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Israeli control and Palestinian resistance.

To subdue the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel has established a repressive system of control that relies on excessive use of force -- a level totally incommensurate with the threat to its security posed by the unarmed population. In response, the Palestinians have pursued a variety of resistance strategies designed to end Israel's illegal occupation and to achieve independence and sovereignty over their land. In December 1987, the Palestinians launched a national uprising (now known as the intifada), which cost them dearly in terms of loss of life and extreme hardship. As of the second quarter of 1991, 962 Palestinians were killed by the Israeli authorities, of whom 252 were 16 years old or younger. Many of the youth shot to death were killed by bullet wounds to the upper torso or the head, leading to speculation that the Israeli authorities may have been positioning snipers with their patrols. An estimated 115,118 people have sustained injuries. Sixty-six activists have been deported while some 15,100 out of a total population of 1.7 million are held in administrative detention without charge or trial. Excluding the period of the Gulf War, when the entire area was placed under curfew throughout the duration, the Israeli authorities imposed 10,212 days of curfew on various parts of the territories. Over 100,000 trees have been uprooted and 375,753 dunums (a dunum is roughly .25 acres) of land have been confiscated. A total of 1,971 houses have been sealed or demolished by the occupation forces.(1) Despite this catalogue of horror, or perhaps because of it, Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation goes on unabated.

This article will examine Israel's system of control and the nature of Palestinian resistance to it. It is not uncommon for those who wield great power over others or for those who analyze it to imagine that power to be irresistible and unopposable. Edward Said (1986: 151) suggests that this is indeed Michel Foucault's greatest failing. He notes that, very often, an alternative consciousness that allies itself to various subaltern groups may successfully challenge absolute power. Said quotes the late Raymond Williams, who states that:

however dominant a social system may be, the very meaning of its

domination involves a limitation or selection of the activities it covers,

so that by definition it cannot exhaust all social experience,

which therefore always potentially contains space for alternative acts

and alternative intentions which are not yet articulated as a social institution

or even project (Ibid.: 154).

Foucault's (1979) analysis of punishment and confinement as an instance of political and economic order amplifies earlier studies by Rusche and Kirchheimer (1939) and anticipates studies by leading criminologists such as Stanley Cohen and Andrew Scull (1986). The focus here is on the growth of places of confinement and systems of punishment as mechanisms for politically subduing potentially explosive surplus populations that may also serve as a source of cheap labor.

The central thesis of this work is that although the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip is a total system, where daily life is almost completely regulated by the authorities, there are still areas where the Palestinians can exercise their right to resist. The Israeli control system derives its logic from the structural relation of domination that governs Israel's colonial administration of the Occupied Territories and from the historical process of settlement in a contested frontier zone. An attempt will be made to expose the logic of Israeli control and its deficiencies, as well as the logic of Palestinian resistance, with its strengths and weaknesses. More specifically, the purpose here is to examine why, in spite of overwhelming power, Israel has failed to impose its will on the Palestinians and why the latter continue to resist, despite the apparently insurmountable odds against them.

The Logic of Israeli Control

Israeli authorities have used a variety of instruments to quell the Palestinian uprising. In the first place, Israel's use of massive force was designed to make the Palestinians stand in fear. Kenneth Stampp (1956: Chapter 4) shows how the logic of slavery was based on just such a principle. Coercion, however, is almost totally unwarranted given the non-existing threat to Israel's security posed by the Palestinian population. A typical confrontation in the streets of the West Bank or Gaza Strip pits heavily armed Israeli soldiers against teenagers and women. The question is why massive force is used, especially when historical evidence suggests that excessive force is a grossly inefficient way of controlling a large, recalcitrant population. In his analysis of captive societies, Sykes (1958) suggests that "coercion tactics may have some utility in checking blatant disobedience -- if only a few men disobey. But if the great mass of criminals in prison are to be brought into the habit of conformity, it must be on other grounds."(2) Sykes recommends that the custodians fall back on a system of rewards and punishments that, to be effective, must be viewed from the perspective of the individual who is controlled (Ibid.: 50).

There are several explanations for Israel's use of massive force. One obvious reason is the delegitimization of the Palestinian Arabs among Israeli policymakers and the Israeli public. Professor Danny Bartal, a social psychologist at Tel Aviv University, analyzes the various ingredients of this delegitimization: Arabs are described as subhuman, two-legged beasts, drugged cockroaches, grasshoppers, demons, or bloodthirsty devils. Arabs are also described as deviates, psychopaths, parasites, violence prone, thus only understanding the language of force.(3) Throughout history, colonial regimes, institutions of slavery, and other total institutions have consistently produced theories of human nature regarding subordinate groups that cast them as innately inferior to those exercising power over them.

The politics of force employed by Israel in its attempts to subdue the Palestinians began in the formative years (1947 to 1949) and continues today. In the early period, it was effectively concealed to the point that the relation of domination was perverted in the sense that the intruding settler society of Zionists was construed as the victim while the native Palestinian population was viewed as the aggressor. The use of physical force has always been viewed as a messy business, especially by liberal, progressive settlers. It was therefore necessary to find ways of clothing it to make it more palatable, either by openly acknowledging it and rationalizing it or by effectively concealing it. Israeli revisionist historians, examining the Zionist archives, have recently catalogued and revealed the extent of the violence and bloodshed (Moughrabi, 1989a: 63-84). The state of Israel continues to apply massive force so long as the Arabs of Palestine refuse to accept their defeat and total subjugation.

A more important reason may explain Israel's recourse to excessive force. What is at stake in the conflict is not simply the future of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but instead the future of Israel's relations with the entire Arab region. One group of Israeli policymakers that has dominated control of the government aspires to a kind of settlement that will enable Israel to achieve total hegemony over the entire area known as the Middle East. Another group, still a minority, is willing to accept a more limited role for Israel in the region. The politics of force is designed to impose Israel's will not only on the Palestinians, but also on the entire Arab world.

Israel's war against the Palestinians is waged at three levels. One level involves a process of mortification designed to produce what Orlando Patterson (1982) calls "social death." This is an effort to eliminate Palestinian national consciousness or their sense of identity as a nation. It includes attacks against the symbols of nationhood, such as the Palestinian flag (outlawed by Israel Army Order 101), the national anthem, national songs, and folklore. Under normal circumstances, for might to be turned into right, those who hold power must be able to control the appropriate symbolic instruments, either by creating new ones or by manipulating already existing ones. The Israeli authorities have done neither. Instead, they simply outlawed Palestinian symbols. In reaction, the Palestinians persistently keep exhibiting these symbols as a way of affirming their own national identity. By insisting on the unacceptability of Palestinian symbols, the Israeli authorities are effectively saying that the only option they will permit for the Palestinians is to forego their national identity.

At a second level, Israel uses what Austin Turk (1982) calls "political policing" in order to control the behavior of the Palestinians. Intelligence gathering, information control, neutralization of offenders (specific deterrence), and collective punishment are some of the key aspects of this approach. In addition, there is the classic recourse to tactics of divide and conquer, which include promoting religious differences, discrediting activists, creating differences between shopkeepers and the public, and trying to spread dissension among the people under occupation so as to split them off from the Palestinians on the outside. The result of all this is to produce political death, which means ultimately forcing the Palestinians to give up the notion of independent statehood.

At a third level, Israel has tried to control the infrastructure of the Occupied Territories by confiscating more than half the total land area in order to establish Jewish settlements, taking over the water resources, and making the territories dependent upon the Israeli economy. The ultimate effect of this approach is to produce economic death (Shehadeh, 1985).

This logic of control -- with its emphasis on violence and its totally enveloping nature in creating institutions where the subordinate population is deprived of its ability to determine its destiny -- is not unique in history. To understand it fully, one may wish to look at it in the context of other similar historical conditions. Howard Lamar and Leonard Thompson (1981: 312-313) conclude their excellent study of comparative frontier history by suggesting the following:

Probably the nearest contemporary approach to the kind of frontier

dealt with in this book, where rival societies compete for control of

the land, is to be found in Israel. There, despite the complex earlier

history of Jewish-Arab relations, the contemporary situation is in

essence the product of modem Jewish immigration into a territory

dominated by Arabs for many centuries. It is a frontier situation with

many characteristics that will be familiar to readers of this book: settlement

by people with a technology superior to that of the

"indigenous" inhabitants and with access to the skills, products, and

capital of the industrialized West; their creation of a bridgehead behind

the shelter of colonialism; their control of a postcolonial state;

and their victories in frontier wars, followed by the incorporation and

settlement of conquered territory, the expulsion of many of the indigenous

people, and the subjugation and segregation of those remaining.

The Israeli frontier is still "open," with raids and counter-raids

taking place across its contested boundaries; and it remains to

be seen whether, when it closes, the state of Israel will be secure or

whether it will have been ephemeral, like the white settlements in

tropical Africa.

What can we learn from a comparative historical analysis of other frontier conflicts? In the North American and the South African regions, European immigrants carried with them ethnocentric attitudes deeply seated in Western culture. Ignorant of the needs of local societies, they assumed that they were not depriving the inhabitants of anything if they occupied land that was not already built on, cultivated, or grazed by domestic animals. When they did knowingly deprive local societies of their resources, they assumed that they were justified in doing so on the ground that the native populations had not used them effectively (Ibid.: 17). David Miller and William Savage, Jr., (1977) conclude their comparative study of the Roman and American experience by suggesting that "derogatory stereotypes of alien peoples as subhuman often accompany an expansionist ideology, and not only make atrocities possible, but indeed encourage them."

Another key factor is the centrality of the land issue. In Palestine, there was no free land; it was settled for thousands of years by a stable peasant society. For Zionist settlers, control of the land was crucial for the establishment of a state. For the Palestinian natives, control of the land became synonymous with the control of their own destiny. Zionist settlers initially bought some of the land, but after 1947, they took it over by conquest. In the West Bank and Gaza Strip, more than half the total land area has been confiscated to establish Jewish colonies.

In the North American context, the native population was, to a large extent, exterminated. In Southern Africa, where the population ratio of white to African was much less favorable to the former, the native population was eventually subdued and absorbed into the economy as cheap labor. In the Palestinian case, the population was driven out in the first phase of settlement, which ended in 1949. The small minority that remained was totally subjugated. In the second phase (following June 1967), Israel incorporated a substantial native population and the ratio became less favorable to Israeli Jews than it had been in the initial phase (3.5 million Jews to 2.3 million Arabs). The Occupied Territories were eventually hooked in a dependent manner into the structure of a rising capitalist economy in Israel, with the natives providing cheap labor and an open market for Israeli products.

All settler societies have been exclusive and Zionist settlement is no exception. Zionists have always tried to establish a state for Jews scattered throughout the world and not a state for the people who live in it. Controversies occasionally arise on the question of who is a Jew, not on the question of who is an Israeli. The state of Israel has no constitution and no defined borders. Additionally, it has a Law of Return, which permits any Jew anywhere in the world to migrate to Israel and to receive automatic citizenship. The same privilege, of course, does not apply to Palestinians.

Using Lamar and Thompson's comparative frontier history approach as a point of departure, the Israeli sociologist, Baruch Kimmerling (1989), analyzes Israel as a "control system" in which a state exists. Kimmerling defines a control system as a "territorial entity comprising several sub-collectivities, held together by purely military and police forces and their civil extensions... when the |field of power' is much larger than the |field of authority,' a control system is formed." Kimmerling's "control system" has many characteristics of a "total institution." It differs from institutions such as slavery or internal colonialism in one critical sense. In a control system, the authorities are totally uninterested in fomenting a common identity or a structure of values that could legitimize its use of violence, or in generating other kinds of loyalties toward power and force.

A control system deals with a subordinate population instrumentally. On the one hand, it seeks to assure that none of the controlled collectivities develops any alternate center or institution within its "field of power." On the other hand, as Kimmerling (1983: 26) asserts:

in exchange for their readiness to be incorporated partially into a

common economy and maintain a minimal obedience to the authorities,

the rulers grant these collectivities minimal human rights and

guarantee "law and order," so long as these privileges are not perceived

as contradicting the interests of the system's ruling sector. Therefore, a control system maintains two contradictory patterns: in one, there is selective incorporation of several parts of a totally different collectivity and, in another, there is a simultaneous total "externalization" of this collectivity's other components. Furthermore, a control system relies on "internal" justification for its raison d'etre and not on what it does in its periphery.

What does this mean for the occupied Palestinian territories? As a control system, the Israeli occupation is not interested in incorporating the occupied population into Israeli society. It simply wants to control the land without the people. This is why conventional politics is not tolerated among the Palestinians; political parties and organizations are illegal. Therefore, the only form of politics open to them is resistance or collective action that aims to subvert the system, change it, or make it possible to escape its effects. Israel incorporates only some aspects of the territories (cheap labor for its construction industry and an open market for its products) and excludes all others. No other relations tie the territories to the state of Israel. Nor will Israel tolerate the development of alternate centers of power or authority in these territories; hence, war is made against all attempts by the Palestinians to establish any national institutions, such as banks, trade unions, or charitable associations. Furthermore, Israel insists on finding its justification and legitimacy internally, presenting itself as a democracy, and refuses to be judged by what it does in the Occupied Territories where its record of human-rights violations is widely criticized.

Besides its exclusive nature, the process of Zionist settlement has generated what Kimmerling calls an ideology of irreversibility, which focuses on the land and yet informs the more general ideology of the state. The central core of this ideology defines the land as Eretz Israel (The Land of Israel). Its settlement is not only a duty, but also an act of redemption. When control over land is acquired, the Jews would demonstrate a Jewish presence there and eventually would extend Jewish sovereignty. The fear that some land might revert to Arab ownership has led to the formulation of the "domino theory of Zionist settlement" -- which means that the slightest concession permitting Arabs to gain back property might put the whole enterprise in jeopardy. To illustrate this pattern, Kimmerling quotes a typical article, which states that "admitting that we were not right in the past ... our whole basis will be shaken and the entire Zionist structure will tumble down" (Ibid.: 27). Admitting that the Arabs have a rightful claim to Hebron, Mr. Yitzhak Shamir is fond of saying, means that they also have a rightful claim to Haifa and Tel Aviv.

Greshon Shafir (1984) examines the impact of settlement on Israeli nationalism. Shafir shows how the liberal nationalism of the early period of settlement gradually turned into integral nationalism in the post-1967 period. The process of settlement by Gush Emunim (the right-wing Bloc of the Faithful) turned "love of country, typical of liberal nationalism, into hatred of the alien, characteristic of integral nationalism" (Ibid.: 817).

Another characteristic of integral nationalism is the tendency to look at the Palestinian question not as the problem of a nation, but rather of individuals. Shafir concludes that the "pre-state Jewish community operated from a position of weakness and its dominant sectors were predisposed toward compromise with the Palestinian national movement. Today, Israeli strength leads to intransigence" (Ibid.: 823). Shafir also draws attention to the "erosion of democratic structures" in Israel where "there already exists a dual legal system" as well as a "stringent enforcement of the law against Arab violators and often benign neglect of Jewish offenders." Finally, he asks whether the "Israeli personality, institutions, and forms of domination created in the West Bank may be prevented from filtering through into the mainstream of Israeli society."

The logic of Israeli control therefore derives from the historic process of Zionist settlement. This process could have succeeded only if it had found in Palestine free land for Jewish settlement or if it had been able to transfer the native population to neighboring countries. In the first stage of settlement, which culminated in 1949, Israel established a democratic state for the Jews and subjugated the small Palestinian minority left behind. In the second stage, following the June 1967 war, as Israel occupied the remaining part of Palestine and incorporated a substantial Palestinian population, it immediately confronted a historic dilemma. For the classic Zionist enterprise to succeed, the Palestinians would have had to accept their fate as a permanently subjugated minority in a Jewish state. The Palestinians, however, have chosen to resist and, in so doing, have forced Israel to come to terms with its hidden history. The concealed violence inflicted on the Palestinians in the early period is now blatant. So far, this massive coercion has failed to subdue the Palestinians and turn them into vassals. The only option now open to Israel is to accept some form of accommodation with the Palestinians as partners with equal rights.

The Logic of Palestinian Resistance

Barrington Moore, Jr. (1978: 90-91), identifies three distinct human qualities or capacities that make up what he calls "iron in the soul" -- a necessary ingredient for resistance. One is moral courage, which is the ability to resist powerful and frightening pressures to obey oppressive rules. Another is the intellectual ability to recognize that the pressures and rules are indeed oppressive. A third is "moral inventiveness," which means the ability to "fashion from existing cultural traditions historically new standards of condemnation of what exists."

According to Moore, the process of awakening from anesthesia, of overcoming the sense of inevitability and replacing it with a sense of injustice, involves three stages. At the level of the individual human being, "it is necessary to overcome certain forms of dependence on others and acquire or strengthen controls over impulses." Similarly, at the level of social organization, it is necessary to overcome dependence either by creating "new forms of solidarity and new networks of cooperation," or by redirecting already existing forms of solidarity. Third, at the level of cultural norms and shared perceptions, "it will be necessary to overcome the illusion that the present state of affairs is just, permanent, and inevitable" (Ibid.: 461-462).

Do the Palestinians, under Israeli occupation, have "iron in the soul"? Have they overcome the sense of inevitability and dependence?

Karl Mannheim (1952) argues that a biological generation, undergoing the impact of rapid social change, may create "new collective impulses and formative principles original to itself." When this happens, Mannheim speaks of the realization of potentialities inherent in the location and the development of a new generation style, or of a new generation entelechy. At times, however, a new biological generation will opt to identify with the previous generation and fail to develop its own entelechy. When this occurs, we may speak of an abortive generation. The link with social change is important. The quicker its tempo, the greater is the likelihood that particular generation groups will produce their own entelechy. The new generation may encounter the accumulated heritage in a fresh manner. Mannheim also suggests that different generation units within the larger generation may generate different intellectual and social responses to a historical stimulus experienced by all in common.

Barrington Moore's qualifications enhance Mannheim's formulation of a new generation entelechy by spelling out the conditions necessary for resistance and for the definition of a new style. Thus, a new generation may end its dependence on others by creating new forms of solidarity and new mechanisms of cooperation.

The new generation of Palestinians, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, consists of individuals born and socialized under Israeli occupation. The formative experiences of this generation are anchored to the June 1967 occupation and the trials of living under its oppressive rules. Several important factors illustrate the relevance of Mannheim's and Moore's formulations of the Palestinian case.

First, the economic and social policies of the Israeli occupation authorities "affected all sectors of the population regardless of their class base (with the possible exception of a small group of commercial importers), which facilitated the forging of a broad alliance of classes against the occupation" (Hiltermann, 1988: 591-592).

Second, the occupation has turned the majority of Palestinians into wage laborers who depend upon the Israeli economy for their livelihood. The social changes that began to occur in the villages because of the growth of this commuter work force undermined the power of the landowners and the village notables (who were often one and the same). Increasingly, therefore, the traditional leadership of notables became discredited (Ibid.: 144).

Third, a new identity began to emerge in the process of struggle. Hiltermann also identifies several forms of rebellion -- against the authority of the teacher and the school, against the father, and against the occupation. He identifies the three groups most dramatically influenced by social change, namely, women, workers, and school-age children (Ibid.: 16-164). Particularly important here is the additional factor of serving time in an Israeli jail. From 1967 on, no fewer than 500,000 people out of a population of 1,500,000 have spent some time in jail. Those who went in with limited political awareness emerged as committed and politically sophisticated cadres.

Fourth, a large network of institutions and organizations began to emerge in the late 1970s whose principal aim was to provide services to local communities (in the absence of a state and given the unwillingness of the occupation authorities to do so). These organizations, according to Hiltermann, "generated their own leadership, elected routinely in the democratic process, who would promptly pledge their allegiance to the PLO" (Ibid.: 595).

The new Palestinian generation has responded to its condition under occupation in a novel way. It has rejected the logic of dependence. Here is how one Palestinian observer describes the phenomenon:

a third change that has now permeated Palestinian society under occupation

... is the feeling that Palestinians can and must rely upon

themselves.... Palestinians have for a long time had a "sit and wait"

attitude.... Then suddenly, those children, who were not as realistic

we were and who did not realize what we were up against, decided

that waiting would no longer do (Kuttab, 1988: 26-35).

The new generation also insisted on "pragmatic unity ... enabling Palestinians of diverse and divergent ideological persuasions, class backgrounds, geographic locations, and ages to work together." Another change has been the flowering of a "new sense of generosity and spirit of giving," which led to a willingness to "sacrifice, solidarity, reliance on our own resources, and willingness to accept a drastically reduced standard of living." Yet another change has been the "new-found organization and self-restraint ...expressed through local grass-roots every village, refugee camp, and town" (Ibid.).

More specifically, however, this new Palestinian generation has spawned two generation units and, therefore, two different intellectual and political responses to the experience of occupation. The majority has responded in a secular, democratic manner, articulating themes of freedom, democracy, participation, and coexistence. Another generation unit primarily centered in the Gaza Strip has responded in a religious manner and has articulated themes of jihad (struggle) and total liberation. So far, in the face of the repressive apparatus of the occupation, both generation units have worked together in a spirit of pragmatic unity. However, serious contradictions divide them and may provide the authorities with a potential weapon to drive a wedge between them.

The new generation of Palestinian youth has iron in its soul. It has shown moral courage in defying the occupation and has fashioned from existing cultural materials new ways of resistance and political behavior. It is therefore a generation for itself. One of the closest historical parallels is Robert Coles' study of Black children in the South of the United States. Coles (1967: 365) captures the transformation of Ruby and her friends as if he were discussing the Palestinian youth of the intifada:

Yet it must be said that under grave stress she and they have somehow

done more than persist, more than endure. They have prevailed

in the way that Faulkner knew they would by summoning every bit of

their humanity in the face of every effort made to deny any of it to

them. In so doing, they have become more than they were, more than

they themselves thought they were, and perhaps more than anyone

watching them can quite put into words: bearers and makers of tradition;

children who in a moment -- call it existential, call it historical,

call it psychological -- took what they had from the past, in their

minds, out of their homes, and made of all those possessions something

else: a change in the world, and in themselves, too.

What is new in the political style of Palestinian resistance? The new generation has a "transformationist" image of history and society, while the previous generation had a "restorationist" image that aimed to recapture a lost era and to restore a community tom apart in the 1948 to 1949 period. The transformationist image aims to establish a community in the future based on the principles of coexistence and mutuality. The restorationist theme corresponds to village politics, where lost rights are restored through an act of collective violence. The gun figures prominently in village politics. By contrast, it is absent in transformationist politics. Instead, collective action focuses on political forms of resistance ranging from boycotts and strikes to acts of civil disobedience. These two images of time and society underlie two distinct political styles. The restorationist theme is usually associated with an archaic, mistrustful style that defines the opponent in monolithic terms. The transformationist theme is more modem, more complex and, therefore, corresponds to a more discriminating image of the enemy. In one, the enemy is an object that has to be eliminated; in the other, the enemy is an object that can be transformed. Political decisions now emerge from a popular base following a lengthy process of democratic debate. Once a decision is reached, most of the population accepts it in a disciplined manner. In the past, decisions nearly always came from above in the form of edicts. They were therefore not seen as legitimate. The language of the pamphlets distributed by the underground command of the uprising reflects a significant change. The pamphlet is called a nida', which means a "call to," rather than an order. More important, however, is the way such pamphlets are produced -- they usually emerge following a wide-ranging and open discussion at the local level. Political or even tactical decisions grow out of free and democratic debate. The new leadership is constantly tuned in to the demands and the needs of the people. Its calls are consequently heeded because, quite simply, they are perceived as legitimate.

Yet, a negative side began to emerge as the cost of the intifada began to mount and as political interest in resolving the conflict appeared to yield few results. In addressing the progress of the intifada, the Palestinian sociologist Salim Tamari (1991: 11-22) noted that early forms of resistance, such as the commercial strike, have become counterproductive and need to be reexamined. He argues for the need to normalize daily life for the Palestinian population and for a serious review of the "alternative economy" in an effort to respond to the increasingly desperate needs of the disadvantaged population.

The uprising has also unleashed several negative traits among some Palestinian youth. The breakdown of family authority, coupled with the failure of the international community to pressure Israel to withdraw and to try to improve living conditions, have led to the growth of unrestrained violence -- resulting in the killing of nearly 400 collaborators and the spread of acts of intimidation of the population. Firearms are increasingly used against Israeli soldiers and settlers, indicating that the insistence on civil disobedience that marked the first three and one-half years of the uprising is now being abandoned by some groups (New York Times, September 16, 1991).

The Politics of Asymmetric Conflict

How can a weaker party to a conflict overcome great odds and neutralize the superior power of its opponent? What lessons can be learned from other historical experiences such as Algeria, Vietnam, or South Africa?

Even without dwelling on the obvious differences between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the others, it should be possible to identify some key theoretical propositions that can offer a clearer understanding of the relation of domination in the former and suggest ways in which the weaker party may be able to confront its powerful opponent.

Because of Israel's massive military power, a classic military confrontation will spell disaster for the Palestinians. In other conflicts, military action in the form of guerrilla warfare always aimed at achieving political and psychological objectives and at increasing the cost to the metropolitan power. In the Palestinian case, although military action served to increase the cost to Israel, it nonetheless proved highly counterproductive, particularly because of attacks against civilian targets. Furthermore, the Palestinians have no safe haven from which to launch guerrilla attacks against Israel. Civil disobedience and passive resistance have proved much more effective, as the current uprising shows.

Second, the ultimate aim of resistance must be the progressive attrition of the opponent's political will to wage war. In an asymmetric conflict, concludes Andrew Mack (1975: 194):

the potential for the generation of internal divisions in the metropolitan

power exists regardless of the historical epoch, the nature of the

polity of the external power, the interests perceived to be at stake, and

the international context in which the conflict takes place. Acts of resistance, whether military or nonviolent, must be carefully planned, timed, and directed psychologically at the population of the metropolitan power.

Third, there is a paradox of unrealized power, which means that, for a variety of reasons, the powerful country is structurally inhibited from using all its power to achieve a decisive end to the conflict. For the weaker party, the struggle is a life-and-death one, where many people are willing to die for what they believe in. Barring total extermination, it has proved difficult for powerful countries to impose their will by force on a recalcitrant population. Indeed, the use of force by the stronger party has often led to an increase in the resistance of the weaker party and stronger determination not to give in.

All these propositions are relevant to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinians, as the weaker party, have mounted a national uprising designed to decouple their areas from total dependence on the Israeli economy and have engaged in strikes, boycotts of Israeli products, and acts of civil disobedience. This has increased the cost of the occupation to Israel. Furthermore, well-informed Israeli commentators now describe the Israeli reaction to the uprising as showing signs of what Ze'ev Schiff (1989) calls "the syndrome of Vietnam and Algeria." This has led to further polarization within Israel and a sharpening of the debate on what needs to be done with the Occupied Territories.

So far, however, Israel has been able to absorb the cost of the uprising both material and political -- because of its unique position as a client of the United States and the assistance it receives from the Jewish diaspora, especially in America. Support from the United States persists despite serious misgivings about Israel's violations of the human rights of the Palestinians. Indeed, Israel does not appear to have suffered much on the international level in spite of significant shifts in public opinion.

The Palestinian uprising has succeeded in proving the futility of the occupation and has shown the need for a negotiated political settlement. Nonetheless, it has not changed the balance of power enough to force the stronger party to the negotiating table. The question, then, is how the cost to Israel can be increased.

International constraints are usually very important in asymmetric conflicts. Israel is especially vulnerable to outside pressure, despite the existence within this settler society (as is the case in South Africa) of a core of die-hard extremists. Israel depends for its survival on massive amounts of governmental and private aid from the United States.

Two important developments could potentially increase international constraints on Israel. American Jewish opinion now tends to reflect the schisms in Israeli society (Cohen, 1989). Increasingly, American Jews who previously supported Israel unconditionally are now more openly critical of its policies in the Occupied Territories. More significant, however, is the fact that U.S. and Western European public opinion have shifted away from unconditional pro-Israel support. Informed American opinion, for example, recognizes the legitimacy of the Palestinians' grievance and is more willing to accept a solution that provides the Palestinians with an independent homeland of their own (Moughrabi, 1989b: 40-51). This shift in public opinion enabled President Bush to effectively challenge the pro-Israel lobby by insisting on delaying a decision on loan guarantees for Israel in order to pressure the Shamir government to join the peace process and to halt illegal settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.


In Southern Africa, the indigenous peoples became an integral part of a capitalist economy in which the categories of class and race merged to form one of the most stratified systems in the modem world. In Israel, an identical phenomenon was leading to the integration of the West Bank and Gaza Strip into an increasingly capitalist economy. Here again, categories of class and ethnicity were producing another rigidly stratified system where Jews are the master class and Arabs are the slave labor. The intifada's most important structural objective is therefore the attempt to prevent the Palestinian economy and society from becoming totally hooked into the Israeli polity in a state of permanent dependency.

Israel has established in the territories a near total system of control and has used the full array of political policing mechanisms. Yet having a monopoly over the use of force does not guarantee success. For might to turn into right, the native Palestinian population must either accept its status or the right of Israel to govern. Neither case appears likely.

Palestinian resistance has passed to a new generation of activists who are imprinting their own style on the politics of the region. Graduates of Israeli jails, they seem to know their opponent well, are not afraid, and appear fully confident in their ability to determine their own destiny. As Israeli analyst, Jonathan Frankel (1988: 150-153), has observed:

a few dozen stone-throwing youths who sparked the uprising on December

9, 1987, have produced a challenge to Israeli rule over the

West Bank and Gaza, far more profound than anything achieved over

the last twenty years by the Palestine Liberation Organization, the

Arab States, and the Soviet Union combined.

The current flurry of diplomatic activity may or may not produce a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians in the near, future. The Israeli authorities are stalling for time, hoping that the uprising, which no longer commands media attention in the West, will wither away. The Palestinians, on their own, are unable to change the balance of power in their favor. The United States government, which is the third-most important actor, has been seeking a settlement on Israel's terms, yet the latter's interest in a solution has been halting. It remains to be seen whether the U.S. government is willing or able to continue pressuring the Rabin government to effect some sort of compromise.

Given a long history of resistance, it is highly unlikely that the Palestinians will simply give up. In the short term, Israel may be able to restore its intelligence and security apparatus and reexert its control. In the longer term, however, the Palestinians will discover new ways to continue their resistance. The cost for both Israel and the Palestinians is likely to increase. The key factor that enables the Palestinians to endure rests on two elements: their ability to overcome potential divisions and the ability of the new generation to create new forms of struggle. It is still uncertain what impact the collapse of the diplomatic peace process will have on the Palestinian population -- whether it will exacerbate existing divisions or produce a major reassessment and a regrouping of forces. The answer to the second question, namely, whether the new Palestinian generation will create new forms of struggle is somewhat easier. Already, the new generation of Palestinians is forging cooperative forms of resistance with segments of the Israeli Jewish population, known as the peace camp. This common resistance in the form of joint marches and peaceful demonstrations is likely to continue and to increase, producing a logical and innovative form of struggle.

In a sense, this is an understandable extension of the phenomenon of polarization of Israeli society, which is split between those who favor a peaceful settlement (so far a minority) and those who favor maintaining control of the territories. Peace advocates are worried about the erosion of democracy in the Jewish state and see an accommodation with the Palestinians as a way to guarantee democracy. If right-wing extremists can prevail in the Occupied Territories, what will prevent them from using the same techniques in Israel itself? Forging a Jewish-Arab coalition for peace and democracy, willing to take risks, may prove to be the most hopeful development in this historic conflict.


(1.) See the Palestine Human Rights Information Center, Volume4 (June 1991). (2.) See also Patterson (1982) and Elkins (1976). (3.) See quotations in Benzinan (1989).


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Title Annotation:Focus on Resistance, Rights, and Justice
Author:Moughrabi, Fouad
Publication:Social Justice
Date:Sep 22, 1992
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