Resistance is not terrorism. South Africans resisting apartheid were not considered “terrorists” by the international community, nor were Indians practicing nonviolent civil disobedience against the British. But an occupying power will always try to discredit their opponents, as seen in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Palestinians who resist an unbearable occupation are branded “terrorists”, arrested and demonized in the eyes of many. However, despite what the Israeli authorities may claim, there is more justification for Palestinian resistance than not. Given Israel’s continuous violations of international law, the Palestinian people have a legal right to resist.
First, let’s look at the Palestinian people’s status as a “people”, as “peoples” are granted certain political and civil rights by the United Nations. Furthermore, a significant portion of the Israeli government’s claim to Palestinian land rests on the notion that Palestinian identity is not real. Newt Gingrich, a US politician, has also stated that Palestinians are an “invented people”. This notion is based on Palestinians not having their own state, as they lived under Ottoman rule, and their speaking of a language that is common across the Arab world: Arabic. Detractors of a Palestinian identity will also argue that Arab culture and Palestinian culture are indistinguishable. However, this argument fails to realize that all nations are invented and that a distinct national identity is not a claim to statehood. For example, the US, the UK, and Australia all speak English and their cultures are very similar. Does this mean that the US should not be a state? Of course not.
In addition, Palestinians are a “people”. Yes, Palestinians are Arabs, but one must understand that there are distinct cultures within the Arab world. Moroccan culture is very distinct from Omani culture, and the dialects of Arabic spoken in both countries are very different from each other. With the fall of the Ottoman Empire in the 20th century, peoples that had been under unified rule for centuries began asserting their claim to independence. Palestinians were no different. Peoples have a shared language, culture, and live in the same area. By these standards, Palestinians are a people: they speak Palestinian Arabic, have lived in the same area for centuries, and have a distinct culture.
Since the Palestinians are a people, certain political rights are afforded to them. According to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a treaty adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1966, an agreement to which Israel is a signatory, “all peoples have the right of self-determination”. The Palestinian people have a right to control their own destiny, and they also have a right to resist. Indeed, the right of a population under military occupation “to struggle” and fight back against the occupiers is enshrined in Additional Protocol 1 of the Geneva Conventions. Thus, the use of violence against an occupying force is lawful under international law.
Palestinians, being a legitimate “people” and living under Israeli military occupation, have the legal right to resist. Israel may claim that desperate acts of resistance like throwing stones are acts of “terrorism”, but that argument fails to hold up against more detailed scrutiny. The reality is that the Israel-Palestinian conflict isn’t a balanced game; Israel has more military power over the Palestinians, making it a one-sided conflict. But Palestinians do have one thing on their side: international law.