Even Yossi Beilin, a former Israeli peace negotiator and longtime advocate of Palestinian statehood, joined the chorus of critics, an apparent sign of a broad Israeli consensus on the issue.
“Stone-throwing is not a ‘birthright and duty’ of those being ruled [by others], but an act of violence that can lead to death, disability and injury,” Beilin wrote in the Israel Hayom daily.
His comments, perhaps more than the more predictable reactions of West Bank settlers, illustrated the divide between Israelis and Palestinians after decades of conflict, and growing Israeli-enforced physical separation between the sides.
Ghassan Khatib, a West Bank intellectual who has served in Palestinian Cabinets, unequivocally defended the Palestinians’ right to resist occupation, but said non-violence is preferable to guns and bombs.
Palestinians gained worldwide sympathy during the first uprising, as the David to Israel’s Goliath, but lost it during the second, when they unleashed suicide bombings and shooting attacks on Israeli civilians.
“I think the non-violent and non-military struggle is more useful to the Palestinian cause,” Khatib said.
Asked about stone-throwing, he said he considers it part of the non-military approach.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said stone-throwing cannot be considered a legitimate form of protest because it is violent.
“People are being killed, people are being injured,” he said.
While the political battle lines are drawn, the legal dimension is murky.
Palestinians say the right to resist occupation stems from the right to self-determination, affirmed in various UN resolutions. A 1974 resolution recognizes “the right of the Palestinian people to regain its rights by all means,” provided they are in line with the UN Charter.
Eliav Lieblich, who teaches international law at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel, said international law does not dictate exactly how they can claim that right.
“There is full recognition that nations under occupation have the right to self-determination, but international law didn’t take the extra step to say that they are allowed to resist the occupying power using force,” he said.
Palestinians, along with Israeli and international human rights groups, charge that Israel’s military often uses disproportionate force against Palestinian protesters, such as live ammunition and rubber-coated steel pellets. There has also been a sharp increase in settler violence against Palestinians and their property in recent years, rights groups have said.
On Wednesday last week, two Palestinians were killed by army fire in a clash near a West Bank checkpoint. The Israeli military says Palestinians threw firebombs, while a Palestinian human rights group says they hurled stones and empty bottles.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has accused Israel of overreacting to street protests.
Abbas was one of the most outspoken opponents of the armed uprising a decade earlier, instead Abbas and his Fatah movement have called for “popular resistance,” or acts of civil disobedience.
Abbas aide Nabil Shaath said this includes demonstrations, hunger strikes, a boycott of Israeli products and setting up protest tent camps to reclaim expropriated lands.
Shaath said the Palestinian Authority is not urging Palestinians to throw stones, but that “if they decide it’s the way to defend themselves against automatic weapons, then it’s up to them.”