After the September 11th attack on New York and Pentagon, President George W. Bush defined the complex world of conflict, violence and grievances by a simple doctrine of absolutism: “good and evil, “axis of evil,” and “either you are with us or with terrorists.” He lumped together the twisted ambition of disgruntled individual and splinter group (Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaida) with legitimate national “liberation” movement of Palestinians that has been going on for the last 35 years. This was done to justify the continued subjugation, humiliation and occupation of Palestinian people. Bush government fell to the devious plot of the Israeli government and powerful US Jewish lobby, who were successful in linking the two events. (The extent of Jews influence on America is well captured in a recently coined term, “JEWnited States of America”.)
At the outset it is important to point out that “terrorism” was actually originated by Israelis in that part of the world. For example, on July 22, 1946, former Israeli Prime Minister, Menachem Begin (from direct orders of his general command, Irgun Gang) detonated 350 kg of explosives in the basement of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, killing about 90 British, Arab and Jewish innocent civilians, and completely destroying half the building (on the pretext that the hotel housed the British military command). On January 4, 1948, members of the Irgun Gang blew up a truck loaded with explosives in the main market square of the Palestinian city of Jaffa, murdering and maiming scores of Palestinian men, women and children. Former Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Shamir appeared as “Wanted Terrorist” in mug-shot poster of the British government for assassinating the Swedish UN peacekeeper, Count Bernadotte on September 17, 1948. This was Shamir’s reaction to giving control of Jerusalem to the Arabs by the UN.
The most stunning thing is these acts of terrorism were not conducted by disgruntled individuals but by mainstream Israeli politicians, some of whom are today members of the Israeli government and Knesset.
Both US and Israeli governments provided no explanation why perpetual killing, brutality and destruction of infrastructure, economy and civil institutions of Palestinians by the most sophisticatedly equipped and trained Israeli army are not “terrorism,” but suicide bombing by highly desperate Palestinians, living in despicable condition, are terrorism. Note that these desperate people do not have a regular army and military machines to fight Israelis might. If Palestinians would have the same equipment that could remotely come close to Israeli infrastructure and still there would have been suicide bombing on civilians, that would be labeled terrorism. In a world of complete inequality, a history of 35 years of waiting for justice and no means to implement their legitimate will by non-violent process, what other options oppressed Palestinians have than to blow up themselves among Israelis? To a fair mind, the rational of a suicide bomber is simple: if you do not allow “us” to live, why will we allow “you” to live?
Critics would argue that Palestinians had an option that they decided not to avail: Ehud Barak’s “generous” offer to Yasser Arafat in the Camp David of up to 97% of the land. This is a misrepresentation of facts that have been quoted repeatedly in the media, though no one has produced any document to support their claims. First, why was that offer not published and made available to general public for review and critique? Second, 97% of what land? Is 97% of pre-1967 land or only West Bank and Gaza? There is a difference of night and day between the two. As an example, 99% of $1 is only 99 cents, but 1% of a million dollar is $10,000. Third, the remaining 3% of land (with Israel) may be the most strategic piece that would never enable Palestinians to become a viable state. Fourth, (gathering from scant information) the “generous offer” appears to provide no control of borders by Palestinians, no contiguity between parts of the West Bank, no Palestinian sovereignty, or even contiguity of neighborhoods, in Jerusalem. It did not resolve the issue of illegal Israeli settlements, bypass roads, sharing of Jerusalem between two people and return of Palestinian refugees. Acceptance of such an offer by Arafat, no wonder, was tantamount of committing wholesome suicide by Palestinians.
The level of unfairness and subjugation from Israelis is especially incomprehensible to a rational mind. How Jews could allow this kind of atrocity against a “people” when they themselves have gone through the darkest period of human history, the “Holocaust”. Moreover, this they are doing when the world is watching their atrocity live. No one knows, what Israelis would have done to Palestinians if the communication system were predated of World War level.
Palestinians rage did not happen in over night. It was nurtured by decades of subjugation, humiliation and oppression with no future in sight. This is an act of total despair and hopelessness. Otherwise, who does not love life, especially young that have full course in front of them. Or, perhaps Palestinians are different breed of specie than human that Western intellectuals need to prove. While we (innocent) love to live, they love to die.
In general, the notion of “innocent” is a misnomer in democratic countries. There is not much moral, political and economic rational distinguishing between suicide bombing by desperate Palestinian teenagers and continued subjugation by Israeli occupiers (so called innocent civilians).
In good old days, there used be an unspoken rule of war. A clear line was drawn between innocent civilians and those who were combatants. Soldiers, equipped with swords and arrows, marching on foot or riding on horses used to confront the enemy face to face. Innocents were far away from the battlefield, doing chores of ordinary daily lives. It was a universal rule that only enemy soldiers (who happened to be all men) need to be killed, maimed or defeated. Women, children and old people were not allowed to be harmed. Any violation of the rule was considered barbaric.
Now, the distinction between warrior and innocent has disappeared. War is usually conducted by two forces of uneven technology and machine. On the one side is the force with most modern war machines and sophisticated technology, perhaps flying thousand miles above on sky, far away from the action field (American and Europeans air war against Iraq and Afghanistan are recent cases in point). The other force could only be equipped with guns, tanks and World War I artilleries struggling to fight an invisible enemy (for example, Taliban). Even with “smart” bombs, war planes have the likelihood of killing at least 10 times more innocent civilians than those who are fighting with traditional artilleries. In Hiroshima and Vietnam, American bombing might have succeed in killing one soldier, but at the expense of killing and inflicting sufferings on millions of innocent people.
The fact is that the death of a single bystander and destruction of war-unrelated property under the heading “collateral” damage by Western sophisticated military machine, is as much “terrorist” act as someone equipped with a crude home made bomb and exploding him/herself in a crowded market or restaurant that kill and injure scores of (so called) innocent people. This is especially true given the fact that Israelis have an option to make a different choice through the democratic process that they so pride or not to finance the war against subjugated and occupied population.
In a democratic country, the government administration and bureaucratic structure is determined by franchise. Every adult has the freedom and responsibility to elect the candidate and political party of its liking. If the chosen party takes a decision on war (or economic policy for that matter), all adult (vote casting) population are directly and indirectly involved. If the decision is contrary to their wishes, they can show their discontentment in opinion polls conducted daily by the mass media. Or at the time of election, they can through out the incumbent and choose the one of their liking. On the economic side, all workers pay taxes. It is their obligation to know where their taxes are spent. The majority has full power to dictate whether tax revenue will go to ameliorate the living standard of people in Angola or to finance war effort (through cash, military equipments and expertise) of a regime in Israel who is brutally and perpetually suppressing the legitimate will of Palestinians.
Yes, innocents are also residents of those countries that are ruled by kings, dictators and sheikhs. General population has no mechanism to show their preference of one political platform or policy over the other. At the most, people can do mass demonstration. That can be ruthlessly suppressed by the ruling administration. They also pay taxes. However, they have no control and mechanism to show disagreement, how tax revenues are spent or wasted. The most terrifying reality of Gulf war is that Saddam Hussain was imposed on Iraqis by the United States. After the war during which Baghdad was turned into a medieval civilization by relentless US bombings, Mr. Hussain was left untouched. Instead, US imposed sanctions on Iraq which have been devastating implications on innocent population. This is terrorism of worst kind that one can comprehend.
Bottom line: In a world of affluence, mass communication and global linkage, it is almost impossible to maintain the status quo of injustice. A person with grievances needs only one incentive (perpetual hopelessness and despair) to lay down his/her own life as a sacrificial lamb, which any way has little value. While a person on the other side, has every thing to lose in terms of quality of life and bright future that he/she is looking for. In the heart and mind of a suicide bomber, the satisfaction he/she would derive by fighting against injustice would far outweigh the cost of self-nihility.
Unfortunately, this tragic episode in this era of political advancement and economic abundance (at least in the West and in Israel) could easily be avoided by pursuing a path of “justice.” Choosing things for others what we will like to have for ourselves is a basic teaching of all humanity. Unless we prove this basic fact through our deeds, distinction between innocent and terrorist is an academic discussion. Those who are willing to lay down their lives for a bigger cause care less how the world labels their sacrifice. Depending on perspective, one person’s “murderer” is other person “martyr”. The end losers are those who love life and see bright future in the horizon, but are blown out of existence from nowhere. They are the one who are paying the real price of this injustice, but unfortunately, of their own making.
The Author has a Ph.D. in Economics and 15 years of research and teaching experience.