establishment of the “security” wall is further evidence of the extent to which Israeli security is predicated upon Palestinian insecurity; Israeli rights necessarily mean the denial of Palestinian rights.

During the First Intifada it was possible to conceive of a peace founded upon equal rights – the two-state solution had not yet been discredited among Palestinians and many Israeli peace and human rights groups actively asserted the rights of Palestinians. The Second Intifada made it more difficult for these voices to be heard, and Israel’s subsequent drift to the Right has marginalized them still further.

Even if these voices were to reassert themselves, Palestinians would have good reason to be suspicious. In the past, “peace” has served as a means by which existing imbalances are preserved and institutionalized. Even now, international interventions take Israel’s security as a non-negotiable precondition, without any mention of the fact that its current government increasingly appears to be the main threat to its own long-term security. In this sense, peace has become complicit in the ongoing abuse and denial of fundamental rights, and the subordination of justice to other imperatives.

Ultimately, there is the suspicion that any peace that is not founded upon mutual regard and the equal rights of both sides is not a peace worth pursuing or preserving.

Dr Nadia Naser-Najjab has a PhD in Middle East Studies and is an Associate Research Fellow at the European Center of Palestine Studies-Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter.

The abnormal reality of the occupation and its ‘escalations’
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    1. Richard

      I like how all these people are ending up at the same university that is so well known for being extremely mediocre. University of Exeter – home of the world’s largest echo chamber.

      Reply to Comment
      • ad hominem

        attack the insitution not the substance of the text.

        Reply to Comment
    2. john

      according to you, the Palestinian are not violent.. of course. u seems to forget to mention that Hamas is a terrorist group that it main aim is to “destroy” Israel, as well as the Palestinian have choose Hamas in 2006, meaning MOST of the Palestinian support terrorism.

      A very bias article.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Arb

      So to review:

      Before Oslo, Israel was rounding up men and beating them and not distinguishing between terrorists and civilians, but somehow, you, a civilian, were able to travel freely to visit friends in Jerusalem and Gaza. And you were able to study in a university – one of the eight Palestinian universities founded during Israel’s presence in these territories after 1967, there were none prior to 1967.

      It is extraordinary to read this article with its abstract “Palestinian violence is understandable and permitted and its critics are hypocrites” thesis because it doesn’t really discuss Palestinian violence. Imagine you’re out to dinner with your wife and three children. As they, less than 10 years old, laugh happily and bite into their warm pizza slices, a Palestinian blows them into smithereens. Then, a couple of years later, one of the Palestinian universities founded after 1967 houses an art show extolling this bombing, replete with “artistic” renditions of flying Israeli body parts.

      That is the monstrosity to which you refer in the abstract.

      Palestinians in Gaza were left alone. No Jews remained behind, not civilians and not soldiers. None. Gaza has a border with Egypt and plenty of relationships with other Arab and Muslim states. To claim that it is under occupation is a lie and to justify its violence against Israel is a double lie. The violence persists – and we’re talking about Israeli civilians being targeted – because Gazans don’t want Israel to exist.

      As for the Palestinian situation as it exists now. It is far, far better than what you experienced when you were busy blowing up and sniping at Israelis in the years before 2007 when Israel finally got things under control. The reason things are better is that when you’re violent, expect the other side to defend itself. When you’re not violent, expect to be governed fully by your own government.

      And, speaking of your government, if you had wanted peace and to end this violence, you should have been lobbying your feckless leaders to make peace with Israel. The Israelis were willing and made substantial and substantive offers all of which were rejected by the Palestinians…and followed by violence targeting Israeli civilians.

      There is no defense for this and calling it a “double standard” might convince some Europeans who don’t much like Jews in the first place that you have a case, but it won’t convince anybody else. Stop attacking civilians or trying to and make peace. Your lives will then be whatever they will be under your rulers and you can stop blaming Israel. Of course, on the basis of this article, it appears you fully support the violence and seek to find a way to justify it.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Sonnenuhr


      “Palestinians are occupied and they resist like any other nation in the same circumstances”

      When the allies occupied Germany and Japan, did the Germans and Japanese blow up American children on buses going to school in New York? Did the Germans and Japanese blow up children eating pizza and then raise the perpetrators to hero status?

      One only has to remember that in 1947 the Palestinian Arabs launched a war of annihilation against the Jews in Mandate Palestine instead of accepting partition and peace. They were joined by the might of the Arab world in the quest to end a nascent Jewish state. They failed in their attempt and instead ruptured Palestinian society.

      In the years between 1948 and 1967 the Palestinian Arabs did not form a nation state. West Bankers became Jordanians. Gaza was ruled by Egypt. In the intervening years Israel suffered terrorist attacks and many infiltrations threatening its existence. Between 1950 to 1953 Israel suffered 64,000 attacks and infiltrations on its soil.

      In 1964 the PLO was formed with the intent of destroying Israel and incorporating the area from the River to the Sea into a greater Arab state and not an independent Palestinian state. In 1968 the PLO amended its Charter to include the formation of a Palestinian state over all of the area from the River to the sea. The stated objective was to destroy Israel, its people and its institutions so they could never rise again.

      In 1967 Jordan attacked Israel from the West Bank firing artillery shells into civilian Jerusalem and bombing near Tel Aviv. It was a strategic mistake of Jordan to enter the war. As a result of the 1967 war the West Bank and Gaza came under Israeli administration. Israelis gave Palestinian Arabs freedoms and economic development which neither Egypt nor Jordan did.

      The PLO and other terrorist factions carried on terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians from bases located in neighboring Arab countries. When the Palestinians were offered a seat at the peace table in 1978, the Palestinians rejected the proposal and carried out attacks from Lebanon against Israel.

      Then Israel brought the terrorists to the West Bank and Gaza in 1993 through the Oslo Accords. The ink was hardly dry on the Accords before Palestinian factions engaged in terrorism against Israeli citizens.

      One will recall that prior to the second intifada Israel employed 40% of Palestinians, Israelis and Palestinians traveled freely between Gaza, Israel and the West Bank. Israel and the Palestinians had a number of economic zones designed to provide business opportunities and jobs for Palestinians. These economic zones were bombed until they closed.

      As the intifada raged,Israelis were killed eating Seder meals, burgers and pizza, shopping in malls, riding on buses, outside of synagogues, walking, in their houses, at work, children playing in their yards, traveling in their cars or wherever Jews were. Ariel Sharon finally put a lid on Palestinian terrorism beginning in 2002.

      The Palestinians suffered many deaths, an implosion of their economy, destruction of infrastructure, the imposition of checkpoints and a security wall to keep terrorists out of Israel.

      Despite the cost of the second intifada, Palestinians continue to commit acts of terrorism calling it resistance. In 2008 8 Jewish students at a Yeshiva in Jerusalem were slaughtered at their school. 10 others were wounded. The majority were under the age of 18. A poll conducted of Palestinians found that 84% of the Palestinian population approved of the killings. To them it was resistance.

      The Palestinians can call their actions resistance but there are consequences to their actions in committing terrorism against Israeli civilians which will result in many more Palestinian deaths than Israelis. A side effect of Palestinian terrorism, which hardly worries the Palestinians, is that the formation of a Palestinian nation on the ground is aborted.

      Reply to Comment
      • Joshua

        Of course, it is always possible to pick out the worst aspects of the actions of one’s enemies. There is no defence for targeting civilians going about their everyday life. However, for every vile act by one side there is an equivalent on the other. Your account fails to mention the terrorist acts by the Israeli forces and extremist settlers. These go back to the years before the establishment of the State of Israel. And not only were the individuals responsible for such acts never punished, in some cases they became Prime Ministers. Or should we forget the terrorism of Begin and Shamir? In more recent times we have the example of Baruch Goldstein who continues to be lauded as a hero by sections of Israeli society. And Operation Cast Lead and the current operation in Gaza entail actions that can only be described as state terrorism. There is every reason for Israelis who care about peace and humanity to feel deep shame for such acts committed in their name.
        But beyond this account-keeping of each side’s worst actions there is the larger picture. Your account fails to acknowledge that the occupation is not a reaction to Palestinian actions (although the latter have been used as an excuse). A significant and powerful section of Israeli society with funding and support from the diaspora, have set about expunging the Palestinians from their homes and lands. One only has to look at the changing map of Israeli settlement and appropriation of land in the West Bank to see this. Or to visit East Jerusalem, as I have done over the last 35 years, to witness this process in action. Nothing underscores the real situation more than the fact that in the so-called ‘Oslo years’ Israel increased settlement activity and increased the withdrawal of residency from Palestinian Jerusalemites exponentially. The building of the wall is another example that illustrates how security is used as a an excuse for colonialist appropriation, with significant amounts of Palestinian land being lost by the people living on and farming that land. This is the bigger picture that your lecture about Palestinian terror entirely fails to address. Without this core element your argument is utterly misleading. Thankfully, more and more people around the world are awakening to the larger reality that you choose to ignore. We are no longer blinded by the attempts to delegitimise the Palestinian people in order to distract attention away from efforts that amount, unquestionably, to ethnic cleansing.

        Reply to Comment
        • Sonnehuhr

          You must have seen a different Jerusalem than I did. Between 1948 and 1967 the Arab population in Jerusalem remained virtually stagnant because 50% of the Christians in Arab Jerusalem could not live under Muslim rule and immigrated out of Jerusalem. Since Israel liberated east Jerusalem in 1967 the Palestinian population has increased by more than 500%.

          Jerusalem was always an undivided city. After 19 years of Jordanian occupation it is once again the undivided capital of the Jewish people.

          Begin and Shamir might have used terrorist tactics in pre state Israel but then they were playing by the rules laid down by the Arabs and the British. From 1920 onward Arabs used terrorist attacks against Jewish civilians to try to get what they wanted. Entire Jewish communities were destroyed in the early 1920s by Arab attacks. Maybe you never read what the Arabs did to the Jews in Jerusalem in 1920 and 1921 or in Safad or Hebron in 1929 or in Tiberias in 1938. Maybe you never heard of Al-Qassam and the attacks of the Black Hand against Jewish civilians. Maybe you have forgotten about the attacks of the Arab Salvation Army on Jewish Communities. Maybe you have never heard of the Arab Liberation army pounding Jewish communities with heavy artillery. Tell me what the Jews were supposed to do when the Arabs launched a war of annihilation against Jews in December of 1947? Tell me what happened to every Jewish community conquered by the Arabs in 1948. All were completely destroyed and cleansed of all Jewish life. In Kfar Etzion all but three of the survivors were massacred. 79 Doctors, nurses and patients were slaughtered on the road between Jerusalem and Mount Scopus. The old city was conquered and cleansed of all vestige of Jewish life. All synagogues were destroyed. All Jewish communities in the Gaza area were conquered and destroyed. The might of the Egyptian army stood 18 minutes away from Tel Aviv while Arab militias lobbed mortars., bombs and gunfire into Jewish areas of Tel Aviv.

          Should the Jews have built crematoriums and walked into them, as the leader of the Palestinians planned to do if the Arabs were successful? You tell me if Begin and Shamir were wrong to employ terrorism against the Arabs who sought the annihilation of the Jewish people?

          Shamir and Begin after the war laid down their arms and became politicians. Begin began a statesman who brokered peace with Egypt. Arafat never made the transition from terrorist leader to statesman. He remained an irredentist terrorist to his dying days.

          BTW Jewish building in Judea and Samaria only takes up 2 percent of the West Bank. Israel has offered land swaps for land inhabited by Jews over the 1949 Armistice lanes. Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria are a red herring.

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    5. ML

      No country can be expected by the rest of the world to negotiate with any entity whose pledged mission is to annihilate it. As long as Palestinians pledge the destruction of Israel as their goal, as long as peaceful Palestinians allow themselves to be represented by those who would gladly see their own citizens killed in order to bolster the world’s pity, then there can be no peace.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Susan

      Hamas is an antisemitic organization that hates ALL Jews everywhere. We’re lucky they don’t have the resources to attack Jews in the rest of the world. Hamas doesn’t want peace, because they would have to accept Israel’s existence. When Hamas talks about ending the occupation, they don’t just mean the West Bank and Gaza, they mean all of Israel as well.

      I write this as a person who supports a two-state solution and would like to see the settlements ended, but I don’t pretend that Hamas wants peace.

      Reply to Comment
      • Reza Lustig

        Fine. Just remember that Bibi and the Likudniks don’t want peace either.

        Reply to Comment
        • Arb

          Ignorant, foolish statement.

          Reply to Comment
          • Reza Lustig

            You don’t care about peace quite so much as you care about “winning.”

            Reply to Comment
          • Arb

            Another idiotic comment. Give it up already.

            Reply to Comment
    7. Susan

      You may be surprised to find out that I really don’t think that Bibi wants peace either. I don’t agree with the Likud, but I understand why they are wary of any deal.

      Reply to Comment