“Jerusalem the Red Line”

Palestinian armed resistance

Hamas chief calls for massive armed resistance to protect it

By Stuart Littlewood

The other day Hamas’s political chief, Khaled Meshaal, criticized the Palestinian Authority (PA) for “criminalizing armed resistance”.

He claimed that, by dropping the armed resistance option, Arab states and the PA had lost the ability to deter Israel and its never-ending violations.

He said that in Jerusalem Israel was trying to divide the sacred al-Aqsa in a first step towards demolishing it, and the regime was using the turmoil in the Arab world as an opportunity to sneak through this “taboo action”.

Apparently the Israeli authorities are going to impose some kind of “time-share” arrangement between Jews and Muslims for prayer at al-Aqsa Mosque, which sits on al-Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary), the third holiest site in Islam. The Israelis are also said to be planning to build a synagogue there. The move has been called “an aggressive, advanced step that confirms Jewish designs on al-Aqsa Mosque at all levels”. Al-Aqsa is in the Old City, which is part of East Jerusalem and strictly speaking belongs to the Palestinians, not Israel. However, it is still under illegal Israeli occupation and control.

It is necessary, says Meshaal, to confront Israel’s plan to steal Jerusalem along with Al-Aqsa Mosque (and, of course, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and many other important places of worship in the Old City), but the PA’s slavish collaboration with the Israelis on security undermines the resistance option. “We need to take a clear stance, Jerusalem is a Red Line. Jerusalem is the soul of the cause.”

All factions must agree, Meshaal added, on a unified strategy and a unified goal to liberate and protect Jerusalem. “Our only path to liberation is resistance, and saving Jerusalem.”

Earlier in the year Meshaal declared that Hamas would change its spots and switch from armed resistance to popular uprising, Arab-Spring-style. On another occasion he said that although he considered armed resistance to be an essential element, it was a means not an end. There were other options available through diplomacy, media and charging the enemy to pay for his crimes.

The right to resist

So what are we to believe from these apparent contradictions? Is armed resistance for real?

Richard Falk, Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University and United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, explained the position on resistance back in 2000:

Palestinian resistance to occupation is a legally protected right. For 33 years, Israel has administered a military occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem in consistent and relentless defiance of the overwhelming will of the organized international community.

The international consensus has been expressed through widely supported resolutions passed by the Security Council and the General Assembly of the United Nations (hereafter UNSC and UNGA). UN resolutions 242 and 338 affirmed the legal obligation of Israel to withdraw from Palestinian territories obtained in the 1967 Six Day War. This must be the end point of any peace process that can bring lasting peace. Until such time as Israel respects this obligation, the relevant principles of international law are contained in the Fourth Geneva Convention concerning the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (12 August 1949), in particular those provisions of the convention that require an occupying power to protect the status quo, human rights and prospects for self-determination of the occupied people, and oblige all signatories to enforce the convention in the face of “grave breaches”. Since 1967 and during the current uprising, Israel has refused to accept this framework of legal obligations. Its refusal has been pronounced, blatant and undisguised. Not only has Israel failed to withdraw from the occupied territories, during the occupation Israel has “created facts” – heavily armed settlements, bypass roads and security zones in the midst of a future Palestinian state – that seriously compromise basic Palestinian rights.

Falk also provides a useful summary of the numerous UN legal directives and resolutions on Palestinian rights and Israeli duties in this long, dragged out conflict.

Writing 13 years ago, remember, he says:

In the absence of the political will to enforce the body of international law on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, resolutions and conventions cannot on their own bring justice to the peoples of Palestine and Israel. Equally importantly, the flagrant violation of international law daily accentuates the injustice to the Palestinian people, intensifies their suffering and cannot be ignored in any approach to conflict resolution. The severity of these violations, and their persistence and frequency, also establishes the foundation for an inquiry into whether an abusive structure of illegal prolonged belligerent occupation does not itself amount to the commission of crimes against humanity, beyond the specific wrongs alleged in relation to Geneva IV and international humanitarian law.

Nothing has changed.

“Couldn’t hit a barn door”

Palestinian leaders are notoriously clueless about the media, public affairs, diplomacy and holding Israel to account for its crimes – the “other options” Meshaal once spoke of. They won’t learn, won’t even make the effort. And that applies to both the PA and Hamas. The cost of their incompetence to ordinary Palestinians is incalculable. So, they are left with having to fight, which they are entitled to do. But how successful have they been so far? And is armed resistance really a game they are equipped for?

In January 2009, after the launch of Operation Cast Lead (Israel’s infamous blitzkrieg on Gaza) the Israeli ground troops closed in on the densely populated urban centres of Gaza. The conflict resulted in around 1,400 Palestinian and only 13 Israeli deaths (and four of those was from “friendly” fire). I heard Israeli reports that said Hamas’s militia couldn’t hit a barn door, or words to that effect. The scorecard confirms it.

Palestinian leaders are notoriously clueless about the media, public affairs, diplomacy and holding Israel to account for its crimes… They won’t learn, won’t even make the effort. And that applies to both the PA and Hamas.

The decision by Israel to break off before “finishing the job” had more to do with a hostile press and international pressure (plus the fear of losing a few more precious Jewish lives) than the effectiveness of the resistance.

Serious resistance has always been a tall order for the Palestinians and is now made doubly difficult by the antics of quislings like President Mahmoud Abbas and his chums in the PA. Furthermore the “red line” is not just East Jerusalem and the Old City with its al-Aqsa Mosque. It is the internationally-recognized pre-1967 border running all around the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Armed Israelis have no business crossing it. Whenever they do, they deserve to meet the same fate as armed Palestinians going the other way. Resisting the occupation surely means defending that red line – not terrorizing Israeli civilians living on the other side, even if, like the residents of Sderot, they are on land allocated by the UN for a Palestinian state but stolen and ethnically cleansed at gunpoint by Jewish terrorists as soon as the mandated government’s (i.e. Britain’s) back was turned.

Most people understand the difference between resistance and terrorism. Only the Israelis and their US/UK stooges seem to be confused.

It starts at school, with “spotting”

While saluting the courage of the resistance in such a terrifying situation and their extraordinary resilience under the cruel six-year siege, one is curious to know who’s in charge and how they are trained. For instance, do they have the sniper corps one would expect? Or is everybody in Gaza  preoccupied with launching primitive, unguided, indiscriminate and largely ineffective rockets that simply give Hamas a bad name, and relying on booby-traps to halt Israeli incursions? Because that’s the picture they paint.

If you visit Gaza you’ll see plenty of guys standing around wearing a big smile and a Kalashnikov, like this affable pair I snapped outside Hamas HQ. But the much-loved AK is not the precision tool for the job we’re talking about here.

Hamas fighters

Hamas fighters

They are up against Israelis like these two (below), who are far better trained and tooled up. They were manning one of the occupation force’s hundreds of checkpoints designed to disrupt and fragment Palestinian society, choke the economy and generally make life intolerable. They happened to be reasonably friendly although a third, lurking in the shadows, had his gun on my back while I took the photo. Note the itchy finger positions.

Israeli occupation soldiers

Israeli occupation soldiers

Let me recall some distant memories. When I was a boy here in England my school had a cadet force and an armoury that included .303 rifles and Brens. Some of the Lee-Enfields were sleeved to .22 for indoor target practice, although we preferred using the assortment of BSA Martini Internationals and heavy-barreled Mossbergs for serious target work.

I and others spent many lunch-hours and dark evenings on the armoury floor “spotting” with the Lee-Enfields (fitted with Singer aperture rear sights, if I remember correctly) – see here.

Learning to aim

Learning to aim

The caption reads:

No bullets or powder are needed for an odd type of rifle practice demonstrated by British soldiers in the photograph above. A sergeant, seen at the right, holds a tiny target in front of one eye, and looks through a peep hole in the center to check the soldier’s aim by seeing that his gun sights line up with the bull’s-eye.@@

One commenter says: “If this is the preferred way to practice aiming, wouldn’t it make good sense to have the bolt pulled out? If I was the one holding up the target, I’d make that the first requirement!”

Heck no. By all means drop the magazine but the bolt stays. The idea of spotting is for the trainer to check the shooter’s aim (1) before the shot, i.e. during the controlled breathing phase, (2) at the moment of squeezing off the shot, and (3) immediately afterwards.

A considerable number of boys were crack shots (at least on the range) by the age of 16. As for the Bren (a light machine gun), we were expected to strip and re-assemble this cutie in under two minutes (and nearer one minute if possible), blindfolded.

Can it really be so difficult to teach the rising generation of Palestinians to shoot straight? After all, their motivation must be sky-high. Armed Israelis, by now, should be wetting their pants at the thought of trespassing on designated Palestinian territory. But it will only happen when Hamas (or a disinfected and purified PA) produce marksmen in sufficient numbers and equip them with the right tool for the job. And it is surely not beyond the wit of the Palestinians to procure some decent bolt action rifles with scopes. I avoid the word “smuggle”, as they have a perfect right to import small arms for their defence…

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