The Legal and Moral Right of Palestinian Resistance

By Cygnus


Well I hate it when the blood starts flowin’

But I’m glad to see the resistance growin’

– Gil Scott Heron, Johannesburg


The majority of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are refugees from the 1947-49 ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Since 1967, the tiny enclave of (now) 1.5 million people has been under belligerent occupation. The most recent spate of attacks on the defenceless, highly populated area were in the form of aerial and naval bombardment, using hundreds of tonnes of high explosives. The bombing by the Israeli state of the besieged Palestinian territory is congruent with the history of colonial oppression from Zionist forces. Resistance against the Israeli state by Palestinian groups occurs to varying levels of intensity, from symbolic attacks with no military gain, to self-defence through damaging Zionist machinery and weapons. Nonetheless, Palestinian acts of resistance are not viewed as such in the west, with the word itself virtually remaining absent in the lexicon of western journalists and political commentators.

The very idea that Palestinians using force against the Israeli can be considered ‘resistance’ is alien to the corporate media and the western public generally, the former having a clear and direct influence on the opinion of the latter. The BBC prefers to adopt a narrative that presents those fighting against Zionist oppression as militarily and politically equal to the 4th largest army in the world. This narrative omits to mention that the state is an occupying power, and that Palestinians have no navy, no army and no air force to defend themselves.[i] Unabashed, the BBC stands with the aggressor: one of their journalists, Jonathan Marcus, dedicated an article to cogitate over the military limitations of an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza. “The Gaza Strip,” he sagely observes, “is a tiny-cockpit – especially for mechanised forces.” He then goes on to describe the Operation Cast Lead massacre (2008-09) as “a bitter three-week struggle.”[ii] The Israeli defence minister at the time chose to describe the campaign as a “Holocaust”.[iii]

At the time of writing, 100 Palestinians have been killed in four consecutive days of bombing – the vast majority being civilians. At 18 months old, the two youngest victims were Mohammad Malakiyeh and Ranim Jawde Abdel Ghafour, while the oldest is 80-yea-old Naifeh Farjallah.[iv] UN OCHA reported that “the targeting and destruction of residential properties in Gaza is the main cause of civilian casualties.” The people of Gaza live permanently in the crosshairs. There has been resistance to this latest bout of ethnic cleansing, by Hamas, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Islamic Jihad. Al-Qassam Brigades (Hamas) fired a number of rockets at Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa and Nevatim military airport in the south of 1948 Palestine. The al-Quds Brigades (IJ) claimed responsibility for rockets fired at Israeli town, Nir Oz. The Ali Abu Mustafa Brigades (PFLP) fired a combination of home-made projectiles and rockets at Israeli towns surrounding Gaza.[v] On the 8th and 9th of July, Palestinian fighters swam from Gaza to an Israeli military base in 1948 Palestine, only to be killed in short fire fights. Five were killed on the first day, and two on the second.[vi]

It must be emphasised that according to customary international law, armed resistance is not controversial, but is in fact a right of all peoples fighting colonialism or occupation. The United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed this on a number of occasions, the most explicit and significant being the following two.

UN General Assembly resolution A/RES/3246 of 29 November 1974:

2. Renews its call to all States to recognize the right to self-determination and independence of all peoples subject to colonial and foreign domination and alien subjugation and to offer them moral, material and other forms of assistance in their struggle to exercise fully their inalienable right to self-determination and independence;

3. Reaffirms the legitimacy of the peoples’ struggle for liberation form colonial and foreign domination and alien subjugation by all available means, including armed struggle;

7. Strongly condemns all Governments which do not recognize the right to self-determination and independence of peoples under colonial and foreign domination and alien subjugation, notably the peoples of Africa and the Palestinian people;

UN General Assembly resolution A/RES/23/34 of 29 November 1978:

2. Reaffirms the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples for independence, territorial integrity, national unity and liberation from colonial and foreign domination and foreign occupation by all available means, particularly armed struggle;

3. Reaffirms the inalienable right of the peoples of Namibia and Zimbabwe, of the Palestinian people and of all peoples under alien and colonial domination to self-determination, national independence, territorial integrity, and national unity and sovereignty without external interference;

As the resolutions show, the right to armed resistance is subsumed under the fundamental right of all people to self-determination. The Zionist project has aimed, since its inception, to not only deny Palestinians this right, but to exile them from their homeland, through various military, political and legal means, or exterminate those who remain.

Speaking in the context of the al-Aqsa Intifada (2000-05), UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine, Richard Falk, argues the legal angle regarding Palestinian rights and resistance. As the occupying power, the Israeli state is obliged by the 4th Geneva Convention to protect the human rights of Palestinians and their prospects for self-determination. Instead, it has defied international law by refusing to withdraw from the occupied territories, and has continued to ignore UN resolutions and to violate the fundamental rights of Palestinians. The military occupation itself has engendered the Palestinian right of resistance.[vii] It is the structural violence of the occupation that dictates how individuals and groups see themselves and the oppressor. This perspective shifts the understanding of resistance from a legal question to a moral one.

It is elemental to the success of a settler colonial project that violence is used: the replacement of one people (the indigenous) with another (the colonists) requires ethnic cleansing by definition. Frantz Fanon, writing in 1961 on the Algerian Revolution, points out that “the colonial regime owes its legitimacy to force and at no time tries to hide this aspect of things.”[viii] Conversely, the Palestinian resistance can derive its legitimacy from international law and from – by virtue of undergoing colonial occupation, moral norms. The coloniser and the colonised can never be morally equal and must be seen as opposites; the uprooting and genocide of a people is an inherent wrong in any decade or country, and has no moral foundation, although the settlers will use any religious, ethnic or historical pretext for it. Resistance against Zionism does not need a legal text for justification – this is a purely human phenomenon of land, violence and belonging. It would demean the people if we were to urge those resisting to consult the law before deciding to defend themselves against colonists. Fanon captures the root of the issue in its entirety: “National liberation, national renaissance, the restoration of nationhood to the people, commonwealth: whatever may be the headings used or the new formulas introduced, decolonisation is always a violent phenomenon.”[ix]

Armed resistance has legal and moral justification, and the UN calls upon states to assist oppressed people in their struggle for self-determination. For western states to acquiesce to this call, a paradigm shift would have to occur. Were they to do this, they would be undermining their diplomatic support for Zionism, and would – to avoid contradictory policy – have to cease the funding and arming of the Apartheid state. This would also hinder their own neocolonial projects by legitimising the resistance in Iraq, for example. Undeniably, Palestinian resistance will not receive any support – tacit, symbolic or concrete – from any western state. However, the support from the grassroots campaigns and civil society in imperial countries is growing.









[viii] Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, p. 66

[ix] Fanon, p. 27