It has always been argued by the officials of the Zionist entity that “Israel has the right to defend itself,” an argument echoed once and again by Western officials whenever the resistance strikes back. This has been the case recently in the comments by the US administration and its orbit Western governments on the Zionist entity’s attack on the Gaza Strip. They tried to back it and justify its actions after Operation Al-Aqsa Flood by Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya (Islamic Resistance Movement) (Hamas) on October 07, 2023. This article dissects this claim to prove it is ill-founded and that its current use has disastrous repercussions. The article sets off by underscoring some essential definitions of this issue and then answers four key questions: who started the war? Does the Zionist entity have any moral right to defend itself? Does this entity have a legal right to do so? What is the impact of repeating that claim now?
First, we need to address essential definitions related to the argument in this issue. Palestine, first of all, was a colony under the British Mandate following the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Sykes-Picot Agreement, like other colonies in the region, such as Iraq. The mandate’s stated objective was to prepare these colonies “until such time as they are able to stand alone,” i.e., to lead the native population to self-government and independence. Those countries emerged from World War II with a modern system of statehood, government, and institutions. The British Empire classified Palestine as an A-mandate, which meant that it was almost ready for self-rule or did not lack much to become an independent state, which did not materialize in the final analysis. On the other hand, what is known as the “State of Israel” is an entity established in 1948, a few decades after the Balfour Declaration issued in November 1917 in response to the Zionist aspirations. The British Empire government at the time viewed with favor the “establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people,” which was later implemented through the British Empire’s policy encouraging the migration of Jews dispersed in various world countries to Palestine, and training and equipping the Zionist Haganah militias of while nine Zionist military divisions attacked Palestinian cities and villages, committing war crimes, mass massacres, and forced displacement of millions of Palestinians.
Over time, and after the 1967 war and the crimes of genocide and ethnic cleansing committed during it, the situation of Palestine deteriorated to reach what we see now. Millions were forced outside their land and denied their right to return. Millions more are under occupation, either in the Gaza Strip, the remaining parts of the West Bank, or within the green line separating the territories occupied in 1948 and those occupied in 1967.
Delving further into the argument, we will first answer the question: who started the war? Here comes the need to address the framing of the issue, which is essential in controlling the narrative because it allows a decontextualized interpretation of events to garner undeserved sympathy for your cause. This is a terrifyingly powerful tool that can turn the executioner into a victim. In fact, turning the truth around by controlling the narrative is not difficult at all. All you have to do is start your story from the end, and everything will be turned upside down! Suppose you are a white supremacist in South Africa. In that case, you can commence your story with the bombings led by the Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) (Spear of the Nation) Movement, which was founded in 1961 and led by Nelson Mandela, and its military operations that targeted government and vital economic facilities to depict the apartheid regime in South Africa as defending itself against these Mandela-led terrorists. Likewise, suppose we start by referring to the arrow and spear the Native Americans directed at the European settlers in North America. In that case, we can justify the extermination of the indigenous people there and turn the rifles of those settlers who built what we know today as America and Canada into a symbol of achieving security on the continent. In this narrative, it would be a legitimate right for those settlers to defend themselves.
Back to the Israeli occupation of Palestine, an observer of the omnipotent world traditional media can clearly notice the bias towards the Zionist-Israeli narrative, including that related to the current Israeli offense. The State of Israel – the only democracy in the region in the eyes of these media outlets – is the victim attacked by a group of barbarians on October 07 without any reason. Framing this issue in this scandalous manner means that Israel is exploiting this effective tool to frame the events taking place in Palestine according to its narrative. History did not begin on October 07, when Hamas attacked the so-called Gaza Envelope. In his briefing to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on October 24, the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, stated, “It is important to also recognize the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum. The Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation. They have seen their land steadily devoured by settlements and plagued by violence; their economy stifled, their people displaced, and their homes demolished. Their hopes for a political solution to their plight have been vanishing.” His statement, in a plenary UNSC session attended by foreign ministers of world countries, embarrassed this entity, its foreign minister, and its UN representative, who then called on Guterres to resign. Simply put, trying to change the prevailing narrative by examining the history of the occupation is a sensitive matter for the Zionists, who are trying to control it to overturn the reality of that occupation.
Telling the story selectively according to the whims of the Zionists is precisely what that entity wants. Once you talk about the “right to self-defense,” this will shift the focus from talking about Zionist settler colonialism to the Palestinian reaction to this colonialism. Thus, the Palestinian resistance missiles will become an aggression against Israel, which is trying to protect its citizens; the correct historical context of the Zionist colonization of this land, the Palestinian groups that existed before this settlement, the story of the establishment of the Gaza Strip, the reason millions of refugees there and around the world are prevented from the most basic human right, which is the ability to return to their homes, will be ignored. Therefore, the answer to the first question on who started this war is simply: the Zionist entity that colonizes and settles this land and forcibly displaced the fathers and grandfathers of the Palestinians who are launching rockets today as a means of resistance to the violence, siege, and displacement to which they are subjected.
As for the moral right, in order to win this argument, the Israeli must convince us that it is moral for a colonial settler of land to defend himself against the indigenous people he is colonizing; the sheer attempt to argue this is extraordinarily crazy and illogical. The “right of self-defense” in this particular context, in which a colonizer cannot exist except by exiling the land owners, would simply mean granting this colonizer the right to use criminal means against those people to prevent them from thinking about competing with him over the land. Colonial settlement, by definition, is the process of settlers expanding and settling in foreign lands for the purpose of seizing resources and political and economic control over those lands. This can only be done through the migration of settlers from their country of origin to foreign lands and forcibly displacing indigenous people, intimidating and persecuting them, and ignoring their fundamental rights.
When we try to observe what is happening in Gaza from this comprehensive perspective, we will see that the Gazan citizens are Palestinian refugees from the second or third generation of a family that was subjected to ethnic cleansing just because they were not Jews either during the Nakba in 1948, which led to the establishment of the Zionist entity, or in 1967 war, which led to the defeat of the Arab countries neighboring this entity and this entity’s occupation of the remaining Palestinian lands. The presence of approximately 2.3 million Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip haunts their colonial settler neighbors. It threatens them existentially because these simple Palestinian citizens of Gaza would spare no effort to regain their stolen rights, notably their land from which they were forcibly displaced and which was given to others who came from Russia or Europe just because they were Jews. Thus, these colonial settlers would do everything in their power to restrict the residents of this neighboring Gaza Strip and make their lives miserable to force them out. The attempt of the son or grandson of this colonial settler to claim his right to continue occupying Palestine, to defend himself, and to force these Gazan citizens to remain silent while deprived of their most basic rights and trapped in a suffocatingly small geographical area, in which that settler controls everything: crossings, sea, air, and economy, means, in fact, giving him a chance to uproot this threat.
Alleging that the colonial settlers have the right to guarantee their security vis-à-vis those they persecute and torture is highly illogical as if a bandit demands security from his victims, who resist his attempt to rob them. We have heard this claim many times throughout history. The most heinous colonial powers, such as fascist Italy and the imperialist empires of France and Britain, claimed to exercise sovereignty over their colonies and the right to defend their land and the security of their settlers against the barbarians who were resisting them there and terrorizing the security of their citizens who came, ironically enough, to plunder this land.
Although we may debate that the international system that the victors produced after World War II can be a suitable legal reference in justifying who has the right and who has the international law by his side – a thorny issue we may address later- here we will refer from the legal viewpoint to the laws and resolutions of this international system essentially drafted by these victorious Western countries, which today are trying to justify the violations of this Zionist entity through invoking the “right to self-defense.”
The legal right to “self-defense” is one of the international norms that justifies any independent country’s defending itself against any attack or aggression on its territory by a foreign country. This right, according to this definition, gave the right to Iraq, as an independent, recognized state, to defend itself against the US occupation, just as it today gives the right to Ukraine, as an independent, internationally recognized state, to defend itself against Russia’s aggression. This right is granted by international law to independent states to defend themselves against attacks by foreign states. Still, the Zionist entity’s claim to this right in this case, and its echo by Western leaders, is legally invalid because it does not apply to this entity in this context. Israel today is an occupying Power under international law, which is turned upside down by this claim. Otherwise, if Russia occupies Ukraine, it will have the right to defend itself against the remaining Ukrainian resistance.
Quite the contrary, considering Gaza and the West Bank as occupied territories under international law and resolutions gives the Palestinians the legitimate right to defend themselves against this occupation. Article (1) of the United Nations Charter itself stipulates that all peoples have the right to self-determination, i.e., to determine their political, economic, and social future. Therefore, resistance movements that strive to achieve independence and self-determination have a legitimate and legal right to struggle for this. The UN General Assembly (UNGA), in its resolution No. 2625 (XXV), affirms the right of peoples to struggle against colonialism, occupation, and tyranny. The Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 affirms in its articles and the two Additional Protocols the right to protection for persons who participate in armed struggles to achieve their legitimate rights, including armed struggles against colonialism, foreign occupation, and racist tyranny. The UNSC, whose resolutions are legally binding on the Member States, has indicated in numerous resolutions that Israel is an occupying Power. Resolutions No. 242 (1967), 338 (1973), and 446 (1979) all demand Israel to withdraw from the Palestinian territories annexed after the 1967 war, including the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem (Al-Quds), condemn settlement, and refer to the right of Palestinians to live in safety within recognized borders. Add to these the UNGA Resolutions No. 3236 (1974), 3376 (1975), 43/177 (1988), and 72/15 (2017), to mention only a few.
International law, therefore, defines Palestinians as being under Israeli occupation. This gives Palestinian resistance movements, such as Hamas, the right to resort to violence to rid their people of colonialism. In other words, this makes the right to self-defense in favor of the Palestinian resistance movements and not the Zionist entity. This is what Western leaders must echo if we live in a just world.
Finally, the Zionist entity’s attempt to usurp this right, and its constant parroting by the West, and to use this claim to respond to those who shed light on the Israeli occupation’s practices is an attempt to justify the violence being practiced by the strongest army in the region against a tiny, besieged Strip of not more 360 square kilometers and more than two and a quarter million people. The lay listener who does not know the context of this occupation would then ignore the war crimes committed in the name of this right. Here, we must be clear: even when a state actually has this right, this does not justify cutting off food, water, electricity, or medical supplies, nor does it justify the deliberate destruction of civilian infrastructure and the bombing of population centers, hospitals, and schools as we have seen in the Gaza Strip. The pictures and statistics coming from the Gaza Strip for more than twenty days are tragic and heartbreaking. The Zionist entity’s claim to this right now amid the war crimes it is committing against the residents of the Gaza Strip comes in the context of justifying these crimes, and the repetition of this claim by the leaders of the Western world gives the green light to this occupation to commit more massacres with complete impunity. Therefore, repeating this claim now entails significant disadvantages, namely aiding this occupation in committing more massacres without fear of any accountability.
Given the above, Israel, as an occupying Power, does not have any right to defend itself either morally or legally. It does not defend itself in the first place. Instead, according to the historical context, it is the one who started the war, the one colonizing the land, and the attacker. It will continue to attack to preserve its future as a settlement entity. Repeating these allegations multiplies the crimes committed by the Zionist entity, not only against resistance movements whose right to struggle for independence is guaranteed by all divine and international laws but also against defenseless civilians.
After we have unequivocally proven that Israel does not have the right to defend itself based on logic and international laws that we have agreed to establish as a basis for building our position on this issue due to the considerations of the context of this era, “which are not necessarily fair,” we remain convinced that in a just world, Palestine will be an undisputable question. However, unfortunately, we live in a world imbued with double standards, in which countries act according to their interests, and the humane face remains a mask that this or that person puts on if it only serves their interests.
Eng. Mohamed Ibrahim Abu Sneineh
Masters of International Relations - University of Birmingham, United Kingdom. Executive Director of the Dialogue and Debate Foundation (Libya) and Graduate of the Elite Academy - QatarDebate Center