In December 1987, a new intifada erupted in Palestine, shaking Israel as well as the elites of the Arab world. A few weeks later, the grand old Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani wrote ‘The Trilogy of the Children of Stones’, in which he denounced the older generation of Palestinian leaders – today represented by the corrupt, collaborationist Palestine (No-)Authority. It was sung and recited in many a Palestinian café:
The children of the stones
have scattered our papers
spilled ink on our clothes
mocked the banality of old texts…
O Children of Gaza
Don’t mind our broadcasts
Don’t listen to us
We are the people of cold calculation
Of addition, of subtraction
Wage your wars and leave us alone
We are dead and tombless
Orphans with no eyes.
Children of Gaza
Don’t refer to our writings
Don’t be like us.
We are your idols
Don’t worship us.
O mad people of Gaza,
A thousand greetings to the mad
The age of political reason has long departed
So teach us madness…
Since then, the Palestinian people have tried every method to achieve some form of meaningful self-determination. ‘Renounce violence’, they were told. They did, apart from the odd reprisal after an Israeli atrocity. Among Palestinians at home and in the diaspora, there was massive support for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions: a peaceful movement par excellence, which began to gain traction worldwide among artists, academics, trade unions and occasionally governments. The US and its NATO family responded by trying to criminalize BDS across Europe and North America – claiming, with the help of Zionist lobby groups, that boycotting Israel was ‘antisemitic’. This has proved largely effective. In Britain, Keir Starmer’s Labour Party has banned any mention of ‘Israeli apartheid’ at its upcoming national conference. The Labour left, scared of being expelled, has fallen silent on this issue. A sorry state of affairs. Meanwhile, most of the Arab states have joined Turkey and Egypt in capitulating to Washington. Saudi Arabia is currently in negotiations, mediated by the White House, to officially recognize Israel. The international isolation of the Palestinian people looks set to increase. Peaceful resistance has gone nowhere.
All the while, the IDF has attacked and killed Palestinians at leisure, while successive Israeli governments have worked to sabotage any hope of statehood. Recently, a handful of former IDF generals and Mossad agents have admitted that what is being done in Palestine amounts to ‘war crimes’. But they only plucked up the courage to say this after they’d already retired. While still serving, they fully supported the fascist settlers in the occupied territories, standing by as they burned houses, destroyed olive plantations, poured cement in wells, attacked Palestinians and drove them from their homes while chanting ‘Death to the Arabs’. So, too, did Western leaders – who let all this unfold without a murmur. The age of political reason had long departed, as Qabbani would say.
Then, one day, the elected leadership in Gaza begins to fight back. They break out of their open-air prison and cross Israel’s southern border, striking at military targets and settler populations. Palestinians are suddenly top of the international headlines. Western journalists are shocked and horrified that they are actually resisting. But why shouldn’t they? They know better than anyone that the far-right government in Israel will retaliate viciously, backed by the US and the mealy-mouthed EU. But even so, they are unwilling to sit by as Netanyahu and the criminals in his cabinet gradually expel or kill most of their people. They know that the fascist elements of the Israeli state would have no compunction about sanctioning the mass murder of Arabs. And they know this must be resisted by any means necessary. Earlier this year, Palestinians watched the demonstrations in Tel Aviv and understood that those marching to ‘defend civil rights’ did not care about the rights of their occupied neighbours. They decided to take matters into their own hands.
Do the Palestinians have a right to resist the non-stop aggression to which they are subjected? Absolutely. There is no moral, political or military equivalence as far as the two sides are concerned. Israel is a nuclear state, armed to the teeth by the US. Its existence is not under threat. It’s the Palestinians, their lands, their lives, that are. Western civilization seems willing to stand by while they are exterminated. They, on the other hand, are rising up against the colonizers.
Read on: Perry Anderson, ‘The House of Zion’, NLR 96.