ISRAEL: A terrorist success story

December 12, 2001


If there was an Academy Awards ceremony for terrorism, Israel would sweep every category — and every acceptance speech would have to thank the government of United States, whose generous support has made Israel the most successful terrorist state in the world.

How do you measure the success of terrorism? Is it by the numbers of civilians killed, maimed and terrorised or the level of disruption and fear brought to peoples' daily lives? Israel scores very highly on both these counts.

Surely though, the ultimate measure of success is the ability to use terrorism to achieve your aims and get away with it. By this measure, Israel is the most successful terrorist state of the 20th century and looks like continuing its winning streak into the 21st century.

Israel has its own special way of recognising the achievements of its great terrorists — by electing them its prime minister. There are no less than three Israeli prime ministers who have long terrorist histories.

The current prime minister, Ariel Sharon, cemented his place in the hall of fame with his leading role in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, including the massacres by Israeli-backed militias in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. Earlier in his Israeli army career Sharon was responsible for the slaughter of 69 civilians in the Qibia village in Jordanian-controlled territory in 1953.

The Israeli prime minister at the time of the 1982 invasion, Menachem Begin, was a leader of the Irgun, one of the main terrorist groups in the Zionist movement. In the 1930s and 1940s the Zionists were trying to establish the Israeli state in what was then British-occupied Palestine.

In 1937, the Irgun launched a terror campaign against Palestinian civilians, setting off bombs in markets and attacking buses. In one attack on the Haifa fruit market 74 Arabs were killed and 129 wounded. In 1946, the Irgun set off a bomb in the King David Hotel in Jerusalem killing about 100 Arab, British and Jewish victims.

Another Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, started his career in this same period as a leader of the Zionist terrorist group, the Stern gang. The Stern gang was responsible for the assassination of the UN mediator in Palestine, Count Folke Bernadotte, and a French UN observer in September 1948.

As central leaders of these groups Begin and Shamir both went on to play a crucial role in the terrorist activities carried out during the 1948 war.

'Ethnic cleansing'

The term "ethnic cleansing" came into general use when it was used to describe the atrocities carried out by the Serbian nationalist forces in their push to create a Serbian state in Bosnia.

To carry out this particular form of terrorism is one thing, but as former Serbian ruler Slobodan Milosevic has found out, it is quite another thing to get away with it. In terms of getting away with ethnic cleansing, Israel is in a class of its own.

Ethnic cleansing was always going to be essential to achieving the Zionist movement's aim of creating a Jewish state in Palestine. This movement sought to escape the oppression suffered by Jewish minorities throughout history by setting up a state controlled exclusively by Jews, ruling over a country in which Jews were the majority. The process of creating such a state in Palestine would inevitably involve systematic discrimination against the non-Jewish people of Palestine.

Through a combination of lobbying, military force and terrorist activity the Zionist movement was able to win the support of the US and other powerful nations for a UN partition plan which would create a Jewish state in Palestine. The 1947 UN partition plan violated the right of the Arabic-speaking Palestinian people to national self-determination, as it denied them the opportunity to vote on whether or not they agreed to the UN plan to hand over a part of their national homeland to a colonial-settler state.

The UN plan was also grossly unfair in that it granted the 30% of the population who were Jewish 54% of the land of Palestine, including the most fertile areas. Despite the obvious bias of the UN plan in favour of Zionism, it did not resolve the "Arab question".

In the area allocated to the Jewish state, Jews only barely outnumbered Palestinians (498,000 Jews to 497,000 Palestinians) and at this time the Zionist settlers only owned 6% of the land.

The solution was ethnic cleansing. By waging a war of terror against the civilian Palestinian population, the Zionists were able to occupy 81% of the total area of Palestine by the end of the 1948 war.

One of the worst acts of terror during this war was the Deir Yasseen massacre. On April 9, 1948, the Irgun and the Stern gang attacked the village of Deir Yasseen and massacred 120 villagers. To ensure that the massacre had maximum effect in forcing Palestinians to flee, the terrorist forces raped women and girls, butchered infants and cut open the womb of a nine-months pregnant woman.

This was just one of a number of massacres that terrorised more than 90% of the Palestinian population into fleeing their homes.

After forcing the Palestinian population to flee the villages, the Israeli forces would often blow up the houses to ensure the residents had nothing to return to. To reinforce the point, the Israeli authorities then "legally" confiscated the homes, fields and property of all Palestinians who had not been in their "regular place of residence" on September 1, 1948.

The media coverage of the attacks on New York has emphasised that the victims of terrorism are not just those killed and injured but also their families, and the society as a whole. Today there are more than 3.7 million Palestinian refugees registered by the UN and about another two million who are not registered. These refugees are the victims of the acts of terrorism carried out in the 1948 war and of further terrorist acts carried out in the last 53 years.

In the Balkans, some refugees have been allowed to return — but not in Israel. There, Palestinian refugees are not allowed to return, despite the fact that under international law they have every right to. UN resolution 194 passed in 1948 explicitly affirms this right — but Israel's ethnic cleansing and defiance of this UN resolution goes unpunished by the UN and the US.

While the Palestinian victims of Israeli terrorism are left to rot in refugee camps, Israel struts the world stage claiming to be a democracy. This Israeli form of "democracy" is based on driving out more than half the indigenous population of the country and thereby denying their right to participate in any aspect of society.

Meir Kahane, one of Israel's best known civilian terrorists, openly acknowledged this fact. According to Kahane: "There is no question of setting up democracy in Israel because democracy means equal rights for all, irrespective of racial or religious origins. You can't, on the one hand, want a Jewish state and, at the same time, give non-Jews the right to become a majority."

Denying the right of Palestinian refugees to return is therefore essential to maintaining Israeli "democracy".

Hostage taking

Hollywood has produced numerous films in which "evil terrorists", usually Arabs, take innocent civilians, usually Americans, hostage and make demands that must be met before the hostages are released.

We all know the script: the ruthless hijackers kill a hostage to show they mean business, the US government refuses to negotiate with terrorists, one of the hostages is a Special Forces-trained superhero who leads the fight against the hijackers, eventually killing them all and setting the hostages free.

These "Hollywood principles" generally reflect the public stance of the US government in relation to terrorism. This tough "no negotiations, blow the terrorists away" stance was exactly that taken by the US and its allies in relation to the Taliban's offer to negotiate on a international trial for bin Laden. Any suggestion that there should be negotiations or an assessment of the legitimacy of the territorial claims was dismissed as appeasement and rewarding terrorist aggression.

Do these principles apply to Israel?

Israel's 1948 acquisition of territory by force went unpunished. No doubt encouraged by this success, in 1967 Israel invaded the rest of Palestine and parts of Egypt and Syria, taking millions of civilians hostage. Israel demanded that its "right to exist" be recognised before it would withdraw and release the hostages. The passing of UN Security Council resolution 242 calling on Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories had no effect.

So did the US launch immediate military action against Israel? No. It called for negotiations while continuing to provide Israel with massive military aid.

In 1973, Egypt and Syria took military action to attempt to free their citizens and territory held hostage by Israel, exercising their right to self-defence under international law. The US response was to provide Israel with all the emergency military aid it needed to defeat Egypt and Syria.

The experience of Egypt's 1977 peace treaty with Israel seems to confirm the argument that negotiating with terrorists only encourages them. After Egypt had met Israel's demands for recognition and had its territory returned, Israel promptly invaded Lebanon in 1978, and again in 1982.

In effect, Israel has held millions of innocent civilians hostage since 1967 and has killed thousands of Palestinians who have resisted this. While in Hollywood movies and in Afghanistan, it is quite legitimate for the "civilised world" (read, the US and its allies) to kill "terrorists", those Palestinians who have exercised their right, under international law, to resist the illegal Israeli occupation of their land have been designated "terrorists" themselves.

During the 1982 invasion of Lebanon the civilian toll from the terrorist activities of the Israeli army was 12,000 killed, 40,000 wounded, 300,000 homeless.

Over the course of the invasion the Israeli army used a range of terror weapons on civilians including cluster bombs and phosphorous bombs and shells. The use of phosphorous bombs and shells for military objectives is banned under the 1980 UN Geneva convention.

This description of their effect by journalist Robert Fisk explains why: "Dr Shamaa found that the two five-day old twins had already died but they were still on fire. 'I had to take the babies and put them in buckets of water to put out the flames', she said. 'When I took them out half an hour later they were still burning'."

The Israeli army entrusted the dirtiest work of the invasion to their right-wing Lebanese allies, the Phalangists. On September 15, 1982, the Israeli army sealed the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in West Beirut and Israeli defence minister Ariel Sharon authorised a unit of 150 Phalangists to enter the camps.

The Phalangists preceded to slaughter at least 1000 Palestinian and Lebanese civilians over a two-day period while the Israeli army looked on.

Just because Israel is the most successful terrorist state in the world does not mean there is no role for Israeli civilians in carrying out terrorist acts.

On February 25, 1994, Barukh Goldstein, an Israeli settler, massacred around 50 Palestinian worshippers at the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron. Goldstein was a well-known leader of Kach, an extreme right-wing Zionist organisation. Wearing a military uniform he entered the mosque and emptied two clips of a machine gun into Muslim worshippers. In the two weeks following the massacre, the Israeli army continued Goldstein's work by killing another 30 Palestinians.

While fanatical settlers such as Goldstein are directly involved in terrorising Palestinian civilians, it is the "ordinary" Israeli settlers who provide a cover and excuse for Israeli state terrorism and further ethnic cleansing.

Protecting these Israeli civilians provides an excuse for the Israeli army to station large numbers of troops in the Palestinian territories. The land on which these illegal settlements are built, and the "security zones" around them, is confiscated from Palestinians. To ensure the settlers can travel freely, "Israeli-only" roads have been built which divide the Palestinian territories and have required the confiscation of even more Palestinian land.

While renowned for its large-scale atrocities, Israel combines this with smaller-scale daily terrorism, which has the greatest impact. For the past 34 years Israeli soldiers have held up Palestinian civilians at gunpoint on a daily basis.

Much has been made of the fact that those killed in New York were just ordinary people going about their daily business. The fear that you be could killed at any moment for no good reason is one of the worst effects of terrorism. This is a fear that Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied territories have lived with on a daily basis for over 30 years.

For Palestinians, however, the people who may kill them are not invisible; they are right in front of them every day pointing automatic weapons at them as they go about their daily business. They are the Israeli soldiers at the checkpoints, who may open fire at a suspicious movement, and the armed settlers, many of whom believe Palestinians should be expelled at gunpoint.

This is not an abstract fear, as most Palestinians have a close relative who has been killed or wounded by the Israeli army or has had their home blown up or bulldozed by the Israelis as punishment for resisting the occupation. According to Amnesty International, 2650 Palestinian houses were destroyed by Israel between 1987 and 2000.

The support of the US government has been crucial to Israel's terrorist success. The US continues to provide Israel with massive levels of military and non-military aid: $US3 billion in 1997 alone and a total $US74 billion since 1949.

With the continuing support of the US government, Israel's position in terrorism's number one spot looks secure for some time. On the same day that the Israeli army continued its ethnic cleansing program by demolishing 18 Palestinian houses in Gaza, the US called on Palestinians to stop their violence and crack down on terrorism so that "negotiations" with Israel can continue.

From Green Left Weekly, December 12, 2001.

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