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
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. However, 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 violates
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 intifada 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 handed to partial Palestinian control and began
targeting leaders in missile attacks from helicopters. In an op-ed
piece in the Haaretz daily Wednesday, Israeli journalist Amira
Hass wrote that Israel has engaged in systematic violence against
the Palestinians as part of its well-oiled machinery of
“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 Thursday, including from the mother of a 3-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 1-year-old boy who, along with his father, was
killed under 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
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 Thursday that she believes those
skewering her intentionally ignored her reference to the
limitations of resistance.
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 emailed response to
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, The
Associated Press reported.
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 intifada, 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 throwing
cannot be considered a legitimate form of protest because it is
violent. “People are being killed, people are being injured,” he
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
A 1974 resolution recognizes “the right of the
Palestinian people to regain its rights by all means,” provided
they’re 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, 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 (of soldiers), then it’s up
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.