Why is the UN telling Palestinians to protect their occupiers?

A Palestinian holding a sign denouncing “security coordination” between Israeli occupation forces and the Palestinian Authority takes part in a Land Day protest near Ofer prison in the occupied West Bank on 30 March.

Hamza Shalash APA images

Last week, the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said it was “extremely concerned” about the apparent extrajudicial execution of a Palestinian youth by an Israeli soldier.

But the statement left me wondering why the UN body also expects Palestinians to protect the army that is occupying them and helping Israeli settlers steal their land.

Abd al-Fattah al-Sharif and Ramzi al-Qasrawi, both 21, were shot dead after allegedly stabbing a soldier, who was lightly injured, in the West Bank city of Hebron on the morning of 24 March.

A video filmed by a human rights worker showed an Israeli soldier, later identified as Elor Azarya, aiming his rifle and shooting al-Sharif in the head as he was lying on the ground injured and incapacitated.

With depressing predictability, Israeli leaders and the general public have rallied around Azarya, many hailing him as a hero.

Azarya, who is facing charges of manslaughter – downgraded from murder – has been ordered freed on bail.

Unanswered questions

Rupert Colville, the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, called for a “prompt, thorough, transparent and independent investigation” into the slaying of al-Sharif and other killings in similar circumstances.

“A major concern is that such cases appear not to have been systematically subjected to criminal investigations,” Colville stated.

So far, so good. But here’s the part that had me confused: “We urge the Palestinian authorities to take all feasible measures to prevent attacks on Israelis, which are reprehensible.”

Colville added that the Israeli “security forces are entitled to defend themselves and others from these types of attacks,” but urged them “to ensure all members of their security forces fully comply with their obligation to use force with restraint.”

Recall that the two youths in Hebron had allegedly attacked an armed occupation soldier deployed in their city to protect settlers who are there in violation of international law.

Indeed, most of the attacks or alleged attacks by Palestinians since an increase in confrontations began last October have targeted occupation forces at checkpoints and near settlements in the West Bank.

As even senior Israeli military officers have acknowledged, the predominantly young Palestinians involved aim to “attack symbols of the Israeli occupation,” as the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz reported.

We can all agree that attacks targeting civilians, regardless of who may be the perpetrator or the victim, are indeed reprehensible.

But the UN statement contains no such qualification; it condemns all armed actions by Palestinians regardless of the circumstances.

The right to resist

So I wrote to Colville to ask for clarification. In particular, I wanted to know:

Does the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights consider attacks on armed occupation forces by persons living under foreign, belligerent military occupation to be reprehensible? If so, what is the legal basis for such a position?

What is the basis for demanding that persons living under military occupation act as a protection force for their occupiers?

Do “Palestinian authorities” also have a responsibility to protect the settlers, or only to ensure the safety and security of the Israeli army?

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights apparently recognizes that armed, belligerent occupation forces are “entitled to defend themselves” against the people they occupy.

Does it similarly recognize that the Palestinian population living under a military occupation about which the international community has done precisely nothing except issue toothless statements for almost 50 years are similarly entitled to resist and defend themselves against said occupation?

Colville did not respond to my questions, so I am left to conclude that the UN’s highest human rights official makes no distinction between attacks on civilians and resistance against armed occupation forces, while supporting the right of the occupation forces to use violence against those they occupy.

This view defies a broad international consensus that occupied and colonized peoples do indeed have a right to resist.

No one seriously questions the right of French, Belgian and Dutch citizens to have engaged in armed resistance against German occupation, or of Indonesians and Algerians to have resisted Dutch or French occupation.

This consensus has been expressed in numerous UN General Assembly resolutions, including resolution 3246 of 29 November 1974 which “strongly condemns” all governments which do not recognize “the right to self-determination and independence of peoples under colonial and foreign domination and alien subjugation, notably the peoples of Africa and the Palestinian people.”

The same resolution “[r]eaffirms the legitimacy of the peoples’ struggle for liberation from colonial and foreign domination and alien subjugation by all available means, including armed struggle.”

The right and duty to resist occupation is even enshrined in the constitution of Sweden, which declares that “Any public body in occupied territory shall act in the manner that best serves the defense effort and resistance activities.”

Palestinian collaboration

It is, of course, much harder to make the case internationally that Palestinians – just like other occupied peoples through history – have a right to resist, when their best known face works night and day to help Israel crush all resistance.

Last Thursday, Haaretz reported that Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is “insisting on continuing security cooperation with Israel.”

Abbas told Israeli television that he wanted Israel to halt its raids inside Palestinian city centers so that the PA could do the job on Israel’s behalf.

“Try me for a week – if I don’t meet my responsibilities, then come back,” Abbas told the Israeli current affairs program Uvda.

“Give me responsibility for the Palestinian territories, and test me… if Israel has specific intelligence information, give it to me and I’ll handle it. If I don’t handle it, he [Netanyahu] can come and do it,” Abbas said.

Abbas has previously gone on record calling his role as Israel’s occupation enforcer “sacred.”

His surrogates have also previously reassured Israel that the PA is doing all it can to prevent a “third intifada.”

This assistance to Israel involves, among other activities, PA complicity in the torture of Palestinian prisoners and suppressing protests against the occupation.

But it is widely viewed by Palestinians, including some inside Abbas’ own Fatah faction, as a reprehensible form of collaboration.

The case for BDS

It is up to Palestinians to debate and decide the best forms of resistance, and in the current situation one of the most powerful means of standing up to Israel is the nonviolent, civil society-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

Israel sees BDS as such a major threat to its dominance and impunity that it is now making outright threats against individual activists.

There is a difference between choosing the appropriate tactics for how to protest and resist, on the one hand, and negating the right to resist and even collaborating with the occupation, on the other.

Palestinians may choose not to use armed struggle, just as Nelson Mandela adopted and then suspended armed struggle in South Africa when he and his comrades thought the conditions were appropriate. But they never gave up the right.

As the history of South Africa also shows, the path away from violence is always easier when there are effective alternatives.

So those, like the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who apparently find all Palestinian, though not Israeli, violence reprehensible, should be the first in line to promote nonviolent strategies like BDS.

But no one, not Abbas nor any UN official, is entitled to strip Palestinians of their fundamental right to resistance and self-defense.




The right of occupied people to resist military occupation/foreign military rulership is undeniable. For the french or poles to resist german occupation. For the jews to resist german repression is the exact same thing here. Now how do we throw off the yolk is the difficult part and again i say, state not: Nonviolent,noncooperational confrontation by every(or at least a strong minority) Palestinian man women and child would bring the occupation to an end within a month...But coolaterbation with the parasitic host deludes,cheapens,weakens the resistance. How bad do you want your freedom? How much are willing and able to 'spend'? You have to pay the price but collaboration,cooperation has been so deeply stained into the psyche that i don't know if its possible to throw off the yolk anymore. But we shall see. It would be over in a month using these methods....


Sorry, it will take more than a month to throw off the Israel/IDF yolk using non-cooperation, non-violence which is what id being done every day. The Israeli occupation army is too well armed, with the most powerful and noxious armoury, used almost immediately any resistance is shown. Will you subject the Palestinians to more mass killings, executions as was done at Sharpeville in South Africa during apartheid? Palestinians experience daily Sharpevilles -and need international action by states and civil society to help change the situation, to end the occupation. BDS is thus almost the only non-violent means that would be effective in sending a clear message to Israel that its crimes will not be carried out with total impunity.


How do you become free? Break the chains that bind you. Quit cooperating with the occupying power. Resist at every nonviolent level. Make it so painful,distasteful,costly to the israelis that they will want to leave. Put this occupation on the front stage so that the UN will come in and do something. Embarrass 'arab brothers' so badly that they will quit cooperation with the apartheid illegal state of denial called israel. This will take a unified front using men women and children to overflow the checkpoints, overflow the jails,prisons and the knesset. You have to make the price too costly for israel to continue the occupation.

Intifada lll

must become
women and child

Cut every line
swarm over the checkpoints
toss every shekel
in the nearest toilet

Meet their terrorism
with resolve
face their guns
with a flower

by one and all

Refuse their commands
with deferment and a nod
Disobey their orders
 with a shrug of noncompliance

Swarm to every squatter settlement
swim in the dead sea
stride into the knesset
with your head held high

Who was here first
Who is under occupation
Who is under military law
Who has the right to return


This reply by "toto che handala" is courageous and has its
special magnificence.

It notes basic facts "Who was here first..." but fails
utterly to confront the situation in which we find ourselves.

After the massacre at "Wounded Knee" (South Dakota) in
December of 1890, there were no more military confrontations.
The comparison to the Native American
genocide is an extremely uncomfortable one. There are
obvious differences which need not be discussed in
detail here.

Exactly how many Palestinians does this respondent
wish to die? How many men, women and children?
How many outrageous examples of criminal Israeli
destruction (of homes, hospitals etc.) does this
writer advocatge?

It still seems to me that BDS, small though it
may be relative to the giant oppression, is our
best bet.

In World War Two many (if not all) of those in the
resistance would have agreed to Hitler's murder as well
as others who worked with and for the Third Reich.
It was attempted and found not to be a viable

Thanks to the USSR's "Red Army" Hitler was
at last defeated. The USSR may not have been
the first choice of the oppressed but they did
the job. The English and Americans did not empty the
ghettos and concentration camps. The USSR
was an ALLY then. They lost 22 million, four times
the number of all the other allies combined.
"Good old 'Uncle Joe" [Stalin] was heard in the West.
Until the war's end at which point the USSR became
"Enemy No. ONE".

Regarding the comparison to the genocide of Native
Americans, the battle was lost. Big time. Many times
over. Thousands of Native Americans lost their
homes, their lands, their dignity, their lives.

Where does the martyr go from here?

---Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA


Thanks as usual to Ali Abunimah for his excellent article and the
precise follow-up.

Israeli would claim that the resistance is not "non-violent". In this
case what "non-violent" requirements does the Commission
insist upon for those whose lives, homes, land, etc. have been illegally

Israel often uses the word "allege" as does journalism appropriately.
As in demonstrations in the US civil rights movement, what constitutes
an "alleged" threat? Is that proven by the color of skin? By age?
By ethnicity? Or is it Israel and is army which is the threat to
Palestinian security? Of life, home, etc.

The word "inciter" can always be used by the oppressor. A form, of
it nearly always is. It is as well by whites in defending their
security against the oppressed who are given the use of force
in the US. (eg Trayvon Brown and many others). In brief, what
kind of "protest" is acce[ptable to the Commission?

Who are all the Members of Congress who have signed the letter
to the State Department (aside from Senator Leahy). Are there
others whose objection need our support? The text of
the letter itself---or an excerpt--would be helpful.

----Peter Loeb, Boston, MA USA