Baruch Kimmerling


The right to resist

(27 March 2001)


HA’ARETZ (English Edition), Tuesday, March 27, 2001
Ha’aretz English website (

As difficult as it may be for us, it’s important to make clear the political, legal and moral reality in its historical context: Since 1967, millions of Palestinians have been under a military occupation, without any civil rights with, and most lacking even the most basic human rights. The continuing circumstances of occupation and repression give them, by any measure, the right to resist that occupation with any means at their disposal and to rise up in violence against that occupation. This is a moral right inherent to natural law and international law.

The problem is worsened by physical proximity, in which the two populations live next door to one another, and how that imposes itself on the form of fighting. Indiscriminate Palestinian terrorism against civilian populations in the heart of Israel is immoral, and has a boomerang effect. It increases anger and hatred in the Jewish community and blocks the possibility that an empathetic, rational view can be taken of rightful Palestinian demands. The terrorism also serves as a political tool, consciously used by cynical politicians on the right, and lately by some leading army commanders, to torpedo any possibility of agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.

Furthermore, steps initiated by the army and the settlers often result in the indiscriminate killing of Palestinians, which is equally unacceptable by any human measure. Hundreds of Palestinians have been killed and thousands wounded since the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in late September. Israel now turns frequently to collective punishments – sieges and carving up of Palestinian territory – that are expressedly forbidden by international law and convention. And Israel uses personal terrorism against those it defines as field commanders of the Palestinian uprising.

The Palestinian right to resist the occupation is strengthened by the Fourth Geneva Convention’s ban on creating irreversible facts on the ground in occupied territories, and especially the ban on transferring populations from the occupying state to the territories it has conquered. Israel’s claim that it is not an occupier – because there was no sovereignty over those lands since the British left in 1948, and the Palestinians rejected the 1948 partition plan – is at best, dodgy.

According to the High Court of Justice, which is well aware of the Fourth Geneva Convention, all the settlements over the Green Line were built for “security” reasons, which is the loophole Israel found in international law to justify their construction. The second “legal” loophole used by Israel is that it does not expropriate private property, only establishing settlements on “state lands.”

Since 1967, more than 60 percent of the West Bank has been defined as “state lands,” which in effect has meant selective, de facto annexation of the territories. This “legal” step was made possible because most of the land was not properly listed in the books – whether Ottoman, British or Jordanian. But all those governments recognized the traditional ownership of the territory’s farmers.

Israel made an unprecedented land grab in the 1980s, when it surveyed the entire territory, compared its findings to the tabu (land registration documents), and declared everything unlisted as state property – without allowing local inhabitants prove their ownership and record their holdings. Thus, the legality and morality of all the Jewish settlements and holdings in the territories is highly doubtful.

Several phenomena have dulled Israel’s political and more senses. Until the end of 1987, Palestinian resistance to the occupation was only a minor discord. Israeli society enjoyed the fruits of the “permanent temporary” occupation without paying any significant and immediate price for it. Under such circumstances it was easy to combine nationalist-religious messianism, Likud-style secular chauvinism, and the security-above-all ideology of Mapai and Ahdut Avoda to conquer Israel’s political culture.

Even today, most of the public simply does not know that every violent step taken against the Palestinians – let alone the aggregate of those steps – borders on war crimes, and cannot see the black flag of illegality flying over each of those steps. A state that regards itself as enlightened cannot behave like a terror-state, even if it suffers from terrorism. Statesmen, generals and simple citizens must see that black flag before it’s too late and we are all stained with the blackest of the black.


Last updated on 4.8.2001