by Aram Ziai
Throughout human history, human beings have been killed with various legitimations: in the name of religion, in the name of nationalism, in the name of justice and freedom. Whatever the legitimation, it boils down to taking lives of others and feeling justified in doing that. After the deadly attacks of Hamas on unarmed Israeli civilians, a number of people subscribing to postcolonial and decolonial perspectives have been appreciating the violence, calling it “a war of liberation” or claiming “This is what decolonization means”. All the while, the mainstream media seem united in describing it as terrorism and in proving once more that some victims of the conflict in Israel and Palestine are more equal than others. So who is right?
If terrorism is defined as the use of violence against innocent people to spread fear and attain political objectives, then yes, Hamas resorts to terrorism against civilians, shooting and holding Israeli persons accountable for the actions of their government – independent of whether they support them or not. (Among those murdered by Hamas there was an activist from Breaking the Silence and a journalist from Ha’aretz). This is also the principle underlying the bombings in the retaliatory “war on terror” of the Israeli army to protect its citizens or the legal slow-motion ethnic cleansing in the occupied territories. One does not need to support Hamas to become a victim of Israel’s policy.
Yet if the political objective of Palestinian militants is to undo the occupation and regain the land from which Palestinians were forcibly displaced for decades and which has been taken a by settler state denying them equal rights, then yes, this can be framed as an anticolonial war of liberation. However, if the violence is directed not only against occupying forces, but against Jews as such, it also resembles an antisemitic “race war”. Even if Hamas is fighting against a settler colonial Apartheid state (established as a refuge for Jews after the Holocaust, it should be mentioned), we have to ask: what is it fighting for? According to its charta: a religious fundamentalist state where the Jews have been killed. Only right-wing extremists would see this as liberation.
Both sides mentioned above (of course there are more than two) are thus right in some ways but are justifying more violence. In this simplified view, we seem to be confronted with the choice between endorsing either killing in the name of decolonization or killing in the name of national security. Is there nothing else? “Colonialism is a bloody business and so is getting rid of it, so let us not be squeamish here”, some posts on social media, often quoting Fanon, say implicitly or explicitly. Is there really no way of settling such conflicts apart from killing members of the other group until all that is left is a peaceful graveyard and blood on our hands? Brecht wrote: even the hatred against baseness distorts our features.
As a postcolonial scholar, I have been “accused” of being pro-Palestinian, but what does this mean? If it means celebrating murdered Israelis, I certainly am not. If it means insisting on equal rights for Palestinians I surely am. I have been reminded that my simple reflections hardly provide a solution to this complex conflict. And it is not my place to judge from my comfortable peaceful home in Germany. My house has never been bulldozed or bombed, I have never been displaced nor have I lost loved ones to due to attacks from Hamas or the IDF. It is true that decolonisation often was only attained through violent means. Still I would say that the non-violent resistance against colonialism in India (despite the violent partition afterwards), the war of liberation in Rojava (where the objective was a multi-ethnic democratic confederation and opponents were not simply executed after being subdued) and even the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland (after decades of oppression and violence between Catholics and Protestant settlers from the British Empire) give me hope that there can be other ways to fight for freedom. Let us find alternatives to the logic of “killing in the name of …” in which the noble end is used to justify lethal means, and try to build a better world without blood on our hands. One in which we comprehend (in the words of Charlotte Wiedemann) the pain of the others as well as our own.
Aram Ziai teaches at the University of Kassel, Germany
A note on the title: A song by this name had been written by the band Rage Against the Machine after LA police officers who had severely beaten and kicked, Rodney King, a black man lying on the ground after a police pursuit, were acquitted, causing riots in Los Angeles in 1992. I have appropriated the title here to extend the critique. Thanks to Daniel Bendix and Franziska Müller for comments.
The date of all website citations is Oct 16.
Not only Israeli historians use the term settler colonialism, early zionists did too. As for the accusation of Apartheid: although the discrimination in Israel does not reach the level of Apartheid South Africa, it does meet the definition of Apartheid according to international law. See the 280-page report of Amnesty International.