By Murad Bustami
JERUSALEM: Several months ago, I took part in a symposium organized by the Palestinian Academic Society for International Affairs, entitled “Hamas’ Political Agenda 2010”. It took place at a venue a few meters away from the burial site of Yasser Arafat and the office of the current President Abu Mazen. Independent figures from different academic backgrounds spoke on that podium in an attempt to analyze the political discourse of the Hamas movement, as well as to highlight the growing rift between the Palestinian liberation movement and the peace process in general.
Following the talks, the session’s chair opened the floor for discussion and a former member of the Legislative Council representing Hamas commented on the effectiveness of instilling fear through the use of violence, saying: “Israelis became at some point scared to the extent that they did not feel secure anymore, not in their restaurants, buses or streets. This, in itself, resulted in the undermining of all Israeli plans”.
Such words about targeting restaurants and buses quickly drew my attention, and my spontaneous reaction was to interrupt him. I responded that there seems to be a paradox and a misconception on the Palestinian side regarding the definition of resistance and its methods. Resistance, I said, should not mean violating international laws or killing civilians. As expected, I was immediately accused of promoting a Western colonial ideology and adopting Zionist and American rhetoric.
My accuser argued that resistance in all its forms does not represent war crimes, as the West attempts to present the matter, and that there are no civilians in the Israeli “entity”. His words were met with the approval of several members of the audience who cheered him — but I insisted that killing civilians, including children, is not justified.
Since the beginning of the Al-Aqsa intifada, there have been several attacks in which many Israelis were killed and thousands wounded, including many minors. The Palestinian organizations that took responsibility for these acts used several arguments to justify their attacks on Israeli civilians; often, the main argument being that “all means are legitimate in fighting against occupation.”
Another common position, especially amongst the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, makes a distinction between the attacks inside Israel which are deemed illegitimate, and attacks in the Occupied Territories which some perceive as legitimate. This line of argument raises the question of the status of settlements and settlers in the occupied territories. Are they entitled to the protections granted to civilians by international law? And this, in turn, raises the larger question — who is a civilian in this case? Above all, how do Palestinians see Israelis and vice versa?
But it’s not only the Palestinians who must answer such questions. The discourse and laws of Human rights conventions and Security Council resolutions are mired in complications and problematic ambiguities regarding terms like “terrorism”, “resistance”, “self defense”, “settlements” and “military necessity”.
Moreover, beyond the law itself, I think it is absolutely necessary to demand that international law is protected from political manipulations. This is particularly important for Israeli and Palestinian societies amongst whom international law would have much greater credibility were there a serious attempt to strip international bodies that employ these laws from political influences.
Today, even Palestinians who identify with international norms and laws have questions regarding the feasibility of putting these principles into practice. There is a strong criticism of what is seen as the political motives underlying the use of the power of veto in Security Council resolutions, which are often seen to undermine international justice. Others rail against what they see as a double standard when international public opinion demands that the Lebanese or the Palestinians should conduct a moral or nonviolent struggle while not expecting the same from other parties in conflict.
I would argue that civilians must be protected, and this is the responsibility of all players. Perhaps an agreement on this would be a key in expanding Palestinian appreciation for a non-violent approach, which requires the resistor to take responsibility for conflict rather than choosing retaliation and bloodshed. We have an obligation to do all that we can to prove that the way of non-violence is more effective in achieving goals and understanding between people.
Perhaps we should remember the words of Private Boris Grushenko, a character in Woody Allen’s comedy “Love and Death” who said: “The battle looks completely different to those in the middle of it than it does to the generals up on the hill”.
Murad Bustami is a non-violence activist from East Jerusalem. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews), www.commongroundnews.org.