To most Americans, terror is emblematic of the Israeli-Arab conflict. But what is “terror” to us?
Following 9/11, we heard that Americans finally knew what terror meant to places like Israel. It was not acceptable to suggest that we finally knew what terror meant to places like Guatemala, or Iran, or Vietnam, or Chile, or Palestine, or dozens of other places where civilians have been terrorized by our military and intelligence, or by US-backed regimes using our training and equipment.
Terrorism is a reprehensible war crime because it targets civilians. Not because it is ‘stateless’, not because people sometimes kill themselves in the act, but because it targets civilians.
In the sixty years preceding 9/11, the United States had targeted and killed well over two million civilians, including more than 500,000 during World War II, (1,2,3) over a million innocent souls in Southeast Asia, (4) and over 500,000 in Iraq through war and sanctions. Our self-censorship of the real policies and events driving our government had become so pervasive that we could only imagine ourselves as world leaders in preventing civilian casualties. Now we are so advanced we no longer need count the dead. Our anti-personnel bombs didn’t kill them, so it doesn’t matter.
In such a state of mind, and still mired in our national racism, we were ready to imagine the 9/11 terrorists as an absolute “other”, just as they were described. They were everything we were not, starting with their “utter contempt for innocent life”.
Upon this foundation of denial, we confounded our idea of terrorism with prejudices of race and religion until it became an essentially Islamic/Arabic threat disconnected from political issues.
Our long-standing cultural, political, and financial support for Israel against the Arabs did much to prepare us for this grave misunderstanding. Our response to the events of 9/11, led by an administration deeply linked to Israel’s right-wing, nudged us into agreement with the popular Israeli excuse: Terrorism is an evil act by other people of inferior blood and/or religion and/or minds driven by an irrational desire to completely destroy us.
If we let that ‘idea’ dominate our discussion of the Israeli-Arab conflict, we will be taking a giant step backward in our already-retrograde national understanding of the problem.
But if we insist instead on a rational understanding, and reject this government-media propaganda, we must be prepared seek the truth from Palestinian and international sources. This much-needed effort would inform Americans about how we sustain the Israeli-Arab conflict and how to stop it, and could offer insights into the terror that threatens us.
First we would learn that Americans do not see the Israel and Palestine seen by the rest of the world. Our national image of the region flows from what our politicians, intellectuals, editors, producers, generals, columnists, educators and legal experts think we should see. And that has overwhelmingly been the Israeli point of view, sanitized for US sensibilities and modified for US interests.
Palestinians (other than terrorists) have been so thoroughly excluded from American view that in some cases they haven’t been able to submit their work, on the pretext that they are not citizens of a recognized state. The fact that their “statelessness” is a direct result of Israel’s prohibition of Palestinian statehood, under threat of “terrible consequences” for disobedience, is the unmentioned, invisible icing on this bitter cake of censorship. Hollywood’s “Academy” rejected Elia Suleiman’s award-winning “Divine Intervention” for this reason earlier this year, (5) though now it has deigned to accept Palestine as an “exception”. (6)
Fed into our relentless pursuit of political simplification (“the mainstream”), our intelligentsia’s world-famous pro-Israel bias has created an America that sees the conflict in Palestine as a fight over a scrap of land between two roughly matched peoples with competing claims. One is imagined as a white democratic ally of the United States, the other as people of color practicing dictatorship, strange religion, and terrorism.
There is no inkling that Israel is the world’s last 19th century colony, or that the history of the conflict is one long colonial conquest. Neither the schoolbooks nor the New York Times will divulge this home truth. Nor will they mention what generations of Zionist leaders have made clear to their followers: The Arab inhabitants of greater Palestine must be expelled to make way for the Jewish Homeland.
Having long ago established ethnic cleansing as a moral imperative for the achievement of their Holy goals, the Zionists imagine themselves leading the world in “purity of arms”, frequently declaring that Israel’s is “the most moral army in the world.”
Perhaps our military brass share a friendly disagreement with their Israeli peers on this point, as they collaborate on the Pentagon’s most advanced strategic “defense” projects. Consider Rumsfeld’s enthusiasm for the “humanity” of bomb targeting. (7)
It has probably been stated as a general rule: When nations begin to make exceptional claims for the “morality” of their armed forces, they will be found upon examination to be engaged in the most abjectly immoral crimes.
Starting from a position of deep denial, the Zionists, like us, felt free to indulge in moral qualms about other subjects. For instance, how should the Arabs be removed? Liberal Zionists argued that the moral purity of the Jewish State would be endangered if Israel slipped into ruling over the Arabs. Zionists fostered by the Fascist politics of Europe, including the Herut and the Irgun terrorists, urged a different approach, and went on to lead the Likud. The liberals became Labor, and proceeded to leap at every chance to extend Israeli rule over the Arabs.
Despite bitter, sometimes violent, disagreement among themselves regarding the true moral path of Zionism, Israel’s power factions have remained united in their pursuit of the overall goal. Labor or Likud, the practical effects of Israel’s diplomatic and military policies have remained the same.
In “The Fateful Triangle”, Noam Chomsky cites Aharon Bachar’s November, 1982 article in Israel’s largest daily about a report presented by senior Labor Party leaders to then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin (Likud). One section concerned the behavior of Israeli forces in the Palestinian town of Halhul, north of Hebron:
“…During the many hours that hundreds of people were kept in the mosque square, they were ordered to urinate and excrete on one another and also to sing Hatikva [“The Hope”, the national anthem of Israel] and to call out “Long Live the State of Israel.” Several people were beaten and ordered to crawl on the ground. Some were even ordered to lick the earth. At the same time four trucks were commandeered and at daybreak, the inhabitants were loaded on the trucks, about 100 in each truck, and taken like sheep to the Administration headquarters in Hebron.
“On Holocaust Day, the 27 of Nissan, the people who were arrested were ordered to write numbers on their hands with their own hands, in memory of the Jews in the extermination camps.” (8)
Bachar wrote that this and similar reports submitted by Israeli soldiers elicited no action by the authorities. Reports of similar and much worse behaviors have appeared year after year, and continue to appear today, only to be routinely denied by Israeli officials and ignored by both US government and media. Yet television viewers around the world may see Israel’s latest atrocities and injustices in their evening news.
We are blinded to the daily grind of Israeli violence and the extent of Israeli army control. We aren’t told that seven in ten Palestinians make less than two dollars a day, that many villages now suffer alarming rates of malnutrition and disease. Fed denials compounding denial, many of us don’t understand why Palestinians resist Israel with a guerilla war of opportunity, sacrifice, and revenge.
Why do they fight with rocks, slingshots, pipe bombs, rifles, and suicide bombs against a nuclear-tipped Israel deploying the latest missiles, depleted uranium munitions and anti-personnel flechettes spewing from tanks, helicopter gunships, F-16s, APCs, hummers, and M-16s, almost all made in the US and custom-fitted for Israel’s line of ‘rough work’? (9,10)
Why are there Palestinian terrorists? More than half a century of humiliating, covered-up, racist occupation and thievery. It’s that simple.
If my native state of Vermont, home of the redoubtable Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys, were subjected to generations of crushing military occupation and land theft, I have no doubt that some of us would turn to terrible deeds. When I imagine our sons and daughters knowing nothing but desperation and violence, I shudder. Their resistance might be worse than anything yet attempted by Palestinians.
Attacking Israeli soldiers is not terrorism, but lawful resistance to illegal occupation recognized by international law. When you are so boxed in and outgunned that these legal tactics offer no hope, when your daily civilian casualties continue to mount and no-one notices, when everything else has failed, what do you do? Do you emulate your oppressors, and resort to war crimes?
America’s “debate” fixates on a tragic symptom while neglecting its fundamental cause, which is not perverted Islam, or wicked schools, much less some grand “clash of civilizations.” The cause is the US-funded Israeli occupation, itself an ongoing act of war against civilians.
Conventional wisdom holds that the Palestinian Authority must now “eradicate terror” to advance the “peace process”, a demand frightening in its disconnection from reality. It is insult added to injury, blame-shifting inviting chaos.
During the last three years, the Israelis have systematically destroyed PA police stations and security infrastructure. Never strong, today the PA is reduced to tatters. Why do we insist that now they must accomplish what the Israelis, the “anti-terror experts”, find impossible? Most observers think such a move would trigger Palestinian civil war. Is that our policy objective, or is it all a cynical exercise in blaming the victim?
Would the terror cease if Israel withdrew to its pre-1967 borders? Perhaps three-quarters of it would, simply by stopping Israeli “operations”. (11,12,13) In that event, Syria and other neighbors have pledged to recognize Israel in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 242.
If Israel were required to obey the law and abandoned its illegal occupations, the position of Palestinian terrorists would be instantly undercut. Funding for Palestinian terrorism, such as it is, would dry up. And it is very clear that Palestinian support for violent resistance would plummet in the advent of an Israeli withdrawal.
The prescription is inevitable. To end the Palestinian terror, and begin to solve our own terror problem, cut it off at its source: Get Israel out of the Palestinian territories and enforce a just peace.
1) Terror Bombing, by Doug Henwood, April 22, 1999, Communications for a Sustainable Future, http://csf.colorado.edu/pen-l/apr99/msg00948.html
2) Hiroshima; Breaking the Silence, Howard Zinn, http://polymer.bu.edu/~amaral/Personal/zinn.html
3) Tomgram: Mike Davis on bombshell art, TomDispatch.com, http://www.nationinstitute.org/tomdispatch/index.mhtml?pid=957
4) American Genocide of the Vietnamese People, 1945–”1974, FreeSpeech.org, http://free.freespeech.org/americanstateterrorism/vietnamgenocide/Vietnam.html
5) Oscar rejection for Palestinian film, BBC, January 16, 2003, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/2665957.stm
6) Palestinian film joins Oscar race, BBC, October 21, 2003, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/3209974.stm
7) Rumsfeld says Iraq air campaign unprecedented, CTV News, March 21, 2003 http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/1048277754718_15?s_name=
8) Aharon Bachar, Yediot Ahronot, Nov. 5, 2982, as quoted in “The Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel & The Palestinians” (updated edition), Noam Chomsky, South End Press, Cambridge, MA, 1999 http://zena.secureforum.com/Znet/ZMag/articles/chomup.htm
9) IS THE ISRAELI MILITARY USING DEPLETED-URANIUM WEAPONS AGAINST THE PALESTINIANS?, International Action Cente, November 27, 2000, http://www.iacenter.org/israel_du.htm
10) Israel: Stop Using Flechettes in Gaza, Human Rights Watch, April 29 2003 http://www.hrw.org/press/2003/04/israel042903.htm
11) Israel Defence Forces, Casualties updated, http://www.idf.il/daily_statistics/english/1.doc
12) Statistics for the Palestinian Intifada, Palestine Monitor/Health Development Information and Policy Institute, http://www.hdip.org/Fact%20sheets/Intifada_factsheet.htm
13) Palestine Red Crescent Society, Information for period from September’2000 to December’2003, http://www.palestinercs.org/Database/Date/