Palestine: A Question of Justice

Revolutionary Worker #1115, August 19, 2001, posted at

There were days during the famous Rodney King trial of 1992 that millions of us will never forget. The lawyers for the cops who beat Rodney stood up in court and showed that incredible scene on video--where a circle of cops beat Rodney over and over and over in the darkness by the side of the road.

And for days during that trial, those lawyers slowed the tape down and--like courtroom sportscasters--"explained" why each blow was necessary.

"You see, here, Rodney King raised his left shoulder off the ground or lifted his chest. You see, it was the cops who feared for their safety."

Every movement by this man--short of total submission--was explained to the world as proof that he needed more beating. And at the end of that first trial, the legal system upheld those explanations and two vicious cops walked free…until the people of L.A. answered with days of rebellion.

The memories of that trial return over and over whenever the news from Palestine arrives. There is that same gut-wrenching sense of total injustice--and the same totally unbelievable insistence by the system that their brutality is justified, necessary, inevitable, even restrained!

On August 10, armed Israeli forces seized nine different Palestinian offices in East Jerusalem, including the Orient House headquarters of the Palestine Liberation Organization. It was the single most massive military move by Israel in the last ten months of fighting--a virtual reoccupation of the Arab part of Jerusalem and a dismantling of the Palestinian administration there. At the same time, Israeli jets attacked a Palestinian police headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, and Israeli tanks invaded Palestinian areas of the Gaza Strip. That same day, acting like the other half of some murderous regional tag team, 50 U.S. and British warplanes attacked three sites in southern Iraq.

Both of these attacks--in Palestine and in Iraq--were described as "pin point actions" carried out in "self-defense."


News reporting in the U.S. is designed to reverse right and wrong. The intense resistance mounted this year by Palestinians is portrayed as "terrorism" or mindless hatreds that keep getting out of hand.

The struggle over Palestine is described as "a cycle of violence"--as if there should just be some way of quieting things down, making Israel safe, and getting those Palestinians to accept the terms the U.S. offers them. As if the U.S. government is just a helpless, frustrated, peace-loving bystander, wringing its hands and cautioning restraint.

This is a web of distortions designed to blur the vision and numb the heart.

The fact is: Palestine has been stolen, at gunpoint, from the Palestinians. That is the defining point. It is a fact of colonialism--understandable to people all over the world. This theft of land was not in some distant past. Israel was born in ethnic cleansing--and it is still expanding, day after day, with every new Israeli suburb and settlement that goes up.

Palestine is the home of the Palestinians. It is where their villages, universities, orchards, markets, harbors and memories are. Palestine is the streets where the children play. Palestine includes their capital city of Jerusalem, where different peoples lived, traded and worshiped together --until the Zionists established their racist state, with the backing of imperialism, and carried out their campaigns of annexation and ethnic cleansing.

Israeli officials complain, "Palestinians don’t really want peace. They really still want Palestine." Yes, and who can blame them? There is justice on their side and in their demand for a "right of return."

Just as certainly, there is no justice to the claim that Palestine belongs to every instant Israeli settler who flies in from Brooklyn or Odessa to string up barbed wire and build condos. How can there be a "right of return" to people who have no connection to Palestine and whose claims only exist because they are backed by tanks, jets and U.S. imperialism?

The settler-colonial state of Israel would not have survived for a single moment on Palestinian soil without the massive backing by the imperialist powers--especially the U.S. government and military. Israel has been armed, propped up economically and fed a constant stream of immigrant-settlers.

The U.S. is not a "peace maker" but an imperialist power, serving its own global interests. The U.S. occupied the Persian Gulf to better control Arab oil and those who rely on it. And the U.S. backs Israel to better dominate Arab people and the people of the world.


The U.S. media gives great headlines whenever some rightwing settler’s car comes under fire--on the Israeli-only "security roads" that now slice up the West Bank. These headlines are designed to justify whatever harsh act comes next from the Israeli army.

And so it is necessary to step back and point out that there is no "equivalence" in Palestine. This is not some "mutual tragedy." It is the Palestinians who bear the daily horror of occupation. Here is what has been going on in just this last year:

• Palestinian kids seeking to drive occupying troops out of their neighborhoods are shot. Israeli bullets have killed hundreds and injured thousands. The latest Israeli government directives have given more authority to their troops to use live ammunition. And in this unjust war of bullets against stones, there have been widespread shootings of bystanders and atrocities like the shooting at ambulances.

• Israel has systematically applied the brutal tactic of "collective punishment." If kids resist in a town, the town is shelled. If a member of the family is identified as a fighter, the family house is leveled. If Israeli occupiers notice fighters taking shelter in an orchard, the orchard is destroyed. Israel has destroyed at least 500 Palestinian homes since last September. Bulldozers and tanks are used to batter the people--in an attempt to break the will of those who resist.

• The full power of the military is used to atomize Palestinian life--to isolate Palestinian villages behind rings of roadblocks, to make travel and commerce impossible, to confine the people to shrinking postage stamps of territory that are constantly under the gun. The intensification of Israeli roadblocks have shut down universities, forced thousands to lose their jobs, imposed humiliating and terrifying searches on a whole population in almost every phase of daily life. Palestinian life, in much of the West Bank and Gaza, is like a lockdown in super-max prisons. Everything in and out is controlled by your jailers. Every breath of air is treated like a privilege to be withdrawn on whim.

• The economic life of the region is forcibly restructured at the point of the gun. Everything of value slips into the control of Israel--land, water, roads, commerce. And the Palestinians face the classic capitalist pattern: more and more reduced to cheap labor in their own land, they are exploited when they work and starving when they don’t.

• Day by day armed settlements are expanding on the West Bank--often filled with rightwing religious fanatics who arrive in this land calling for the killing and final expulsion of Palestinians.

• Day after day, the Israeli armed forces target and assassinate figures of Palestinian political life--and anyone standing near them. And they no longer even feel the need to hide this brutal campaign of murder. Rockets from jets and choppers, tank shells and covert squads of assassins are being used to kill people on Israeli hit lists and threaten those left alive for now. The police stations and headquarters of the Palestinian Authority are "taken out." And the message to the heads of the Palestinian Authority is made very clear: "If you don’t energetically neutralize every Palestinian threatening Israel, we will kill your officials and dismantle your mini-state." Arafat’s forces, who claimed they could build a state power in Palestine without defeating Israel, now face the demand that their mini-state serve Israeli security or face destruction.

• And now, lurking just behind every move is the Israeli threat to sweep into the West Bank and Gaza to directly conquer each street and village and field of Palestine up to the Jordan River. It is a threat of even greater violence, even more punishment, and possibly historic new crimes of ethnic cleansing to expel Palestine’s people from the land that remains to them.

Have Palestinians responded to all this with resistance--including armed resistance? Yes. And who can blame them?


On this planet, there are billions of us who have a sense of what this is like. We live poor and under the gun. In neighborhoods across the U.S. and the world, our neighborhoods feel like occupied territory. Our lives are surrounded and penned in. We are frisked and profiled, ordered to shuffle and obey. We are shown "our place," over and over--we are threatened if we stray out of line. And in times of resistance, we see our enemy come among us--to target, hunt, jail and kill.

On a very deep level, we understand the incredible courage and determination it takes for the Palestinian people to resist "all that"--to defy and confront the guns and tanks of local enforcers and international powers, to have faith in the future and the ultimate victory of a just cause.

It is righteous, it is lofty and inspiring --as the teenage "shebab" of Palestine take the streets and dare demand their liberation.

"Why can’t there just be a ceasefire and a peace?" Washington proposes--knowing (all along) that such a "peace" would be nothing more or less than surrender by the Palestinians. It makes you remember those police lawyers in the Simi Valley courtroom who kept saying: "Why didn’t Rodney King just lie down flat and submit? The beating was his own fault. It is the cops who feared for their safety, and it is the cops who deserve your sympathy and support."

No. We have to cut through all of that and fight for a clear understanding of right and wrong.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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