Friday,20 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1144, 18 - 24 April 2013
Friday,20 July, 2018
Issue 1144, 18 - 24 April 2013

Ahram Weekly

To throw or not to throw?

Throwing stones at Israeli tanks asserts the Palestinian birthright to live in peace and freedom and is an act of protest against the laws of an oppressive occupier, writes William A. Cook

Al-Ahram Weekly

A debate is raging in Israel today over the truth of journalist Amira Hass’s words in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, “throwing a stone is the birthright and duty of anyone subject to foreign rule. Throwing stones is an action as well as a metaphor of resistance.”

The day after Hass’s comments, another writer, Joel C. Rosenberg, offered these objections: throwing stones can result in death, and Hass does not mention that consequence; justifying stone-throwing “grants legitimacy to the activities of the government she condemns”; and stone throwing as “a natural right of every human being is futile and invalid, certainly in ethical terms.”

Conveniently, he did not mention that the Palestinians have no army, no air-force, no navy, no comparable military ordinance of any kind to throw at the fourth-largest state-of-the-art military in the world. They only have stones. Can stones kill? Yes, but so can $300,000 missiles and phosphorus bombs. Do we justify death by missiles and phosphorus, but damn death by stoning? Does the throwing of a stone justify the carnage of the IDF against the defenceless Palestinians?

Where is the argument here? Is throwing stones a birthright, as Hass states, or is it “futile and invalid,” as Rosenberg claims? Given the reality of Israeli military power versus the efforts of the Palestinians, children and teenagers, hurling stones, the debate on birthright avoids the obvious.

“Listen to Cain as he walks beside his brother along the path of death: there is no judgment and no judge and no world to come! No reward will be given to the righteous, nor any account given of the wicked. Such is the belief of those who would declare their independence of any responsibility for their brother, accept any blame for their deception as they accompany him to his death, or bear any guilt for the wickedness they inflict. Without judgment for behaviour determined as good or bad, without reward for acts of love or compassion, without retribution for evil and wickedness against his brother, Cain is free to do what he wills to do. Ultimate freedom, a declaration indeed of independence.”

“Abel responds to his brother in the only terms left to him as he walks to his death, a plea to conscience that binds all in mutual existence, a belief that there is indeed a judgment and a judge and a world to come É and the wicked will be called to account. Without that understanding, those who will can, with impunity, plunder the poor, oppress the defenceless, act to pervert justice, and wreck violence and bloodshed on the world.”

Such is the dilemma the American writer Henry David Thoreau faced as he delivered his A Plea for Captain John Brown (1859) as Brown, considered a “traitor” to the state for his opposition to slavery, faced hanging. Thoreau quotes Brown in his own defence: “no man sent me here; it was my own prompting and that of my maker. I acknowledge no master in human form... I think, my friends, you are guilty of a great wrong against God and humanity, and it would be perfectly right for anyone to interfere with you so far as to free those you wilfully and wickedly hold in bondage.”

Such is the dilemma Mahatma Gandhi also faced as he sought guidance from Hinduism and the importance of action in one’s life, without concern for success. The Hindu text the Bhagavad-Gita says, “on action alone be thy interest, / Never on its fruits / Abiding in discipline perform actions, / Abandoning attachment / Being indifferent to success or failure.”

Such is the dilemma that Martin Luther King faced as he sat in the Birmingham jail in Alabama, considered a threat to the state’s legal system that had legislated the segregated lives of the country’s African-Americans. “I am cognisant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

            And such was the dilemma the Jews in Warsaw faced, in the words of the US Holocaust Museum, “between July 22 and September 12, 1942, [as] the German authorities deported or murdered around 300,000 Jews in the Warsaw ghetto. Armed with pistols, grenades (many of them homemade), and a few automatic weapons and rifles, the ZOB fighters (the Jewish Combat Organisation Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa) stunned the Germans and their auxiliaries on the first day of fighting, forcing the German forces to retreat outside the ghetto wall.”

“German commander SS general Jÿrgen Stroop reported losing 12 men, killed and wounded, during the first assault on the ghetto. On the third day of the uprising, Stroop’s SS and police forces began razing the ghetto to the ground, building by building, to force the remaining Jews out of hiding. Jewish resistance fighters made sporadic raids from their bunkers, but the Germans systematically reduced the ghetto to rubble. The German forces killed [the leader] Anielewicz and those with him in an attack on the ZOB command bunker on 18 Mila Street, which they captured on May 8.”

Such is the need to act, even metaphorically, when loss of life, threatened by those willing and capable of inflicting imprisonment, torture, or death on a person or persons, is imminent and obvious. The right to life, to assert that right in the face of certain death, as in the fate of Abel, supersedes all other action. To throw a stone at a tank, the symbol of power of another over personal freedom, to assert, even to glorify, that birthright to live in freedom and peace in the world, supersedes the illegal laws of the state that occupies and oppresses.

Laws are only just when they protect the personal rights and dignity of all. That is the meaning of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and that is the criterion Israel must abide by in its occupation of Palestine. Otherwise, one must condemn the Jews that took their birthright to act against their oppressors or find their action a “right” based on some superior testament that negates such a right for the rest of humanity. The world cannot avoid its responsibility to protect the helpless; it must intervene in Palestine.

“Consider now the events of April 9-11, 1948, the eradication of the citizens of the town of Deir Yassin, a month before the [Jewish] Agency declared the existence of the Israeli state and the implementation of the UN resolution to partition,” writes Israeli historian Benny Morris. This massacre was then, and remains today, the signature example of the intent of the Zionist Agency and its agents to ethnically cleanse Palestine of its non-Jewish inhabitants. A plethora of documents abound that claim insight into the events that transpired during those three days, yet all attest to the extermination of the town’s citizens, differing only as to numbers and the agents responsible.

Since Morris relies on official documents, his summary can be quoted. “Deir Yassin is remembered,” he writes, “for the atrocities committed... during and immediately after the drawn-out battle. Whole families were riddled with bullets... men, women, and children were mowed down as they emerged from houses; individuals were taken aside and shot.” The Jewish militia Haganah’s intelligence reported “there were piles of dead. Some of the prisoners moved to places of incarceration, including women and children, were murdered viciously by their captors... men raped a number of Arab girls and murdered them afterwards.”

Another intelligence operative who visited the site hours after the event reported that “adult males were taken to Jerusalem in trucks and paraded in the city streets, then taken back to the site and killed... Before they were put on the trucks, the [Jewish militia men] searched the women, men, and children [and] took from them all their jewelry and stole their money.’ Finally, the “Haganah made great efforts to hide its part in the operation.”

Despite Morris’s accounting, 50 years after the events at Deir Yassin, Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organisation of America, attempted to revise history by denying that a massacre took place in his work Deir Yassin, History of a Lie. Why go to such lengths to deny what is so thoroughly documented? The answer is simple. Deir Yassin is a symbol of ethnic cleansing, of the determination of the Jews in Israel, controlled by the Zionist Agency and its armed forces, to “transfer” or kill the indigenous people of Palestine.

The truth symbolised by Deir Yassin is the calculated Zionist strategy “to terrorise Arabs in order to expel them on the way to depopulating their villages in order to repopulate them with new Jewish immigrants or to erase them from the map,” as is stated in the present author’s edited volume The Plight of the Palestinians (2010).

Let it be stated here that the people of Deir Yassin did not go gently into that good night; they, like their Jewish brothers and sisters in Warsaw, fought valiantly against terrible odds, against the systematic brutality that has been described above.

They fought for their birthright, one that Hass has established was their right and duty to assert if they were to proclaim to all the world that no one and no nation has the right to occupy another people’s land or to oppress them or to humiliate and subjugate them because they have the will and the means to imprison and enslave, to torture and brutalise, to deprive and destroy, to accomplish their ends.

Such a nation acts without right and must be subject to international justice in order that all people of good will can live in peace and dignity.


The writer is professor of English at the University of La Verne in southern California. His latest book is Decade of Deceit.

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