By Sandy Tolan
In the history of the Palestinian struggle for freedom, stones have played a central role. The stone was the symbol of the first Palestinian intifada (1987-1993), as children as young as 8 years old rained their projectiles down on the occupying Israeli army. Soldiers often responded with live ammunition, killing more than 1,000 Palestinians, about 200 of them children. Youths with stones confronting soldiers with Galils and M-16s: Palestinian children took center stage as David against the Israeli Goliath. The image pricked the conscience of many Israelis, and citizens and governments around the world, and ultimately helped force Israeli leaders, including the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, to the negotiating table. (The Oslo agreement they forged with Palestinian negotiators proved to be disastrous; nevertheless, there was a palpable sense during the first intifada that the stone would lead to Palestinian liberation.)
Today, the stone remains a part of Palestinian resistance to Israel’s occupation, which is more entrenched than ever. And while growing numbers of Palestinians advocate nonviolent resistance as the most promising path to a just peace, others strongly defend the right of Palestinians to throw stones as a legitimate act of political resistance against an illegal 47-year military occupation. One of them is an Israeli journalist.
“Throwing stones is the birthright and duty of anyone subject to foreign rule,” wrote Amira Hass in an April 3 article in the newspaper Haaretz. “Throwing stones is an action as well as a metaphor of resistance.”
The article has generated a political firestorm in Israel. Moshe Feiglin, a Knesset member from the Likud Party, said that “Hass’ words are condemnable and are considered an expression of disloyalty to the state.” The loyalty-baiting charges against Hass, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, are nothing new, but now she and Haaretz must contend with something more serious: an incitement charge brought by settler groups. “Hours after it was published,” reported The Times of Israel, “the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel and the Yesha Council—the umbrella organization of West Bank settlements—filed complaints with the police and Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, saying the piece incited violence.” The organizations, backed by supporters in the Knesset, want Israel to prosecute Hass. It’s not clear that that would happen. In an email to me, Hass doubted that Israeli state prosecutors would accede to the wishes of the settlers’ council and prosecute her and Haaretz. However, given the increasing power of the settlers’ movement in recent years, and of attempts to reframe and normalize settlements in the public eye as “neighborhoods,” the mere fact that the organizations have acted against Hass is a clear sign of the sharp rightward shift in Israel.
According to IsraelNationalNews.com: “Attorney Hila Cohen, writing on behalf of the Legal Forum, wrote in the letter to Weinstein that Hass’s comments were serious and constitute an incitement to violence and terrorism, while encouraging murderous terrorism.” Knesset member Orit Strock declared that Hass had made a “dangerous incitement toward violent acts against civilians and an encouragement to assault soldiers.”
This characterization is consistent with the Israeli military’s attempts to recast the state in the implausible role as victim of Palestinian violence. Israel Defense Forces Capt. Eytan Buchman, in an email to me, described one such clash on March 19 as a “violent riot.” This is a curious description for a confrontation between well-armed soldiers wearing helmets, face shields and body armor, who use live ammunition, against rock throwers. The action against Hass, then, seems in the same vein: to describe the soldiers, part of one of the world’s most powerful armies, with its tanks, rockets and helicopter gunships supplied by the top military power on earth, as victims of Palestinians who throw stones.
In subsequent days, furious readers and columnists in Israel also attacked Hass.
A columnist in the newspaper Maariv opined that Hass’ statements represent “the outpouring of a suppurating abscess of self-hatred, couched in hypocritical moral acrobatics. Her eyes are blind to Jewish suffering and are open only to her friends from Hamas, the champions of human rights.”
Adva Bitton, the mother of a 3-year-old who remains in intensive care after the stoning of their car in the occupied West Bank, wrote in Maariv: “I agree with you that everyone deserves their freedom. Arab and Jew alike. I agree with you that we all ought to aspire to liberty, but there isn’t a person on earth who will achieve freedom and liberty by means of an instrument of death. There’s no reason on earth that Adele, my three-year-old daughter, should have to lie in the intensive care unit now, connected to tubes and fighting for her life, and there is no reason, Amira, for you to encourage that.”
Protestors then showed up at the Haaretz offices in Tel Aviv, unfurling a banner that read, “Amira Hass, look what a rock can do. Stop encouraging terrorists!”
In her article, however, Hass was defending the right of Palestinians to resist the military occupation with stones, not to throw them at civilians.
Hass, an Israeli who has lived in the occupied Palestinian territories for most of the last two decades, cited her fellow citizens’ “concept of eternal victimhood which allows them to be in a state of denial about how much violence is used on a daily basis against Palestinians,” according to The Guardian. “They don’t like to be told that someone has the right to resist their violence.”
In an interview with The Observer, Hass suggested her article was misunderstood. “I’m surprised that they don’t read the whole text—and then I’m surprised at myself for being surprised.” She pointed out that she had made “a clear distinction between a citizen [as a target] and a soldier or someone who carries arms.” In an email to me, Hass added: “Whoever reads the article knows it talks against violence.”
In her piece, Hass underscored the “right” and “duty” of Palestinians to resist the occupation in the face of “shooting, torture, land theft, restrictions on movement, and the unequal distribution of water sources.” The Israeli journalist, who unlike nearly every Western correspondent, lives in the occupied West Bank, offered this resistance advice:
“It would make sense for Palestinian schools to introduce basic classes in resistance: ... how to behave when army troops enter your homes; comparing different struggles against colonialism in different countries; how to use a video camera to document the violence of the regime’s representatives; methods to exhaust the military system and its representatives; a weekly day of work in the lands beyond the separation barrier; how to remember identifying details of soldiers who flung you handcuffed to the floor of the jeep, in order to submit a complaint; the rights of detainees and how to insist on them in real time; how to overcome fear of interrogators; and mass efforts to realize the right of movement.”
Not least of these strategies, Hass asserted in the article that has drawn so much heat, is hurling rocks at soldiers: “Stone-throwing is the adjective attached to the subject of ‘We’ve had enough of you, occupiers.’ ”
A Palestinian protester holds rocks to be used against Israeli forces during clashes in the West Bank city of Hebron.