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Military Resistance and Arab and Muslim Liberation

By Caise D. Hassan

 

Some sympathizers of Arab and Muslim liberation movements have criticized their use of violence: They state that the gun is not the proper or most effective way to free a people. Violence, they argue, cannot defeat the might of states like Israel and the United States. Practicing such violence incurs the wrath of the occupier; it also contradicts the victims claims that their struggle is for political and human rights, alienating potential Western or Israeli sympathizers. The conclusion of this argument is that the achievement of independence comes through negotiation and non-violence, not military action.

However, the distinction of successful recent Arab and Muslim liberation movements is that their violence was a major factor in the Invaders decisions to leave. Here, I will identify several of these successes and explain why military action worked. Before doing so, I will address the thoughtful objection to violence mentioned above: Guerrilla warfare brings the wrath of the powerful upon innocent Arabs and Muslims.

Certainly, a revolutionary movement should not invite casualties upon its people. Israel, for example, willfully can bomb Arab neighborhoods in a manner that is far bloodier than a Palestinian attack on Israelis.

But we can recognize that occupier violence is independent of the level of violence committed by the colonized. It is the fact that the colonized are revolting through any means--violent or non-violent--that convinces the occupier to punish the collective. As Arabs and Muslims demand the end of foreign rule, the powerful will fight back to inflict humiliation and grief upon those who revolt and, ultimately, to gain the subjects submission. These attacks happen both before and after violent resistance from a people; they are not necessarily a calculated response to guerrilla violence.

The Palestinian situation in the late 1980s and 1990s and the Bosnian genocide illustrate that Arabs and Muslims may experience mass murder and expulsion even though they pursue only political action to achieve their independence. From the start of the first Intifada, Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin asserted that Israeli troops will break the bones of the children demonstrating. The worlds fourth largest army killed over 400 Palestinians and wounded 20,000 the first year of the Intifada. Palestinian military action was comparatively minor. During the entire Intifada, Palestinians killed 100 Israelis, mainly soldiers in Gaza, trespasses that do not justify Rabins measures. Israeli violence continued into the Oslo period, even though the P.L.O. ended its armed resistance. The Israeli air force kept bombing civilian areas, most notable, the Qana refugee camp in Lebanon.

The Bosnian attempt at peaceful succession from Yugoslavia brought even more dire consequences. Serbian leaders threatened the Bosnian Muslims when they affirmed their sovereignty. Serb Democratic Party head Radovan Karadzic told the Muslim leaders that, by declaring independence, they are leading The Muslim nation into oblivion because they have no means of defending themselves in a war. Karadzic and the other Serbian nationalists delivered their promise when, led by President Slobodan Milosevic, they cleansed and expelled tens of thousands of Muslims from Yugoslavia. The expulsions abated when the Bosnians began to defend themselves and after belated Western military intervention. The possible casualties Arabs and Muslims will incur due to their military action is hence not a valid reason for abstaining from military revolt; occupiers are as likely to kill the non-violent as they are the armed.

Occupation ends when the invaders can no longer bear the death of soldiers who police the occupation. The resistance to Israel and the United States in the Arab world supports this thesis, whether that of Egypt in 1973, or of popular insurgencies in Palestine, Lebanon, and Iraq. Mindful that there are multiple motivations for withdrawal, I will discuss how military resistance was a crucial factor in the occupiers decisions to pull their armies.

After President Abdul-Nassers death, the Egyptian government tried to negotiate a return of the Sinai, occupied since the 1967 war, from Israel. Anwar Sadat in 1971 offered the Israelis full recognition and peace in exchange for their withdrawal to the 1967 borders. The Israeli press reported that this offer, which included conditions Israel had accused the Arabs of rejecting since 1948. Israel ignored Sadats offer; its generals felt confident that, after such a swift Israeli defeat of the Egyptian forces in 1967, the Sinai would remain securely in their hands. The Israelis felt no need to negotiate with a weaker power.

Egypt resorted to war. The Egyptian army trapped several Israeli units in the Sinai during the course of the October surprise attack. Had it not been for the U.S. airlift of supplies to the Israelis, the Israeli troops wouldve been buried in the desert, as an Israeli journalist who was one of the trapped soldiers told me.

The war made the Israelis realize the difficulty of controlling the territory of an adversary that fights back. Rather than endanger their soldiers in the Sinais defense, Israel signed a peace agreement with Egypt. This peace, of course, benefited Israel tremendously because it neutralized its largest enemy. But, we should not miss the lesson of the war. Israel would still be in eastern Egypt, with airbases in range of Cairo, were it not for 1973.

Likewise, there were few U.S. public or official objections to the Iraq invasion and occupation until the mujahideen in Fallujah inflicted the first serious defeat on the U.S. Marines in April 2004. About 70% of Americans supported the war when G.I. George W. landed on an aircraft carrier and declared victory in May 2003. Once the Marines siege of Fallujah failed, the resistance grew and inflicted casualties on U.S. troops that were reported daily. Now, even congressional hawk John Murtha has sponsored withdrawal resolutions.

It cannot be overstated that neither a thirst for justice, nor moral clairvoyance, nor any sympathy for Arabs convinced the U.S public to oppose the war. When Marines fired on the people of Fallujah as they held a peaceful protest against the presence of soldiers in their school after the invasion, few in the U.S. noticed or cared. The opposition to the war grew from military families who were anguished from losing their children to the Iraqi resistances fire. Cindy Sheehans protests are the most vocal example. Sadly, G.I. Joe had to suffer many amputations and funerals for the tide to turn.

The Lebanese and Palestinian situations offer similar lessons. To invert what Zionist pundits are fond of saying about Arabs, Israelis, apparently, understand only the language of force.

Hezbollah drove the Israeli army out of Southern Lebanon through precise attacks on the soldiers there, but with a skillful, high-tech twist. The guerrilla group often filmed the operations and broadcast them on Hezbollah T.V., which was received in Northern Israel. Israelis could see for themselves how their friends and relatives in the army were dying for the occupation. This combination of military resistance and political savvy convinced the Israeli public and some of its Labor party that the occupation of Lebanon was a waste of blood. Israel left South Lebanon without conditions.

Palestine shows little hope of a political solution; in fact, the scant Palestinian territorial liberation has come through violence.

Israel took advantage of the Oslo truce to integrate Palestinian land, economy, and resources tighter under its control. As the P.L.O. laid down its arms, Israel established a network of settlements and bypass roads that have strangled the West Bank Arab towns and erected razor wire fences that have imprisoned the Gazans. The Palestinian Authoritys negotiations with Israel went nowhere; despite Arafats concessions of Palestinian sovereignty, the Israelis felt no urgency to remove settlements.

The armed groups of the second Intifada forced Israel to change its strategy, particularly in Gaza. Palestinian attacks on Jewish settlements discouraged new settlers from entering Gaza. The large population of antagonistic Gazans, drawing on their long history of military resistance, waged a war on the occupation that made it difficult for Israel to build settlements and military outposts. The difficulty entering and maneuvering Gaza left the Israelis with inadequate troops to govern 1.5 million Arabs. As the settlements remained sparsely populated, the Israeli leaders decided they were not worth defending. Israel cut its losses in Gaza and focused on its annexation of large settlement blocs in the tamer West Bank.

Military resistance in the Arab and Muslim world has brought a degree of freedom to the people. Violence inspires an invader to leave by inflicting a cost upon occupiers who will not negotiate. They realize that the economic and political advantages gained through conquest will be offset by the death of their own soldiers and the loss of control of a hostile population. Military resistance also benefits from a sound political strategy, as we have seen in the case of Hezbollah.

There are, of course, limits to what violence can accomplish. Resistance to Israeli occupation is complicated by the Israelis conviction that they deserve most of historic Palestine. Most Israelis, even the messianic land-grabbers, will sacrifice their right to the Sinai and South Lebanon, just as U.S. residents feel no urge to make Iraq the 51st state. Israelis will resist, though, Palestinian efforts to liberate Jerusalem--even more so towns like Haifa and Tel Aviv. They will resist this with their nuclear weapons if they feel their homes and lives are threatened. Israeli desire for a Jewish majority presents an obstacle for the Palestinian National Movement, which, for the most part in the wealthy diaspora, has brought to the problem of historic Palestine only its central demand of full right of refugee return.

Caise welcomes your comments via email: caised@comcast.net

 

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