The Invisible Armada

The real question (return to the right of conquest)

Alain Brossat


The real question (return to the right of conquest)

“We don't ask anyone what religion he belongs to, or what race. He is a man, that is enough for us”

Theodor Herzl, The Old-New Land

At the end of last October, five former European foreign ministers signed a column in Le Monde arguing that the policy practiced by the State of Israel in the occupied territories fell within the notion of "crime of apartheid". . Among them, Hubert Védrine, better inspired on this subject than on the Ruandan genocide[1]. Already in February of this year, Amnesty International had joined other international humanitarian organizations (including Human Rights Watch) or Israeli organizations (B'Tselem) in affirming, likewise, that the segregationist and supremacist policy practiced by the Jewish State towards the Palestinians, in Israel as in the occupied territories, fell well within the notion of apartheid.

The platform signed by the former foreign ministers happens in the context of Israel's classification as “terrorists” of six NGOs active in the occupied territories in favor of the rights of the Palestinian population.

Twenty or thirty years ago, when the only people doing so were activists for the Palestinian cause and a few minority intellectuals, it was not without risk to assert publicly that Israel was an apartheid state - it was not only that this exposed them to public reprobation, to the infamous accusation of anti-Semitism, but also, possibly, to legal proceedings - the time also when there were French judges to declare the BDS boycott campaign illegal, and a European court to revoke this infamous judgment. Today, the qualification of an apartheid state applied to Israel finds its way into the lukewarm waters of the editorials of Le Monde, which would tend to indicate that the truth sometimes insinuates itself into the heads and the speeches of the opinion makers, but taking all its time.

We will also remember the assassination in cold blood, by an Israeli army sniper, last May, of the (Palestinian) journalist of Al-Jazeera Shireen Abu Akled and the charge of the Israeli police against the procession funeral, on the occasion of his funeral in Jerusalem, an image of the limitless brutalization of the Israeli occupation that went around the world. Since then, tensions have continued to rise in the occupied West Bank, with the multiplication of violent actions carried out by settlers and assassinations, targeted or not, committed by the occupying army. Also recently, armed groups, often made up of very young militants, have appeared on the Palestinian side, particularly in Nablus, with the appearance of a group calling itself "The Lions' Den", quickly dismantled and physically liquidated by the armed force of the occupier.

In mid-November, on the occasion of the negotiations for the formation of yet another coalition for the formation of a government gathered around the unsinkable Benjamin Netanyahu, the French-Israeli sociologist Eva Illouz mentioned in Le Monde “what we are forced to call a 'Jewish fascism'” concerning the probable participation in this coalition of a figure of religious Zionism, a certain Itamar Ben Gvir, declared admirer of Baruch Goldstein who killed twenty-nine praying Palestinians, advocate of Jewish terrorists, enthusiastic support for settlements considered “illegal” by the Israeli authorities, supporter of ethnic cleansing intended to make the West Bank (Judea and Samaria in Zionist jargon) a Jewish land free of this unwanted (and by nature inferior) populace that would be the Palestinian Arabs.

For the sociologist, Ben Gvir, the embodiment of a radical ideology essentially imported from the United States (inspired in particular by Rabbi Meir Kahane, founder of the Jewish Defense League "classified by the FBI as a terrorist organization") should be carefully distinguished from his coalition partner Netanyahu. It is that the latter "is a 'conventional' right-wing populist, similar to Modi, Orban or Trump", while Ben Gvir, him (…) is beyond populism". And it is in this respect, therefore, that one would have to resolve to call a spade a spade and Ben Gvir a fascist.

Eva Illouz is not particularly convincing when she suggests in her article that the type of Jewish fanaticism and supremacy embodied by Ben Gvir belongs to another tradition - religious and sectarian - than Zionism, in its various incarnations, whose parent company of Netanyahu (the Likud, itself heir to the "revisionist" current whose representatives distinguished themselves in terrorist actions against the Palestinian population during the war which, in 1948, led to the founding of the State of Israel) would, on the other hand, be a stakeholder and as such and by definition, honorable. Indeed, if there is one thing that Netanyahu and Ben Gvir have in common, it is the dystopian utopia of "Greater Israel", which supposes the annexation of the West Bank and the reduction of the Palestinian population living there on a condition that is not only minority and subordinate, but residual. In this sense, Ben Gvir embodies less fanaticism and religious obscurantism in all its forms than the Zionist project at its terminal stage and with its face now uncovered.

Indeed, to the subtle distinction made by the sociologist, it will be objected that, from the Palestinian point of view, from the point of view of those who bear the brunt of the ever more brutal and open colonization of their country by a state given over to what it now clearly considers to be its right of conquest, the distinction is not so obvious or of primary importance: with or without Ben Gvir, the violence of the settlers, the extension of the colonies, the nibbling of the territory, the expulsion of the Palestinians from East Jerusalem, the meshing of the country by strategic axes, land theft, checkpoints, the separation wall, military occupation and assassinations, are the reality that they have to endure, day by day. The subtleties of political science deployed here by Eva Illouz are not really likely to influence their judgment on the occupation: whether it is driven by a "right-wing populist" or a fascist-Zionist, or a combination of the two, it makes absolutely no difference to what they endure. Moreover, the alliance in sight between the "conventional" (and, one can suppose, ultimately acceptable in this respect) Netanyahu and the fanatic Ben Gvir would tend to show that the distinction tends to become nebulous: put to the test of the occupation of the Palestinian territories, it completely disappears - and it is precisely this that makes all the singularity of Israeli politics: it is not by the yardstick of "conventional" Western political science that this is assessed, but, as Védrine and his colleagues ended up proclaiming publicly, from the occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza. A "little difference" which makes all the difference between Netanyahu (and his precursors and predecessors) and the least recommendable "populists" of all stripes and whose "populism" is generally not linked to the implementation of a right of conquest so anachronistic inscribed in the genes of the Zionist state. It will be usefully remembered here that the implementation of the colonization of the occupied territories did not wait for the arrival in business of the representatives of openly supremacist, racist and expansionist Zionism embodied by the Begin, Shamir, Sharon and now Netanyhaou, Lapid, Bennett and ...Ben Gvir; it has always gone well under Labor (Mapai/Mapam and what is left of it) and there was a time when Jewish settlements flourished in Gaza while the supposed Zionist left was in power.

Basically, both the group of former ministers of foreign affairs who utter the annoying syntagm (“state of apartheid”) and Eva Illouz who breaks a taboo by associating a leader of a ministerial Israeli party with the signifier “fascism” are only breaking open doors and belatedly stating that the king is naked. Far from their respective outbursts of outspokenness bearing the mark of audacity, they testify above all to the distressing slowness with which the political, media or academic elites are inclined to comply with the most massive evidence, once the State of Israel, its politics, its leaders are in question. They testify to the overwhelming mixture of bad faith, pusillanimity and blindness which is, in this matter, the rule rather than the exception among these professions.

Even more, we have good reasons for seeing in these rants an operation consisting in making the share of the fire rather than going towards the heart of the problem. Failing to recognize that the concept of apartheid is co-extensive with that of the Jewish state, that is to say a state whose ethnic sorting and hierarchy are the very principle, a state which, prior to the colonization of the territories occupied since 1967, has constantly treated the Arabs of Israel as second-class citizens and often as coolies, Védrine and his colleagues tend to give credence to a fiction: that of discriminatory practices and accomplished facts having become systemic – but which however it would be possible to stem by changing policy, without calling into question the ethnicist foundation of the State itself.

However, if we want to talk seriously and politically about the apartheid inflicted on the Palestinians, we must make a genealogy of it that goes to the bottom of things, which inevitably leads to questioning the ethnicist foundation of the State of Israel; the colonization of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza which transforms this territory into an open-air camp where a population of more than two million inhabitants is detained and regularly bombarded, is the natural outlet and not an avatar of this foundation [2]. The right of conquest is at the heart of the Zionist project and the occupied territories are today colonized, with the line of sight being the expulsion (with variable geometry) of the Palestinians, according to a process and according to a project which only repeats and continue what happened during the very formation of the State of Israel, through a combination of terrorist actions (massacres of civilians and destruction of villages, among others), population displacement, a mixture of terror and attrition.

The problem of institutionalized apartheid of which the Palestinians of the occupied territories are victims is not the downside of an exalted "nationalism", it is that of the supremacist and ethnicist foundation (with the little theological-political music that goes with) of the State of Israel. Such is the specter raised by apartheid, the existence of which is increasingly difficult to deny today.

The diversion is even more obvious with the article by Eva Illouz: it is indeed a question of trying to convince us that, under the regime of the "conventional" populist Netanyahu and representatives of the radical Zionist right of the same kind, the occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza would, in spite of everything, be acceptable, even "normal", whereas with the rabid Zionist and the fanatic Ben Gvir, the red lines would be crossed. The rope of the normalization of the right of conquest is a little thick here. For the occupied and subaltern Palestinians, Netanyahu or Ben Gvir and the casuistry implemented, on the occasion of the last Israeli-Israeli electoral episode, by the last of the descendants of the Zionist left “morality”, is miles and miles away from their concerns [3].

All these showy moves, big and small, are basically just a cloud of smoke intended to obscure the real question: in the face of the occupation, which it is now quite clear is not only made for drag on but to turn into the active annexation of the West Bank carried by the conquering and supremacist ideology of "Greater Israel" (however Gaza would be destined to undergo an eternal attrition of such rigor that its population would be perpetually maintained there in a state of survival and unbearable precariousness, punctuated by massacres perpetrated with complete impunity by an air force equipped with the latest means of warfare supplied by the United States), in the face of this situation of perpetual war inflicted on a helpless people with a view to relegating it to a condition of helot on its own land, what are the fundamental rights of the Palestinians?

We French people live in a country where, despite all the crises and variations that may have affected its narration, the Resistance to the German occupation during the Second World War constitutes one of the most glorious and the most constantly exalted of what we call “the national novel”. The basic notion that underpins this narrative is that a people who resist the occupation or annexation of their territory and the grabbing of their wealth by a foreign power do so in self-defense. This is the moral and legal basis (from the point of view of modern international law which banishes the right of conquest) of the consensus which has been established in our country around the legitimacy of the Resistance, in all its forms. This recognition of a right to resist the German occupation by all available means, including armed resistance, sabotage and targeted assassinations, swept away the arguments that the occupiers and their collaborators were able to oppose to it, intended to justify reprisals and terror against resistance fighters and, more generally, the population (hostages) - France having been defeated and having recognized its defeat (the armistice, Montoire[4]...), the resulting occupation did not contravene to the laws of war, they argued. Consequently, the resisters, not being soldiers protected by their statute, could therefore only be partisans, irregular combatants, "bandits", rebels, terrorists, from the point of view of international law - therefore exterminable, deportable at will. What obviously reduced to nothing this argument that a Carl Schmitt tried to raise to the dignity of the concept, is the fact that the German occupation, far from taking place "in the rules", hatched two monsters: the deportation to German concentration camps of resistance fighters and assimilated, and the implementation, on French territory, of the “Final Solution” - the extermination of the Jews.

Not only was this argument put forward by the Nazis carried away by the current of history, the legal quibbles not having outweighed the perception of the Nazi state as a criminal state, in the face of which any form of resistance was legitimate; but, moreover, the reason for the legitimacy of resistance to the Occupation by all means extended to the actions undertaken by the "freedom fighters" ( freedom fighters , this is the usual English translation of the term resistance applied to the Second World War in Europe) against local collaborators of the Nazis: the targeted assassinations of high-ranking collaborators, such as Philippe Henriot[5], are integrated into the “national narrative” as feats of arms and not as terrorist actions. The story that has become irrevocably fixed, both in the collective memory and in the history taught to children, is that of the Resistance as a collective action of self-defense. There was never any question of renaming the place of Colonel Fabien[6], even at the height of the war of memories of which this sequence of contemporary French history was and continues to be the stake. The discursive fold and what could be called here historical jurisprudence that have established themselves here in France have, on this point, remained beyond the reach of variations in the narrative of the Occupation period.

After the Second World War, this figure of the legitimacy of resistance by all means to foreign conquest or occupation took on new impetus with the struggles waged by colonized peoples against the colonial powers. When the process of decolonization came to an end with the accession of the colonies to independence, those whom the colonial powers relentlessly characterized as terrorists (the independence fighters), like the Nazis trying to discredit the resistance fighters by placing them under the same register, became not only heroes and martyrs in the narratives of the newly independent nations but, more importantly, for the community of states, legitimate figures of the struggle for independence and, very often, heads of state, political leaders crowned with the prestige of the struggle against colonial oppression.

The whole question would therefore be to know why this historical jurisprudence seems to lose all validity when the historical rights of the Palestinians; this, to the point that it is riskier than ever, in France today, to maintain that the inhabitants of the occupied territories of the West Bank have the right to resist the conquest of their country by an occupier infinitely more powerful than them and with whom they have never been at war, by all the means at their disposal - that they have the right to resist by violent means also an ever more brutal occupation and colonization which calls into question their very right to exist and subsist as a people...

To express openly in this sense, in France, today, naturally exposes one to being taxed as an obsessive anti-Semite by the Zionist propaganda agencies and the supporters of the State of Israel on automatic pilot; more serious, it also exposes you to the risk of being prosecuted on the very serious charge of "apology for terrorism", an incrimination with variable geometry which it is well known that it has become, in recent times, of common use. It is not only the politicians and the media who are mad about it, the judges rarely hesitate, in this matter, to follow in their footsteps.

What is at stake here are not at all risky comparisons between the Israeli apartheid regime or the facho-Zionism evoked by Eva Illouz and the Nazi state or some other regime of totalitarian terror; it is an elementary question, not of nebulous political science, but of elementary political philosophy: a people who undergo what is no longer an occupation, which is supposed to be temporary, but indeed a conquest in good and due form led by a over-armed neighbor, itself supported by powerful allies, a conquest devoid of any legal basis under international law – is such a people entitled to resist this attempt to monopolize its own space, an attempt constituting a threat vital to its very integrity as a people - by any means available?

Historical jurisprudence answers "yes" without hesitation and it seems, for this same West which today turns its back so resolutely on the Palestinians and makes a pact with those who despoil them, more in force than ever at the time of the offensive war launched by Putin against Ukraine.

So why this absolute Palestinian exception, to the misfortune of those who bear the brunt of it? Why do the media and the chancelleries, accompanied here in varying but considerable proportions by intellectual and academic circles, automatically single out and decry the young Palestinians of the West Bank who sporadically undertake to resist, arms in hand, in conditions where the chances of victory are nil, as terrorists and not as resistance fighters? Why are the search and terror operations undertaken by the Israeli army in the towns and villages of the West Bank (and which look so much like, with the latest technology in addition, the "pacification" of Algeria by the army French at the time of the war of independence), are they routinely described by our newspapers and consequently recoded by public opinion as legitimate police operations, made necessary by the spasmodic and in some way atavistic agitation of the Palestinians? Why are these operations not referred to by their real name: the ongoing inexorable conquest of the West Bank, as one speaks of the (distant) conquest of Algeria or the (recent and scandalous) conquest of Ukrainian territories by the Russian army?

Thomas Mann, in one of his speeches to the Germans from his exile in the United States, asserted with confidence that Hitler would lose the war because missed the point about the era we are living in – he takes himself for Genghis Khan, said the writer, he believes that a power can still exercise with impunity its “right of conquest” to the detriment of another people, force prevailing over right in all circumstances. This is what will lose him, Mann decides then, animated by his confidence in the solidity of the norms which found political modernity and on which rests international law in the 20th century.

Upon examination, it is unclear whether the "epochal" factor put forward by Mann was the one that precipitated the defeat of Nazi Germany in the first place; things might be a bit more complicated - after all, among its victors was (at least) one figure who also showed a certain penchant for the right of conquest - Stalin. But what is not in doubt and would tend to go in the direction of this humanist and post-nationalist instructed by the historical experience that was the author of Mario and the magician, is that after the Second World War, the right of conquest has been the object, in terms at least of general normativity recognized by the State and validated by supra-State organizations such as the UN, of an unambiguous condemnation.

So now that the fiction of the temporary and circumstantial occupation of the West Bank by the State of Israel has been shattered and it is indeed the day-to-day but irreversible conquest of these territories that is underway, with all the strict racist and supremacist refrain, the question is less than ever whether Netanyahu or even Ben Gvir could compare himself to Hitler and the Nazi leaders - and to what extent -, but quite entirely to know why, structurally and in particular at the time of the sacred union behind Ukraine, even of the outcry against the threat that China would pose to Taiwan, the State of Israel, as political sovereignty and historical singularity, would find itself to be the only one of the Member States of the international community to be, in all legitimacy, equipped, so to speak, with the right of conquest.

While waiting for the (unbearably delayed) answer to this question, those who stand by the side of "History's vanquished" will not budge: as long as the Israeli conquest continues, the inhabitants of the occupied territories will be justified in resisting it by all available means, and the young fighters of the “Lions' Den” of Nablus, recently killed by the occupier, were resistance fighters who deserve respect - not terrorists.

[1]Former minister for Foreign Affairs under François Mitterrand, tenacious in his stubborn denial of the involvement of the French state in the Ruandan genocide.

[2]The worst thing that can happen to a utopia – a genre that includes Herzl's mediocre novel, The Old - New - Country. But it is true that, in this case, utopia is immediately turned towards this larked mirror and corrupted by this orientation.

[3]The fascist scarecrow Ben Gvir is here the tree that hides the forest from this spearhead of colonization and colonial-fascist device that are the colonies in the occupied territories, a massive fact that does not find its place in the casuistry of 'Eva Illuz.

[4]A little city in central France where Maréchal Pétain met Hitler and acknowledged the partition of France into two zones – the Northern occupied by the Germans, the Southern rule but the government of Vichy called “Etat français”.

[5]A high-ranking collaborationist and speaker for Radio Paris, the radio station set up by the Germans.

[6]In the XIXth district of Paris, where the headquarters of the French Communist Party are. Fabien was a communist militant who killed a German officer in a metro station in August 1941.