This story originally appeared in Mondoweiss on Oct. 24, 2023. It is shared here with permission.
For decades, the Israeli regime has upheld a brutal settler colonial occupation and siege of Palestine, controlling every aspect of Palestinian life. It has committed untold war crimes all across colonized Palestine, violating the rights of the population it controls. In Gaza specifically, in addition to the crippling siege, the Israeli regime has relied on “mowing the lawn” every few years to maintain the oppressive status quo. The current Israeli government has been especially brazen with its genocidal intent, widely being characterized as fascist and extreme even by Israeli standards. The international community, rather than applying any modicum of pressure on Israel to cease its barbaric behavior, rewards it instead.
The Hamas guerilla operation on October 7 took the Israeli regime by surprise. Their miscalculation lay in underestimating the ability of the “lawn” to mow them back. In a meticulously planned operation, Hamas fighters breached Israeli regime fences, took over settlements, and killed 1300 Israelis.
With Palestinians breaking free of their besieged ghetto, we suddenly hear the all-too-familiar chorus of “the cycle of violence” and other such clichés. As usual, this fixation on pacifism only arises when the oppressed strike back at their oppressors. It seems that the refusal to live in a cage is not a convincing explanation for violence and armed resistance.
Regardless of whether Israelis were killed or not, there was no way Palestinians could have launched an effective resistance campaign without being widely condemned or demonized.
Even when resorting to tactics such as BDS campaigns to effect change, Palestinians were quickly rebuked, with critics likening the tactic to a “Nazi campaign,” and eliciting draconian legislation to legally ban the practice in places like the United States. In 2018, Gaza launched the unarmed Great March of Return to challenge the occupation and demand the right of return. It was dubbed a “riot,” and met with sniper fire, killing over 300 Palestinians, and creating an entire generation of maimed youth. Palestinian administrative detainees — prisoners held without charge, trial, or access to lawyers — are demonized for daring to go on hunger strikes. Even merely trying to access the International Criminal Court, which in theory should be the most agreeable arena to air grievances in the supposed “rules-based-international-order,” was met with hostility and rejection.
These specific examples were chosen not to imply that other forms of resistance are illegitimate but rather to illustrate how even when Palestinians try to play by the non-armed rules set out for their resistance to be seen as “legitimate,” they are still framed as aggressive terrorists. There is always a reason why even the mildest methods of resistance are deemed wrong, always some technicality explaining that while “usually” this would be the right way to do things, it doesn’t apply to Palestinians. The goalposts are infinitely shifting, and it becomes glaringly obvious that the issue is not with the methods, but instead with who is undertaking them.
The limits of solidarity
This moment has demonstrated the limits of solidarity. It’s easy to show solidarity with corpses and with Palestinians who stoically remain resilient and endure their suffering. As long as Palestinians remain powerless victims, it’s easy to ride on the high horse of morality and wholeheartedly endorse their noble cause. There is a certain respectability in suffering, and it comes with an implied message that should Palestinians suffer long and virtuously enough, their suffering will be rewarded.
It turns out that while the idea of resistance is appealing in the abstract, in reality, it has many troublesome practicalities that rob it of its romantic framing. Thus, the search begins for the perfect unicorn of resistance that ticks all the boxes — a resistance in line with international law but not disruptive, secular but not too leftist, and above all, the price of supporting our resistance can’t affect our supporters’ careers or standing, and our goals need to be accomplished in one swift motion, magicking away the structures of domination without causing too much ugliness.
Never mind that colonialism is ugly and that the systems dominating Palestinians for nearly a century are ugly. You cannot decry Israel as a colonial apartheid state with all the horrors that implies and then pontificate about the appropriate methods to resist it. Decolonization is not an academic thought experiment; it is Algeria, it is Haiti, it is Vietnam.
Gaza today is bearing witness to ethnic cleansing and atrocities not seen since the Nakba. Over 4,200 Palestinians have been killed, a majority of whom are women and children. Not content with merely bombing Palestinians to death, the Israeli regime has cut off water, power, fuel, and all life necessities from the besieged strip, leaving the survivors scrounging for bread and water. The situation has become so dire that some hospital staff in Gaza have resorted to drinking IV bag solutions.
Moreover, in previous weeks, the Israeli regime issued a blanket order for all Palestinians in the north of the Strip — roughly 1.1 million people — to move to the south of the territory within 24 hours. This caused a massive displacement of Gaza’s population not seen for generations. Although the occupation authorities issued a 24-hour window for them to travel south, the Israeli air force bombed the roads leading there, and videos and eyewitness testimonies reveal that the civilian convoys themselves were also targeted for bombing.
However, arriving in the south did not provide any respite for the Palestinians of Gaza, as the Israeli regime’s brutal bombing campaign continued unabated, even targeting so-called “safe zones.” Humanitarian aid comes in through the Rafah crossing at a trickle, and as it stands, over 2 million Palestinians are concentrated in the south with nowhere to go or seek shelter.
Meanwhile, settlers continue to roam the West Bank, attacking Palestinian villages and shooting Palestinians at point-blank range under army protection. Palestinians are being incarcerated en masse all over Palestine.
The tactics of the Israeli regime did not suddenly emerge on October 7. They represent a continuum of colonial violence and domination that has been inflicted on Palestinians for decades. They were only possible because they built upon the foundation that is the normalization of Palestine’s colonization and the utter dehumanization of its people. Palestinians chose to break free of this reality, even if it broke the mold of victimhood set out for them in the process.
Regardless of its genocidal thrashing, the myth of Israeli invincibility was dealt its death blow. Israel mistakenly thought it could live by the sword forever. Now, its humiliation will only convince others of the possibility of its defeat. The Palestinian revolution will continue. Meanwhile, you can join the chorus of moralizers scolding Palestinians for not living up to a utopian conception of struggle, or you can offer real solidarity and appreciate the difficult choices the resistance was forced to make in breaking out of their hell.