Paul Foot of the Guardian recently published a forceful article on the hypocrisy and irresponsibility of much coverage of the Israeli military occupation of Palestine. As Foot argues, there is far, far too much white-washing of the conflict in terms of some mealy-mouthed "pox on both your houses" approach condemning "violence," full stop. Such an approach seems like the pacifist moral high road, but in fact merely amounts to an abdication of responsibility, an abandonment of the conflict under the assumption that "Tut tut, there they go again. Two enemy peoples in a far-off land, caught up in an age-old conflict, swapping atrocity for atrocity, and endlessly killing each other out of some primeval hatred. There is nothing civilised and humane observers can do about it, apparently, except perhaps to hope that sooner or later one side (the strong) will annihilate the other (the weak)."
I remember not too long ago I watched a news commentary show in which Arab and Israeli representatives spoke about the occupation of Palestine. Whenever the Arab representative would point out that Israel is illegally occupying Palestinian territory and Palestinians might just have a right to resist and defend themselves, the Israeli representative would snort and dismissively say that the Arab representative was "still fighting the old war." As if there were a statute of limitations on fundamental human rights. The whole idea that there might, just maybe, be a real distinction between oppressed and oppressors here is completely excluded from the mainstream discourse.
Foot points out an excellent example of the hypocrisy – in fact, an example I have commented on myself in these pages:
Remember the indignant hullabaloo when a shipment of arms, bound apparently for the Palestinians, was intercepted. Whoever complains about arms shipments a hundred times greater that pour regularly from our factories and those of the US into Israel? Anyone in the United States or Britain who opposes such sanctions is taking up an unequivocal stand on the side of illegal occupation, military conquest and economic oppression.
Or as I put it,
Meanwhile Israeli and US leaders condemn Yasser Arafat for attempting to import heavy weapons into the Palestinian Authority. Christ, they are being militarily assaulted by Israeli tanks and helicopter gunships, and you act all surprised when they import weapons to defend themselves against invasion? If we started classifying all the weapons Israel buys and builds as “enhancing terror” (George W.’s words), then Israel would be considered one of the single biggest terrorist states in the world. Oh, but wait, Israel receives $2,040,000,000 every year from US tax dollars for direct military aid, and $720,000,000 more in economic aid. The Palestinian weapons, at least, were not purchased on your and my dime.
OK, now, I should step back for a second. One thing which Foot doesn’t do, and he is wrong not to do it, is to strongly condemn the acts of the deranged, self-styled jihadis of groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The use of force in direct self-defense is legitimate; the use of violent terror in order to kill civilians is not.
Unfortuantely, far too many people on both sides of the conflict assume that resistence fighters and fundamentalist terrorists are cut from the same cloth. I do not agree. These are two fundamentally different tactics and must be understood as fundamentally different ways. We can neither pass off terrorists who bomb innocent civilians as resistence fighters, nor condemn people legitimately defending themselves against tanks, heavily armed infantry, and helicopter gunships – as if the Palestinians resistors, who are being slaughtered left and right by Israeli military forces, were somehow the aggressors.