Why would the Palestinians be “valid negotiators” since they do not have a country? Why would they have a country, since theirs has been taken? They have never been given any choice than to surrender unconditionally. They have been offered only death. In the war that opposes them to Israel, Israel’s actions are considered legitimate reprisals (even if they appear disproportionate), while those of the Palestinians are treated exclusively as terrorist crimes. And an Arab death has neither the same value nor the same weight as an Israeli death.

—Gilles Deleuze (1978)[1]


Toward the end of his life, the endlessly missed Edward Said spent a term as a visiting professor at Cambridge University. While in Britain he took part in a number of discussions and debates, and at the end of one such event he turned to a friend and asked, “What is the matter with these people, why does no one mention truth or justice any more?” Said was of course too sophisticated a thinker to be asking for a full-blown positivistic conception of truth or specious appeals to human rights or “universal” values, appeals of the kind resorted to by George W. Bush and Tony Blair to justify the invasion of Iraq. By “truth” Said was referring, primarily but not exclusively, to the ruthless dispossession of the Palestinian people that Israel has been undertaking since its inception in 1948. By “justice” he was referring to the pressing need to rectify the situation brought about by this dispossession, a justice whose requirements seem incomprehensible to many Israelis and Americans.

The truth of this seemingly insurmountable reality, and the overwhelming need for a structure of justice capable of rectifying it, has been demonstrated in the most recent Israeli onslaught on Gaza. The facts of this pitiless slaughter are by now well-known: the pulverizing of many areas in Gaza; the vast disproportion in the fatalities and casualties endured by the two sides; the deliberate targeting of children; the attacking of schools, hospitals, and ambulances; and the infliction of much suffering on the 260,000 Gazans who have been displaced as a result of a bombardment that destroyed 40,000 dwellings.[2] The recent Israeli attack on Gaza is, however, only one of numerous episodes in the historic injustice that has been meted out to the Palestinian people.

The essential truth of this historic injustice resides in Israel’s long-term objective of emptying the Palestinian territories of their Arab inhabitants. To this end, Israel has implemented measures that involve widespread violations of international law. The key elements in this long catalog of Israeli criminal activity include the aforementioned collective punishments (house demolitions as well as bombardments of heavily populated areas where civilian casualties are inevitable) and attacks on ambulances and medical personnel; the illegal occupation and settlement of territories seized after the 1967 War; arbitrary arrests and illegal detentions; the widespread use of torture; expulsion and deportations; extrajudicial assassinations (targeting the leaders of civil society, not just the alleged heads of the resistance militias); summary executions of civilians; systemic employment of disproportionate force against protesters (e.g., tanks firing on stone-throwing youngsters as a matter of routine); the deliberate shooting of journalists covering protests in the occupied territories; the use of Palestinians as human shields in military operations; the withholding of medical aid to wounded civilians; the “clearance” of orchards and olive groves in an attempt to deprive Palestinians of their livelihoods; illegal seizures of Palestinian property and land; the bulldozing of wells to deprive Palestinians of water; and the gratuitous destruction and looting of Palestinian civil agencies after the military occupation of the West Bank was completed.[3] These crimes have of course largely been perpetrated in the name of self-defense.[4] But this self-defense trope is impossible to warrant where Israel is concerned for the simple reason that it is an illegal occupier according to international law, and also because, as the UK Channel 4’s correspondent in Gaza points out in the passage below, Israel has the capacity to employ disproportionate force:

The technology of war has evolved. Living for ten days under constant drone surveillance in Gaza City, it occurred to me that this might be an early foretaste of what large parts of humanity have to suffer in the twenty-first century: total asymmetry of force. Israel, for certain, carried out indefensible shelling into civilian areas; and its soldiers are reported to have drawn arbitrary “red lines,” past which they entitled themselves to shoot civilians. However, the ability to be drone struck, or drone targeted, creates a different issue: many of the homes struck by drones, we have to assume, were targeted because of Hamas members who were alleged to live inside them. But as with the USA in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the drone strikes then killed much of the civilian families who were in those homes. This is extrajudicial killing, by any other name, and in the case of the noncombatants, murder.[5]

All this time the Palestinians have had to endure continued settlement expansion and declining standards of living, with no sign of a political settlement on the horizon. Hamas is told repeatedly by the Israeli government and the United States that its armed resistance (to which it is entitled by international law) impedes a settlement of the dispute, even though Israel’s Palestinian proxy gendarme in the West Bank, Mahmoud Abbas, has received only a few titular gestures from Israel in return for his subservience and cooperation. As a reward for his compliancy, “President” Abbas has been fobbed off with the trappings of a state without any entitlement or access to the real functions of a state.[6]

The Israeli withdrawal of its ground forces from Gaza at the beginning of August and the so-called truce talks in Cairo should give us, much less the Palestinians, no grounds for hope. Israel’s aim in discussions with the Palestinians has always been the restoration of a status quo under its more or less complete control, which in this case will involve a protraction of the illegal siege of Gaza—the very dangerous terrorists hiding in those tunnels will be an obvious briefing point for its official propagandists, such as the egregious Australian transplant Mark Regev—and a continuation of the cruel hamstringing of Gaza’s economy and civil society—another briefing point will of course be that if Palestine is allowed more freedom and power, they will only use it against Israel. If this is the truth of the situation confronting the Palestinian people today, what then are the conditions of a just rectification of their desperate situation?

At the very least, we—but circumspection is counseled regarding the we to whom this seeming imperative is addressed—have to work for a cessation of the blithe indifference of the West, tinged with any amount of racism and Islamophobia, when it comes to the pain and suffering of the Palestinian people. The Western powers are locked in an embrace with Israel, Europe less so than the United States, and their electorates have been mostly acquiescent, and thus far almost somnolently so, with regard to the pervasively asymmetrical situation between the Palestinians and Israel.[7] This systemically induced inertia on the part of the West will have to be overcome in a solidaristic accompaniment to the struggles of the Palestinian people. The authority of those who suffer can never be gainsaid.

The second condition, which will have to be implemented on the disputed territory itself, will be to find a way to make Israel accept the right of the Palestinians to self-determination and acknowledge their entitlement to territory that existed when Israel had its 1967 borders. At this juncture, this will necessitate a one-state solution, Israel having obviated any possibility of a viable two-state solution by its illegal seizure and occupation of an ever-increasing number of tracts of Palestinian land. This one-state solution will require the ending of the Israeli occupation, with its arbitrary curfews and checkpoints, humiliating body searches and haphazard violence toward Palestinians, roads in the West Bank earmarked for Jews only—in short, a solution will require the eradication of the present Israeli-imposed apartheid system. And the creation of a single binational, monumentally arduous and for many unthinkable, must safeguard the civil rights and equality of all, Arabs and Jews.

Is it possible? Since the end of World War II, two absolutely unanticipated world-historical events have occurred. The Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and, shortly after that, the Soviet empire collapsed. The overcoming of South African apartheid in so short a time was another event that could not have been anticipated. If there is hope (and as the Jew Walter Benjamin said, “Only for the sake of the hopeless ones have we been given hope.” (“Nur um der Hoffnungslosen willen ist uns die Hoffnung gegeben.”)[8]), another possibility and its accompanying struggles beckon.

[1] Deleuze, “The Troublemakers,” trans. Timothy S. Murphy, Discourse 20 (1998): 23. Originally published in Le Monde, April 7, 1978. The theory underpinning the notions of truth and justice invoked here is developed in my “‘Dealing in Straight Power Concepts’: the Quest for Justice after September 11,” in Strike Terror No More: Theology, Ethics, and the New War, ed. Jon L. Berquist(London, UK: Chalice, 2002), 86–97, 340–43.

[2] According to the August 6, 2014, “Gaza Situation Report 29” of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA): “With up to thirty percent of Gaza’s population displaced, an estimated 65,000 people have no home to return to. . . . There are at least 187,000 displaced Palestinians in 90 UNRWA shelters. . . . The number of Palestinians killed stands at 1,843. . . . 85 percent of Palestinian fatalities are believed to be civilians (excluding those whose bodies could not be identified or their status is undetermined). The Ministry of Health reports that 9,567 were injured. During the conflict, 67 Israelis were killed, including 64 soldiers, two civilians, and one foreign national” (see http://www.unrwa.org/newsroom/emergency-reports/gaza-situation-report-29).

[3] B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories has a website where all these violations are meticulously catalogued. See http://www.btselem.org/.

[4] Barack Obama echoed this Israeli self-defense refrain, in front of a group of Muslim Americans and diplomats from predominantly Muslim countries, at a White House dinner celebrating the recent Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Obama’s insensitivity on this occasion was almost certainly prompted by the inexplicable presence of the Israeli ambassador at this iftar (dinner at the breaking of the Ramadan fast). On this see Josh Lederman, “Obama: ‘Israel Has the Right to Defend Itself,” Huffington Post, July 14, 2014, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/15/obama-israel-ceasefire_n_5586229.html.

[5] See Paul Mason, “Why Gaza Will Prove to Be a Game-Changing Event,” Channel 4 Blog, August 7, 2014, http://blogs.channel4.com/paul-mason-blog/gaza-prove-gamechanging-event/2118. The specialist in international law John Dugard, who was also the UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, has discredited Israel’s claim that it is acting in legitimate self-defense in his “Debunking Israel’s Self-Defense Argument,” Aljazeera America, July 31, 2014, http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2014/7/gaza-israel-internationalpoliticsunicc.html. The same position is taken by the human rights lawyer Noura Erakat in her “No, Israel Does Not Have the Right to Self-Defense in International Law against Occupied Palestinian Territory,” Jadaliyya, July 11, 2014, http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/8799/no-israel-does-not-have-the-right-to-self-defense-.

[6] All Israeli governments, with the possible exception of the government led by Yitzhak Rabin (who was assassinated in 1995 by a Jewish extremist), have done everything to preempt the prospect of a full-blown two-state solution, typically laying the blame for this failure at the feet of the Palestinians, and it should be noted that even Rabin continued the settlement expansion program. Netanyahu let the cat out of the bag when he said in Hebrew at a press conference (on the fourth day of the recent Gaza attack) that he “could never, ever, countenance a fully sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank.” While he is known to have previously indicated he is opposed to a single binational Israeli state that would include Palestinians, favoring instead a unilateral “separation” from the Palestinians, he now “made explicit that this could not extend to full Palestinian sovereignty.” On this see Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, “Netanyahu’s Real Goal,” Le Monde Diplomatique, July 18, 2014, http://mondediplo.com/blogs/gaza-netanyahu-s-real-goal. In a word: there will be no Palestinian state, Hamas or no Hamas.

[7] There are signs that this is changing, especially among those who are younger. See Cristina Silva, “Hamas Wins Hearts, Minds of Millennials in Conflict with Israel,”International Business Times, August 7, 2014, http://www.ibtimes.com/hamas-wins-hearts-minds-millennials-conflict-israel-1652292.

[8] Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings: volume 1, 1913-1926, ed. Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings(Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1996), 356.