You are here

Universal Rights from the River to the Sea

This is a seemingly impossible proposition; that all people are deserving of universal rights. That the life of a Palestinian has equal value to that of an Israeli, not because they are Palestinian or Israeli, but because they are people. That the life of a Muslim, a Jew, a Christian, or an atheist has equal value, not because they are Muslim, Jewish, Christian, or an atheist, but because they are people. One could even argue that all people are entitled to inalienable rights that include life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that these are self-evident and axiomatic. Of course, such a "simplistic" approach, coming from a perspective of universal moral rights, stands in stark contrast to the behaviour of state and organisational actors and their followers.

The current context, of course, refers to the latest outbreak of violence in historic Palestine. On October 7, following a rocket barrage, Hamas-led fighters broke through the Gaza barrier and attacked Israeli military bases and civilian population centres, including a music festival, with around 1200 killed (859 civilians, 354 soldiers and police) and over 200 hostages taken, the latter drawing attention to the 1000 Palestinians in "administrative detainees", that are indefinitely incarcerated without charge. Israel declared that it was at war, activating its reservists and beginning airforce bombings of Gaza followed by an invasion of the territory, all of which is ongoing. At the time of writing, more than 1300 Israelis have been killed, and along with some 11,250 Palestinians, including almost 4700 children.

Based on factual behaviour, it is evident that both Hamas and the IDF have engaged in terrorist acts. This is not a term that is used lightly; the old saying "one man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist" was popularised in Gerald Seymour's 1975 novel "Harry's Game" on the Provisional IRA. The phrase was made with great sarcasm and yet ironically has become a banner for moral relativists and political partisans alike. Whilst there are many nuances and definitions of terrorism, a common thread is that terrorism is the systematic use of intimidating violence against civilians for political reasons. One matter that must be resolved is the claim by state agencies that terrorism must be carried out by non-state actors. This is contrary to historical fact; in fact, the first use of the term was by the French National Convention in 1793 and it is clear that states have since then engaged in terrorist activities, even when in engaged in emancipatory military activity (e.g., the bombing of Dresden, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki).

It should be understood that both parties in a conflict can be engaging in war crimes and, in a better world, both parties would be subject to international sanction for doing so. In the current context, Israel and its supporters have made significant claims that Hamas is using human shields in civilian areas, such as refugee camps, schools, hospitals, and mosques. Under international human shields are prohibited and are a war crime. Attackers, when faced with human shields, however still must engage in distinction and a proportional response. As a simple analogy, is a dangerous gunman is hiding in a hotel complex, one does not level the hotel complex with an airstrike. Any police action would be mindful of civilians (distinction) and would only use the force necessary to achieve the policing objective (proportionality). In a military context, not engaging in distinction or proportionality also constitutes a war crime. Further, Israel's orders of evacuation as part of its "human shields protocol", designed to terrorise Palestinian civilians, is also contrary to international law, and Israeli court orders ("Since the beginning of the occupation in 1967, Israeli security forces have repeatedly used Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as human shields"). One can reasonably ask, if Hamas operatives were somewhere in a collection of hotel complexes in Tel Aviv, would the Israeli airforce carry out multiple airstrikes on it, regardless of civilian casualties?

In the current situation, there is no doubt that Israel has an overwhelming military advantage; with an annual budget of USD 24 billion , 170 000 active personnel, 465 000 reserves, hundreds of main battle tanks, thousands of armoured personnel carriers, hundreds of aircraft (including F-15s, F-16s, F-35 fighter jets, Apache helicopters, etc). In comparison, HAMAS's armed wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, numbering somewhere between 20 and 40 thousand, are armed mainly with personal arms, including improvised rockets and mortars. Utterly incapable of engaging in a conventional military conflict, the al-Qassam Brigades have adopted asymmetrical warfare with a substantial terrorist component and is appropriately designated as a terrorist organisation by Western countries (Australia's "Statement of Reasons" is an illustrative example), of which the October 7 attacks are an example. Rightly condemned as a terrorist attack, the relative silence by Western countries of Israel's response, "a textbook case of genocide", reinforces the politically cynical view that moral arguments are made by states based on interest rather than principle.

Of course, this is what happens when people give their political loyalties to institutions and abstract ideologies. Many political theorists have noted that the fiction of a "legal person", whether the State or Corporation, generates what Joel Bakan calls of "psychopathic creature" without responsibility, and when people align themselves to such bodies, they too inherit the psychopathology. This is why the problem comes down to both Israel and HAMAS as organisations and the fascist and apartheid ideologies that motivate them. Of course, as American political scientist John Mearsheimer says: "Once you start talking about the root causes, you end up talking about how Israel was created and that means telling a story that is not pretty about how the Zionists conquered Palestine."

This is a direct challenge to those who argue, for example, that Israel has a "right to exist". No state has a right to exist, states are not deserving of rights. People are the entities that should have rights, rather than abstract entities. The biggest problem is that some - perhaps most - are saying that organisations, entities, ideologies, and religions have rights that supersede actual people, whether that is Statist Zionism or Statist Islamicism, and it doesn't take one long to realise that the common denominator is the State, the use of violence to ensure conduct over a geographical area with a predilection to expansionism, a descriptive behaviour which Mearsheimer describes as "offensive realism" in international relations.

The psychotic behaviour of the expansionist State, which generates psychosis in its followers, is all too tragically evident with the creation and inevitable trajectory of Israel. In the early 20th century, the Jewish population in historic Palestine was 10% at the time the British Mandate was established already twenty years after the first Zionist congress stated its objective as: "Zionism seeks to establish a home in Palestine for the Jewish people, secured under public law". The sudden influx of immigrants into the land inevitably resulted in tensions which the Peel Commission identified as directly related to the British Balfour Declaration which rejected Palestinian self-determination and favoured the Zionist project. This, of course, erupted into international violence when the United Nations established Israel with scant regard to the people who lived there or the votes of its neighbours.

Israel was led by a succession of militaristic governments who were "akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties" (Einstein, Arendt, et al), the violence that has continued since then is inevitable. In previous articles, a careful distinction has been made between the varieties of Zionism (the best, and oft-forgotten, was the Brit Shalom/Tahalof Essalam variant supported by Buber, Einstein, Arendt, and Chomsky for a multinational, secular, and democratic Palestine that was also a Jewish homeland) and how the behaviour of the Israeli state represents a type of apartheid ("Apartheid and Zionism : Precise Definitions, Visceral Ontologies"). Supporting the Brit Shalon/Tahalof Essalam trajectories and outlining the tragic conflict, another essay argues for "zero state solution".

Whilst it should be obvious none of this supports the arguments or any alternatives for an Islamicist state (see: "Islamofascism: a real term for a real problem"). But it certainly does account for how HAMAS has come into being. Firstly, in recognition of how HAMAS's success was in part due to Israel providing foundational support to counter the secular Fatah in the 1980s, a tragic irony and lesson in political preferences (a bitter lesson which the United States also learned through the ludicrous Kilpatrick Doctrine. HAMAS is, effectively, the biggest gang in the open-air prison of Gaza. Their existence is primarily a function of the hopelessness of the people entrapped there, turning to an extremist ideology that mirrors their extreme conditions. The current military operation has, without a doubt, created a new generation of youngsters who will see Israel and everyone who lives in it, as "the enemy" with all that follows, along with the serious mental health conditions caused by their imprisonment and indiscriminate use of heavy weapons in civilian areas by the invaders.

How a single democratic state in historical Palestine which is also a Jewish homeland could be achieved is very a challenging question; at the moment it is a minority position in both Israel and in the occupied territories. Yet, with careful consideration of the facts, it is the only realistic possibility that can end the conflict in the longer run, especially as the partition plan or two-state proposals falter. It will certainly require a stronger and unified secular-democratic multinational grouping within all of historic Palestine. It will probably require international peacekeepers and pressure from below from within other countries (especially union action). At the moment, whilst there has been a positive and very popular response internationally in opposition to the war, the for a ceasefire, and notably with the oft-called slogan "from the river to the sea Palestine will be Free", this must always be emphasized as free for all, with recognition that all land is holy and all people are chosen.

Special thanks to former Victorian state MPs, André Haermeyer (Labor) and Andrew Olexander (Liberal) for their interesting apologies of Israel's use of lethal force against Palestinian civilians that contributed to the writing of this article.