On Thursday, the Northwestern University and Evanston community gathered to listen to Ali Abunimah —acclaimed Palestinian-American author and founder of the Electronic Intifada —present on “Palestinian Uprising: The Question of Resistance.”
Amidst the demonization of Palestinians in mainstream Western media, Palestinian resistance has been reduced to a synonym for terrorism and aggression. Students for Justice in Palestine at Northwestern brought Abunimah to campus to explore this misconception.
By analyzing the vast power disparity between the two sides and Israeli’s collective punishment of Palestinians, the event contextualized resistance and justified it.
Abunimah began the talk by addressing anti-Islamic sentiment in the post 9/11 era and particularly since the formation of Daesh. He emphasized that although surveys clearly illustrate the Muslim opposition to ISIS, the conflated Muslim/Arab/Oriental collective remains demonized and targeted in manners very similar to those presented in the immediate wake of 9/11.
Abunimah discussed the Israeli reaction to the Paris terrorist attack perpetrated by ISIS and how Netanyahu used it equate Palestinian resistance with the terrorist organization. By making this point, Netanyahu argues that Palestinians are inherently violent extremists, not freedom fighters inspired by decades of racist Israeli policies and oppression.
The Israeli Prime Minister’s statements contribute to the demonization of the Palestinian, Arab and Muslim communities and at the same time also presented a case for more strict and oppressive policies.
As Abunimah stated during his discussion, Netanyahu’s discourse describes Palestinians as being “part of a wild mass of jihadists that is undifferentiated, that is the same motivation of those attackers in Paris. All these things we’re [the Israelis] doing are not provoking them, but making us safer.”
After illustrating the severity of the popular Israeli demonization of Palestinians, Abunimah proceeded to analyze some of the different facets through which Israel oppresses the Palestinians.
He began by mentioning Israel’s policy of home demolition, which is perpetrated against the families of Palestinian suspects before they have been convicted of any crimes by the Israeli Military court. In addition to targeting the family of the Palestinian suspect, the demolitions very often destroy the homes of the suspect’s neighbors. This policy, which constitutes as collective punishment, is considered a war crime, according to the 4th Geneva Convention.
This policy is only symptomatic of a larger ‘legal-wing’ of the apartheid system imposed on the Palestinians. In 2012, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) published the following with regards to Israel:
“The Committee is extremely concerned at the existence of two sets of laws, for Palestinians on the one hand and Jewish settlers on the other hand who reside in the same territory, namely the West bank, including East Jerusalem, and are not subject to the same justice system (criminal as well as civil matters). The Committee is particularly concerned at worrying reports of an increase in the arrest and detention of children and of the undermining of their judicial guarantees, notably in relation to the competence of military courts to try Palestinian children, which is inconsistent with international law. The Committee expresses great concern at the State party’s maintenance of administrative detention for both Palestinian children and adults based on evidence that is kept secret for security reasons. It also expresses concern at the monetary and physical obstacles faced by Palestinians seeking compensation before Israeli tribunals for loss suffered, in particular as a consequence of the IDF Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip (Articles 3, 5 and 6 of the Convention).” [Article 27]
As the study highlights, there are two separate legal systems: a military court reserved for Palestinians, and a civil court for Israelis and settlers. According to a Haaretz study, there is a 99.74 percent conviction rate for the Palestinians in the military court. Juxtapose this statistic with 84 percent of criminal complaints filed by Palestinians against Israeli civilians being closed due to “investigational failures” and 94 percent of investigations against IDF soldiers being closed without indictments, as illustrated by Yesh Adin—an Israeli legal advocacy group.
Abunimah then proposed an alternative thesis to Netanyahu’s warmongering Orientalist one. The thesis was Paulo Freire’s: “With the establishment of a relationship of oppression, violence has already begun. Never in history has violence been initiated by the oppressed. How could they be the initiators, if they themselves are the result of violence? How could they be the sponsors of something objective whose objective inauguration called forth their existence as oppressed? There would be no oppressed had there been no prior of violence to establish their subjugation.”
According to Friere’s thesis, Palestinian resistance is not solely justified, but necessary.