It’s up to the Palestinians to find a way to make Israel change – Guest column by Arthur Milner

dome of the rock and israeli flag

Guest columnist Arthur Milner argues that while Palestinians are victims, they shouldn’t wait for the west to come to their rescue. Read more…

ArthurMilnerArthur Milner is a member of the OFIP Advisory Council. His parents were Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust by escaping to Russia; the family immigrated to Canada in 1951. Milner is a theatre director and playwright. His two plays about Israel/Palestine include Masada (1991) and Facts, which opened in Ottawa in 2010 and toured Palestine and Israel, in Arabic, in 2012. He is a featured columnist for Inroads Journal, where this article first appeared.

Israel has long relied on the goodwill of the liberal democracies, but according to Robert Kagan in the Washington Post, it is now cultivating a new group of friends:

Since about the middle of 2015, the Israeli government has embraced Hungary’s avowedly “illiberal” prime minister, Viktor Orbán; worked to forge close ties with Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party, despite its limitations on civil liberties and legislation outlawing public discussion of Poland’s role in the Holocaust; warmly embraced Brazil’s right-wing nationalist leader, Jair Bolsonaro; provided a state visit for President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, who once likened himself to Adolf Hitler… When Orbán and his party waged a campaign against Hungarian-born Jewish philanthropist George Soros that was riddled with anti-Semitic content, and the Israeli ambassador in Budapest lodged a protest, the Israeli foreign ministry overruled him and declared Soros a legitimate target.

Not that the liberalism of Israel’s old friends made much difference to Palestinians. The 50-year-plus annexation of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights and occupation of the West Bank and Gaza continue; more than 200 mostly peaceful, almost entirely unarmed Palestinians at the ongoing protests at the Gaza-Israel border that began in 2018 are gunned down through a fence by Israeli army snipers; and settlements spread like cancer. And what do the liberal democracies do? Nothing, really. At least with U.S. President Trump in charge, Palestinians are spared having to participate in pointless peace negotiations.

Ofri Ilani, in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, describes:

“Mounting international indifference to the suffering of the Palestinians, which in many cases morphs into hatred. The Palestinian people are becoming one of the chief victims of the new world order. And as a general rule, when it comes to them, the world really doesn’t give a fuck … International solidarity with the Palestinians has never been at such a low.”

It seems clear: the Palestinians cannot look for help to the international community. If Israel is to change, it will be up to them to make it happen.

The Palestine Liberation Organization has never rescinded the commitments it made back in 1993, when PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat wrote to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel in preparation for the Oslo Accords: “The PLO recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security. The PLO commits itself … to a peaceful resolution of the conflict between the two sides and declares that all outstanding issues relating to permanent status will be resolved through negotiations … The PLO renounces the use of terrorism and other acts of violence.”

There have been “terrorism and other acts of violence,” but beyond the commitments affirmed in Arafat’s letter, the PLO has engaged in “security coordination” with Israel, which many Palestinians regard as “doing Israel’s dirty work.” The result has been more settlers and more settlements.

Since 2005 many Palestinians have been promoting the explicitly nonviolent call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS). Not that they get any credit. Israel and the Israel lobby treat BDS as if it were a terrorist organization. Yosef Kuperwasser, Senior Project Director at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, writes in Tablet Magazine, “The aim of [the BDS] demands is the total annihilation of Israel as a nation-state of the Jewish people.”

It would be the first case of a country being annihilated by a boycott. It seems Palestinians should not engage in violent resistance and they should not engage in nonviolent resistance either.

Anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism purposely conflated

While the Israeli administration seems untroubled by anti-Semitism among its new friends, the Israel lobby has stepped up its campaign to label as anti-Semitic all criticism and critics of Israel. BDS is one example.

Another is the vendetta against Jeremy Corbyn, British Labour Party leader and longtime supporter of Palestinian rights. On July 25, 2018, the U.K.’s three leading Jewish newspapers warned, in a joint editorial entitled “United We Stand,” that the election of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party would represent an “existential threat to Jewish life in this country.” Party activists and Corbyn allies Chris Williamson and Jackie Miller were ejected from the party, Williamson for suggesting accusations of anti-Semitism in the party were exaggerated, Miller for suggesting that Holocaust Day be shared with victims of other genocides.

Recently, the Israel lobby has been engaged in efforts to have countries and organizations adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” The IHRA’s definition is vague and inept, but the bigger problem is the 11 “examples” attached, seven of which mention Israel.

Once a critic of Israel is labelled an anti-Semite, the focus, of course, shifts from the criticism to the critic. Given Israel’s new openness to illiberal and anti-Semitic regimes, one must conclude the target is not anti-Semitism but criticism of Israel. To date, the IHMA definition has been adopted or endorsed by the U.K., Austria, Scotland, Romania, Germany, Bulgaria, Belgium, Sweden, Lithuania, the Republic of North Macedonia, the Netherlands, Slovakia, the Republic of Moldova, the Czech Republic, Hungary, France and Canada.

Palestinian non violence invites more Israeli brutality

The more Palestinians’ commitment to nonviolence grows, the more brutal and antidemocratic Israel becomes, while efforts by the West to shield Israel from criticism intensify.

In 2004, in an article in Inroads Journal, I argued that negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians could not lead to peace. I asked: “Should the international community use force to compel the two-state solution?” I answered: “Yes.” I acknowledged that this was unlikely – but if chances were small then, they are nonexistent now. (As I write, the results of the September Israeli election are inconclusive, except for this: little will change for Palestinians in the territories.)

The Israel lobby has proven highly successful. It is assisted by the fact that, in the midst of current crises, from the rise of the populist right to the climate emergency, it will be harder for Palestinians to get the world’s attention. When asked recently about the UN’s intensified focus on the climate crisis, Israeli ambassador to the UN Danny Danon said it was important, “but from our perspective the fact that Israel is not being discussed is an achievement.”

The international community has let the Palestinians down. It is evident that current Palestinian strategies are not working.

Resistance and negotiation are complementary

Ireland’s Good Friday Agreement would not have happened were it not for Irish Republican Army violence against British soldiers and the Northern Ireland police forces. In the 20 years leading up to the agreement, some 1,800 soldiers, police and civilians were killed by the IRA. (The IRA considered British forces, the Royal Ulster Constabulary and members of the nongovernment Ulster Defence Forces legitimate targets. When civilians were killed by mistake, the IRA apologized.) Negotiations had been proceeding, without success, under various British prime ministers. When Tony Blair came to power in 1997, he was determined to end the violence. Blair asked the army for an assessment. They advised that the armed forces were incapable of defeating the IRA. Blair decided to force serious negotiations. The result was the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

South Africa was forced from the Commonwealth in 1961 and expelled from the International Olympic Committee in 1970. The PLO and BDS have no similar achievement. It is now clear that unless Israel suffers serious consequences from its 52-year-old occupation, it will not negotiate in good faith (or simply withdraw from the territories). The international community, it is clear, will not impose those consequences.

It should be noted that, according to many sources, the Palestinians have a right to armed resistance. The United Nations General Assembly, for example, in resolution 37/43 (1982) reaffirmed “the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples for independence, territorial integrity, national unity and liberation from colonial and foreign domination and foreign occupation by all available means, including armed struggle.”

Israel would call any such resistance “terrorism” and we know how it would respond. The Israelis have no compunction about collective punishment: when a terrorist attack takes place in the West Bank, the IDF destroys the homes of the suspects’ families; from January 2009 to August 2019, for each Israeli killed by Palestinians, Israeli security forces killed 18 Palestinians; at the Gaza fence, more than 200 Palestinians have been killed and 6,300 injured by live ammunition, in contrast with, as far as I can tell, five Israeli soldiers injured, none by live ammunition. That’s a casualty rate of 1,300 to 1.

But what else are the Palestinians to do in the absence of concrete action by the international community? In response to an untenable situation, we should not be surprised to find an increase in Palestinians’ spontaneous and suicidal violence, and a new strategy of violent actions that are disciplined and carefully planned.


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  1. I think the person expelled from the Labour Party was Jackie Walker, not Jackie Miller. And I wonder if you meant IHRA when you say IHMA?

  2. Peter, Steve Heeren is correct about Jackie Walker and about the second time IHRA is mentioned.

  3. Thank you so much for your analysis.
    I agree with all you write, with the exception of, the only recourse that left for the Palestinian is disciplined violence/actions. On the surface it is absolutely right that this is the only choice.
    The problem is that the brutality of Israel’s reactions will be beyond measure, as you say, we witnessed it in cold blood murders recently in Gaza, with total impunity, and same in the past decades.
    Secondly there never was in history that a people/Israel had the support of very powerful people/Jews around the world to back them up and quash any criticism.
    Also never anyone enjoyed great support from another ethnic group, such as in this case from the Christian Zionists.
    To top it all the total support by many world governments, due to their vested interest, (in several ways) to provide this support.

    So what will happen in the case of Israelis being targeted. Israel will intensify the subjugation, the killings and taking over even faster. The propaganda, lies and cover ups from all groups mentioned above, will intensify to justify Israel’s actions, as “the right to defend themselves”.

    So what is the solution. In my opinion, there is no solution that will even remotely will be fair to the Palestinians, due to the reasons I mentioned above. Sadly I don’t think that the examples you mention are going to work here.
    I think that at some point in the future, after Israel will take over most areas and annex them either officially or not and more Palestinians will leave, due to realizing of no hope, Israel will give some autonomy to some areas in West Bank, which with carefully crafted propaganda will have the support and “admiration” of the world. And that will be that.
    What will happen with Gaza, is more of a problem, it’s hard to say what will be the outcome.

  4. I’ve read the article and sadly feel I have to agree with Jake’s comment. I came back from my fourth visit to Palestine a few weeks ago, and there is no sense that anything is improving the lives of the \Palestinians. There will always be uprisings and violence – how can young people in particular contain their resentment and frustration – but it’s always going to be met with greater force by the Israelis. I had great hopes for BDS, and our groups in Wales are campaigning that it should be part of the procurement of services policies, but now that Labour has been overwhelmed by Tories in Parliament I see little hope of anything good happening in the next few years. And most of the British public don’t care. ! I think all we are able to do now is to ensure that our friends in Palestine know that we haven’t forgotten them and that some of us do care – even though it’s not going to do anyone much good. But person to person is all we have, and the foundation of humanity.. Kate Sherringer, Wales

  5. I deeply and strongly disagree.

    The Palestinian forces are dominated by Israeli forces because our countries (Canada and its allies) are supporting Israel in every way conceivable. Israel receives billions of dollars from the US alone in military aid. It receives additional financial support from a broad variety of sources. Its engineers and scientists have nearly unrestricted access to advanced military labs in the strongest countries. Others work in the most hi-tech commercial firms. Its armies are able to to buy the most advanced arms from the strongest countries and its military labs work with people from our countries to improve those weapons. In contrast, if you or I were to send a slingshot to a Palestinian in Gaza or the occupied West Bank, we would be accused of supporting terrorism (together with some charitable groups that aid Palestinian children). Palestinians alone cannot fight an ally of the world’s most powerful countries with any hope of success. It is our job to end our country’s support for the Israeli behemoth; it is not the Palestinians job to violently fight the monster.

    Israel has been incredibly successful at convincing our countries that they are merely defending a land that was always theirs. The truth that they are actively engaged in conquering a land that has always been shared. is supressed. The stories that I learned in “Hebrew School” always made it clear that there were non-Jews present in the land that Israel now claims as their “Jewish State”. It is our job to convince our neighbours and “leaders” that our countries are supporting conquerers not peaceful settlers.

    Were the Palestinians to attempt to use violence, even sophisticated violence, to seek their freedom, they would be falling into a trap. Not only would they lose every fire-fight, they would be strengthening the Israeli narrative. Israel portrays itself as a people seeking to live in peace in its own land while portraying other groups who live in Palestine as violent anti-semites who hate Jews just for being Jewish. Israel would use every incident of Palestinian violence to support their propaganda.

    The only hope that the Palestinians can have is that we succeed in convincing our governments that they are on the wrong side and should stop supporting the armed robbery that is going on. For the Palestinians around the world, the route that I would suggest what I call “Coffee Table Jihad”. Invite everyone you meet to have coffee with you and give them the opportunity to get to know you and hear the true story of what has happened to you and your families. We Jews have to make it clear to everyone we know that criticism of Israeli thievery is not ant-semitism; we do not hate ourselves but want to live up to the true principles of our religion. Only if we do that, can Palestinians have a hope of becoming equal citizens of their homeland.

    As long as our governments, and our tax dollars are supporting those are conquering land and enforcing ethnic cleansing, the Palestinians do not have a chance. In a fair fight, the truth can win but this fight is not fair.

  6. Palestinians have taken the strategic decision to reject violent resistance. They are not turning back. The course they have adopted is far more threatening to some: Freedom, justice and equality in One Democratic State. And they will prevail.

    Our job in the West is to resist efforts to criminalize criticism of Israel. Gandhi is reputed to have said: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” We’re just at the beginning of the third stage, and some are already expressing powerlessness to resist.

    This is our fight and our theatre of battle. Let us not fail our Palestinian brothers and sisters.

    1. Grafton, you wrote, “Palestinians have taken the strategic decision to reject violent resistance “. It is important to remember that not all of them have done that. We must work to strengthen the hand of all those who reject violence (on both sides).

  7. I have to disagree with Mr. Milner . Martin Luther King once said that “violence begets violence” and “toughness begets greater toughness”. This is certainly the case when it comes to the Palestinian/Isreali conflict, as has been noted by others who have commented on the article. The way forward I think is for those who believe in freedom and justice for the Palestinians to continue to pressure their governments for a just resolution to this issue and to encourage the Jewish diaspora, many of whom are becoming more critical of Israel’s behavior , to be part of this effort.

  8. It is not my intention or place to recommend any particular strategy to Palestinians. But I think it should be acknowledged, by we who support Palestinian rights, that the struggle is not going well. I’m ready to support a strategy chosen by Palestinians and, frankly, I would like some direction from a (more or less) united Palestinian leadership. I don’t recommend “armed struggle,” but I’m ready to support it as long as civilians are clearly and explicitly not targeted. As things now stand, most Palestinian organizations embrace non-violence but will not or cannot impose non-violence on other Palestinian organization. The result is the worst of both — no strategic and disciplined use of violence; but the occasional pointless and feeble terrorism of rockets aimed at civilian areas.

    Jake Javanshir and Kate Sherringer seem to share my pessimism about the current state of the Palestinian struggle and, understandably, are not optimistic about an armed struggle. David Lorge Parnas says he “deeply and strongly” disagrees, but he seems to agree that things are not going well and his solution, like Stephen Chappell’s, seems to be that we do more of the same only harder.

    I’m surprised by Grafton Ross’s comment. As David indicates, Grafton writes, “Palestinians have taken the strategic decision to reject violent resistance” — as if there were no rockets fired randomly into Israel. Grafton writes, “The course they have adopted is far more threatening to some: Freedom, justice and equality in One Democratic State” — as if Palestinian’s were even vaguely united behind “One Democratic State.” To cheer us up, he cites Gandhi: “’First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win,’” and concludes: “We’re just at the beginning of the third stage.” In fact, within Israel, Palestinian issues have returned to phase one.

    Two events — increased Palestinian electoral strength inside Israel; and the decision by the ICC to consider an investigation of Israeli (and Hamas) war crimes — offer some reason for hope; but both are a very long way from making a difference on the ground.

    1. Arthur,

      Of course I agree that “things are not going well” for Palestinians. However, I think it is “our” fault not theirs. Things are not going well because Israel receives incredible support from our countries. That is because we continue to elect the wrong leaders and then accept their anti-Palestinian policies.

      1. Hey David,
        I agree that is “our” fault. But the Palestinians have a key role to play. They have to put forward a “solution” that they think is acceptable. “Resistance” is justified, but it is not enough.
        When they have a “solution” to propose, it will be easier, I think, for us to do our task here.

      2. Peter,
        I do not think it is reasonable to expect Palestinians to agree on a solution under the present circumstances in which they are forcibly divided, distributed around the world, and have much of their leadership in jail. Israelis clearly disagree on major issues, why should we expect Palestinians to be different?

        Further, I think it would be pointless for Palestinians to make a proposal while Israel believes that it has enough support from outside to simply ignore their proposal. First, there must be a “level playing field”. After that, negotiations could begin.

      3. But in the absence of a united Palestinian voice, David, which “solution” should we impose on Israel and the Palestinians?

        The division among Palestinian leaders is a problem, but perhaps the bigger problem is the resulting division among those of us who support Palestinian rights. Single-staters treat two-staters as the enemy and vice-versa. The world and left-Zionists treat the PLO (and the PA) as the “sole legitimate spokespersons for the Palestinians” but many among we who support Palestinian rights speak of the PA with disgust. Many of us support BDS (many of us don’t) but the BDS position is vague and overreaching and has had limited success with B and D and no success with the most important letter, S. Some us denounce Palestinian attacks on civilians; some are silent. Strong, somewhat united Palestinian leadership would help us face these divisions.

        Here is what Ayman Odeh, “Israel’s top Arab politician” (perhaps Israels top political at the moment) said in a recent, very interesting Haaretz interview:

        “Some of the historic compromise is that all of us have to recognize that the Jews deserve the right to self-determination in the State of Israel because they are a people, and the Palestinians, who are a people too, should realize their right to self-determination in an independent Palestinian state. But the right of the Jews to realize their self-determination here in the State of Israel doesn’t have to harm our civil and national rights at all.
        “… What’s this JNF? Where are we living? A normal country has to act in a normal way and not in a temporary-emergency way …. In emergency cases a certain outlook is possible, or to come to a specific agreement, but the Law of Return definitely has to be changed.
        “… The Palestinian state must be established with the 1967 borders alongside the State of Israel. I assume we’ll vote for any agreement between the PLO and Israel that’s brought before the Knesset. Anyone who talks about a single state is either perpetuating the existing situation, or they’re telling us to wait 30 years until the Jews are convinced, and then launch negotiations.”

        Would that the PLO had such leadership!


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