The Palestinian Right and the Naive Left

I just read a piece by the antiwar activist and writer David Swanson who I usually find to be quite right-on. But his recent piece left me scratching my head. What was Swanson smoking when he wrote “The Palestinian Right and the American Left”?

He begins: “Chris Hedges says that Palestinians have the right to self-defense in the form of rockets, without including any consideration of whether the rockets make the Palestinians more or less defended. There is, after all, a reasonable argument that the rockets are counter-productive and endangering, rather than protecting, Palestine.”

I agree with Hedges, and I have stated so many times.1,2

As for Swanson’s reasonable argument, my question is what is this reasonable argument? Nowhere in his essay does he provide an argument — only assertion — that this self-defense is counter-productive or endangering.

Even Swanson admits to having no argument or evidence: “I’m not sure I can prove that the rockets hurt the situation, but to render the question inadmissible seems fatally flawed.” Who has rendered the question inadmissible?

Swanson continues his “argument”:

I’m not sure I can prove that the rockets hurt the situation, but to render the question inadmissible seems fatally flawed…. The justification that Israeli spokespeople use on television is likewise almost entirely the rockets. In a world without the rockets, would other excuses prove successful? It’s hard to say for sure. But the rockets provide the public packaging for Israeli war-making, accomplish virtually nothing in military terms, and almost certainly do more to frighten and enrage the people of Israel than to bring Israelis around to sympathizing with the plight of their government’s victims.

If it weren’t rockets, then it’d be some other pretext. False flags have been demonstrated to be quite effective. Why does Swanson presume the Palestinians are seeking the sympathy of a people who have shown no sympathy for them for decades upon decades? Do genocidaires have sympathy for their victims? Would Palestinians still be foolhardy enough to trust anything the Israeli side has to say after the lie of Oslo? After many broken ceasefires?

Swanson asked Sarah Ali, “a smart writer in Gaza,” “if rocket attacks on Israel weren’t likewise counterproductive.” She replied, no, and according to Swanson, “she imagined that Israelis saw the rockets and began to understand the point of view of Palestinians.”

The antiwar activist concluded, “In the absence of any evidence of that phenomenon, I can only say that I’ll believe it when I see it. In every case I’m aware of in which one nation has militarily attacked another, it has done far more to enrage than to stimulate sympathy in the people coming under attack.”

Again, Swanson has presented no argument or evidence that responding with defensive rocket fire is counterproductive. Yet Swanson refutes a line of reasoning because he says there is an “absence of any evidence.” Swanson must realize that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Swanson has weaved himself a seeming contradiction. I wonder just how Swanson would see such evidence being physically removed from the scene, “in the heart of the imperial monster”; nevertheless he can shoot down the explanation from someone in Gaza — next door to Israel.

Swanson rightfully states that he has “no right to tell the people of Gaza what to do or not do…”

But he wonders: “… it’s not clear to me that every Gazan has as deep a familiarity with Israelis or every Israeli with Gazans as one might imagine from their geographic vicinity.”

I am quite unsure what Swanson is trying to convey here. What is this deep familiarity that Swanson writes about? Should the oppressed people be familiar with their oppressors? On what level should they be familiar with their oppressors? Should Palestinians know the heart of their oppressors? After all that would be a deep familiarity. Palestinians are familiar with the nature of the oppressors. They know that their oppressors are lawless when it comes to adhering to international law, immoral when it comes to commission of war crimes, and eager to humiliate a people under occupation.

“The division between these two societies is extreme.” This is stating the obvious. What could be more extreme than a situation of genocidaire and genocided? Occupied and occupier? Oppressed and oppressor?

Swanson asks, “How else could Israelis imagine children as their enemies? And how else could those children’s parents imagine that firing rockets would win over hearts and minds?”

With all due respect, the naivety of these words is astounding.

First, Swanson is putting the onus on the dispossessed, the occupied, the oppressed peoples to win the hearts and minds of their oppressors. That is morally backwards. That is a mighty Christian order for “love thy enemies.”

Second, living in the indispensable nation, the nation of exceptionalism, how is it that Swanson is unfamiliar with Jewish supremacism? Americans’ belief in their exceptionalism and Jews’ belief in their supremacism is not based in the actions of those they oppress; it is inherent to the make-up of these peoples.

I submit that the Palestinians are willing to suffer greater torment in the short term to finally awaken the world to their plight. It is international condemnation and a revulsion at Israeli crimes and a truly mass worldwide boycott that will have the greatest likelihood to bring Israel to cease and desist their killing, occupation, and oppression.

Does Swanson truly believe that there is anything the Palestinians could do to win the hearts and minds of their oppressor even genuflecting whenever a Jew was in the vicinity? Does Swanson believe the Israelis will end the siege without outside coercion?

Put the blame where it belongs and do not scapegoat the people being victimized.

If I were the oppressor, there is nothing I would like better than a compliant oppressed people. However, as soon as I get bloodied a few times by a resisting people, then continuing as an oppressor becomes more fraught with danger to myself.

Swanson might consider the words of the revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata that apply to the case of oppressed peoples everywhere, including Palestine, that it is better to die standing than live on one’s knees.

  1. See, e.g., Kim Petersen, “The Inalienable Right to Self Defense,” Dissident Voice, 27 February 2006 and Kim Petersen, “The Inalienable Right to Resist Occupation,” Dissident Voice, 29 December 2008. []
  2. Interestingly, Swanson’s piece could be construed as an inversion, a blowback on Hedge’s denouncing of the Black Bloc resistance. []

Kim Petersen is co-editor of Dissident Voice. He can be reached at: kim@dissidentvoice.org. Read other articles by Kim.