Israel’s “Right to Self-Defense” is Kinda Like “Reverse Racism”: Hardly an Equal Playing Field

Since Israeli broke the ceasefire with Gaza last Wednesday, 100 Palestinian civilians have been killed. Number of Israelis killed: 3. And that’s the short view. The long view makes Israel look even worse.

From a report by the Palestine Center entitled “Imbalance of Power: Understanding Weapons and Casualties in Gaza”:

“From January through September 2012, Israeli weaponry caused 55 Palestinian deaths and 257 injuries. Among these 312 casualties, 61, or roughly 20 percent, were children and 28 were female. 209 of these casualties came as a result of Israeli Air Force missiles, 69 from live ammunition fire, and 18 from tank shells.
In 2011, the projectiles fired by the Israeli military into Gaza were responsible for the death of 108 Palestinians, of which 15 where women or children, and the injury of 468 Palestinians, of which 143 where women or children. The methods by which these causalities were inflicted by Israeli projectiles breaks down as follows: 57 percent, or 310, were caused by Israeli aircraft missile fire; 28 percent, or 150, where from Israeli live ammunition; 11 percent, or 59, were from Israeli tank shells; while another 3 percent, or 18, were from Israeli mortar fire.
As this infographic shows, there is no room for a discussion on the “equal sides of the conflict,” when the reality is a first-world country, with all the trappings of a modern highly sophisticated weapons arsenal, launching devastating and brutal attacks against the most densely populated area in the world, where half its population is youth and 40 percent of its population lives below the poverty line.”

And in case you find the source of this report a biased, check out the figures calculated by the United Nations: In the last 10 years, Israel has killed over 3400 Palestinians. Israelis killed by Palestinians: Fewer than 80.

These numbers only go up to July 2012.

In this scenario, the Surround-Sound claim of Israel’s “Right to Self-Defense” makes about as much sense as a schoolyard bully who corners a nerdy weakling for weeks and months, steals her lunch and money, until the weakling finally gets so tired of being bullied that she bloodies the bully’s nose–only to have the bully claim injury. To make the situation even more absurd, all the bully’s friends rally round to “support” the bully’s claim of “uninstigated” injury and the right to self-defense: Israel’s RoSD has been trumpeted and parroted by numerous journalists, pundits, mainstream newspapers and magazines. It seems as if a day hasn’t passed where there hasn’t been another senator echoing the commitment of Israel to “defend itself,” as per a  resolution passed by “unanimous” acclimation by the US Senate and House last Friday. Dennis Kucinich appears to be the only Congressman to challenge the resolution or its sentiments.

The chorus of the mainstream media and the US government “supporting” Israel’s right of self-defense, with nary a mention of the right of Palestinians to live is remarkably ahistorical and anti-intellectual on several counts, especially when considering that Israel had been planning an assault on Gaza for months, according to various rumors. Richard Falk, the UN Rapporteur for Palestinian Human Rights, points out that

The counter-narrative, accepted by most independent observers, is that the Israeli removal of troops and settlements was little more than a mere redeployment to the borders of Gaza, with absolute control over what goes in and what leaves, maintaining an open season of a license to kill at will, with no accountability and no adverse consequences, backed without question by the US government.


Backed by the US government how, you ask?

Israel’s military arsenal is not due to the tax pressure on its citizens, but is largely funded by the United States. American citizens actually pay more money individually and overall to the Israeli military structure than Israeli citizens do.”

In this regard, the “both sides” are equal argument is as disingenuous as the “Reverse Racism,” argument deployed by whites against Affirmative Action. That argument goes something like this: “I had nothing to do with African Americans being enslaved. My ancestors didn’t arrive in the US until this century. Why should I be discriminated against?”

Of course, there are several telling (and faulty) assumptions here:

-There is an equal playing field for all.

-“Racial discrimination” is easily deployed by an oppressed group (Black Americans) against a dominant (white and upper-class) population with social, economic, and political resources to control and manage the game of ascending to power/college/employment.

-History and long-standing structural racism doesn’t matter when considering injury, discrimination or justice.

If we examine these three assumption in the case of Gaza and Israel, of course, the “Right of Self-Defense” argument immediately becomes apparent in its falsity.  Back in 2008, Darryl Li illustrated the disingenuity of the “equal playing field” argument as he describes the initiation of project of managing Palestine along with Israel’s paradoxical claim to “disengagement”:


Since its beginnings over a century ago, the Zionist project of creating a state for the Jewish people in the eastern Mediterranean has faced an intractable challenge: how to deal with indigenous non-Jews — who today comprise half of the population living under Israeli rule — when practical realities dictate that they cannot be removed and ideology demands that they must not be granted political equality. From these starting points, the general contours of Israeli policy from left to right over the generations have been clear: First, maximize the number of Arabs on the minimal amount of land, and second, maximize control over the Arabs while minimizing any apparent responsibility for them.


What we also know however, is that the most recent incitement to the “escalation” is in fact a long-standing plan on the part of the Israeli government. As Samira Esmeir argues, Gaza is a colonial experiment. It


has become the literal testing ground for Israel’s various experiments, as well as for the fulfillment of the personal ambitions of Israeli politicians. The transformation of Gaza into a laboratory for colonial and imperial hegemony in the region is made in Israel. As an occupying power, Israel transformed Gaza into such a laboratory by imposing on it different forms of confinements culminating in the siege imposed and maintained since 2006.

Confinement lessens the checks on Israel’s military operations and decreases the deterrence and self-defense that Gaza can offer against the Israeli war machine. The horror of this latest war therefore lies not only in the destruction it engenders, but also in its condition of possibility: Here is a population held hostage that Israel attacks when it wishes in order to achieve political ends that have little to do with Gaza itself. The horror is in the careful and measured instrumentalization of the Palestinian population and in the logic that the colonized are expendable for any end.


This then is not a case of Israel being provoked or defending itself against “Hamas.” To take refuge in that line requires a deliberate forgetting—an intentionally self-serving memory that refuses to take history and the political project of colonialism into account. If we relish the “apolitical” argument that says “both sides are to blame,” we absolves ourselves of the responsibility to take history and domination into our thinking.

When bullies claim injury, authority figures need to stop the fight and punish the bully, not invoke his right to self-defense. Bullies and victims are hardly on the same playing field.



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