North Africa, West Asia

Raise the right to resistance

Debate around the Palestintian-Israeli conflict needs to be framed around whether Palestinians have a legitimate right to resistance.

Brian K Barber
29 July 2014

There is only one issue that merits debate relative to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and there is no better time to finally address it honestly than now, during the cruelest outbreak of conflict in recent memory.

Every form of traditional and cyber media is saturated with debate and commentary. Characteristically, it is vehemently polarised, full of more empty talking points than verifiable facts, and virtually always spinning around unproductive tangential issues: who started it, whose weapons are less immoral, who is a terrorist and who isn’t, which incendiary statement is the vilest, who deserves what, who has right to what, ad infinitum.

Everything rides on the answer to one question that is astonishingly unaddressed in the discourses:

Do Palestinians have a legitimate right to resistance?

The answers to that simple question are adequate to form a coherent position on the nature of the conflict, frame it in legitimate language, and advocate for policies to resolve it.

If the answer to this question is “no”—that Palestinians do not have reason or right to resist Israel—then certain language is apt. First and foremost, the word resistance, the operative word in the names of Palestinian political factions, would by definition be inappropriate. Rather, the characterisations that Palestinians are being hostile and aggressive toward Israel are more fitting. Further, labeling a Palestinian who commits such belligerence a “terrorist” would be sensible, because aggression against an innocent party causes terror both by intent and effect.

If the answer to the question of resistance is “yes”—that Palestinians have grievances of a magnitude and severity that recommend defiance, lest the conditions never improve—then different language is required. In this scenario, resistance is in fact the proper characterisation. Further, its various manifestations are not categorically condemned as terrorism nor are its participants labeled ipso facto as terrorists. Moreover, the State of Israel is not viewed as innocent; neither are assaults against it, therefore, inherently immoral or evil.

Language matters immensely because it shapes attitudes and recommends policies. In the present case, the opposing answers to this question of resistance are starkly different.

If Palestinian actions—now and previously—are resistance, then effective policy to end this and future outbreaks is obvious: right the injustices. Resistance is not met with dismissal or punishment, but respected as the indicator that change in conditions on the ground is urgent. Advocacy, diplomacy, and intervention all are directed at establishing just living conditions such that there is no motivation for the population at large to resist.

If Palestinian actions are not properly viewed as resistance, then policy would first and foremost surround defense and risk containment. Second—unless repeated outbreaks of violent conflict that take thousands of lives and do widespread destruction to resources are deemed unavoidable—Israeli policies would somehow need to also persuade the general Palestinian populace that their lives are in fact adequate and that it should be satisfied and quiescent.

This is where the debate needs to be. And, crucially, either take on this question of resistance must be informed by credible information. Proponents of either must no longer take refuge in artfully worded, but intentionally dis-informing talking points. Rather, each position must be defended with documentable evidence and real knowledge of conditions on the ground.

For those who would defend Palestinian resistance, what is the evidence that documents conditions unjust and unsustainable enough to warrant defiance against Israel? Such must be the basis for your arguments. For those who would deny resistance, what are the data that demonstrate that life for Palestinians in the territories is of a reasonable standard such that they should not defy Israel? Such must be the basis for your arguments.

Peace rests on developing an evidence-based position on this question and pursuing the policies that each alternative dictates.

(Adapted from

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