Terrorism Vs. Occupation


Readers very often accuse me that I do not write about Palestinian terrorism against Israel. A typical reader writes: “if Israeli gunmen were going in Palestinian pizza places, weddings, buses, discos, shoe stores and deliberately massacring Palestinian civilians, Ran HaCohen would go on a tirade against Israel. Yet he remains silent on Arab terrorism against Israeli civilians.” I would like to relate to this accusation. But before doing that, let me pay a small tribute to a brave Israeli soldier who refuses to serve in the occupied territories any longer. The Tel-Aviv weekly “Ha’Ir” last week printed forty short evidences of such refusers; here is one of them. Not the most shocking one. The harder stuff sometimes makes it to the news. But it illustrates some of the daily, banal routines of occupation, countless similar scenes that take place every day, every night, in endless variations. And they all count as “no news”.


Jabaliya (a refugee camp near Gaza). Terrible heat. It’s after midnight, we are on our way to arrest “wanted people” é small criminals and tax-evaders whom the Shin Bet wants to blackmail. We surround the area and storm into the house. The officer quickly climbs the wall and I, his signalman, close behind him. We break into the “house”: a single small room, blankets on the floor, four kids aged two to six or seven. They and the parents é a young woman and a not so young man é all wake up in panic, weeping and yelling. They are hysteric, and we, very young soldiers, too. We shout at them to shut up and at the man to dress up, and “search” the home. There is nothing to find, nothing to look for. Handcuffs, and out to the lorry. Several arrested Palestinians have been gathered there, and someone from the Civil Administration is ‘taking care’ of them: slaps in the face, kicking. I want to say something, but off we go to the Shin Bet camp. The man we have arrested is smashed at the lorry’s floor, weeping, sobbing in fear, with a broken voice, ‘I beg you, I beg you…'” (written by Sergeant (res.) Yotam Cohen)


Now back to why I don’t write on terrorism. Surprisingly, this accusation comes mostly from American readers. At first I thought I should be grateful for this rare token of altruism: Are people living in the US actually more concerned about my well-being than I am?! But as all too often the complaints ended with such cordial blessing as “you racist anti-Semite”, I gathered that pure altruism might not be the true motivation. So why do people want me to talk about terrorism? Surely not because they know too little about it. As a mourning Palestinian mother said last week, international press would pay more attention to a Jewish settler’s dog injured in a terrorist attack than to her dead child. Terrorism is the most popular term in Middle East media coverage, and still people want me to talk about it too. So why? I believe it is because those people do not want me to talk about another term: occupation. Note how seldom this term is used when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is dealt with. In fact, when you hear someone say “terrorism” over and over again, you can be certain he won’t use the term “occupation”.


Terrorism and Occupation may look like twin brothers. Both are illegitimate: occupation is acknowledged by international law, but for a limited time, not for 35 years; resistance to occupation (which is what Palestinian terrorism is about) is legitimate too, but not when innocent people are targeted. Both are murderous: innocent Israelis fall victim to terrorism, innocent Palestinians fall victim to occupation. Terrorism is pervasive: it threatens all Israelis; Occupation is even more pervasive: all Palestinians are under occupation, and as we have seen above, while terrorism can get Israelis in pizza places or discos, occupation visits Palestinians in bed, either by a missile or because some Shin Bet agent wants to blackmail them into collaboration. Needless to say, the number of Palestinian victims of the occupation overwhelmingly exceeds the number of Israeli victims of terrorism é if you like, one more reason to talk about occupation more than terrorism.

Israel, especially since September 11th but even long before, has been trying to convince the world that the Palestinian Authority, not just individual Palestinians, is engaged in terrorism. True or not, the uncontroversial reality is that the State of Israel, not individual Israelis, is running the occupation. Israel sometimes claims that the occupation has been forced upon it against its will. It is one of the most ridiculous claims I have ever heard, but this is actually what Ehud Barak’s celebrated “analytical mind” was trying to sell us: that because he had supposedly made some “generous offers” to the Palestinians, and because they had supposedly rejected these offers, Israel could not stop the occupation. Sounds ridiculous? Ask some Israel fans and you’ll see how seriously they take this joke.


The simple fact is that Israel is occupying the territories because it wants to occupy them. It does not withdraw from them, because it wants to take the land for settlements, for water and for regional strategic considerations. It does not annex them, because it does not want to give citizenship to three million Palestinians. Occupation is the only way to satisfy both aims. It may be direct occupation, it may be an indirect one: in fact, Israel is generously offering the Palestinians both options. Israel’s present message to Arafat is expressed clearly and shamelessly: either you comply with the occupation, or we replace you with some other “leaders” who will. Shimon Peres prefers the former option, Sharon prefers the latter. They both support the occupation, they have both done more than any other Israeli politician for the sake of the Israeli settlements, they differ in tactics but share the same cause.


Centuries of colonialism have proved that “an enlightened occupation” is a contradiction is terms. Occupation cannot be tolerable and therefore cannot be tolerated. Expecting a people to live without political rights is both unreasonable and immoral. The occupied Palestinians, in order to get rid of the occupation, use violence é verbal violence, physical violence, violence against soldiers and settlers and deplorable violence against innocent people. Thus, the occupation becomes ever more violent and the deprivation of political rights is inevitably followed by violations of human rights. You cannot oppress one people for the sake of another without resorting to atrocities. It starts with exploiting one’s weakness (a sick elderly mother, a sick child) to blackmail one into collaboration, it goes all the way through torture, siege, starving and killing and it ends in letting a pregnant woman die with her infant at a checkpoint.

As Friedrich Schiller said, this is the curse of the evil deed: it inevitably gives birth to ever more evil. Indeed, Palestinian terrorism has increased step by step with occupation; the cruelest stage of occupation, with the whole world singing the praises of Oslo while the settlements were expanding rapidly and the cantonisation of the territories by checkpoints and highways was advancing in an unprecedented high pace, gave birth to the appalling phenomenon of Palestinians whose despair had overwhelmed them to the point of being ready to die in order to kill their oppressors. Just like the 200,000 settlers, just like the hundreds of checkpoints, the suicide bombers haven’t always been there: they emerged in a specific historical context.


So why don’t I talk of terrorism? Because Palestinian Terrorism is not the Occupation’s twin brother, but rather its murderous offspring. Like father, like son. Terrorism is horrible; but occupation too, and the former is the result of the latter. To stop the circle of violence, to stop terrorism, the occupation must stop first. Since a one-state solution seems unlikely under the present circumstances, Israel must end the occupation by withdrawing all its forces, dismantling all its settlements and letting the Palestinians establish a true independent state in the entire territories occupied in 1967. This is the only way to uproot terrorism, not bulldozing the Gaza strip or aiming a cannon at imprisoned Arafat’s head.

Talking of terrorism has become a way to keep silent about occupation. This is what some readers want me to do: to stop talking about occupation and to talk about terrorism instead. Sorry, guys: talking about Palestinian terrorism will not save anyone’s life. It’s talking about occupation that will hopefully bring both occupation and terrorism é in this order é to an end.

Ran HaCohen was born in the Netherlands in 1964 and has grown up in Israel. He has B.A. in Computer Science, M.A. in Comparative Literature and he presently works on his PhD thesis. He lives in Tel-Aviv, teaches in the Department of Comparative Literature in Tel-Aviv University. He also works as literary translator (from German, English and Dutch), and as a literary critic for the Israeli daily Yedioth Achronoth. His work has been published widely in Israel. His column appears monthly at Antiwar.com.