Israeli State Terror:A Policy of "Might, Force, and Blows"
By Naseer Aruri
The U.S. and Israel have an interesting perspective on the meaning of "terrorism." President Reagan often describes terrorism as an international conspiracy (similar to his definition of communism) directed against the United States and its "way of life." The State of Israel uses a similar definition when justifying its repression of Palestinian aspirations. While Israel and the U.S. share a similar definition of "terrorism," how they use the term depends very much upon to whom they are referring.
In his 1984 speech before the Jonathan Institute, Secretary of State Shultz quoted the words of the late Senator Henry Jackson, who addressed the same forum in 1979. Senator Jackson had said:
The idea that one person's "terrorist" is another's "freedom fighter" cannot be sanctioned. Freedom fighters or revolutionaries don't blow up buses containing non‑combatants; terrorist murderers do. Freedom fighters don't set out to capture and slaughter school children; terrorist murderers do. Freedom fighters don't assassinate innocent businessmen, or hijack and hold hostage innocent men, women, and children; terrorist murderers do. It is a disgrace that democracies would allow the treasured word "freedom" to be associated with the acts of terrorists.
However, in his personal diary, which was published against the wishes of the Israeli establishment, former Israeli Prime Minister Moshe Sharett reveals that Israeli military operations against Arab civilian populations were designed to terrorize them and create fear, tension and instability.[iv] Sharett's documentation shows that Israel's territorial expansion (such as in the Suez in 1956) was facilitated by Israeli acts of provocation, which generated Arab hostility and created pretexts for intervention. For example, the attack by Israeli Army Unit 101 led by Ariel Sharon on the Palestinian village of Kibya in October 1953, causing numerous civilian casualties and destruction of homes, was condemned by Sharett. He writes, "[In the cabinet meeting] I condemned the Kibya affair that exposed us in front of the whole world as a gang of blood‑suckers, capable of mass massacres regardless it seems, of whether their actions may lead to war."
Israeli State Terrorism
More recent accounts by Israeli writers show how earlier acts of terrorism provided a historical background to adoption of a policy of state terrorism by Israel.[vi] Benny Morris's explanation of the Palestinian exodus in 1948,. based on state, military and Zionist archives, refutes the official Israeli version that the Palestinians bear responsibility for their own expulsion. An earlier work by Irish journalist Erskine Childers demonstrated that, contrary to the official Israeli version, there were no Arab radio broadcasts ordering the Palestinians to leave.[vii] And Israeli journalist Tom Segev reveals in his book how instrumental was Zionist terrorism in the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem. Sixteen months after 250 Arab civilians were massacred in the village of Deir Yassin (April 9,1948) by the combined forces of ETZEL (known as Menachem Begin's Irgun) and LEHI (known as Yitzhak Shamir's Stern Gang) there was a debate in the Israeli set in which, according to Segev, a member of Begin's Herut Party had boasted: "Thanks to Deir Yassin, we won the war,"
Another account by Lenny Brenner[ix] reveals that Israeli Prime Minister Shamir was a convert to the pre‑Mussolini Betar (Zionist Brownshirts) in the late 1930s and that his Stern Gang had attempted to strike a deal with the Nazi regime in Germany in 1941 in which the establishment of a Jewish state, in Palestine on a "totalitarian basis" would be bound by a treaty with the German Reich.
Shamir's commitment to rightwing causes and to terrorism was unmistakably revealed in an article he wrote in the LEHI journal Hehazit (The Front) in the summer of 1943. This excerpt stands in contrast to Shamir's constant moralizing and condemnation of what he calls "PLO terrorism:"
Neither Jewish ethics nor Jewish tradition can disqualify terrorism as a means of combat.... [T]errorism is for us a part of the political battle being conducted under the present circumstances, and it has a great part to play: speaking in a clear voice to the whole world, as well as to our wretched brethren outside this land, it proclaims our war against the occupier.
Shamir's cabinet colleague Yitzhak Rabin who, as Defense Minister in charge of the occupied territories, proclaimed the policy of "might, force, and blows" in January 1988 (which has so far resulted in an estimated 281 deaths, more than 50,000 injuries and 30,000 detentions) has also had a consistent record of terrorism for more than forty years. As the deputy commander of Operation Dani, he, along with the late former Prime Minister David Ben‑Gurion and the late former Deputy Prime Minister Yigal Aflon, were responsible for the expulsion of between 50,000 and 70,000 people from the towns of Lydda and Ramleh in July 1948. The town of Ramleh had surrendered without a fight after the withdrawal of the Jordan Army but the inhabitants were rounded up, expelled and told never to come back. Benny Morris characterized that as the "biggest expulsion operation of the 1948 war." Rabin expressed empathy with "the great suffering inflicted upon" his men who caused the expulsion!
One of those expelled was a 13‑year‑old boy by the name of Khalil al‑Wazir, later known as Abu Jihad. Yitzhak Rabin, who was responsible for that act as a member of the Zionist militia, was one of the inner cabinet decision makers who decided; forty years later, to assassinate al‑Wazir far away from his home in Ramleh. The man who headed the inner cabinet, Yitzhak Shamir, told an inquirer who wanted to know who killed Abu Jihad, "I heard about it on the radio."
It was typical of the official response to the killing; claims of ignorance, broad hints that Abu Jihad's responsibility for the Palestinian uprising could only trigger that kind of response, and the usual reference to a factional conflict within the Palestinian movement as being responsible for the assassination. In fact, the murder of Abu Jihad is the latest incident in a continuous pattern of Israeli assassinations of Palestinian leaders and intellectuals among whom are Karmal al‑Adwan, Ghassan Kanafani, Kamal Nasser, Majid Abu Sharar, AbuYurif and many others.
In a New York Times article summarizing the official Israeli interpretation of its own policies, Thomas Friedman maintains that Israel endeavors to "turn terror back on the terrorists." This strategy has gone through several different stages. For the period of 1948‑1956 the strategy was described as "counterterrorism through retaliation or negative feedback" and was employed against Egypt and Jordan to prevent border crossings by Palestinian refugees attempting, in the main, to check on the conditions of their former homes."[xi] By 1972, Israel was striking against "the nerve centers and the perpetrators themselves" using letter bombs, exploding cars and telephones, and quiet assassinations of Palestinian leaders and intellectuals on the back streets of Europe. Later acts of terrorism including the destruction of entire villages in Lebanon, raids on Beirut, Baghdad, and Tunis have become typical of Israeli policy towards Arab non‑acceptance of its regional hegemony. Such acts have rarely evoked U.S. condemnation. In fact the Reagan administration characterized Israel's raid on the PLO headquarters in Tunis as an act of self‑defense.
U.S. and Israel ‑"Special" Relationship
Strategic cooperation between Israel and the U.S. was consummated between 1982 and 1988 and has dramatically elevated Israel's role in U.S. global strategic calculation. By 1983, the Reagan administration had accepted the Israeli view that the Palestine question was not the principal cause of instability in the Middle East. Henceforth, it would not be allowed to interfere in the "special relationship" between a superpower and its strategic ally.
In the special relationship between the United States and Israel, the latter is considered a "unique strategic asset".[xii] In the crucial Middle East, Israel is viewed as the cornerstone of American policy, which is perceived as a bulwark against the Soviet Union and radical revolutionary transformation. Outside the Middle East, Israel has emerged as the most important supplier of the technology of repression, anti‑guerrilla training, and infrastructure to combat revolution, all euphemistically phrased "counterterrorism." Israel ranks as the fifth largest exporter of arms in the world, according to CIA estimates, and it has become an essential component of the global counterinsurgency business. "Hit lists" used by the death squads in Guatemala have been computerized with Israeli assistance and the Uzi machine gun is the standard weapon of the death squads. The special relationship between the U.S. and Israel is a two‑way street. Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. economic and military aid and in return Israel has much to offer the U.S. The Reagan administration has publicly declared that Israel's substantial experience and "success" in coping with terrorism should provide guidance for the United States. When George Shultz spoke at a New York synagogue in 1984 he said:
No nation has more experience with terrorism than Israel, and no nation has made a greater contribution to our understanding of the problem and the best way to confront it. By supporting organizations like the Jonathan Institute, named after the brave Israeli soldier who led and died at Entebbe, the Israeli people have raised international awareness of the global scope of the terrorist threat.... [T]he rest of us would do well to follow Israel's example. [xiii]
The fact that the U.S. and Israel are so closely allied and use the same criteria for defining who are "terrorists" and who are not, necessarily makes the U.S. a dubious participant in mediating the Israeli‑Palestinian conflict and brings into question the possible results of U.S.‑sponsored negotiations with George Shultz behind the wheel.
When Secretary of State Shultz became the Reagan administration's chief proponent of close strategic cooperation with Israel he went far beyond the initiatives of his predecessor Alexander Haig. Haig's framework for U.S. Middle East policy was the "consensus of strategic concerns," which would bring together a conservative constellation of regional powers that would include Israel. Shultz's framework, however, promoted Israel to the center of U.S. policy and assigned it a global role in addition to its regional duties on behalf of the status quo. Thus with Shultz in power, the United States conducted its Middle East policy on the basis of the "consensus of strategic concern" plus the special relationship with Israel.
With all the attention George Shultz received on his five trips to the Middle East in the last six months, and with the outcome never in question, it is important to ask, "What were the real objectives behind the 'Shultz shuttles?' "
Reagan's Commitment to Peace American involvement in the Middle East since the 1967 war reveals a number of precedents for unimplementable peace plans actually designed to justify U.S. obstruction of the global consensus and to contain Palestinian nationalism. An example was the Reagan plan of September 1, 1982 which denied sovereignty over the West Bank and Gaza to Israel and the Palestinians. Its territorial and confederal aspects evoked a swift yet predictable rejection from the Israeli cabinet.
The principal spur for the Reagan plan was the seige of Beirut, which tarnished Israel's image and at the same time provided a catalyst in the world community for linking PLO withdrawal to Palestinian statehood. To justify its virtual sole dissent from the international will, the Reagan administration felt obliged to launch its own initiative based on "the Jordan option," which proved to be a non‑option.
More recently, Reagan has sent his premier ambassador of peace, George Shultz, to the Middle East to again make a public press for a settlement. However, knowing that Israel will not meet even the minimum requirements for a territorial settlement, what then does Mr. Shultz hope to accomplish in view of the fact that his initiative lacks any means of pressuring Israel?
The U.S. has three objectives:
1. The Shultz plan is an attempt to contain the Palestinian uprising and prevent its extension to U.S. allies and clients in the region. It is also designed to repair Israel's tarnished image in the United States.
2. The United States would like to set the terms before any other actor emerges with a plan for settlement. The Soviet Union, which has been trying to broaden its options in the region, is one such actor. The Arab states or the PLO are also possible sources of peace initiatives. The Shultz Plan represents a reaffirmation of U.S. custodianship over the Middle East. It serves as a reminder that the area is U.S. turf and hence it is designed to elbow out or preempt any genuine proposals for a settlement.
3. The plan also attempts to bridge the gap between the requirements of public opinion and those of public policy in the United States. The U.S. has broken barriers for the first time in the Middle East. The public mood in this country has changed and the people seem ready for a political settlement. Yet Palestine has never been high on the official agenda. There is no sense in Washington that the Palestine question is urgent. Unless it becomes urgent, there will be no movement towards peace.
America's policy objectives in the region center on oil and containment of Soviet influence as well as contairnnent of the natives. As long as Palestine does not interfere with these objectives, the administration feels no compulsion to initiate peace proposals. But given that the public mood has changed in this country, the Shultz plan offers the U.S. public a rejectable plan, which would absolve Washington of responsibility for the impasse.
The Reagan administration clearly perceives the uprising as a political threat to its hegemony in the region and would like to check its potential for extension beyond the occupied territories into Arab countries ruled by conservative regimes. The administration is also concerned about Israel's repressive image‑perhaps more than Israel itself‑in the United States. Washington's strategic relationship with Israel must continue to have the blessings of American public opinion.
Hence, Shultz's sudden awakening to the fact that the unresolved Palestine‑ Israel conflict is a threat to the status quo and his embarking upon a mission to save Israel in spite of itself. The erosion of U.S. public support for Reagan's policy towards Israel is seen as a dangerous strategic step backward, and his administration is desperately trying to counter the bad publicity.
Shultz's endeavor turned out to be a series of diplomatic shuttles not only between Arab capitals and Israel but also between the two heads of the Israeli government. His diplomacy seems to operate on the assumption that the crucial choices are between Israel's Likud preference for functional autonomy (which keeps "Greater Israel" intact as the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are enfranchised in the Jordanian state), and Labor's "territorial" autonomy, which is a diminutive version of the Jordan option. His diplomacy also assumes that the only choices are between Labor's cosmetic international conference and Likud's direct negotiations.
The fact that the Jordan option is dead, that the concept of a Palestinian‑Jordanian delegation is unacceptable, and that the Camp David formula is discredited throughout the Arab World seems to have escaped Mr. Shultz's attention. The outcome of Shultz's diplomacy has so far worked for the benefit of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. Shamir's visit to the U.S. in March 1988, ostensibly to discuss peace with the Reagan administration, enabled him to respond to U.S. critics of Israeli repression in the occupied territories, to raise funds in the American Jewish community and to solidify and upgrade the U.S. strategic alliance. In his visit, Shamir repeated the Israeli position that the Palestinian uprising was not a demonstration of civil disobedience but a war waged "against Israelis, against the existence of the State of Israel;" hence, he declared the media coverage unfair and non‑contextual. This theme was dutifully repeated by prominent American Jewish figures such as Morris Abram, chairman of the Council of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, and New York Mayor Edward Koch, among others.
"Elder statesman" Henry Kissinger, who had erected the principal barrier to a Palestinian‑Israeli settlement back in 1974, and who was willing to bomb Vietnam back to the stone age, was already on record one week prior to Shamir's visit as saying, "Israel should bar the media... accept the short term criticism ... and put down the insurrection as quickly as possible‑overwhelmingly, brutally, and rapidly."'
The recent dramatic ascendancy of the far right in the Israeli body politic, and the rampant anti‑Arab racism sweeping the country, provide a fertile environment for the kind of state terrorism witnessed today on the West Bank and in Gaza.
The orientation of this rapidly growing group toward brute force and its contempt for debate is partly the cause for the sharp increase in repression against Palestinian civilians under occupation. Worse yet is the tendency of members of the political and religious establishment to encourage such acts of terrorism. [xvi] Given the close and special relationship between the U.S. and Israel, given the fact that no prominent U.S. politician is willing to condemn Israel publicly for its repression of the Palestinians and given that the U.S. and Israel share the same understanding of what terrorism is, it seems likely that if peace is to come to the Middle East it will be in spite of what the U.S. and Israel do.
Naseer Aruri is Professor of Political Science at Southeastern Massachuetts University in North Dartmouth. His most recent book is entitled: Occupation Israel over Palestine.