Civilization is a welding of humane values with technological development for the development of society. Terrorism represents the antithesis of civilization, it is the worst that humanity can come up with. No matter how long the list of grievances there is no cause that justifies the killing of innocent civilians; not in the WTC and not in Columbia, Palestine, South Asia, or anywhere else. Terror and violence never paves the way to justice but only leads to more violence and terror. Palestinain Poet Mahmoud Darwish said it succinctly “But then, nothing, nothing, justifies Terrorism”
Any rational examination of the problem of terrorism cannot rely on the notions of a “clash” of cultures or civilizations. While strongly condemning and working against terror, we must address the political, economic and other forces that lead to terrorism rationally. The insistence of some that terrorism is somehow a phenomenon of certain cultures or religions is not only factually wrong but simply cannot lead to any rational diagnosis and treatment of this blemish on human heritage. At best it is a corrupt and cowardly intellectual exercise to say that certain people and cultures are “not like us” and at worst it is pure racism.
The attack on the World Trade Center 9/11/01 is a horrific crime against humanity were thousands perished in one day but we ought to put in context lest we despair. The most civilians killed in North America were the millions of native Americans by the European invaders (native Americans used to be called savages and barbarians before the word terrorist came into widespread use). This carnage on the North American continent is followed by the many thousands killed in the US civil war. Americans have otherwise been spared massive casualties of military and civilian deaths. Aside from the attack on Pearl Harbor and the recent attacks in the US, no American town or city was bombed since the civil war.
Terrorism against America is itself a relatively new phenomenon. Interestingly, neither America nor the Middle East were places of most individual terrorist acts. According to the right-wing leaning Heritage Foundation in DC: Asia suffered the most deaths as a result of terrorist attacks; a total of 9,713 perished there from 1995 to 2000. Africa follows with 5,762 deaths for the 6-year period. The Middle East comes next with 2,190, and Western Europe with1,212. North America had the least number of dead, with only seven during that period. Asia has the highest number of deaths in a single year for any region, with 5,639 dead in 1995.
Thus it is amazing that the media catoring to certain interests and not too concerned for balance or accountability, constantly ties issues of terrorism to the Middle East. But be as it may, let us look at terrorism in with particular emphasis on the Middle East.
To understand the Middle East you have to know a bit about what the West did and did not do in this area.
The Balfour Declaration to Baron Rothchild, on the 2nd of November, 1917 (issued without consulting the inhabitants of the area, over 94% of them were not Jewish and many Jews in the area who vociforously opposed the Zionist program stated thus: “His Majesty’s Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”
The same Lord Balfour wrote in private memorandum to Lord Curzon, 11 August 1919: “In Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country.” Did anything change since 1919 in terms of the attitude of this western leading government or its successor (the US)?
I like everyone else was terribly shocked at the horrendous attack on America Sept 11. But I was not surprised. Two days earlier, eight people were killed in southern Iraq when British and American planes bombed civilian areas. To my knowledge, not a word appeared in the mainstream media. An estimated 200,000 Iraqis died during and in the immediate aftermath of the the Gulf War. At least a million civilians, a majority of them children, have since died in Iraq as a result of a medieval embargo imposed by the United States and Britain. In May 1996, Lesley Stahl of 60 MINUTES asked Madeline Albright: “We have heard that a half million children have died [because of sanctions against Iraq]. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima and and you know, is the price worth it?” U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright looked straight at the camera and said: “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price we think the price is worth it.”
But also people forget that the US was for many years a supporter of Saddam Hussain because he was fighting our war against the “bad” Iranians. At the time we were not concerned with his violations of International law or use of chemical weapons.
For many years now, the US also had a policy of helping Kurds in North Iraq against Saddam while helping Turkey with weapons, armamanets and support to crush the same Kurdish people fighting for independence in East and South Turkey. The hypocracy and lack of principle are not lost on the Kurds, the Turks, or the Iraqis.
In Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Mujahedeen, and their progeny the Taliban, were largely the creation of the CIA ostensibly to get rid of Soviet backed governments in Afghanistan. Through channels that included teh CIA and middle men like Adnan Khashogi (Arms dealer), the US funneled billions of dollars to get rid of teh soviet supported government of Afghanistan. The terrorist training camps where Osama bin Laden, now “America’s most wanted man”, allegedly planned his attacks, were built with American money and backing. After we “won” the war, we left Afghanistan, cared little for the second largest refugee problem in the world (the first being also one that we care little about: Palestine) and moved to our next battlegrounds (Somalia, the Balkans, Panama etc).
In Vietnam, the dispossession, maiming and poisoning of an entire nation was not only dramatic and dreadful but also educational to the third world. This mass of humanity learned taht acts like Operation Phoenix where the CIA arranged the killing of around 50,000 people can be resisted and overcome by people with limited resources.
In Palestine, the enduring illegal Israeli occupation and violence against the natives would have collapsed long ago were it not for US backing. We give Israel, which represents about 0.1% of the world population. 33% of our foreign aid (100 billion dollars in direct aid transfered over the pat 30 years and much more indirectly).
These facts are absent from or minimized by Western media. But they do not go unnoticed by millions in those countries affected. Richard Falk, professor of international relations at Princeton, put it this way: “Western foreign policy is presented almost exclusively through a self-righteous, one-way legal/moral screen (with) positive images of Western values and innocence portrayed as threatened, validating a campaign of unrestricted political violence.”
People in the third world as well as progressive forces in the west are understandably dismayed at the concentration of wealth built on power. Perhaps this explains the incredible number of demonstrators protesting the IMF and World Bank meetings.
Perhaps in the name of this power and the New World order, the US government does a lot of things with impunity: blockades on several countries (Cuba, Iraq etc), an incredible arms trade dominated by the US, refusal to abide by any environmental limits (US with 6% of the world’s population generates 35% of its pollution), a domineering role in the UN (vetoing many resolutions that would have been adopted otherwise), and great concentration and isparity of wealth.
American forces currently operate from bases in over 50 countries and we are directly engaged in supporting dictators and violators of human rights in most of these countries.
Can we assume that people will be still or stupid when they see justice and International law compromised, their independence obliterated, their resources and land taken away to benefit the rich and wealthy?
A little examination of history reveals that the biggest dangers to empires is when they spread themselves too thin, take on more than they can handle, and get simply too self centered and arrogant to see the world around them changing. The Roman, Ottoman, Spanish, Soviet, and British empires provide many lessons. Shall we learn these lessons in time?
Palestine and Israel and terrorism
Generally, any occupying or colonial power would label resistance to its occupation as terrorism (lumping some acts even when not terrorism but legitimate resistance). Examples include the French resistance to German occupation, the Algerian resistance to French occupation, the Palestinain resistance to British occupation, the South African black resistance to apartheid, the Afghan resistance to Russian occupation, and ofcourse the Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation. One must distinguish legitimate resistance to oppression and colonization, as approved in the United Nations Charter, from terrorism. In the context of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination this distinction has been intentionally obfuscated by the Zionists and their friends in the Western Media. Terror indeed occasionally rears its ugly head in acts of native populations against colonial power. Examples are too numerous to cite but include ANC “necklacing” of collaborators, native American attacks on civilians (including “scalping” which was first introduced by the Conquistadores), bombing of British and Arab civilian areas by Jewish groups in Palestine in the 1930s, Palestinian airplane hijacking and suicide bombings in civilian areas.
The Declaration on Principles of International Law (1970) emphasised that all states are under a duty to refrain from any forcible action which deprives people of their right to self-determination. The Declaration also notes that “in their actions against, and resistance to, such forcible action” such peoples could receive support in accordance with the purpose and principles of the UN Charter. Various UN resolutions have reaffirmed the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples for liberation from colonial domination and alien subjection, “by all available means including armed struggle” (see e.g. UNGA 3070, 3103, 3246, 3328, 3481, 31/91, 32/42 and 32/154). In article 1(4) of Protocol I (additional to the Geneva Conventions) considers self-determination struggles as international armed conflicts situations. The principle of self-determination itself provides that where forcible action has been taken to suppress the right, force may be used in order to counter this and achieve self-determination.
Palestinians did resort to terrorism as did the native Americans, the IRA, the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa and a many other movements. Palestinian terrorism was minuscule though compared to Israel’s use of terror which was both qualitatively and quantitatively far superior than that of the Palestinians. The number of people killed by terrorist actions by Israel both before its creation and after has far exceeded (usually by more than an order of magnitude) the number killed by Palestinian groups (Human Rights Organizations reports).
Terror, as a useful and purposeful policy was first adopted in the modern Middle East by Zionists. The first airplane hijacking was committed by Israel. On 12 December 1954 a civilian Syrian airliner was hijacked by Israel shortly after take-off. The first car-bomb was an invention of Zionists, as was the assassination of United Nations personnel. A Zionist truck-bomb blew up the King David hotel in Jerusalem killing 88 in 1946. Zionist terror in the 1930s and 1940s has been neglected in the discussion about terrorism in the Middle East.
Both former prime ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, as well as current Likud-leader Ariel Sharon, were terrorist commanders responsible for numerous atrocities, including acts against Jews. The archives of Haganah contain the names of forty Jews who were killed by Begin’s and Shamir’s groups (Nahum Barnea and Danny Rubenstein, Davar, 19 March 1982). The Zionist record of terror is long and bloody before the creation of Israel. In the single month of July 1938, the Irgun killed 76 Palestinians in terrorist attacks (Simha Flapan, Zionism and the Palestinians, St. Martin’s Press, 1977, ch. 2).
Before the Arab countries engaged in the Palestine/Israel conflict, Zionsit forces have already committed several of their massacres including the infamous one at Deir Yassin in April 9, 1948. More than half of the 531 Palestinian villages and towns were depopulated by Israeli military actions before Israel was established in May 15, 1948 and thus before the beginning of the first major Arab Israeli war (according to Israeli historians).
Between December 1947 and February 1949, 161 Palestinians were killed and 320 injured by Irgun, Stern and Haganah terrorist attacks on market-places and cafes. Bus atttacks in the same period killed fifteen Palestinians. On 30 December 1947 the Palmach, the strike forces of Haganah, attacked and massacred 60 Palestinian villagers of Bald as-Shaikh.
But Israel also continued to terrorize the natives into leaving even after the hostilities ended and cease-fires were signed. This post war ethnic cleansing occured in 64 of the 531 Palestinian localities depopulated according to Israeli historians.
More cross border massacres and terror ensued afterwards. 700 Regular Israeli troops (Force 101) attack the border village of Qibya on 10/14/53. The troops led by a young commander, Ariel Sharon, used mortars, machine guns, rifles and explosives. 42 houses are blown up as well as the local schools and the mosque. Every man, woman and child found were murdered in cold blood (a total of 75 according to independent estimates). Ben-Gurion initially claims this was carried out by “Jewish terrorists” and not by the IDF but this was later retracted. However, Qibya was only a minor massacre compared to those committed in Lebanon by Israel or its paid cronies (Sabra and Shatila, Qana etc.). Israeli actions were responsible in total for the killing of perhaps as many as 30-50,000 Palestinian and Lebanese civilians. Historians also now acknowledge that Israeli forces also executed hundreds of prisoners of war in the Sinai in 1967.
Some of the violence is directly attributed to basic racism. Israeli Rabbi Yitzhak Ginsburg, commenting on the Israeli killing of Palestinian demonstrators justified it by clarifying that killing isn’t murder if the victim is Gentile stating “Jewish blood and a goy’s [gentile’s] blood are not the same” (Jerusalem Post, June 19,1989).
As can be easily documented by any student of history, the recent violence against the Palestinian population is not new. This has gone on now for over 65 years. Before Israel was established, Zionism was born in blood and terrorism against the native population. Zionists did not even spare Jews from their terror tactics. Hagannah archives show dozens of Jews killed and Zionists planted bombs in the 1950s to scare Jewish Iraqis to leave for the promised land (see Gileadi’s excellent book on the topic).
Israel Eldad, has written, “Had it not been for Deir Yassin, half a million Arabs would be living in the State of Israel. The State of Israel would not have existed. We must not disregard this, with full awareness of the responsibility involved. All wars are cruel. There is no way out of that. This country will be Eretz Israel with an absolute Jewish majority and a small Arab minority, or Eretz Ishmaeléif we do not expel the Arabs one way or another.” “One way or another” is a chilling phrase for many Jewish Israelis who believe that “The solution of the transports, the trucks, is not the end of the story. There is a further stage, which the proponents of racist Zionism do not usually refer to explicitly, since the conditions for it are not yet ripe. But the principles are there, clear and inevitable. This is the stage of genocide, the destruction of the Palestinian people.” (Ibid., pp. 262 ? 263, citing Davis and Mezvinsky, eds. Documents from Israel, p. 187, and Yoram Peri, Davar, 3 August 1984, in Israeli Press Briefs, no. 28).
With the Likud assumption of power in 1977 and the subsequent rise of extreme right-wing forces in Israel, the most far-reaching proposals entered mainstream Zionist thinking and official circles. Such proposals, including Arab population removal, were outlined in an article by Oded Yinon entitled “A Strategy for Israel in the 1980s”, which appeared in the WZO’s periodical Kivunim in February 1982. The article called for Israel to bring about the dissolution and fragmentation of the Arab states into a mosaic of ethnic groupings. According to Yinon, the policy of Israel must be “to bring about the dissolution of Jordan; the termination of the problem of the [occupied] territories densely populated with Arabs west of the [River] Jordan; and emigration from the territories, and economic-demographic freeze in them.” He added, “we have to be active in order to encourage this change speedily, in the nearest time.”
Yinon believed, like many advocates of transfer in Israel, that “Israel has made a strategic mistake in not taking measures [of mass expulsion] towards the Arab population in the new territories during and shortly after the  war…. Such a line would have saved us the bitter and dangerous conflict ever since which we could have already then terminated by giving Jordan to the Palestinians.”
Israel is adept at learning new and improved methods in its campaign to colonize the land of Palestine. Benjamin Netanyhu, then Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister told students at Barllan University: “Israel should have exploited the repression of the demonstrations in China, when world attention focused on that country, to carry out mass explosions among the Arabs of the territories.” From the Israeli Journal Hotam (November 24,1989). Twelve years later, Israeli Defense Minister Ben Eliezer told the Yediot Aharonot Newspaper 13 Sept. 2001 two days after the terrorist attack on the US: “It is a fact that we have killed 14 Palestinians in Jenin, Kabatyeh and Tammun, with the world remaining absolutely silent. It’s a disaster for Arafat,”
Leadership thought in Israel concentrated on two models to deal with Palestinians: direct terror and power with thinning those in the areas or an apartheid like system to confine and control them. Referring to members of underground Jewish organizations in occupied areas in 1984, General Yehoshafat Harkabi observed that “they are rational people whose chief motivation stems from their awareness that annexation of the West Bank together with its Arab population would be disastrous and tantamount to national suicide ? unless that population were thinned out and made to flee by means of terrorismé”. He added that terrorism was “the logical, rational conclusion of the policy that aims at annexation. Such terrorism is neither a punishment nor a deterrent; it is a political instrument” (David McDowall, The Uprising and Beyond, p. 262, citing Ha’aretz, 11 May 1984).
The US’s overall role has been even more horrendous. We must remember that the US took over from the British the role of policeman of the Middle East. Henry Kissinger codified US foreign policy in this area in the 1970’s. They include our “unique” relationship with Israel, ensuring stability (status quo with loyal Arab ductators), keeping the flow of cheep oil in our direction and arms in the other direction, massive foreign aid centered on advancing these goals (currently several $billion per year to Israel alone), commitment to keeping Israeli military superiority to any combined regional force, and commitment to not do anything against Israeli interests. Clinton, Gore, and Bush repeatedly emphasized this latter point by pledging never to pressure Israel (not even when US interests are at stake). Even as the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) escalated attacks on civilians recently, Congress approved additional military aid and passed a resolution supporting Israel.
Admiral Thomas Moorer of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (See Washington Report 12/1999, p.124 quoting from Andrew Hurley’s book, “One Nation Under Israel” wrote in this regard: “I’ve never seen a president –I don’t care who he is– stand up to them [the Israelis]. It just boggles your mind. They always get what they want. The Israelis know what’s going on all the time. I got to the point where I wasn’t writing anything down. If the American people understood what grip those people have on our government, they would rise up in arms. Our citizens don’t have any idea what goes on.”
The Oslo “peace process “represented a new “tool to reach traditional [Israeli] objectives” (quote from Israeli Prime Minister Rabin). Those objectives include the desire to resolve the impasse in the territories (demographic) by means of an apartheid system since Israel is not capable of fulfilling the right wing aspirations without significant cost. Interestingly, things have gotten worse for the Palestinians since Oslo (but obviously better for the Israeli military policy). Israel having policed the occupied people for so long was weary and tired and wanted the Oslo accords as a way to legitimize the occupation while removing the burden of being in direct policing of Palestinians. The idea was to have jailers who are Palestinians. If you read the Oslo accords, that is what most of the lines deal about. Under the guise of “security”, it was demanded that free speech be inhibited, that any opposition to this sham peace be silenced etc. It became a mantra for Israeli politicians when confronted with issues of human rights or international law (settlements, refugees etc) to simply say that “we are discussing these things at the table.” This provided them with the cover to accelerate land confiscations, settlement expansions and building bypass roads.
In the meantime Jewish settlers/colonizers were given a free hand to loot, kill, and terrorize the native Palestinians. Ha’aretz Editorial on 10/28/1998 reported that “while the Palestinian Authority is asked to bring all its force to bear against the Hamas infrastructure, it appears that Israel is indifferent to the fanatic, violent infrastructure in the areas under its control.”
In our search for answers to the violence in this world we should always remember the history lest we repeat the same mistakes and breed more violence. To truly “drain the swamp” that breeds terror (as Powell put it), we must tackle the forces and powers filling the swamp: economic deprivation and injustice. Only by being aware and working for justice and non-violence can we hope to truly “fight terrorism.”
“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places – and there are so many – where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.” Howard Zinn (You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A personal history of our times, p. 208)
(Dr. Mazin B. Qumsiyeh is Chair of the Media Committee, The Palestine Right to Return Coalition)