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Gaza vs. Israel: Legitimate and Illegitimate Use of Violence in the Western Discourse

We hear news that the Israeli state has called up 75,000 reserves and is planning for a ground invasion. I continue to hear loud explosions of air raids surround our home in Saftawi, Gaza. The constant buzzing of the Israeli drone has become part of the backdrop of this weapons battle. I hear news that Hamas shot down two Israeli F-16s. I hear news that an Israeli drone was shot down late last night. I hear the rockets continue to be launched from locations around Gaza and reach the outskirts of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The shape of these two forms of violence shows how a state is able to launch a war and how a non-state movement is able to resist it. As bombs continue to rain down on Gaza and rockets continue to break the Iron Dome and make it into Israel, a review of dominant mainstream media sites in the West and Western governments reveals a very skewed understanding on the (il)-legitimate use of violence.Smoke rises following an Israeli attack in Gaza City, 16 November 2012. Early on Friday 85 missiles exploded within 45 minutes in Gaza City sending black pillars of smoke towering above the coastal strip's largest city. The Israeli military said it was targeting underground rocket-launching sites. (Photograph: Adel Hana/AP)

Two days ago, on November 14th 2012, a potential ceasefire between the state of Israel and resistant factions on in the Gaza strip was broken when Israel launched the targeted assassination of Ahmed al-Jabari, the leader of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigade. All Gazans immediately knew what this meant: there would be a retaliation launched by Hamas, a war of bombs and rockets would soon escalate and it would most likely continue. Gazans knew they would be bombarded with shelling from the sea, the sky and potentially land as ground forces would approach Gaza’s eastern border. This is exactly what happened; and two days later this battle of weapons between Israel and Palestinian movements including Hamas is going strong.

However, through the eyes of Western government and mainstream media some of these killing apparatus are regarded as legitimate and others are not. The F-16, the Apache helicopter, the drone, the bomb are weapons that the US, the UK, the EU can understand and relate to. They should as they are large importers of Israeli military and intelligence technology. The rocket, homemade from donkey shit and sugar or fabricated using Iranian technology is a weapon that is foreign to Western discourses on legitimate forms of killing. While both apparatus have maimed and killed civilians and military targets over the last two days, the bomb dropped is a more comfortable thought in the minds of the BBC watcher in England than the rocket being launched from a Palestinian resistance fighter into Israel. These western narratives forget that the rocket is used by the lesser military power in this asymmetrical bomb competition between Israel and Gaza. It neglects that resistant fighters in Gaza don’t use high performance jets or helicopters, not because they elect for a more brute or savage weapon; no, they use the rocket because they don’t have drones who can target identified military leaders from hundreds of meters up. They don’t have the military technology, power or resources to send fighter jets to Tel Aviv or launch a naval battle from the Mediterranean. They do not enjoy the support of the largest military power around the globe to assist it in making its attacks more “surgical”.

Benjamin Netanyahu felt comfortable enough to call Israeli attacks on Gaza as “surgical” (quoted in Al-jazeera “Rockets aim at Tel Aviv as conflict escalates”). The doctors of war proceed with great precision, although I would urge to strongly disagree with Netanyahu’s comments, as the death toll of civilians grows to twenty-nine and over two hundred injured in Gaza. However, Israel feels that it is a waging a professional war on Gaza, which is somehow more legitimate than the Palestinian retaliation attacks. And Western media and government voices support this reasoning, not only through their unbraided political and economic support for Israel, but also through their continued narration of the bomb competition between Gaza and Israel: through Western media and government there are clearly good guys and bad guys. Foreign Secretary William Hague says, “Hamas bears principal responsibility for the current crisis. I utterly condemn rocket attacks from Gaza into southern Israel by Hamas and other armed groups.” In addition, to this western media and government narratives support a most controversial concept that the Israeli life is worth more than the Palestinian. As Israeli deaths make the headlines, the Palestinian death is always included as a secondary. The killing of civilians in war is wrong and must be avoided at all costs, but unfortunately it continues to happen. Gaza is a 12km by 40km territory populated by 1.5 million Palestinians lives, when an Israeli bomb lands here a civilian will lose its life; this is regarded as collateral damage and is excused on this regard of legitimate mistakes of war. When Hamas or other factions send rockets into Israel and approximate urban areas, civilians are also at risk; however, the Western discursive understanding of this damage to life is regarded as terroristic and the brutal intention of an illegitimate body waging an illegitimate form of war.

All Palestinian resistant movements are referred to as militants or terrorists. Western media sources feel comfortable awarding responsibility for all attacks on Israel as being launched by that “terrorist organisation”: Hamas. Hamas, who although has strongly avoided the topic of elections in recent years, it was once upon time the democratic elected body of Palestine. Hamas was also not responsible for the rockets launched prior reaching the ceasefire on November 14th, 2012 before the assassination of Ahmed al-Jabari; Hamas’s military wing leader. The blowing up of one of its leader was bound to bring Hamas into this violence, which at least initially, it was trying to avoid. Many Gazans critique Hamas for not maintaining its resistance stance against Israel. However, Hamas has now forcefully taken up the mode of retaliation following the assassination of its leader; I stress that Hamas’s armed response comes as no surprise. However, Western media sources and governments were too quick to label Hamas attacks as uncalled-for militarist action. The argument that Hamas was compelled to respond to the assassination of one of its leaders does not enter western political or media discussions.

I would like to ask a question of these dominant Western discourses. In their mind who is allowed to legitimately resist against Israel? According to Westerns news media all resistant fighters in Palestine are militants. Israel, as a western favored state, is allowed to target and assassinate Hamas government and military officials: March 2004, Gaza: Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, founder of Hamas, killed by missile strike, April 2004, Gaza: Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, co-founder and leader of Hamas, killed in missile strike, January 2009, Gaza: Said Siyam, senior Hamas commander, killed in air strike and now, November 2012, Gaza City: Ahmed Said Khalil al-Jabari, commander of Hamas' military wing, just to name a few. This precision killing is regarded as a legitimate form of violence. Hamas or other movements working from within Gaza are legitimate targets because they are regarded as militants or terrorists; their retaliation attacks, however, are regarded as illegitimate because they are from non-state militants or terrorists. So Palestinian military and political leaders can be legitimately targeted but they are not allowed to legitimately retaliate.

Palestinian factions represent a non-state (as we all know way to well Palestine does not have its state yet) and therefore, any form of violence Palestinian movements engage in will be, by de facto, that of a non-state actor. War or violence launched by a non-state actor, is so quickly coupled with militant or terrorist in the western discourse on legitimate uses of violence. Palestine continues to be forbidden its status and capability as a viable state; how then is Palestine meant to resist its occupation, when Israeli leaders wage their own war on Palestine and simultaneously work so energetically and aggressively to dissallow its status as a state? How are Gazan resistant movements, which do enjoy almost unanimous support from the entire Gaza population, meant to resist in a way which is legitimate to western governments? If these Western narratives were more dedicated to their own professed adherence to human rights then they would not be able to stand in defence of Israel. According to the Geneva Conventions a people under occupation have the legal right to resist their occupation; this Article 1 (4) of Protocol 1 stresses that force may be used to pursue the right of self-determination. States and actors who attempts to suppress the Palestinian right to resist violent occupation is in direct contradiction with the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, which all legally aim to provide support to those fighting colonial regimes. The Western discourse on the legitimate use of violence needs to sensitise and educate its view: Palestinians have the legal right to resist and that is exactly what they are doing.

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