Earlier this week, senior Haaretz columnist Amira Hass penned a new polemic on the “Inner syntax of Palestinian stone-throwing,” styling the iconic tactic adopted by youth during the first Intifada as the “birthright” and “duty” of the Palestinian people. Stone-throwing, in Hass' words, is both an “action and metaphor” of their resistance against both Israeli occupation and against the Palestinian Authority, which has acquiesced to the reality of the occupation, against the will of the Palestinian population.
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Hass — no stranger to controversy — was immediately condemned by the mainstream journalistic and political establishment as an agent provocateur of Palestinian extremism. Conservative newspaper Yisrael HaYom veteran Dror Eydar questioned, “Am I the only one that understands that Hass is teaching the killers of Fatah and Hamas…encouraging her allies to harm ‘only’ your sons and daughters serving in the IDF ... all … on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day?” Meanwhile, dovish former MK Yossi Beilin took a less caustic tone, praising Hass “as a very brave woman, not afraid to find herself in the minority," yet censored her thinking as “surprising,” “saddening” and “not smart." Beilin compared Hass' stand to Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount in 2001, which touched off the second intifada.
Maariv featured criticism from the settler camp — considered the front-line targets of possible violence — with an op-ed by settler Adva Bitton, the mother of a toddler gravely injured in a recent stone-throwing attack in the occupied territories, writing “Amira, a stone does not discriminate between blood and blood and not between a grown man and a 3 year-old girl … A stone is a weapon of death in every way.” Likewise, Michael Palmer, writing in The Forward, cried out for justice for his son and infant grandson killed when a stone was hurled through the windshield of their car last year. Settler activist Yisrael Medad charged on his blog that Hass' piece crossed the line from being the work of a legitimate journalist to being a pro-Palestinian “activist,” a point of view shared by the YESHA Council and the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel, who filed a police complaint in protest of the “paean” to stone-throwing.
Yet, while Hass’ editorial has provoked more dissent than debate, it would be a shame to miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity for a more dispassionate exploration of the critical issues she raises regarding the rights and obligations of civilians — both settler and Palestinians — under the occupation.
First and foremost, while I don’t defend Hass (I too found her soliloquy on stone-throwing provocative, untimely, and shallow), having read her column in both Hebrew and English, it seems many commentators have missed her point. If anything, her reflections are less about hurling rocks as resistance than a kind of “Foucault for Fellahin” primer on the physical as well as mental-spiritual control of the body under occupation. The bulk of the article reads more like a crash course in non-violent civil disobedience tactics that could be adopted by the Palestinian public.
To my mind, she seems to be arguing for the importance — if not preeminence — of U.S. civil rights or Gandhi-era tactics of civil resistance, which she claims have been ignored by the Palestinian Authority due to “inertia, laziness, flawed reasoning, misunderstanding, and personal gain.” In all, the inner syntax is as much directed at Israel as the failure of Palestinian leadership in protecting the interests and rights of its civilian population under occupation.
Yet, perhaps of equal importance, the Hass controversy exposes that some sectors of both the Israeli and Palestinian public seem to have unresolved opinions about whether settlers seem to deserve even the most basic of human rights. To them, while IDF soldiers appear to “fair game” by both sides (a dubious ethical assertion itself regarding teenagers often ordered to serve an occupation they do not believe in), the settler population seemingly falls into a liminal legal and moral category as part-civilian, part-occupier. (This ambiguity is best exposed in episodes of anti-settler violence, where whispers of “magiah lahem” [they had it coming to them] seem to echo over ambivalent public condemnations.)
Of course, settlers themselves sometimes embrace these contradictions — priding themselves as the first-line of defense for the Israeli public against Palestinian rage, engendering sympathy for their victimhood while sometimes being perpetrators of violence against Palestinian civilians, and, at least in the past, by debating within their own camp about the morality of exposing their own families to risk and the nature of self-defense — for their own purposes.
But what Hass (and her supporters) seem to miss is that it neither dignifies Palestinian resistance nor condemns the Israeli settler movement to deprive the settler population of fundamental freedoms from death and injury — the most minimal human rights that the settlers themselves must be similarly obligated to provide the Palestinian population. The most shocking part of the “inner syntax” is the failure to recognize the other as a human being. As those in both small spaces and glass houses must recognize, “If you prick us, do we not bleed?”
Dr. Sara Hirschhorn is a graduate of Yale and the University of Chicago and is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University, researching the Israeli settler movement, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the U.S.-Israel relationship.