[Marxism] Ahmad Khalidi

Rakesh Bhandari bhandari at berkeley.edu
Wed Jul 19 11:09:07 MDT 2006

was this already sent here? sorry didn't have the web address

If Israel has the right to use force in self defence, so do its neighbours

The west appears to insist that only one side in the conflict is able
to intervene militarily across borders. That will never be accepted

Ahmad Khalidi
Tuesday July 18, 2006
The Guardian

Much has been made in recent days - at the G8 summit and elsewhere -
of Israel's right to retaliate against the capture of its soldiers, or
attacks on its troops on its own sovereign territory. Some, such as
those in the US administration, seem to believe that Israel has an
unqualified licence to hit back at its enemies no matter what the
cost. And even those willing to recognise that there may be a problem
tend to couch it in terms of Israel's "disproportionate use of force"
rather than its basic right to take military action.

But what is at stake here is not proportionality or the issue of
self-defence, but symmetry and equivalence. Israel is staking a claim
to the exclusive use of force as an instrument of policy and
punishment, and is seeking to deny any opposing state or non-state
actor a similar right. It is also largely succeeding in portraying its
own "right to self-defence" as beyond question, while denying anyone
else the same. And the international community is effectively
endorsing Israel's stance on both counts.

>From an Arab point of view this cannot be right. There is no reason in
the world why Israel should be able to enter Arab sovereign soil to
occupy, destroy, kidnap and eliminate its perceived foes - repeatedly,
with impunity and without restraint - while the Arab side cannot do
the same. And if the Arab states are unable or unwilling to do so then
the job should fall to those who can.

It is important to bear in mind that in both the case of the Hamas
raid that led to the invasion of Gaza and the Hizbullah attack that
led to the assault on Lebanon it was Israel's regular armed forces,
not its civilians, that were targeted. It is hard to see how this can
be filed under the rubric of "terrorism", rather than a
straightforward tactical defeat for Israel's much-vaunted military
machine; one that Israel seems loth to acknowledge.

Some of this has to do with the paradox of power: the stronger the
Israeli army becomes, the more susceptible and vulnerable it becomes
to even a minor setback. The loss of even one tank, the capture of one
soldier or damage done to one warship has a negative-multiplier
effect: Israel's "deterrent" power is dented out of all proportion to
the act itself. Israel's retaliation is thus partly a matter of
restoring its deterrence, partly sheer vengeance, and partly an
attempt to compel its adversaries to do its bidding.

But there is also something else at work: Israel's fear of
acknowledging any form of equivalence between the two sides. And it is
precisely this that seems to provide the moral and psychological
underpinning for Israel's ongoing assault in both Gaza and Lebanon -
the sense that it may have met its match in audacity, tactical
ingenuity and "clean" military action from an adversary who may even
have learned a thing or two from Israel itself, and may be capable of
learning even more in the future.

There has of course been nothing "clean" about Israeli military action
throughout the many decades of conflict in Palestine and Lebanon.
Israel's wanton disregard for civilian life during the past few days
is neither new nor out of character. For those complaining about
violations of Israeli sovereignty by Hizbullah or Hamas, it may be
useful to recall the tens of thousands of Israeli violations of
Lebanese sovereignty since the late 60s, the massive air raids of the
mid-70s and early 80s, the 1978 and 1982 invasions and occupation of
the capital Beirut, the hundreds of thousands of refugees, the
28-year-old buffer zone and proxy force set up in southern Lebanon,
the assassinations, car bombs, and massacres, and finally the
continuing violations of Lebanese soil, airspace and territorial
waters and the detention of Lebanese prisoners even after Israel's
withdrawal in 2000.

It is unnecessary here to recount the full range of Israel's
violations of Palestinian "sovereignty", not least of which is its
recent refusal to accept the sovereign electoral choice of the
Palestinian people. Israel's extraterritorial, extrajudicial execution
of Palestinian leaders and activists began in the early 70s and has
not ceased since. But for those seeking further enlightenment about
Hamas's recent action, the fact is that some 650,000 acts of
imprisonment have taken place since the occupation began in 1967, and
that 9,000 Palestinians are currently in Israel's jails, including
some 50 old-timers incarcerated before and despite the 1993 Oslo
accords, and many others whom Israel refuses to release on the grounds
that they have "blood on their hands", as if only one side in this
conflict was culpable, or the value of one kind of human blood was
superior to another.

If there ever was a case for establishing some form of mutually
acknowledged parity regarding the ground rules of the conflict, Hamas
and Hizbullah have a good one to make. And if there ever was a case
for demonstrating that what is good on one side of the border should
also good on the other, Hamas and Hizbullah's logic has strong appeal
to Arab and Muslim public opinion - regardless of what the supine Arab
state system may say.

Indeed as George Bush and other western leaders splutter on about
freedom, democracy, and Israel's right to defend itself, Tony Blair's
repeated claim that events in the region should not be linked to
terrible events elsewhere is looking increasingly fatuous.

The slowly expanding war in Afghanistan, the devastation of Iraq, the
death and destruction in Gaza and the bombing of Beirut are all
providing a slow but sure drip feed for those who believe that the
west is incapable of taking a balanced moral stance, and is directly
or indirectly complicit in a design meant to break Arab and Muslim
will and subjugate it to untrammelled Israeli force.

Contrary to what Blair seems to believe, the use of force is unlikely
to breed western style-liberalism and moderation. What is at issue
here is not democracy but the right to resist Israeli arrogance and be
treated on a par with it in every respect, including the use of force.
If Israel has the right to "defend itself" then so has everyone else.

Furthermore, there is nothing in the history of the region to suggest
that Israel's destruction of mass popular movements such as Hamas or
Hizbullah (even if this were possible) would drive their successors
closer to western-style democracy, and every reason to believe the
opposite. Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982 did away with the PLO
and produced Hizbullah instead, the incarceration and elimination of
Arafat only served to strengthen Hamas, and the wars in Afghanistan,
the Gulf and Iraq gave birth to Bin Ladenist terrorism and extended
its reach and appeal. And we should not be surprised if the summer of
2006 produces more of the same.

However Israel's latest adventure ends, it will not produce greater
sympathy and understanding between west and east, or a downturn in
extremism. Indeed the most likely outcome is that a new wave of
virulent and possibly unconventional anti-western terrorism may well
crash against this and other shores. We will all - Israelis, Arabs and
westerners - suffer as a result.

· Ahmad Khalidi is a senior associate member of St Antony's College,
Oxford, a former Palestinian negotiator and the co-author, with
Hussein Agha, of A Framework for a Palestinian National Security
Doctrine (Chatham House, 2006)
aswk at yahoo.com

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