The oft-stated right of the Israelis to “defend themselves” against their enemies, both near and far, is a claim encountered with great regularity in the public discourse of the United States. The declaration has become something of an obligatory shibboleth that is all but universal amongst the political and media classes in the country, regardless of party or partisan feeling. Heaven help the politician or journalist who would challenge or parse the absolutist application of this supposed right. However no such recognition is given to the right of the Palestinians to defend themselves in those regions, as recognised by the international community, under illegal military occupation by a foreign power: to wit, Israel. The Jewish State may, with virtually impunity, kill those who oppose its presence or control of the Occupied Territories, while those who form the opposition – armed or otherwise – are relegated to the category of “terrorists”, “radicals”, “militants” or simply “fanatics”.
This, of course, is a view promulgated by many middle-aged newspaper columnists and TV pundits in US who in their more idle moments daydream of playing the dramatic role of the Wolverines in Red Dawn; leading the bomb-making and ambush-planning American Resistance against the would-be occupiers of the United States. In fairness such hypocrisy is not confined to the Americans, with the British quite capable of lauding the armed resistance in Occupied Europe during the middle part of the 20th century while decrying the armed resistance in Occupied Ireland at the start and end of that same century. Like their US counterparts, and in truth most other nation states, they choose their “freedom-fighters” and “terrorists” as and when it suits their national interests.
In this light TomDispatch has an analysis by Sandy Tolan of the broader cultural reasons that permit the United States to view Israel with such forgiveness of its moral, military and legal transgressions. The “free pass” given to the Israelis, even if strained during the duplicitous premierships of Benjamin Netanyahu, has deeper roots than simply the influence of the “Israeli-American” lobby in Washington (which of course includes quite a few “End Times” Christian fundamentalists who have an agenda all of their own):
“Millions of Americans were raised on the Leon Uris version of Israeli history, as told in his novel Exodus. In that story, the focus was on the heroic birth of the Jewish state out of the ashes of the Holocaust. “Arabs” — that is, Palestinians — remained on the sidelines of the tale, pathetic, obstructionist, and violent. That long ago became the American media’s basic narrative of the struggle in the region: that Israel, surrounded by a sea of enemies, must be secure. But like the narrative that dominated media discourse before the U.S. invasion of Iraq — that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction – the facts on the ground are often ignored.
Money clouds the picture even more. Millions of dollars from billionaire casino magnate and Israeli settlement advocate Sheldon Adelson (who has also advocated using nuclear weapons against Iran) and billionaire Paul Singer, on the board of the Republican Jewish Coalition, as well as from the bankrollers of neocon William Kristol’s Emergency Committee for Israel,have further distorted the conversation. In the process, such funders have helped elevate war hawks like Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton to prominence.
The money and political leverage of backers of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has had a similar effect on some Democrats. It helps explain, for instance, the growing challenges from New York Senator Charles Schumer and New Jersey’s recently indicted Senator Robert Menendez to the Obama administration’s framework nuclear agreement with Iran. But the problem has been around for so much longer. For years, as journalist Connie Bruck revealed last September in the New Yorker, AIPAC has strong-armed elected officials, the recipients of the lavish campaign donations it facilitates, into drafting legislation favorable to Israel. Such bills are often written by AIPAC staff and then introduced under the name of some member of Congress.
All of this has had a ruinous effect on debate in this country about Israel and Palestine. Almost invariably left out of any discussion here is the devastating impact on Palestinian lives of Israel’s military occupation, which goes hand-in-hand with relentless settlement expansion that undermines any prospect of a just and lasting peace in the region.
American politicians frequently declare that “Israel has a right to defend itself.” Seldom does anyone ask if Palestinians have that same right, or even the right to enjoy freedom of movement in their own homeland.”
From such considerations one may also ask the biggest question of all: what defines legitimate as opposed to illegitimate violence? Many argue, with a nod to international law, that all violence to have legitimacy must, perforce, stem from a recognised nation state, national government or the lawfully-constituted institutions thereof. In practice such niceties breakdown more often than not when faced with reality. Terrorism it seems is not an abstract act or series of acts. Rather terrorism is anything which a government or a group of governments deem it to be, no more no less. And as we have seen with the Kurds in recent years, yesterday’s terrorists can be easily redefined as tomorrow’s freedom-fighters.