Thursday June 30, 2022

As Gaza burns

May 19, 2021

The violence convulsing the Middle East has produced heart-rending images and statistics. As I write this, at least 160 people, the vast majority of them Palestinians, including at least 41 children – the vast majority Palestinian – have been killed as the Israeli military carries out bombing raids in densely populated Gaza and armed Palestinian groups hurl rockets at Israeli cities. Meanwhile, inter-communal violence has broken out across Israel.

In response, Western governments, led by US President Joe Biden, have been quick to unequivocally condemn Palestinian groups for the rocket barrages, but have been much more circumspect about condemning Israel’s attack on Palestinian civilians.

Lukewarm expressions of ‘dismay’ and ‘grave concern’ at Palestinian deaths have been interspersed with declarations of ‘unwavering support for Israel’s security and for Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself’. They have also included appeals for ‘moral clarity’, implying that the actions of Palestinian groups, though causing a tiny fraction of the death and destruction that Israeli bombardment has wreaked, were nonetheless much more objectionable.

While some progressive politicians – such as US congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – have pointed out the hypocrisy of a blanket assertion of the Israeli right to self-defence, even they have balked at outright rejection of Israeli justifications.

Colonial occupiers have long claimed a ‘right’ to defend themselves from the resistance of native communities, including by committing mass murder. The history of African colonisation is littered with the corpses and mass graves of those who dared to resist the militarily superior Europeans.

In her book, the British Gulag, historian Caroline Elkins describes a “murderous campaign” by the British in colonial Kenya following the 1950s Mau Mau peasant uprising, including the establishment of concentration camps for 1.5 million Kikuyu civilians and a brutal system of torture camps that may have claimed the lives of tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of those suspected to have pledged themselves to the rebellion.

The idea that imperial land grabbers have the right to terrorise, brutalise, torture and murder those whose land they steal under the rubric of ‘self-defence’ flies in the face of UN General Assembly Resolution 37/43 of 1982 which recognised “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, including armed struggle”. That resolution specifically reaffirmed this right in the case of the Palestinian struggle.

Thus, today in Gaza, rather than seeking ‘moral clarity’, the West is using moral obfuscation to justify attacks on a refugee population by a colonial power that has evicted them from their land, blockades them in what is, in essence, an open-air prison, and then claims the right to do so in peace and quiet.

Excerpted: ‘The fallacy of the colonial ‘right to self-defence’’