Israeli Terrorism doesn’t make News


Two suicide bombers detonated explosives in a crowded pedestrian mall in downtown Jerusalem late Saturday, 1st December 2001, killing themselves and up to 8 Israelis, and injuring up to 170. The attack was devastating. There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the militant Hamas and Islamic Jihad came under immediate suspicion due to their earlier threats to avenge Israel’s targeted killings. Indeed, the suicide bombings came only two days after an Islamic Jihad militant blew himself up on an Israeli bus, killing three passengers and himself.

Israeli spokesman appeared on CNN on the same day fuming about Palestinian terrorism against Israel, masterminded by Arafat. Unless such acts of terrorism perpetrated against Israel by Arafat’s regime are ceased, they chorused, Israel cannot enter into negotiations. Attempting to forge a peace deal with Arafat, an arch-terrorist, can never bring real peace as long as he is intent on terrorising Israel. Ariel Sharon emphasised that he “would not negotiate under terror.” This was the general message broadcast by the media on behalf of Israel.

There is no doubt that Saturday’s suicide bombing constituted a brutal and unconscionable act of terrorism. But those who are genuinely concerned with the promotion of human rights, justice and peace, those who truly want an end to terrorism, cannot be selective about whose terrorism they condemn. Although the Israeli spokesmen ranted and raved about how their country continues to be a hapless victim of Palestinian terrorism, no mention was made of the ongoing reality of routine Israeli terrorism against Palestinians, day-in and day-out in the Occupied Territories. When 8 Israelis are killed and another 170 injured, the international community is appalled. But when dozens of Palestinians are killed and hundreds more injured, the international community is indifferent. Terrorism by our clients, unfortunately, hardly ever makes the news.

The question is: Who is really, in Sharon’s words, “under terror”? It is an unfortunate but well-documented fact that Israel’s bloody record of terrorism against Palestinians far outweighs the scale of the tragic atrocity that occurred on Saturday. From the inception of the Zionist State to the present day, terrorism has been built into the foundations of policy of Israel’s military institutions. We should start, naturally, at the beginning. One authoritative source for understanding the genocidal essence of Israeli military policy comes from within Israel itself – the Israeli military historian Aryeh Yitzakhi, Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Eretz Yisrael Studies at Bar Ilan University (Tel Aviv) and Senior Lecturer in Military History in Israeli Defence Force (IDF) courses for army officers. Yitzahki is particularly qualified in this area due to his in-depth acquaintance with IDF archives, on which his conclusions are based. In the 1960s, Yitzakhi served as director of the IDF archives within the framework of his IDF service in his capacity as historian. “The time has come,” he observes, “to face the ocean of lies in which we were brought up. In almost every conquered village in the War of Independence, acts were committed, which are defined as war crimes, such as indiscriminate killings, massacres and rapesé

“For many Israelis it was easier to find consolation in the lie, that the Arabs left the country under orders from their leaders. This is an absolute fabrication. The fundamental cause of their flight was their fear from Israeli retribution and this fear was not at all imaginary. From almost each report in the IDF archives concerning the conquest of Arab villages between May and July 1948 – when clashes with Arab villagers were the fiercest – a smell of massacre emanates. Sometimes the report tells about blatant massacres which were committed after the battle, sometimes the massacres are committed in the heat of battle and while the villages are ‘cleansed’. Some of my colleagues, such as Me’ir Pa’il, don’t consider such acts as massacres. In my opinion there is no other term for such acts than massacres. This was at the time the rule of the gameé In the first phase a village was usually subjected to heavy artillery from distance. Then soldiers would assault the village. After giving up resistance, the Arab fighters would withdraw while attempting to snipe at the advancing forces. Some would not flee and would remain in the village, mainly women and old people. In the course of cleansing we used to hit them. One was ‘tailing the fugitives’, as it used to be called (‘mezanvim baborchim’)é In a typical battle report about the conquest of a village we find: ‘We cleansed a village, shot in any direction where resistance was noticed. After the resistance ended, we also had to shoot people so that they would leave or who looked dangerous’.” [1]

This grim record of acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Palestinian population is corroborated by authoritative Israeli military historian Professor Uri Milstein. Milstein, however, goes even further than Yitzhaki in his conclusions about Zionist killings of Palestinians:

“If Yitzhaki claims that almost in every village there were murders, then I maintain that even before the establishment of the State, each battle ended with a massacre. In all Israel’s wars massacres were committed but I have no doubt that the War of Independence was the dirtiest of them all.”[2]

These policies of terrorism have continued consistently throughout the existence of the Zionist State, including during the current Intifadah. We can glean an understanding of these policies by considering the authoritative report of Giorgio Giacomelli, an independent rapporteur mandated by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights to monitor the Occupied Territories. The UN investigator found that “the scale of [Israel’s] violation is unprecedented. It is worthy of note that the number of deaths caused by Israeli forces so far approximate the number killed in the first four months of the intifada, in 1987-88.” Israeli forces “appear to have indiscriminately used excessive force in cases where there was no imminent threat to their lives,” according to Giacomelli, who met Palestinian Authority representatives, Palestinian and Israeli non-governmental organizations, international organizations, human rights monitors, medical professionals, and some wounded. “Whether in cases of Israel Defense Forces or Israeli police actions, deadly force is used without warning, and without employing deterrence or gradual measures consistent with the minimum standards and methods of crowd control or management of civil unrest.” The report also found that about 40 percent of Palestinians wounded by Israeli occupation forces were under age 18, and that at least half of the injuries resulted from the use of live ammunition.[3]

An extensive investigation by The Village Voice based on “more than 100 interviews [with] patients, doctors, and medical personnel in 14 hospitals and clinics in Jordan and the West Bank” similarly found that: “With no shooting from the Palestinian side, and often little or no use of tear gas to disperse the protests, Israeli soldiers have repeatedly fired live ammunition into unarmed crowds.” Consequently, “Thousands of Palestinian young men and boys may become permanently crippled from bullet wounds suffered during the last five months of stone-throwing protests against Israeli rule.” Many of the thousands of injuries “came when unarmed people were shot.” But CNN and most of the rest of the media don’t give a damn about these thousands of injured Palestinian children. Because Israel is the perpetrator, it doesn’t make the news.

Amnesty International concluded in its October 2000 report that: “The Israeli security services were almost invariably well-defended, located at a distance from demonstrators in good cover, in blockhouses, behind wire or well-protected by riot shields.” The pretext for the use of lethal force, Amnesty found, was simply a fabrication. “Certainly, stones-or even petrol bombs-cannot be said to have endangered the lives of Israeli security services in any of the instances examined by Amnesty International.” One Israeli sniper privately revealed that soldiers are permitted to shoot at Palestinians who pose a potential threat, as long as they appear to be over the age of 12. “Twelve and up is allowed,” he confessed. A senior IDF officer also admitted: “Nobody can convince me we didn’t needlessly kill dozens of children.”[4]

So the IDF itself admits that it has been involved in acts of terrorism by murdering dozens of innocent, defenceless Palestinian children on a routine basis – but CNN does not consider the fact fit to be aired. But still, it is primarily Israel that is “under terror”, as a matter of principle.

The daily reality of Israeli terrorism in the Palestinian territories that continue to be illegally occupied by Israeli forces and settlers in violation of hundreds of UN resolutions, has been corroborated again and again by international observers. In the most recent report by Human Rights Watch, focusing on Hebron District as a case study, the American rights monitor found that:

“é a leading source of human rights abuse in Hebron is the excessive use of lethal force by Israeli security forces in clashes with Palestinian demonstrators, many of whom are unarmed and pose no dire threat to the Israeli security personnel, or anybody elseé Many of the Palestinians who have been killed or hurt by IDF fire in the vicinity of demonstrations were pedestrians – this fact conveys a hint that some IDF soldiers have fired indiscriminately in populated areas.”[5]

To understand the extent of Israel’s reign of terror in the Occupied Territories, it is essential not only to take note of the rapidly growing number of dead, but also the number and nature of injuries. We should refer to the breakdown of casualties on merely two days near the beginning of the Intifadah by the prolific Israeli commentator Professor Tanya Reinhart of Tel Aviv University, a regular contributor to the Israeli daily Yediot Ahranot:

“By afternoon that day [Friday 3 November 2000] there were 276 people injured (LAW report, Nov 3), and by the final count ‘Up to 452 Palestinians were hurt on Friday across the territories, according to the Red Crescent’ (Ha’aretz, Nov 5). On Saturday, October 4th, as the media covers in great length of Barak’s ‘plea to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to return to the negotiating table and stop the Palestinian-Israeli bloodshed for the sake of peace’ (AP), ‘another 153 were treated for injuries sustained in clashes with Israeli troops’ (‘ha’aretz’), including ‘5 school children from Sa’ir (near Hebron) who are in extremely critical condition’ (ADDAMEER é Prisoners’ Support and Human Rights Association, Nov 4.)” [6]

Professor Tanya Reinhart also points out that Israeli policies of terror result in a stable average of about five Palestinian casualties a day. But CNN, like almost everyone else in the media, isn’t interested in covering these horrifying acts of terrorism by Israeli forces against Palestinians, that far outweigh even Saturday’s suicide attack. Because principle dictates that only Israel can be “under terror”.

The pattern of injuries is not accidental. Dan Ephron, a Boston Globe correspondent in Jerusalem reported the highly significant findings of the Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) delegation to the Occupied Territories: “American doctors who examined Israel’s use of force in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have concluded that Israeli soldiers appeared to be deliberately targeting the heads and legs of Palestinian protestors, even in non-life-threatening situations.” The doctors in the delegation have pointed out that law enforcement officials worldwide are trained to aim at the chest in dangerous situations (since it is the largest target). The delegation, however, found that Palestinians were consistently hit in the head and legs. The findings show two things: firstly, that there was no life-threatening situation – soldiers had ample time to perfect their aim and target Palestinians for fatality or injury; secondly, they were deliberately trying to harm unarmed people.[7]

While Israeli spokesmen spout self-righteous lies claiming that the primary aggressors in this conflict are Palestinians, the latest body count contradicts this immoral spin. Israeli forces have so far killed and maimed thousands of Palestinian civilians, most of whom have not posed a threat, and a third of whom have been children. To date, around 540 Palestinians have been killed and about 16,170 injured.[8] We should compare these horrifying figures to the act of terrorism that occurred on Saturday – characterised by Israeli spokesmen as “the greatest act of terrorism” not only against Jerusalem, but against Israel as such. Saturday’s atrocity was horrifying, but whose terrorism is greater? Who are the primary aggressors? Who are the principal terrorists? Who is really “under terror” Prime Minister Sharon?

Terror comes in many forms. Couple an ongoing illegal military occupation with brutal measures of repression suited to the worst military dictatorships, and terrorism not only takes the form of physical warfare, but also expands into unbearable social, psychological, and economic forms of comprehensive strangulation. Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb who serves on the board of the Jewish Peace Fellowship and who visited Israel in 1998 as part of an interfaith delegation to the West Bank and Gaza, describes the comprehensive military repression of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, a state of affairs highly unbefitting of a regime purporting to be democratic:

“Israel continues to use torture, collective punishment, annexation and destruction of occupied territory, denial of food and medical supplies, arbitrary arrest, detention and imprisonment, execution without fair legal process, forced exile and the daily humiliation of security checks to manage Palestinians living under Israeli military rule. Between 1,000 and 1,500 Palestinians are arrested every month and as many as 80 percent of those arrested undergo this form of interrogation, which falls under the category of ‘torture’ by all international definitions. The use of torture is officially permitted by the Israeli Supreme Court and has been documented by the US State Department, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Israeli Physicians for Human Rights, the International Committee of the Red Cross and numerous Israeli and Palestinian human-rights groups.”[9]

It is thus not surprising that B’tselem has found that “the use of violence by members of the security forces against Palestinians is a phenomenon that has accompanied the occupation for many yearsé

“é beatings and abuse by members of the security forces have become part of the daily routine of Palestinian residents of the Occupied Territories. Although most cases of abuse are ‘low intensity’ ones, such as slaps, kicks, insults, unnecessary delays at blocks or humiliating treatment, periodically, cases of severe violence are uncoveredé To this day, the military establishment has made no real effort to unequivocally articulate to its forces in the Occupied Territories that abuse is strictly forbidden, and that those who conduct such acts will be severely punishedé Testimonies of such abuse constantly reach B’Tselem and other human rights organizations. The fact that the soldiers did not bother to deny their actions when speaking to a B’Tselem researcher, and in fact justified them, is the best proof that the military’s education and information activities against such violence are mere lip service, rather than a frank attempt to eliminate the phenomenon once and for all.”[10]

But none of this is newsworthy to a racist media which is quite happy to give support to a racist regime. Because Israeli terrorism is so intense that not only does it encompass the military, social and economic spheres, it takes the form of systematic institutional discrimination against Palestinians, resulting in their complete subjugation. Professor Stanley Cohen, a distinguished sociologist who has a perspective gained from having lived in South Africa, England and Israel, notes Israel’s denial of responsibility in this regard:

“Denial of the injustices and injuries inflicted upon the Palestinians is built into the social fabric… There are, of course, good historical reasons why Israeli Jews should have a defensive self-image and a character armour of insecurity and permanent victimhood. The result is a xenophobia that would be called ‘racism’ anywhere else, an exclusion of Palestinians from a shared moral universe and an obsessional self-absorption: what we do to them is less important than what this does to us.”[11]

And as the British daily The Guardian points out: “A visitor to Israel today who takes the trouble to visit both the cosmopolitan and historic centres of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem as well as the captive degradation of the Gaza Strip cannot but think of the rottenest days of South Africa.”[12] Around 3.5 million Palestinians are now caged into a small strip of land with population densities and conditions that match anything in the apartheid townships of South Africa. For the last 10 years, the borders have been subject to closure meaning that few Palestinians can leave, even to work. The current unemployment rate is as high as 45 per cent, while no goods can leave or enter except via Israeli customs. Despite the image of “self-rule” under PA control, in fact internal movement within the Occupied Territories is effectively controlled by Israel, which regularly restricts water to Palestinians, bulldozes houses their homes, destroys arable land and confiscates more land for Jewish settlements. Through a combination of military policies and social, economic and legal mechanisms, Israel has successfully installed a system which discriminates against Palestinians, separates them off from Israelis as far as possible, and aims to expel them entirely from a territorially expanding State through programmes of deliberate underdevelopment and extreme force. Israeli commentator Yoram Bar Porath forcefully pointed out the essence of Zionist project in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aahronot:

“It is the duty of Israeli leaders to explain to public opinion, clearly and courageously, a certain number of facts that are forgotten with time. The first of these is that there is no Zionism, colonialization or Jewish State without the eviction of the Arabs and the expropriation of their land.”[13]

Yes, apartheid.

Given the Israeli apartheid regime’s bloody record of genocide, terrorism, ethnic cleansing, and illegal occupation, the Israeli response is predictable. Israel has said that it plans to respond in the same manner that the U.S. responded in relation to Afghanistan. This clearly means mass indiscriminate bombardment with the most powerful weapons of mass destruction. Israel seems intent on exploiting Saturday’s tragedy to justify a new genocidal onslaught on Palestine, all in the name of a “war on terror”. Déjé vu?

But terrorism will not end until we acknowledge who the terrorists really are. It is constantly forgotten that the principal cause of this entire conflict, from beginning to now, is Israeli apartheid and illegal Israeli occupation, combined with routine terrorism and socio-economic repression. Unless these brutal realities come to an end, the cycle of violence will continue. But both Ariel Sharon and Yassir Arafat should be carted off to stand before the International Court of Justice in The Hague, to be tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is well-known to anyone with an understanding of the conflict, as opposed to those who live in a fantasy realm of their own imagination, that Arafat and his so-called ‘Palestinian Authority’ are thoroughly despised by the Palestinian people. Even the Israeli spokesmen who appeared on CNN, Saturday, noted the dictatorial and unrepresentative nature of his regime. And it is well-documented, though barely reported in academic and media circles, that Ariel Sharon is a war criminal responsible for the mass murder of thousands of Palestinian refugees at Shabra and Shattilla. So let both of them and their repressive regimes be brought down, to create a new system, a new government in the Holy Land, irrespective of racial, ethnic and religious supremacy, based on equality, self-determination, human solidarity, and justice for all.


[1] Cited in Erlich, Guy, ‘Not Only Deir Yassin’, Ha’ir, 6 May 1992.

[2] Cited in ibid.

[3] Nebehay, Stephen, ‘UN Investigator Says Israeli Killings “Unprecedented”‘, Reuters, 17 October 2000.

[4] Andoni, Lamis, and Tolan, Sandy, ‘Shoot to Maim: Israel’s Favored Ammo is Crippling a Generation of Younger Palestinians’, The Village Voice, 21 February 2001.

[5] HRW report, ‘Israel, The Occupied West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Palestinian Authority Territories’, in World Report 2001, Human Rights Watch, New York, 2001.

[6] Reinhart, Tanya, ‘Don’t Say You Didn’t Know’, ZNet, November 2000.

[7] Boston Globe, 4 November 2000.

[8] B’tselem statistics, November 2001,

[9] Gottlieb, Lynn, ‘Palestinian human rights violated in Israel’, The Progressive Media Project, December 1998.

[10] B’tselem report, In Broad Daylight: Abuse of Palestinians by IDF Soldiers on July 23rd 2001, Case Study No. 12, B’tselem, July 2001.

[11] Cited in ‘Between Heaven and Hell’, The Guardian, 21 May 2001.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Porath, Yoram Bar, Yediot Aahronot, 14 July 1972.

Mr. Nafeez Ahmed is a political analyst and human rights activist based in London. He is Director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development and a Researcher at the Islamic Human Rights Commission.