It was also in the month of October, exactly 50 years ago, in 1973. The Egyptian and Syrian armies crossed the cease-fire lines ad inflicted heavy losses on the Israeli army. What a dreadful commotion in Tel Aviv! While their intelligence services had information that an attack was imminent, the political leadership remained cloaked in its arrogance: defeated in 1967, the Arabs could not fight any more; the occupation of Arab lands could go on unchecked and ad infinitum.
‘Is trying to go home an aggression?’
At the time, many commentators in Europe and the United States denounced ‘an Egypto-Syrian aggression, unjustifiable, immoral and unprovoked’ – a term which Israel’s leaders are especially fond of since it makes it possible to obfuscate the root of these conflicts: the occupation. Michel Jobert, then French foreign minister displayed a clear-sightedness which honoured his country: ‘Does trying to set foot on one’s home territory necessarily constitute an aggression?’1 It is true that in those years the voice of Paris soared a thousand leagues above the occidental chorus and proclaimed that the recognition of the Palestinians’ national rights and the evacuation of the Arab territories occupied in 1967 were the keys to peace.
If, in 1973 the hope of putting an end to the occupation of Egypt’s Sinai and Syria’s Golan Heights was legitimate, fifty years later is the determination of the Palestinians to rid themselves of the Israeli occupation illegitimate? Tel Aviv, just as in October 1973, was caught short by the Palestinian action and suffered an exceptionally heavy military defeat. This time too, the occupiers’ arrogance, their contempt for the Palestinians, the conviction of this Jewish supremacist government that God is on its side, all contributed to its self-deception.
The attack, launched by a joint military command regrouping most of the Palestinian organisations under the leadership of the Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades (military wing of Hamas) was a surprise not only because of the moment chosen but also by its magnitude, its degree of organisation and the military capacities exhibited which made possible, among other feats, to overrun Israel’s military bases. It united all Palestinians and gained widespread support throughout the Arab world, even though its leaders are trying to come to terms with Israel on the backs of the Palestinians. Even Mahmoud Abbas, President of a largely demonetised Palestinian Authority whose main reason for being is its security cooperation with the Israeli army, felt obliged to declare that his people ‘had the right to defend themselves against the colonists’ and occupation troops’ reign of terror’ and that ‘we must protect our people.’2
Each time the Palestinians rebel, the West, – so prompt to glorify the resistance of the Ukrainians – speaks of terrorism. Thus, President Emmanuel Macron ‘firmly condemned the ongoing terrorist attacks against Israel’ without a word about the continuing occupation which is the source of the violence. The resilience of the Palestinians, tenacious, irrepressible, stubborn always amazes the occupiers and appears shocking in the eyes of many Westerners. As at the time of the first Intifada in 1987, or the second in 2000, at the time of the armed actions on the West Bank or the mobilisation in favour of Jerusalem or the clashes around Gaza, under siege since 2007 and which has suffered six wars in 17 years (400 dead in 2006, 300 in 2008–2009, 160 in 2012, 2,100 in 2014, nearly 300 in 2021 and several dozen in the spring of 2023). The Israeli rulers accuse their enemies of ‘barbarity’, of disrespect for human life, in a word, of ‘terrorism.’
The accusation allows the accusers to wrap themselves in the cloak of righteousness and a clear conscience, camouflaging the apartheid system of an unbelievable brutality which oppresses the Palestinians every single day of their lives.
Let me remind readers once again that many terrorist organisations, pilloried as such in the course of recent history, have ceased to be pariahs and become legitimate interlocutors. The Irish Republican Army (IRA), the Algerian National Liberation Front, the African National Congress (ANC) and many others have been by turns described as ‘terrorists’, a word which serves to depoliticise their struggle, to present it as a confrontation between Good and Evil.
In the end the power structures had to negotiate with them. In 1967, following the Israeli aggression, General de Gaulle spoke these premonitory words: ‘Now Israel is organising, on the territories it has conquered, an occupation which will necessarily involve oppression, repression, and expulsions. If they encounter any resistance, they will call it terrorism…3
This is not an ‘unprovoked’ attack
As Israeli journalist Haggai Matar has observed:
Contrary to what many Israelis claim (…) this is not a ‘unilateral’ and ‘unprovoked’ attack. The fright which Israelis are experiencing just now, me included, is only a tiny fraction of what the Palestinians experience every day under the military regime which has raged for decades on the West Bank and under the siege and repeated assaults against Gaza. The responses we hear from many Israelis – calling for the military to ‘level’ Gaza, who say ‘they are savages, not people we can negotiate with, ‘they assassinate whole families,’ ‘there is no way to talk to those people’ – are exactly the words I have heard countless times in the mouths of Palestinians describing the Israelis.4
As in every war, one can only deplore the civilian casualties, but are there ‘good civilians’ for whom to shed a tear and‘bad civilians’ like the Palestinians who are killed every day on the West Bank and whose death elicits so little indignation?
700 Israeli casualties have already been counted as I write (and more than 400 on the Palestinian side), i.e., more than during the 1967 war against Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. The political and geopolitical context in the region will be completely turned around in a way which it is difficult to predict at this point. But what the current events lend credence to, once again, is the fact that an occupation always unleashes a resistance for which the occupiers alone are responsible
As article 2 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen dating from 26 August 1789 proclaims: resistance to oppression is a fundamental right, one to which the Palestinians can justifiably lay claim.
1Quoted in Alain Gresh, Hélène Aldeguer, Un chant d’amour. Israël-Palestine, une histoire française, éditions Orient XXI-Libertalia, 2023.
2Agence WAFA, October 7, 2023.
3Un Chant d’amour, op.cit.
4« Gaza’s shock attack has terrified Israelis. It should also unveil the context », +972 Magazine, October 7, 2023.