Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine and the behaviour of Israel’s occupation forces put peaceniks in a difficult position. Recent footage released by B’Tselem, and Israeli human rights group, showing an Israeli soldier in Hebron executing an unarmed and injured man, ’Abd al-Fatah a-Sharif, has sent shock waves around the world. The incident occurred after a-Sharif and Ramzi al-Qasrawi were shot after reportedly stabbing an Israeli soldier in Tel Rumeida. While al-Qasrawi died immediately, a soldier was filmed walking towards the clearly incapacitated a-Sharif and firing a shot at point blank range into his head. More problematically, an Israeli military court has made the decision to try the soldier – guilty of a clear human rights violation – of manslaughter rather than murder.
This most recent execution of a Palestinian teen comes on the back of a fresh wave of violence in the West Bank, with young Palestinians resorting to knife attacks against the Israeli forces of occupation. Naturally Israel is keen to impress on the international community that these attacks are acts of terrorism, but there are two sides to this story. It simply makes no sense under international law to label defensive acts as terrorism when it has been clearly established that the State of Israel is the invader and occupier of the territory. Article 51 of the UN Charter is quite explicit in its affirmation that states, individually and collectively, have the right to defend themselves against armed aggression.
It is true, as many defenders of the occupation argue, that Palestine is not a UN member state (to which the Charter refers), but the document itself arose from a corpus of pre-existing norms which accepted the sovereign right of nations to national self-defence. Moreover, the position of Palestine as a non-member observer state implies the same rights de facto of other recognised nation states. Understanding the present condition of the Israel-Palestine conflict, Israel has no basis in international law for describing legitimate resistence as ‘terrorism.’ In fact the boot is on the other foot; while Palestinians have every right to resist, Israel is the aggressor state engaged in a process of terrorising a civilian population.
This is what puts peaceniks in a difficult position. Violence must, when possible, be avoided, but when it cannot be avoided it must be an action of the last resort. That the last line of Palestinian defence in the West Bank has been reduced to kitchen knives against a highly technologically advanced military apparatus indicates that this armed struggle is an action of the last resort. The international community has abandoned Palestine to the mercy of US-backed Israel, and daily the viability of their sovereign territory is being eroded by illegal settlement, land grabbing, and the brutality of the occupation. Few would deny the right to self-defence had this invasion be of our own countries, why then do we stall when it comes to Palestine?