Do you remember Qibya? Most of us do not. During the night of Oct. 14, 1953 Israeli paratroopers descended on the village of Qibya, at that time in Jordanian-held Samaria, and blew up 45 houses, including the village school-house. Daylight revealed that 69 dead civilians were buried under the rubble. These were Palestinian civilians, including many women and children, whom the Israeli forces failed-deliberately, I assume-to warn as the explosives were laid around the homes under cover of darkness.
The subsequent official “explanation” (the brainchild of then-Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion) for this operation was that it was undertaken by frustrated and angry inhabitants of Jewish border towns, who were losing their patience with Arab incursions. This specific raid, we were told, was a reprisal for the killing of a Jewish woman and her two children from the nearby town of Ya’hud.
Ben-Gurion steadfastly persisted in his denial-both in Israel and abroad-of all responsibility for this atrocity. Even with his own cabinet he claimed that he couldn’t have organized such an action because he had been “away on vacation.”
Actually, the order to undertake the Qibya operation was given by Pinhas Lavon, at that time acting minister of defense. (Lavon continued through his career to get into great difficulties and a bitter feud with Ben-Gurion.)
Before Qibya, in April 1948, a month before proclamation of the state of Israel, Jewish forces perpetrated the massacre of Deir Yassin in which 254 men, women and children were murdered. Although this became the most famous of the mass murders by Israeli forces, in truth it is only one among many documented massacres of Palestinian Arabs in Israel’s early years.
And then in 1956 there was Kufr Kassem! As the Sinai War began, there were impromptu changes of the rules imposed by the Israeli military on predominantly Arab population areas, such as the “triangle” close to the Jordanian border. Among these changes was the timing of evening curfew. Without forewarning, Kufr Kassem residents returning by truck, bicycles and wagons from work in their fields, where they had no access to news about the change in curfew time, were lined up and shot by a contingent of Border Police who had been ordered to “cut them down.” Within a short period 50 people had been killed, among them 10 women and 7 children.
There was much soul-searching in the Israeli press and in the public arena generally after the Kufr Kassem massacre. I mention the soul-searching only to avoid an implication of public indifference. I was back in my home in Israel after completing my studies in the U.S. and recall cutting comparisons with Nazi deeds voiced in discussions in cafés and in my family’s living room.
At the moment, however, my focus is different. Reminders of the people-destroying events I have so far enumerated serve as a way of asking and answering the question-if I can-what is terrorism? I am profoundly disquieted by what I have encountered in the public domain, both in Israel and here, in the U.S., my adopted country. Predominantly, terrorism is what “others” do. “We ” do not practice terrorism.
Terrorism is what “others” do. “We” do not practice terrorism.
Dictionary definitions and common understanding of what terrorism is involve the infliction of grave bodily harm, intense fright, prolonged horror or panic. It can mean the use of terrorizing methods of governing; in other words, “terrorism” requires the sanction of authorized government or its proxy. It is practiced also to resist a government.
Most profoundly I believe “terrorism” is meant for and directed against a person or people. Contrary to “received wisdom,” no one has a monopoly on terrorism; certainly not any person or group in the Middle East, much as the U.S. media in its propaganda mode would like to have us believe.
For this reason I feel compelled to redress the balance of knowing and remembrance by writing about the “terrorism” inflicted by Israeli Jews upon Palestinian Arabs.
For different motives than mine, an Israeli, Yair Goren, has published a book of his memoirs, A Khazar in Jerusalem. Its interest lies in vivid and detailed descriptions of the “atmosphere” and events in the 1948 siege and battle to free Jerusalem, where he was a commander.
Whereas the mountains of books that have already been written about that period extol the brave exploits of the Haganah and Palmach, Goren serves up a super-abundance of details. He recounts many unsavory, hideous and cruel actions of the “best of our boys.” These include tormenting prisoners, beating civilians, rape, plunder and destruction for its own sake. “Anything went in the Jerusalem chaos of 1948,” he writes.
But he also flavors the unspeakable horrors with poetic reflections and romantic nuances of time, place and people, as in the description of the Jewish mistress of a very prominent Palestinian resident of Jerusalem who was detained for questioning.
Disguised Acts of Terror
Closer to the present, and throughout the 30-year occupation, newspapers in Israel have reported many acts of violence-I would call them terrorism-against the Palestinian communities of the West Bank and Gaza. But not only does the world media-especially here in the U.S.-fail to report these acts of mayhem, they are disguised as actions for “law and order,” not what they are-acts of terror.
A CS gas canister thrown into a family home in Gaza after the occupants are warned that if they open windows or shutters they will be shot, gives children, women and the elderly the choice of asphyxiation or a bullet. It is no less an act of terrorism than the demolition of a bus by a suicide bomber. Both deserve unwavering expressions of revulsion and resounding condemnation and protest. But I have heard anger and cries for “justice” only after bombings of innocent Jews.
I continue to be stunned by the silence of Jews in Israel, and elsewhere, at the siege that was laid on the vast Palestinian population of the occupied territories after the suicide bombings in Jerusalem last year. The Jewish people, enjoying full democratic freedoms, uttered not a murmur of protest at reports of widespread hunger, untreated sick patients, ambulances with dying infants turned back at Israeli check-points, thousands of men responsible for caring for their families arbitrarily idled (and their jobs given hood in Egypt as spawning Islamic movements all over the Middle East and strengthening the belief that Islam is a platform for political power. Ibrahim argued that fundamentalism is not solely an Islamic phenomenon, as the religious divide in Israel and in other nations demonstrates.
Looking at the success and failures of fundamentalism in the region, Ibrahim contended that the Ayatollah Khomeini was quite successful in implementing an Islamic intellectual infrastructure in Iran, yet failed to construct a purely Islamic state. Elsewhere in the region, the effectiveness and support of fundamentalist groups fluctuates and often reflects satisfaction or disgust with the current political landscape, as with the Palestinians and the peace process. For instance, in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood often is slammed by the press, Islamic banks have disappointed investors, and fundamentalism nearly destroyed the tourism industry-the bread and butter of millions of Egyptians. He added that the rebirth of debate in Egypt has proven troublesome to the fundamentalists.
Ibrahim concluded that Islamists now are on the defensive and public opposition is growing, yet he contends that the West is not helping the situation with its criticism of Arab causes. He noted, “Every fundamentalist movement in the region thrives and grows on the notion of injustice. And there is, at the moment, a profound feeling in the Arab world that the West is very unjust in the way it is looking at this [Israeli-Arab] conflict.”
(Dr. Edna Homa Hunt, a fifth-generation member of a Jewish family from Palestine, is now an American citizen living in Massachusetts and Florida.)