A newspaper op-ed piece by an Israeli writer has revived an emotional debate surrounding Israel’s 45-year rule over the West Bank and east Jerusalem: Do Palestinians who throw rocks at Israelis exercise a “birthright” of resisting military occupation, as the author argued? Or is stone-throwing an indefensible act of violence?
The heated argument — along with a police complaint West Bank settlers filed against the author — was another sign of the deepening gulf between the two peoples after decades of conflict.
The debate comes at a time when Israelis are watching for any signs of a third Palestinian “intifada,” or uprising, against the occupation that began in 1967, when Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem.
Palestinians want the three territories for a state, but two decades of intermittent Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have come up empty and Israel — while withdrawing from Gaza in 2005 — has moved more than half a million of its civilians to the rest of the occupied lands during the four-decade occupation in what much of the world says is a violation of international law.
In the past 25 years, Palestinians have launched two uprisings. The first erupted in 1987 and was characterized by large demonstrations, often accompanied by stone-throwing. Israeli troops responded with tear gas, live fire and mass arrests. The revolt led to negotiations that produced interim peace deals.
The second broke out in 2000 after failed talks on a final deal and violence escalated on both sides. Palestinians used guns and bombs, including suicide attacks. Israel retook parts of the West Bank earlier partially handed over to Palestinian control and began targeting militant leaders in missile attacks from helicopters.
In an op-ed piece in the Haaretz daily on Wednesday last week, Israeli journalist Amira Hass wrote that Israel has engaged in systematic violence against the Palestinians as part of its well-oiled machinery of occupation.
“Throwing stones is the birthright and duty of anyone subject to foreign rule,” wrote Hass, who covers the Palestinians and lives in the West Bank.
Limitations of that right could include “the distinction between civilians and those who carry arms,” she wrote.
Her words elicited a flood of angry reactions in Israel the following day, including from the mother of a three-year-old Israeli girl who was critically injured last month in a West Bank road accident triggered by stone-throwing. Another writer brought up the case of a one-year-old boy, who, along with his father, was killed in similar circumstances in 2011.
The Council of Settlements, the main umbrella group for Jewish settlers, filed a complaint with police against Hass and her employer, Haaretz, accusing them of incitement to violence against Israelis driving on West Bank roads.
Haaretz declined comment on Thursday last week.
Hass, a prize-winning journalist, has been fiercely critical of Israeli policy toward the Palestinians to an extent that places her far outside the Israeli political mainstream.
She said on Thursday that she believes those skewering her intentionally ignored her reference to the limitations of resistance.
“The choice not to read those very clear sentences is part of the Israeli culture of denial of its institutionalized violence against the Palestinians,” she said in an e-mailed response to questions.
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.”
Mustafa Barghouti, a leading Palestinian activist, said Palestinians have become more sophisticated in their protests over the years. He said a group that has set up protest camps on West Bank land earmarked for a settlement is training activists to stick to passive resistance.
“Even when the army came, people did not throw stones,” he said.