In May, President George W. Bush and an adoring Congress offered lavish support for a unilateral plan by Israel Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to set Israel’s final permanent borders. The plan involves annexing large portions of the occupied West Bank, including highly contested land near the city of Jerusalem, and building a wall enclosing the expanded Jewish state in a secure bastion. Doing so would completely negate the so-called “road map” agreement once lauded as the surest path to a two-state solution for the Palestinians and Israelis.
At the same time, the United States and the European Union have withdrawn their support of the Palestinian Authority because voters elected Hamas members to represent them. Hamas refuses to abandon violent resistance to Israeli occupation and even denies Israel’s right to exist. Hamas’ behavior is hard to condone, but this disparate treatment is troubling to me.
Perhaps it’s a product of my American upbringing. After all, throughout my life, I’ve seen at least a dozen films and heard many tales lauding the heroic acts of the French and Polish resistance to the Nazi occupation of World War II, while deriding France’s dreaded Vichy régime, which collaborated with the Nazis. We now use quisling, the last name of Vidkun Quisling, the Norwegian president who collaborated with the Nazis, to define treason of a particularly despicable kind.
Today, however, the U.S. government and its media handmaidens insist we must despise the Palestinian, Iraqi and Afghani resistance fighter and embrace the occupiers and their collaborators. Today’s occupiers argue that their actions are necessary to insure national security, relieve human suffering and bring democracy to these countries. But we should recall that all of history’s occupiers justified their actions with similarly haughty motives.
We now demonize those rebellious spirits we once celebrated. Have we forgotten that it’s the very act of occupation that is the point of contention, not the occupier’s identity? This disparate treatment of the Palestinians seems hypocritical, as does punishing them for electing Hamas representatives, even as we trumpet our dedication to democracy.
One reason for this change of heart may be that the Bush administration has defined these contemporary resistance fighters as enemies in the war on terrorism. The term has become a staple of contemporary discourse. But the definition of “terrorism” could mean many things: targeting civilians for violence, trying to intimidate by terrorizing, or perhaps simply asymmetrical warfare, etc. Although definitions vary, few dispute that terrorism is a tactic, not an agent. A war on terrorism is actually an oxymoron: a war on war.
The Bush administration’s war on terrorism is really a conflict with a small clique of radical Muslims who have decided to wage asymmetrical warfare against U.S. interests. A closer look reveals these radicals are progeny of people formerly colonized by European powers, and most of their grievances derive from colonialism’s legacy.
They once framed those grievances in a secular context. The Pan-Arab nationalism of Egypt’s Gamal Abdul Nasser, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and Yasir Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), as well as the Baath parties of both Syria and Iraq, was the most coherent expression of anti-colonial resistance in the region.
But these secular ideologies (many informed by socialist ideals) failed to provide real solutions to their problems. Some of that failure was due to U.S. intervention in the domestic affairs of any nation that threatened the West’s access to its resources. The United States has a bad habit of interfering when the profits of its corporations are threatened.
The Iranian revolution of 1979 that ousted the U.S.-sponsored Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in favor of Ayatollah Khomeni heralded the emergence of a new paradigm of anti-colonial resistance in the Muslim world. Nationalist radicals adopted Islam as an animating ideology.
The Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation was one of the last anti-colonial movements to undergo this religious conversion. But that changed in September 2000 when Ariel Sharon, who then was leader of the Israel opposition, led a security force of 1,000 to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, a venerated Muslim site. The visit set off a chain of events that exploded into the “Al-Aqsa Intifada.” During this period, Islamist resistance groups like Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah began gaining traction on secular groups like the PLO and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
As punishment for Hamas’ electoral success, the European Union and United States (as well as other governments) have halted payments to the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian people are now in a crisis for exercising their democratic franchise and voting to resist occupation. If only they had a political option like the Vichy régime.