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January 3, 2004

Palestinian Resistance Must Spare Civilians


by Ramzy Baroud

Palestinian resistance factions must stop targeting Israeli civilians, with or without an officially bargained cease-fire and regardless of what Israel and its reckless government do in response. This is imperative if the Palestinian struggle is to safeguard its historic values and maintain its morality.

For some, such reasoning may seem inconsistent, one-sided even; after all, the Israeli Army continues to target civilians unhindered, so why deny Palestinians the right to retaliate?

Palestinians have the right of self-defense, and the unequivocal right of ridding themselves of the occupation. These rights are protected in international law and require little debate or intellectual tussling. But it is wrong for the occupied – who surely have the moral edge – to use the same illegitimate means as the occupier. International law makes a clear distinction, as should the Palestinian resistance, between occupying military forces and civilians. If Palestinians waver from this crucial line of reasoning, their historically virtuous struggle risks being tainted with moral corruption.

The Palestinian revolution was born in the orchards of Jenin as early as the 1920s. It was and remains a freedom struggle, a cry for justice. Typically, the overall methods used by the ongoing uprising in the occupied territories contrasts with the ghastly practices of the Israeli government and army. In fact, since their early days of combating the occupation forces, Palestinians aspired to be inclusive because they longed for equality and insisted on the universal applicability of human rights.

These values must remain intact.

But every nation – and Palestinians are no exception – has a breaking point. That is only human that, following decades of suffering, violence and dispossession, the determination to gain freedom can give way to desperation and a raw desire for vengeance. To those living in the occupied territories, suicide bombings are part of the reality into which Palestinians are born. Yet if Palestinians allow Israeli tactics to influence their resistance strategy, then the authenticity of the entire struggle is compromised. But what if Palestinian factions overcome their sense of despair and unilaterally halt attacks on Israeli civilians, permanently and unreservedly?

Alas, even then, the perception held of Palestinians and their struggle is unlikely to change, at least not in the United States, where political propaganda, not actuality, governs public opinion.

The Palestinian struggle was equally and abrasively condemned in much of the Western Hemisphere before the first suicide bombing against Israeli civilians ever happened, less than ten years ago. This flawed perspective continues, in defiance of logic.

After all, the conquest of historic Palestine, with all the massacres it entailed, preceded any truly collective Palestinian struggle, violent or otherwise.

The mainstream media, most notability in the United States, is silent about this fact. As far as Israel (and thus pro-Israeli media and governments) is concerned, the version of history that counts is the one that highlights Palestinian violence. Violence in the Middle East is largely defined by Palestinian attacks; "calm" and "lull" are words that describe intervals between Palestinian, not Israeli, violence. The occupied territories may be drowning in Israeli violence; but so long as no Israeli casualties are reported, much of the world media report quiet.

The suicide bombing of Oct. 4 and Dec. 25 are a case in point.

Between these two incidents, Palestinian losses mounted. Reportedly, 117 Palestinians were killed, mostly civilians, including 23 children; several thousand Palestinians were made homeless as nearly 500 homes and apartments were destroyed by Israeli explosives or bulldozers, primarily in the already overcrowded and poverty-stricken Gaza Strip. But according to Palestinian-American media critic Ali Abunimah, the corporate media in the US (and in Britain, to a lesser extent) brimmed with regret over the squandered opportunity for peace that the December bombing yielded (keeping in mind that the latter targeted Israeli soldiers, not civilians).

The Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and CNN dealt a blow to any journalistic integrity when they chose such statements to mark the day of the Palestinian attack: "12-Week lull in Mideast ends", "Mideast quiet shattered", "Attacks broke a lull that had lasted more than two months and raised fears of a slide into violence", "There has been a relative calm since the Haifa bombing (last October) " and so on.

Pro-Israeli pundits in the American media and government, and influential lobby groups and think tanks find Israel's justifications for its senseless violence and occupation of Palestinian land compelling. But even with that in mind, injustice must not be an invitation to respond with equally morally degrading acts. Sharon and his henchmen, of all people, should not, in any way, determine the nature and magnitude of Palestinian resistance.

To maintain its moral edge, the Palestinian revolution must not be tainted by the crimes of the occupier; it must not fall into the trap of fury, racial and religious exclusivity and vengefulness against civilians.

True, the US media will hardly give the Palestinians credit. But should we remain confined by media partiality and desperate for the validating words of some government spokesman? Were these the values that inspired and sparked the current uprising and the uprisings of the past?

Suicide bombings against civilians estrange us from the principles of the Palestinian struggle for freedom. These values must remain untainted so that the will of the people may some day prevail over tyranny and oppression.


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  • Ramzy Baroud is editor-in-chief of the Palestine Chronicle. His book The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People's Struggle is now out in paperback.

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