In Palestine, the law has been used as a tool of oppression to legitimize and advance the dispossession of the Palestinian people for more than a century. From the theft of Palestinian land by legal mechanisms to the non-recognition of Palestinians as a people with the inalienable right of self-determination, the law is yet another weapon wielded against the Palestinian people by Israel and its patrons. Activist, attorney, and Rutgers University professor Noura Erakat joins The Chris Hedges Report to discuss the use of lawfare against Palestine and her new book, Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine.
The following is a rushed transcript and may contain errors. A proofread version will be made available as soon as possible.
“Time and time again,” the human rights attorney, Noura Erakat, writes, “we see evidence of the laws assumed insignificance in the dispossession of Palestinians. Great Britain remained committed to establishing a Jewish national homeland and Palestine, despite its legal duties as the mandatory power to shepherd local Arab peoples to independence. The permanent mandates commission remained committed to the incorporation of the Balfour Declaration into the mandate for Palestine in contravention of the covenant of the League of Nations, which in discussing the dispossession of the communities formally belonging to the Turkish empire, stated that the wishes of these communities must be a primary consideration.”
“The United Nations proposed a partition of Palestine without legal consultation and in disregard of the existing populations wellbeing and development, which the same covenant had declared to be a sacred trust of civilization. Zionist militias established Israel by force without regard to the partition plans stipulated borders.”
“The United Nations accepted Israel as a member despite the state’s violation of the non-discrimination clauses of the partition plan and of the UN’s own condition that Israel permit the return of forcibly displaced Palestinian refugees. The very origins of the Palestinian Israeli conflict,” Erakat continues, “suggests that it is characterized by outright lawlessness and yet few conflicts have been as defined by astute attention to law and legal controversy as this one.”
“Do Jews have a right to self-determination in a territory in which they did not reside but settled? Are Palestinians a nation with the right to self-determination or are they merely a heterogeneous polity of Arabs eligible for minority rights? Did the United Nations have the authority proposed partition in contravention of the will of the local population? Are the West Bank including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip occupied as a matter of law that is, are they recognized as such by law?”
Does Israel have the right in law to self-defense against the Palestinians living in the occupied territories? Do Palestinians have the right to use armed force against Israel? Is the root of Israel’s separation barrier built predominantly in the West Bank illegal? Is Israel an apartheid regime?
Joining me, discuss these issues examined in her book, Justice For Some: Law and The Question of Palestine, is the human rights attorney and assistant professor at Rutgers University, Noura Erakat.
You begin the book, I think making a crucial point, and that is that the entire legal system, and this is predates the establishment of the state of Israel under the British mandate, is grounded in the denial of sovereignty to the Palestinian people. And I, as we said before I went on air, reminded me very much of the construction of the American legal system, another settler colonial project, basing it on lock’s primacy of property. So you build a legal system on a distortion. And this was something that the British imposed. Let’s go back and look at that.
Absolutely. And so I think that the invocation of Locke is very apt here. Specifically as we were discussing earlier, Locke theorizes the social contract as was later applied in the United States as a social contract for settlers only through the exclusion of indigenous peoples and their erasure. And here what you’re describing as the perversion and the denial of sovereignty to Palestinians is what I capture as a colonial erasure, the erasure of the juridical status of Palestinians as a international people with the right to self-determination. There was never a denial that there were people on these lands, but that there was an outright denial whether these people constituted a political community with the right to exercise self-determination, what we’re using interchangeably here with sovereignty, though I would caution that sovereignty has come to take on quite new meaning beyond just statehood and self-governance. But in so far as we’re discussing this particular moment, it’s the aftermath of the First World War.
And the British have basically promised Palestine to its native peoples and promised self-determination across the former Ottoman territory is what they describe as the area a mandate. They’ve also promised Palestine and designated it as a site of Jewish settlement as captured by the Balfour Declaration, which was approved by British Parliament in 1917. That later becomes the Preambular text for the Palestine mandate, which governs the regulation of this mandate territory. Now, in so doing, and this is why I examine the language of the Balfour Declaration, the declaration itself only recognizes Jews was having a right to self-determination when they designated as a site of settlement and recognizes the original inhabitants, but only describes them as having a right to civil and religious rights. So they have the right to practice their religion freely and to move about freely, but they do not have a right to political rights.
And that’s what I capture as the colonial erasure. Once the British do that, and now it’s incorporated in the Palestine mandate in 1921, it becomes, I suggest, not just British colonial prerogative as the mandatory power. It now becomes international law and policy by which the entire permanent mandate commission, which is overseeing the governance of all the mandates. Now remember the mandates are set up as being trusteeships that will be shepherded to self-determination. But as Timothy Mitchell points out, this was about the consent of the governed. That self-determination here only meant that the governed decided who would be their mandatory power. But this becomes an other way to continue French and British colonial penetration into the Middle East and North Africa without necessarily granting independence to these peoples who have to fight for their independence. But even within that construction, they set apart Palestine as a part of international law and policy.
They set it apart from the other class A mandates in saying unlike those mandates that are being shepherded to independents that have a provisional government, that are able to represent themselves, Palestine because of its designation as a side of Jewish settlement has to be now developed in another way. And so they suppress any form of Palestinian sovereignty and self-determination even in contravention of the League of Nations covenant, which regulates the mandate territories, the mandates themselves that says, for example, “You cannot contravene the wishes of the original inhabitants.” Well, obviously we know that the inhabitants rejected Zionism and wanted self-determination, that there should be some sort of self-government, but they wouldn’t allow representative self-government because if they did, that would contravene the Balfour Declaration.
And now the Balfour Declaration was part of the Palestine mandate, which was international law. The PMC resolves this in basically saying, “Why don’t we first prioritize the settlement of Jewish persons and then we’ll move on to resolve the issue of the rights of the original inhabitants?”
And this points out to something interesting, Chris, which is often I think we give too much credit to Britain and to this imperial access of having a plan, that they planned that there would be a Jewish state. And I don’t think so. I don’t think so. I think that they wanted to thwart self-determination in general and maintain Palestine as a site where they can continually justify their intervention and their colonial penetration in order to basically compete with the French in the MENA region as well as to justify their presence through some sort of colonial benevolence.
And what crystallizes later is why this becomes the demand. Now, the Zionist demand for a Jewish state is not something that they necessarily intended and why it becomes a blunder. This becomes a blunderous policy for them as we see in the aftermath of the Second World War, when the British leave and they give this to the United Nations and they say, “We don’t know what to do anymore. We can’t resolve this. We’ve made too many promises, we’ve created a bit of a Frankenstein here.” But all that to say is that it was through their 30 years of that mandatory authority that they create the conditions that basically make ripe Zionist militias to then establish a Jewish state themselves, a Zionist state with a solid Jewish demographic majority that is contingent on the removal and dispossession of the original Palestinian people.
Well, at the inception, the Jews and Palestine who were a small minority were essentially seen as colonial administrators. And during the Arab Revolt, 37, 38, 39, the British were arming the Zionist militias as auxiliary units. You’re write, all of it backfired. But from the inception, and this was I think the underlying point of the Balfour administration, it was through the Jewish community that essentially they were going to maintain this colony. Isn’t that correct?
Yeah, very interesting here. This is also part of a broader colonial trope that they wanted to protect the minority Jewish population as a religious population, and it’s under this kind of benevolent auspices that they can justify their own intervention, right? But they wanted, for example, to maintain direct access and build a railroad from Haifa to Baghdad as part of a broader British vision, that this wasn’t about creating a homeland for Jews, for the British as much as it was about achieving their policy as you’re describing. A few things about the Great Revolt. The Great Revolt is so significant, not only because here the British are arming the Jewish Yeshu, the Zionists and training them in this moment leaving arms to them. At the same time, Rashid Khalidi points out to us that through the course of the Great Revolt, the British actually end up decimating 10% of the male adult population either through imprisonment, exile, or outright killing.
And so this makes the Palestinians, in fact, some 10 years later when now they’re facing off with the Zionist militias in the falling apart of the partition plan, unable to resist I think more forcefully. So that’s absolutely significant.
The second thing I’ll say about the Great Revolt is that it changed British policy that whereas the British refused to reexamine their commitment to Zionism between 1917 and 1936 in the aftermath of the Great Revolt because they realized that they could not resolve this forcefully, they could not partition Palestine as a matter of force, that the Palestinians refused that outcome, that it would have to be done by force. They actually revised their Zionist policy for the first time when they issue the white paper and they walk back that policy and now say that the future will be determined by a referendum and that there will somehow be an Arab federal state instead. Obviously, none of this comes to fruition, not least of which because the Second World War begins.
And I just, as you point out in your book, the Arab Revolt was actually quite successful. I think they even occupied, as you say, Jerusalem for five days, huge parts of the country. And the British declared martial law and brought in, was it a hundred thousand or 200,000 British troops? So it required Draconian British military power, in essence to crush these aspirations. And then as you point out, left the Palestinians weakened. You had a Jewish brigade of course in World War II incorporated into the British Army, and then they pushed through the seizure of land, 78% of land 1948 when they created the state of Israel, which is an important part.
Before you go there, Chris, I just want to point out this point about martial law significant in three ways, I should say. Number one, the martial law regime that the British apply during the Great Revolt in order to basically crush the Palestinian insurgency and uprising is something that they’re applying across their colonial geographies and their colonial holdings, whether it be in Malay, in Kenya, in India, this is a form of their suspending all civil rights in order to be able to exercise whatever they deem necessary for their national interests. And so the colonial legacy, here, I say that to just emphasize that as exceptional as many aspects of the Palestinian struggle for liberation are, that it’s actually quite common and emblematic of a broader colonial history. The second thing that I want to point out is that upon its establishment, Israel, one of the first act of the Knesset is to adopt Britain’s emergency regime, almost verbatim, almost verbatim, for the purpose of achieving its settler colonial ambitions.
Of course, they become sovereign over 78% of Palestinian lands, but those lands still belong to Palestinians. It takes 12 years until 1960 in four phase plan where now the state of Israel, no longer the Zionist militias, are now the state forces, are incrementally taking that land through a regime of immigration law, property law, and emergency rule of which the military law is central as it’s applied solely to the Palestinian population that remains, that eventually become citizens of the state as well.
And then the third thing that I’ll say about that martial law is that once they lift the martial law, in 1966, this is precisely what now they apply to the Palestinians and the West Bank in Gaza to continue that settler colonial expansion. So the legacy, this broad global legacy of Marshall Rule in order to achieve their colonial ambitions becomes a central organizing technology of Israeli governance in order to fulfill its own settler colonial ambitions, both within what becomes Israel as well as in what we describe as the occupied territories in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.
So there were two key points I picked up from your book. One, this continuum between a legal system set up by the British settler Colonial project and the Israeli settler colonial project really almost seamless and premised on exactly the same point that the Palestinians have no sovereignty, the Palestinians, Gold Meir, I think said they don’t exist as a people. And so just the same legal tools that the British were using to dispossess and strip Palestinians of basic rights are no different from the tools that Israel uses. Is that correct?
I’ll modify that slightly. And also, unfortunately, [inaudible 00:18:35] D. Muir says this in an interview with the International Herald Tribune where she says, “It’s not as if there was a land with a people that we dispossessed. It was a land without a people for a people without a land.” This is emphasizing that colonial erasure, Muir, Herzl, Wiseman, Ruppin, all of these founding figures, Zionist figures understand full well there are Palestinians, they just do not recognize them as a political community.
There’s this continuing discourse of savagery, barbarism, lack of civilization, do not know how to rule themselves. It’s a colonial project. Zionism is very much a settler colonial project, which makes this revisionism that we’re seeing today, describing it as a national self-determination movement, or worse as the greatest form of anti-colonial revolt. So laughable because it is exalted, self exalted as a colonial project. The other thing I’ll just modify slightly is that insofar as the British were concerned, it wasn’t just that they were targeting Palestinians, they were also suppressing any form of national self-determination because of their imperial interest.
They wanted to stay there, they didn’t want to leave. But the infrastructure that they set up for us, this emergency infrastructure in particular is what Zionists adopt in Toto, almost verbatim, when the Israel establishes itself and they do so whereas when the British passed, they actually impose the martial law and the emergency regime on everyone. The Jewish Zionists as well as Palestinians, when Israel adopts it in the Knesset, it’s imposed on Palestinians only in order to continue now a specific form of dispossession. What the British do is engage in immigration, which is engage in a discriminatory form of immigration that just doesn’t regulate the immigration of Jewish settlers. And also a land regime where we’re seeing a tremendous sale of lands that’s also unregulated, not regulating the market properly so that Palestinians are not necessarily stripped forcefully what they’re stripped of as their political right, their political right to represent themselves, their political right to organize their political right to make decisions on what this looks like.
But not in the same way of once Israel is established. At that point, the law is retooled specifically to transform Palestinian lands into Israel lands. And once in the form of Israel lands, that’s just the cover because if you say Israel, that means that, oh, everybody who’s a citizen of Israel. But in fact, it’s a cover to say Jewish national lands in particular because upon its establishment in 1950 and 1952, Israel bifurcates Jewish nationality from Israeli citizenship. And this is key. This is key especially to those who discuss apartheid because Israel doesn’t become an apartheid regime for failing to establish a Palestinian state and truncating Zionist sovereignty across the 1949 Armistice lines or what we know as the 1967 lines. Israel is predicated on a discriminatory framework that bifurcates Jewish nationality through which all rights flow.
This is an extraterritorial right that promises any Jewish person within outside, who’s never even heard of the state, who might be born today, to land, to employment, to housing, to education, to governance in a way that will never become accessible even to the Palestinian inhabitants that never leave. 20% of Israel’s population are the Palestinians that stay through the 1948 war, but even they don’t have those same rights. They’re only entitled to Israeli citizenship. And there’s a two-tiered system, one of nationality and citizenship, and one of citizenship only, and citizenship only is a form of second class citizenship or a fifth pillar. And so this too is part of a legal edifice that defines the state and its establishment.
In the book, you talk about the legal recourses that Palestinians, in particular the PLO, and what I found interesting is that while they didn’t achieve their ultimate objective, they often achieve secondary objectives that benefited the Palestinian people almost by default. Can you explain that?
Well, you’re leaving it very open-ended because as you know, I divide the book into five critical junctures. Each of those junctures is really catalyzed by some sort of violent confrontation that becomes an opportunity to recalibrate the balance of power. And in each of these episodes, that relationship between power and law becomes formative in both defining how we understand the question of what becomes the question of Palestine as articulated by the United Nations in 1948, it suddenly becomes a question, and defines the meaning of law in particular. So what the Palestinians do, and those junctures are 1917, in the aftermath of the first World War, 1967, the 1967 war, 1973, the October, 1973, war, 1987, the first Palestinian and 2000 the second Palestinian Intifada, which also shapes and defines ongoing warfare to this day when Israel shifts from a policy of occupation to explicit warfare against the Palestinians who live under its occupation.
So I say that all to lay out the audience, that I’ll just focus on the juncture and the aftermath of the 1973 war. When I articulate in the book that this was really the apex of when the Palestinian Liberation Organization due to the law astutely to achieve its national ambitions. Now, this is also nuanced because at this time in 1973, the PLO as defined by its militia forces who take over the PLO in 1968, their goal is full liberation. They want to liberate all of Palestine. They have no ambitions for a state. There’s no articulation of that. This is a decolonization movement they want to liberate. They want to free the land. In the aftermath of the 1973 war, and specifically we see this very explicitly in ’74, we might see it earlier, but very explicitly in ’74, there is now a seed planted that envisions the establishment of a truncated Palestinian state as either the stepping stone of full liberation or the final solution.
We don’t see that question resolved until 1988 when the Palestinians now enter Oslo. So I’m just setting this up for the audience to be able to explain that even we say, what do Palestinians want? At this point there’s a lot of nuance. There’s an explicit agenda of full liberation, but there’s also now a latent agenda by some elements of the PLO led by Fatah, and I would say even a very conservative element of Fatah, not all of Fatah at this time. So now what? Okay, so in ’74, the Palestinians basically make their first foray into the United Nations. Their objective is actually not to enter the United Nations. They want to enter the Middle East peace process now being shepherded by the Soviet Union, but by primarily the United States, by Nixon, who’s both the Secretary of State and the head of the National Security Council, who in pursuance of Zionist goals as well as US national interest, disaggregates the Arab Israeli question, or the Arab Israeli conflict, I should say, into an Egyptian Israeli track, a Lebanese Israeli track, a Jordanian Israeli track, a Syrian Israeli track, and leaves out the Palestinians altogether.
What the PLO really wants is to be able to negotiate on behalf of themselves and not by proxy. Failure to be able to incorporate themselves into that negotiating process, now they set their sights on the United Nations, and that’s when they enter in ’74 to pass Resolution 3236 and 3237, which together both affirms their Juridical status as a people when it says that the PLO is the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and not merely a [inaudible 00:28:23] of refugees in need of humanitarian assistance and establishes a corrective to Resolution 242, which doubles down on their erasure by describing them as refugees only, and establishes a quid pro quo arrangement whereby Israel will enjoy permanent peace in recognition for returning all of the territories. And so this is seen as an instrument of defeat. So that’s the first kind of what, I guess, one might describe as that’s not exactly what they wanted.
What they wanted was to enter into the negotiations. This is what they do, which is also very successful. That didn’t advance their cause as much. And in the summer of ’75, they decided that they wanted to expel Israel from the United Nations in the same way that the non-aligned movement had expelled South Africa and unseated it from the United Nations. But in their effort to do so, they were primarily blocked by Egypt under the leadership of Anwar El-Sadat, who saw that the only pathway forward was through some sort of US alliance in order to get the Sinai back to recoup the Sinai and wanted to continue negotiations with Israel. So actually stymied this initiative to unseat Israel from the United Nations. Instead, what the Palestinians do in the summer of ’75 at the International Women’s Conference, at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, at the non-aligned movement, amongst the organization of African Union is basically a condemnation of Zionism as a form of racism and racial discrimination.
That wasn’t the primary goal, but that was the consensus. So they come back to the general assembly and now work to create one of the most significant, I think, legal achievements when they amend the decade against racism that was targeting apartheid in Namibia and South Africa to also include a condemnation of Zionism. And we get Resolution 3379 that declares that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination that would only be rescinded by the PLO itself in 1991. And so I would say that these are just a few examples of what… I think I’m responding to your question of perhaps what Palestinians had sought and what they do instead using these legal maneuvers. And obviously all of this entry of foray is also restricting the Palestinians themselves, but it’s a restriction that they welcome in order to advance their other goals.
Let’s talk about Oslo. You opened that chapter quoting Edward Said, who calls it a Palestinian Versailles, and really, I think, you make a very persuasive argument that it destroys the PLO as an effective resistance organization.
When I started this chapter, I really was starting it and interested in it as a legal scholar, and I thought to myself, one of the offerings that I can make is to explain to a non-specialist, what did Oslo do in order to permanently subjugate Palestinians? Because that’s what it is. Oslo is a sovereignty trap. It doesn’t promise, there’s never even a mention of the Palestinian state. None of its negotiating terms promises an eventual outcome of a Palestinian state. Palestinians don’t get anything. And so I wanted to explain that, how does Israel create this new administration under Oslo to regulate access to water, access to land, access to movement? How does Oslo set up all of these strictures? But when I read the actual documents, the Declaration of Principles, also known as Oslo 1, when you read Oslo 2, that sets up this jurisdictional regime of area A, B, and C, when you read why and Taba and so on, it’s so obvious how Palestinians are subjugated that I thought to myself, well, you don’t need to be a legal expert to have this takeaway, you just need to be literate.
So instead, I decide to answer a question I don’t know the answer to yet, which is why? Why would the PLO enter into something so obviously devastating and self-defeating. And in trying to answer that question, what becomes clearer to me anyway, is that this really is about salvaging the PLO, that that’s what was being done. The PLO after its expulsion from Lebanon in 1982 in removal to Tunisia, is now no longer has a solid base where it almost oversees, one would say the infrastructure of a para state with a significant refugee population within Lebanon that constitutes an entire institution of representation and services and functioning, and also it doesn’t have the grounds for cross border attacks. That’s a significant blow. By 1987, they continue to weaken, not least because of the emergence of opposition like Hamas, that now becomes even more popular than the PLO struggle, as well as the fact that now there’s an organic movement within the West Bank in Gaza that’s leading an Intifada, an uprising so that the center of gravity shifts from the Palestinian diaspora to Palestinian lands themselves.
And this is undermining the PLO’s authority together with the fact now by the time Arafat throws his hat in and supports Saddam Hussein’s occupation of Kuwait, which in retribution Gulf states, Kuwait, number one basically says Palestinians out. And now there’s a whole loss of remittances to the Palestinians, as well as the fact that anybody that wants to support Palestine is going to support opposition and not the PLO itself. So all of these things come together to basically shape a moment where the PLO was at the edge of irrelevance, at the edge of irrelevance. And entering into the negotiations, they had a very adept team at Madrid, Washington, that saw the writing on the wall [foreign language 00:35:33] are very clear in their legal analysis in mourning that Israel is basically offering the same thing that was offered in the 1978 Middle East peace process in the negotiation between Sadat and Begin leading up to the 1979 permanent Egyptian Israeli peace, which is an autonomy framework.
That’s all they’re offering. They offered the same thing in ’78. The only difference now when they’re offering it in the lead up to the adoption of the Declaration of principles is that they’re saying that Palestinians will not only be able to govern themselves on these different plot of lands, but can also govern certain plots of land, but only there. They still won’t be able to exercise jurisdiction. And instead of electing a local government to do it, they’ll allow the PLO to do it. Those are literally the only differences between ’78 and what we ultimately see in ’93. One of the interesting things about doing this work, Chris, and this research, is that the legal literature is dominated by Israeli scholars, especially on these questions. So part of the work that I was doing was also helping to create a Palestinian archive to advance these legal arguments.
And doing that meant that I interviewed the interlocutors that were there. I interviewed the negotiators themselves, so Camille Mansour, who was there and was a negotiator and is a legal scholar. It’s his words where he illuminates that if you lose Palestinian representation, we go back to being just no people anymore. We had to save the PLO in order to save our status as a juridical people. But in exchange for that recognition, we basically relinquished Palestine.
The rescindment of the 1975 resolution declaring Zionism is a form of racism, is emblematic. The amendment of the charter that says that Palestinians will no longer resort to armed force when Israel is not making similar concessions. It doesn’t say we’re not resorting to armed force. The recognition of Israel. Palestinians recognize Israel. There’s no mutual recognition of a Palestine. And so Palestinians basically see and surrender what should have remained on the table as part of their negotiating leverage as a condition for entering into Oslo, which becomes the trap that they remained frankly [inaudible 00:38:21] within. Although we obviously see many, many cracks and Oslo has been dead, even though many have tried to keep it up on stilts. But that’s what’s happening. That’s what people are celebrating in 1993, even though though Edward Said, Abdel-Shafi, [inaudible 00:38:40], and many others recognized as an instrument of defeat, this Palestine, it’s done, Palestine has been lost. And even Hanan Ashrawi, Dr. Hahan Ashrawi, who recognizes what a loss this is, also agrees that it was still worthwhile because they didn’t want to relinquish the status of the PLO. And so people are not stupid.
This was a very logical decision. The PNC approves Oslo, approves the DOP. So this is also not necessarily just betrayal by the PLO, even though it is betrayal by the negotiating team in Oslo, which was the back channel secret negotiation, but the negotiators in Washington had no idea about. But just adding nuance here that there was a lot. The PLO in its own documentation says that they entered into Oslo and Dr. Nabil Shaath, who’s also one of my interlocutors, says, “We knew it was bad, but we entered on good faith.” And that faith obviously didn’t bear out for them. It didn’t do what they had hoped.
There was a lot of corruption. I was in Gaza after Oslo and the PLO leadership were importing their duty free Mercedes and building villas. As you point out in the book, the PA spends most of its budget on internal security functioning in essence as a colonial police force, the hierarchy that’s willing to do that dirty work can live very well. But we’ve now reached a point, and of course in the elections in 2006, the PA lost, Hamas won even in the West Bank. So in many ways, I don’t know if you would agree, it’s nullified itself as a credible movement on behalf of the Palestinian people at this point. Would you agree?
100%. I think that this is consensus amongst Palestinians, which is what’s so troubling that the PA, even according to Oslo, the PA is only meant to be an administrative body. It should deliver mail. It should pick up the trash. It should complete administrative functions. It was never appointed to lead the Palestinian liberation movement, which should have remained within the purview of the PLO. But we see a collapse of the PA in the PLO in a way that blurs these lines on the firsthand. And then instead what we see, it was supposed to have a temporary function until we moved into permanent status negotiations and the establishment of the Palestinian state. There’s never a mention of the Palestinian state, Chris. Even the negotiators themselves, [inaudible 00:41:44] who is hailed as the peacemaker and assassinated for his willingness to enter into Oslo by an Israeli settler.
Even he says there will never be a Palestinian state. So this temporary arrangement should have only lasted for five years. Let alone now we’re above three decades, and the PA has been a very, very significant instrument part and parcel of Israel’s occupation regime. It is doing the work on behalf of Israel. It is coordinating security with Israel. It is arresting Palestinians. It is providing intelligence on where Palestinians are. It is actually entering into Palestinian public squares to beat Palestinians to suppress their protests, even now against the genocide in Gaza. Just think. Just think the fact that the public sector is bloated, but the primary part of the Palestinian public sector is the security sector. And that security sector is basically policing Palestinians to protect Israel settlement enterprises. I had said before, and I’m saying now again, that in contrast, there’s no dedication, for example, to invest in the agricultural sector.
Had the PA now collapsed with a PLO invested in an agricultural sector, it might’ve been able to create and cultivate an economy that can engage in boycott of Israeli goods even rather than be flooded with Israeli goods into the market. But this also goes hand in hand with the fact that the PLO has never even endorsed boycott. There’s still committed, even if it’s a state led, a truncated Palestinian state, to that structure at the expense of liberation. And why at the expense of liberation, because this is not inclusive of all Palestinians. It’s not inclusive of the Palestinian refugees. It’s certainly not inclusive of the Palestinians who are citizens of Israel, and it doesn’t have a vision of how is it that Palestinians are going to be free from Israeli dominance as opposed to what they’re banking on, which is an autonomy arrangement whereby they will forever receive certain incremental privileges from Israel and its patron, the United States, in exchange for being good natives.
And this is the trap that we remain in, and it puts Palestinians… It makes our struggles so much harder. And many people are asking, how is Gaza? And the West Bank too. I mean, obviously the West Bank is being subject to untold and unprecedented violence from the beginning of this year, but especially since early October. But Palestinians are not even able to mount a significant and a robust resistance to protect themselves because not only are they being attacked by Israel and their settler vigilantes who are being armed, but they’re also being attacked and policed by the Palestinian authority.
You compare the PLO to the Namibians and you make some, I think, really important points about how they were far more astute. They rejected the South African peace process as an alternative. SWAPO refused to enter South Africa’s exclusive sphere of influence and maintain an adversarial position, unlike the PLO, which has committed to US mediated bilateral talks for 25 years, SWAPO never relinquished its right to the use of force, and it never ceased its armed struggle. Talk about the difference because they were far more successful. And then of course you had Cuban troops stationed in Angola.
I bring up Namibia in the conclusion because there is, especially in the realm of Palestine, and we see this now because of the South Africa application at the ICJ, there is a way because of the failure of politics really, and a failure of a Palestinian leadership to articulate some sort of a political program and a resistance vision. And resistance here, I mean robustly like diplomatic resistance, economic resistance, popular resistance, cultural resistance, delegitimizing, a Zionist colonial project. Nothing. There’s nothing. And in the absence of that, unfortunately, human rights and rights-based programs have taken up an inordinate amount of space in a way that even supplants the language of politics that now Palestinian politics are hollowed out instead with principles of law, which is detrimental, is detrimental because the law is only a tool. That very same law like human rights law that Palestinians use to assert their right to family and their right to not be harmed.
Settlers in the West Bank are invoking that same body of law to say that it’s their human right to maintain these lands and to be protected and to be free of Israeli state violence. The law will set up a battleground only, but that can only be resolved through politics. And so I bring that to the fore to say, because so many people bring up Namibia as an example of a very astute use of the law. Here it is. Namibia waged a multi-year legal battle where they incrementally scaffolded a legal argument at the ICJ in order to demonstrate firstly and foremost the illegitimacy of South Africa as a mandatory power and a governing power in Namibia and South Africa. And then scaffolding on top of that other rights of their right to self-determination and so on and so forth. But it’s not because of this robust jurisprudence that the Namibians ultimately gain independence. That’s necessary.
That was strategic. That helped build a language to use. It helped cultivate international support. But ultimately it wasn’t a legal decision. South Africans don’t leave Namibia because the court said so, they could care less. Ultimately why they leave is because you have Cuban forces who are fighting alongside, who are in Angola that the US wants out of Angola. This becomes a proxy for the US and the Soviet Union and Cuba being involved, and part of that negotiation of withdrawal includes withdrawal from Namibia. So there are other things happening where this influences the United States and shifts its position on apartheid as well. But the Namibians, as you point out in and as I point out in the book, are also very astute. They never enter into a South African sphere of influence. They’re offered the same thing that Palestinians are offered in the form of black homelands and autonomous governance.
They reject that. They never rescind their right and to use armed force, which is enshrined as a result of the non-aligned movement, enshrined as a right for people living under alien occupation, racism and domination. So that matters too. Now, I say all that to say to the credit of the Palestinians that this environment in which Namibia is maneuvering or Namibians are maneuvering, excuse me, doesn’t exist by the time the Palestinians are entering into Oslo. In fact, we’re seeing Namibian and South African independence. Mandela has been released. We’re seeing the fall of apartheid. We see the fall of the Soviet Union. We see the emergence of a unipolar world. So this balance of power that really did enable a different kind of liberation struggle for Namibians is not available to the Palestinians at the time. And so we can sit here retrospectively and say, “Well, nothing could have been worse than what they’ve done now.”
But all of this is conjecture, obviously. I’m less concerned about the trap that Palestinians enter into based on this balance of power based on the political considerations. I’m more concerned that they haven’t shifted course and policy when it was clear. If you didn’t know the day of like Abdel-Shafi and Said than others, you certainly knew by 2000 when the Camp David agreement collapses. Now it’s over. [inaudible 00:51:44] is besieged and killed. That’s it. There’s no excuse. Because I want to give some benefit of the doubt that they thought they couldn’t get anything better. Fine. But by 2000, you knew that this was a dead end. So there’s absolutely no explanation why Palestinians would stay in that arrangement since 2000 through 2023, a quarter of a century, knowing full well, there’s no way out.
Well, Palestinian Street. The average Palestinian has walked away from it. They walked away from it a long time ago.
Even in this moment, the Palestinian liberation struggle’s not being led by an official Palestinian leadership, which makes this moment even more profound, that we’re Palestinian Diaspora, Palestinians on the ground. Everybody has been coordinating and working without a centralized governance system, certainly without any means and funding, and yet has been able to mobilize in a decentralized fashion.
The Boycott National Committee establishes itself in 2005, launches an international boycott divestment in sanctions movement. This is civil society. It has nothing to do with the Palestinian leadership. The way that Palestinians bring back a condemnation of Zionism, which we see first in the Durban Conference in 2001. The review conference of the decade against racism happens in Durban, South Africa in 2001, where Palestinians raise the banner and say, “Israel’s an apartheid regime, and Zionism is racism once again.” Palestinians have never relinquished that front, and we even see it in the realm of knowledge production where scholars have reconstructed very robustly, not only making clear that Israel is a settler colonial project, but that there’s an entire realm of Palestinian indigenous studies of tradition, of economy, of belonging, of family, all sorts of tradition of land use, of sea technology that could be studied, which brings us into 2024.
The reason we remain alive as a people is because the people have insisted that we are here.
I want to close by talking about the resistance. That was more than a hundred days of saturation, bombing of Gaza, destruction of every form of infrastructure that can sustain existence from wells to hospitals, to bakeries to schools, horrific numbers of dead. I was in Sarajevo during the war, which was awful, three to 400 shells a day, four to five dead a day, two dozen wounded a day. I only say that as a comparison to Gaza, where hundreds of people are being wounded and killed a day just to point out the scale. And yet, US intelligence estimates that only 20 to 30% of resistance or fighters, Hamas fighters, have been killed. It’s becoming clear that if Israel does not achieve its goal, which I don’t see how it will of eradicating Hamas, and Hamas and the resistance survives, which I feel it will then in any way, the Palestinians win.
And however horrific Gaza becomes other than the Yemenis, the Houthis, nobody is intervening to halt this genocide despite all the legal bodies we have at the UN and everywhere else. But talk about the resistance and whether I know how I knew one of the founders of Hamas, Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi was in his house with him and his family. His wife was just killed on October 19th. And not by the way, the demonized image of a leader of Hamas. He was a pediatrician, highly educated, graduated first in his class from the University of Alexandria, very soft-spoken, brilliant figure, assassinated in 2004 along with one of his sons. Let’s talk about the resistance. And so whether you embrace the ideology of Hamas or not, for me, is irrelevant. I think it’s been amazingly successful.
Well, I want to nuance this in many ways. I want to nuance this by having a lot of mixed feelings about strategy and moving forward. And I want to emphasize here, I think, and I understand, I understand this idea of that if they’re not defeated, they win, which is a tenant of asymmetric warfare and guerilla combat. But I can’t do that with ease, given the magnitude of loss and given just how painful it’s been.
Images that I saw last night are still ravaging me inside of what are we going to tell these kids who have suffered so much? 355,000 children because of dehydration are at risk of permanent, cognitive, under development and stunting, right? So it’s hard for me, Chris, as much as if they’re not defeated, obviously I don’t want them to be defeated. And what people don’t understand when they say that is because surrender doesn’t bring us back to an ordinary life, which is normally what war looks like. You fight, you fight, you fight, you fight, and then one party surrenders because then you just go back to ordinary life. Palestinians don’t go back to an ordinary life. So surrender is not an option. At the same time, I want to take time to mourn. Palestinians have not had time to mourn. There is such deep devastation that’s generational, that’s traumatic, that’s social, that’s political that I want to honor and hold here. And it’s very painful. It’s just very, very painful.
And I don’t know what we do. I don’t know what we do because not only are we holding onto that pain, but now we have in Israel a society that is not just quasi okay with an apartheid racist regime. They have literally become avid supporters of genocide as a matter of rights. They’re fascists, society, media, children are taunting their elders, their principal for expressing empathy for Palestinians. For me, I paused to say, what is the victory here when now we have to deal with a society? What is the exit plan? How do you defeat fascism in a world where it’s being nurtured by Germany and the United States and Britain and Canada? They’re applauding them. And so where is the accountability here? So I just countenance the language of victory, to be honest, and I know that puts me at odds and probably deflates a lot of people who want to hear something else, and I just want to ground this in something else of what it means that Israel cannot decimate Hamas military.
They cannot. There is no military solution. There is no military solution. They cannot decimate Hamas. They haven’t. Hamas is still firing rockets from the middle of Gaza City. As you point out, they’ve not even decimated half of their militants in the Gaza Strip. They’ve not turned the Palestinians against Hamas, which was part of their military objective. If anything, they’ve made Hamas more popular and robust, not only amongst Palestinians, across the air world and the world in general. And they’re not any closer to retrieving their captive, their captive military personnel or rescuing their civilian hostages, which they were only able to retrieve and return through diplomatic negotiations. Someone has to ask, how can you justify the 11th most significant military in the world? Be trust by US intelligence, with advanced weapons technology that has had no red lines for over a hundred days, that has not even come close to achieving any of its military objectives, but has certainly destroyed Palestinian life, conditions of life that’s promising devastation into the future.
We have to agree that anybody who’s now supporting this is outright supporting a terroristic program that’s basically targeting Palestinian civilians, as put by Professor [inaudible 01:01:51], Palestinian civilians are clearly the military objectives. Hamas is the collateral damage.
So I think that we have to use this to agree that there is no way out, but that the road ahead is what we absolutely need to keep our eyes on. For me, victory is liberation. Victory is a world where Palestinians are recognized as having human life that is sacred and worthy of protection and deserving of self-defense, which Palestinians have asserted over and over and refused to relinquish. I cannot believe this is in controversy.
And so insofar as the cessation, for me, first and foremost, the cessation of hostilities is necessary just to end the genocide. And then insofar as it demonstrates there’s no military solution and exposes that Zionism is predicated on just a genocidal program that’s an ongoing Nakba in their own words, Avi Dichter said it clearly, “This is Gaza.” Gaza Nakba 2023. They’ve equated their peace and security to genocide and ethnic cleansing. In so far as it illuminates that in order to get us to the threshold that it’s not controversial, that it’s not controversial, that Palestinians deserve life.
Thank you. That was Noura Erakat, human rights attorney and assistant professor at Rutgers University. I want to thank the Real News Network and his production team, Cameron Granadino, Adam Coley, David Hebden, and Kayla Rivara. You can find me at chrishedges.substack.com.
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