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Israel’s Bogus ‘Right’ of Self Defence

ByJeremy Salt

The Author

Jeremy Salt is an independent researcher who previously taught the history of the modern Middle East at the University of Melbourne, Bosporus University in Istanbul and Bilkent University in Ankara. His publications include The Last Ottoman Wars. The Human Cost 1877-1923 (University of Utah Press, 2019) and The Unmaking of the Middle East. A History of Western Disorder in Arab Lands (2008), which was shortlisted (five books) in 2009 for the US Council on Foreign Relations Arthur Ross award for “books that make an outstanding contribution to the understanding of foreign policy or international relations.

Israel’s ‘right’ to defend itself has been the cornerstone of ‘western’ media reporting and comment since October 7. The question is critical to understanding the modern history of Palestine.

In the short term, Francesca Albanese, international human rights lawyer and UN rapporteur for the Palestinians in territories occupied in 1967, pointed out during her visit to Australia that Israel has no ‘right’ of ‘self’ defence against resistance from occupied territory. It only has the responsibilities defined under the laws of war.

Peter Stefanovic, of Sky News, tried to argue when interviewing Ms Albanese that Gaza is no longer occupied, Israel’s settlements there having been disbanded in 2005. In fact and in law, Gaza is still occupied. Israel maintains full control over the territory and has killed thousands of civilians in its frequent onslaughts. October 7 was not a terrorist attack but a military assault over or through the Gaza fence.

Francesca Albanese has called the killing or capture of civilians by Hamas or Islamic Jihad fighters as war crimes. The crimes committed by Israel are obviously massively greater in scope and scale, involving the killing of thousands of children, the destruction of half of Gaza’s housing, the bombing or denial of essential services and even attacks on hospitals and the destruction of medical supplies.

As an occupying regime, what is Israel entitled to defend, seeing that it is a state that has never defined its borders? (With the exception of Jordan and Egypt, it only has armistice lines.) As a starting point, the UN General Assembly did not ‘create’ Israel as some might think. In 1947, it only recommended the partition of Palestine into Jewish and Palestinian states. It would not have done even that, at a time of decolonisation, but for backroom pressure by the US on vulnerable UN delegations. If anyone created Israel, it was first the British and then the US.

The 1947 resolution having been passed, Palestine fell into a state of internal warfare, with Zionist militias now attacking the government – Britain’s – that had set up a Jewish ‘homeland’ in Palestine in 1917. In the first few months of 1948, the US veered away from partition and opted for UN trusteeship over Palestine for an indeterminate period of time. Partition would only be considered again when the situation calmed down. This approach was short-circuited by President Truman in May 1948, when for domestic political reasons he announced US recognition of the state of Israel.

Israel’s ‘war of independence’ was actually a war of colonial conquest, one of the most extreme in colonial settler history. South Africa was an example of racial separation within the same territory. In Algeria, the French crushed the resistance and introduced a two-tier legal system, one for the natives and the other for French settlers but in modern history only the Zionists set out to drive the indigenous people from their land. It did not want them, not even as hewers of wood and drawers of water.

Their expulsion was not an unplanned consequence of war, but the precise reason for the
war. Without it there could not have been a Jewish state. In 1948/49, 750,000-900,000
Palestinians were driven out of their homeland and another 350,000 were expelled from the
West Bank (and some from the occupied Golan Heights) in 1967.

In 1949, international intervention prevented the expulsion of more Palestinians, but by that
time most had been pushed out and – against the terms of the partition resolution – Zionist
militias had captured 24 per cent more land than allocated for a Jewish state in the partition
resolution. They had also seized the western sector of Jerusalem, where, for over three
decades, the Jewish settler population had rapidly increased but where Palestinians were
still the owners of most land and property.

Israel’s admission to UN membership was conditional on its adherence to its rulings. These
Israel has serially ignored from 1947 to the present day, insofar as the core rights of the
Palestinians are concerned. In fact, as it has taken more land and imposed even greater
control, it has headed in the opposite direction.

In conformity with the principle of the right of self-determination, the UN vote for partition
was akin to granting the right of statehood to white settlers in east Africa or French settlers
in Algeria. As this was Palestinian land by any reasonable historical, cultural and legal
measures, the Palestinians were within their rights to resist the violation of their rights, as
they had been doing already for three decades before 1948.

The Zionists had no right in any resolution or ruling to drive the Palestinians out of their
homeland and destroy or seize their property. It is not just the West Bank because the
entire state of Israel is built on stolen property that Israel says it has the ‘right’ to defend.
The settlers across the Gaza fence live on land from which the Palestinians were ethnically
cleansed in 1948.

(A Palestinian man watches over a school in a refugee camp during the 1948 Nakba. Source: Creative Commons)

UNGA resolution 194 of 1948 acknowledged the right of Palestinians to return to their
homeland, or to be compensated if they preferred that to repatriation. In the past 75 years
they have been denied both. Should anyone wonder, after all this time, that Israel’s
violations of international and natural law have now reached such a deadly, dangerous and
horrific situation?

‘From the river to the sea Palestine will be free.’ This is the Palestinian rallying call,
understood in different ways by different people. If it means ‘death to Israel’ as the Zionists
say, how is that going to be achieved? Israel’s military dominance has slipped significantly
since the last state-to-state war of 1973. Its enemies have caught up and would inflict significant damage in Israel in a future war but would they actually be able to defeat Israel by force of arms?

In 1973, the US intervened after a week of fighting with Egypt and Syria left Israel on the
point of being driven out of occupied territories. It would do the same again if that pointwas
reached. It will not allow Israel to be defeated or even driven out of the territory occupied in

In any case, even without US support, any ‘victory’ on the battlefield would be pyrrhic for
whoever ‘wins’ it because Israel has indicated on many occasions that as a last resort it
would use its nuclear weapons and take its enemies down with it. This is its so-called
‘Samson option.’ The outcome would be a cataclysm for all involved.

Short of this apocalypse, what could freedom for Palestine between the river and the sea
mean? There are two peaceful options. One state for everyone, Muslims, Christians and
Jews or two states living alongside each other? Unfortunately neither is an option for now
and the foreseeable future. Israel has deliberately threaded settlements across the occupied
West Bank to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state on contiguous territory. It
favors one state over all of Palestine, but only a Jewish supremacist state in which the
Palestinians would be second-class citizens.

There is a third option, which is for all Palestinians to be driven out of Gaza and the West
Bank. It has been the preferred Zionist option since the late 19th century. Few will talk about
it openly but senior members of Netanyahu’s cabinet do. The removal of all Palestinians is
their solution to what is erroneously called the ‘Palestine problem’ as the problem is Israel
and its lawless behavior.

In the current onslaught, Israel has killed few Hamas fighters but has devastated the civilian
population, killing 12,000 people by now and displacing 1.4 million, or 62 per cent of the
Gazan population, the greatest number of Palestinians displaced since 1948. Hundreds of
thousands of Palestinians have been terrorised into flight into southern Gaza, walking along
the only road left open to them without food or water and killed in missile attacks. It is
unlikely they will be allowed to return; with Israel failing to drive them into Sinai, an even
smaller Gaza will be their future home. Israel will keep the north and begin exploiting the
rich natural gas reserves off the coast.

These techniques have worked well. The ‘international rules-based order’ means nothing to
Israel. This is law without a policeman to arrest the law-breaker and a judge to punish him.
The continual refusal of governments even to restrain Israel whatever it does is aided and
abetted by continuing political and economic support. Even with the Shifa hospital attacked
the US is secretly supplying Israel with more weapons. In such circumstances, why should
Israel stop now?

The US is now blowing smoke out the White House windows about a two-state solution.
This is persiflage. When the dust settles we will be drawn into further meaningless
‘negotiations’ over a two-state solution that in a few years will lead us back to exactly where
we are now. In the meantime, Israel will use the time to further tighten its hold on the territories occupied in 1967 and even annex them. The rights of Palestinians ejected in 1948 will not even be up for discussion.

The Palestinians have adjusted their positions repeatedly. They have moved from their
1950s/60s position of one secular state over all of Palestine to two states. In the 1990s they
were willing to sacrifice 78 per cent of their land and half of Jerusalem for peace but they
could not get even that.

By comparison, Israel has not budged at all. It has rejected, dismissed, ignored or
debauched all opportunities for a peaceful settlement, including the 1990s ‘peace process.’
The so-called Abraham Accords linking Gulf States to Israel have had traction only because
they are not based on resolving the Palestinian question but rather on ignoring it.
All cliches have to be set aside. This is not a conflict based on so-called ‘ancient hatreds’,
which are ancient in Europe, not the Middle East. It is a conflict based on what should be
easily recognisable, theft. It is not a conflict of rights; because of their nature, rights cannot
be in conflict.

Israel has no right to ‘defend’ what it has stolen, all of Palestine in the Palestinian view and
at least the West Bank and East Jerusalem for the UN and ‘western’ governments, excepting
the US and its hangers-on. It has no ‘right’ of ‘self’ defence against resistance from territory
it is occupying, Gaza and the West Bank, both of which it frequently attacks with devastating
human losses. Although it has withdrawn its settlements from Gaza, its inhumane
suffocation of the territory through its complete control from land, sea and air is still
occupation under international law. Founded on stolen land, what ‘right of self defence’
does Israel actually have? What did it actually own to have the right to defend?

Right now we are left with a problem without a solution. It is ‘we’, not just the Palestinians
and Israelis, because unless Israel can be compelled by political and economic pressure to
live within the law, it has signalled by its unrestrained sociopathic behavior over a very long
time that it is capable of using nuclear weapons if it launches a war it cannot win. It will take
everyone down with it. This is its ‘Samson option.’

By the second week of November, Israel had killed about 12,000 people, including 5000
children. Schools, dozens of mosques have been destroyed, along with the shops and
factories providing or producing the most basic necessities of life. Dozens of journalists and
more than 100 UN staff have been killed. Israeli forces have taken over UN schools as well
as hospitals. They have turned Gaza into slaughterhouse and graveyard for a helpless civilian

These are the most heinous crimes of our time yet the ‘west’ still refuses to intervene. An
apartheid state embarking on a genocidal campaign is a danger to the world. The west
either summons up the courage to stop Israel or it will live to rue the day it established a
Zionist colonial-settler state in Palestine.



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