Respecting resistance

Hamid Dabashi writes: Like any other richly diversified society, Palestinians are composed of followers of many religions, politics, and ideologies. Palestinians are Christian, Muslim, atheists, and agnostic. They are nationalist and/or socialists. They are secularists, Islamists, post-Islamists, and post-secularists. They are feminists, modernists, post-modernists, deconstructionists, and they are nativists at times, cosmopolitan at others, unionists, pacifists, militants, you name it. One of them was a founding figure of a school of critical thinking called post-colonial studies.

By far the most consistent and the most definitive aspect of Palestinian resistance to the occupation and theft of their homeland over the decades has been non-violent civil disobedience. Resistance for Palestinians is definitive of who and what they are. They might be a poet like Mahmoud Darwish, a novelist like Ghassan Kanafani, a film-maker like Michel Khleifi, an artist like Mona Hatoum, a feminist like Lila Abu Lughod – but in doing what they do, whatever they do, they oppose and defy the armed robbery of their homeland.

But there are also those Palestinians who have taken arms and opposed villainy by violence. As part of this resistance, Hamas is integral to the Palestinian national liberation movement, but like any other forms of resistance, Hamas is not definitive to Palestine.

What the Israeli propaganda machinery does is to reduce the entirety of Palestine, the rich and diversified tapestry of Palestinian resistance, to Hamas, then demonise Hamas. The strategy works, especially aided and abetted by major state-sponsored or corporate media like BBC, ABC, or CNN. Execute this strategy, and go on a rampage against Palestinians, maim and murder them with impunity.

Now for the sake of argument: Suppose we wake up tomorrow morning and there is no Hamas to shoot off any useless rockets towards Israel. Then what? The magnificent Israeli benevolence will move into operation and return the stolen Palestine to their rightful owners? Of course not. Suppose Hamas did not even exist since its founding in 1987. Then what? Israel would have by now returned Palestine to its rightful owners? Of course not.

Palestinians are varied and Palestinians are entirely entitled to resist and oppose the occupation and theft of their homeland by any means they deem necessary – whether it is by a beautiful song by Muhammad Assaf, a magnificent poem by Mahmoud Darwish, a film by Elia Suleiman, a novel by Ghassan Kanafani, a book on Palestinian costumes by Widad Kawar, or another on Palestinian cuisine by Rawia Bishara or by the militant Marxist organisation PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine), or indeed through the Islamist ideology of Hamas.

One may not agree with Hamas, may not join them, but one cannot reduce the entire tapestry of Palestinian resistance to Hamas, or tell Hamas to disband, for Israelis are [not] about to return Palestine to its rightful owners.

So the bogus proposition that Hamas provokes Israel to attack Gaza is not only narratively false because Israeli military operations in Palestine always predate any Hamas operation, but also because Palestinians in their entirety are neither reducible to Hamas nor can they be denied the right to resist occupation in whatever form they deem necessary.

In the West, on the Left, and especially post-9/11, there has been a reluctance to acknowledge the legitimacy of armed resistance.

No doubt many people fear that if they utter anything resembling an expression of sympathy for an organization such as Hamas, they might risk being branded as a supporter of terrorism, or even worse, attract the unwelcome attention of state security services such as the FBI or the NSA.

When it comes to resistance, it’s much safer to place oneself on the side of non-violent resistance because it seems both morally and legally a much more easily defensible position to assume.

The problem is, to allow that the legitimacy of resistance might be determined by whether it is violent or non-violent, seems to misconstrue the psychological foundation upon which resistance rests: the willingness to fight back against agents of oppression.

How those facing oppression choose the means to fight back, may be a purely pragmatic choice or it might spring from moral principles.

But it was Mahatma Gandhi, the most iconic champion of non-violent resistance, who once said:

Where choice is set between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence… I prefer to use arms in defense of honor rather than remain the vile witness of dishonor.

Firing rockets into Israel might look from the outside like a pointless exercise that not only threatens the population in whose direction they fall, but also prolongs the misery of the Palestinians themselves, yet more than anything these rockets are a gesture of defiance — a refusal to cower.

What Israel wants is for the Palestinians to cower in silence — for “quietness” to be imposed by force. But the Palestinians are not cowards.

Those of us with the privilege of living in the West, have no right to pass judgement on the means of resistance the people of Gaza employ. Indeed, we should respect their refusal to bow down when facing pressures to which most of us would easily yield.

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