Wholesale terrorism escalates: the threat of genocide

Wholesale terrorism escalates: the threat of genocide

Edward S. Herman

FOR DECADES IT HAS BEEN THE STANDARD practice of the U.S. mainstream media to designate Palestinian attacks on Israelis as acts of “terrorism,” whereas acts of Israeli violence against Palestinians are described as “retaliation” and “counter-terror.” This linguistic asymmetry has been based entirely on political bias. Virtually all definitions of terrorism, if applied on a nonpolitical basis, would find a wide array of Israeli operations and acts of violence straightforward terrorism. Thus, a standard dictionary definition calls terrorism “a mode of governing, or of opposing government, by intimidation.” A U.S. government definition describes it as “a violent act intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population.” Benjamin Netanyahu himself defines terrorism as “the deliberate and systematic murder, maiming, and menacing to inspire fear for political ends.” (1)

That Israel’s use of force against Palestinians regularly fits these definitions is crystal clear. This was even openly admitted by former Israeli U.N. Ambassador and Foreign Minister Abba Eban in a response to a letter published in the Israeli press by Prime Minister Menahem Begin in August 1981. Begin had railed against the hypocritical Labor Alignment’s criticisms of his bombing of Beirut in that year, which had killed hundreds of civilians, by giving a “partial list” of 30 civilian sites bombed by Labor governments. Begin pointed out that these attacks had regularly inflicted casualties on “Arab civilian populations.” (2) Eban replied harshly to Begin, but not only did he not deny Begin’s facts, he went on to say that deliberate attacks on civilians were defensible when serving larger ends, as when “there was a rational prospect, ultimately fulfilled, that afflicted populations [i.e., innocent civilians deliberately bombed] would exert pressure on governments for the cessation of hostilities.” (3)

Eban’s statement, which admits and justifies deliberate bombing of civilians to intimidate, and which fits both the U.S. official definition and Netanyahu’s definition of terrorism as well, was never quoted in the New York Times or any other U.S. mainstream media institution. But it, plus Begin’s statement, constitute open acknowledgement by the Israeli leadership that Israel has engaged in serious terrorism and is a terrorist state. This was also admitted by Israeli Chief of Staff Mordechai Gur, who pointed out back in 1978 that for years Israel has been “fighting against a population that lives in villages and cities,” citing as examples bombardments that cleared the Jordan Valley of all inhabitants and others that drove a million and a half people from the Suez Canal region. (4) Israeli military analyst Deev Schiff summarized Gur’s remarks as follows: “In South Lebanon we struck the civilian population consciously, because they deserved it…[T]he importance of Gur’s remarks is the admission that the Israe li army has always struck civilian populations, purposely and consciously…the army, he said, has never distinguished civilian [from military] targets…[but] purposely attacked civilian targets even when Israeli settlements had not been struck.” (5)

The Diary of former Israeli Prime Minister Moshe Sharett is another source of evidence that Israel has deliberately targeted civilians, taking advantage of its military superiority and the knowledge that the friendly Western governments and servile U.S. and other Western media would look the other way. Sharett claimed that there were repeated unprovoked attacks across borders designed to destabilize neighboring countries and provoke military responses to which Israel could then answer with escalated violence. Sharett was a relative dove, and was shaken by the ruthlessness of the Israeli military establishment–“the long chain of false incidents and hostilities we have invented, and so many clashes we have provoked,” the “narrow-mindedness and short-sightedness of our military leaders,… [who] seem to presume that the State of Israel may–or even must–behave in the realm of international relations according to the law of the jungle.” (6) Sharett himself referred to this long effort as Israel’s “sacred terror ism.” But again, Sharett’s diary is not a favored source of the New York Times or Washington Post, and for them and their media colleagues Israel has never engaged in terrorism, sacred or otherwise.

The admission of actions that fit the definition of terrorism occurs even today–Ariel Sharon told the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz on March 5, 2002, “Don’t expect Arafat to act against the terror. We have to cause them heavy casualties and then they’ll know they can’t keep using terror and win political achievements.” He was also quoted as saying that the Palestinians must be “hit hard until they beg for mercy.” This brings him close to Eban’s 1981 statement that “afflicted populations” attacked by Israel might exert pressure to force their governments to terminate hostile actions. It never occurred to Eban and it does not worry Sharon that the attacking of civilian populations and inflicting “heavy casualties” on them is itself terrorism; they leave it to their Western apologists to make it clear that only their victims terrorize; they merely retaliate.

Sharett was wrong; in a laudatory article on General Ariel Sharon in the New York Times Magazine of October 18, 1981, Amos Perlmutter claimed that the slaughter at Qibya was based on knowledge of where terrorists came from, and was a genuine retaliation, an outright fabrication. Even more interesting is the fact that over the last twenty years at least, mentions of Sharon in the New York Times have never cited Qibya, a clear case of a civilian massacre, with numbers killed greater than the more problematic Racak massacre of January 15, 1999, and with most of victims at Qibya women and children, in contrast with Racak, an incident that was used to justify the bombing of Yugoslavia. (8)

Interestingly, and relevant to the situation today, back in the early 1950s Moshe Sharett was enraged at the claim that a cross-border massacre of 66-70 Pales tinian civilians at Qibya in October 1953 by Israeli army Unit 41, headed by Ariel Sharon, was a “retaliatory” action carried out by “border settlers in Israel, people from Arab countries and survivors from the Nazi concentration camps,” as Israeli officials alleged. Sharett wrote in his diary that “Such a version will make us appear ridiculous; any child would say that this was a military operation,” as was tacitly conceded much later. Sharett condemned this massacre in a cabinet meeting, warning that “this stain will stick to us and will not be washed away for many years to come.” (7)

In considering the terrorism issue it is important to distinguish between what we may call “retail” and “wholesale” terrorism. The former is the small-scale violence engaged in by individuals and small groups who have limited capability of terrorizing as compared to states. Wholesale terrorism is the large-scale violence that is carried out by states, as only states have the weaponry to kill on a large scale, (9) and only states can terrorize by the use of torture on an administrative basis.

Israel has in fact used torture on an administrative basis for decades, without serious criticism from the West let alone penalties for this serious form of state terrorism. Its use has been normalized, aided by suppression or very low key treatment of evidence. When the London Times published an in-depth investigative study of Israeli torture back in 1977, which it claimed was already extensive and institutionalized, (10) its offer of publication rights to this study to the New York Times and Washington Post was rejected. The first mention of the study in the New York Times was a back-page article that featured Israel’s denial of the charges. An April 1992 report by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem estimated that 5,000 Palestinians had been tortured in the prior year, or some 420 per month. A New York Times article the following year acknowledged in passing that 400-500 Palestinians were being subjected to torture each month, but this was framed in terms of the Israelis “rethinking” the merits of this treatment. (11) This major form of terrorism was normalized, here and throughout the mainstream media.

Israel’s wholesale terrorism is also displayed in the large numbers killed and put to flight and made refugees. A tabulation made by this writer in 1989, which compared PLO killings of Israelis from 1968 through 1981 with Israeli killings through 1989, showed that in five separate episodes Israel killed larger numbers than the 14 year aggregate of PLO killings; and it also showed that total Israeli killings were a large multiple of PLO killings (between 17 and 27 to 1). (12) Interestingly, with the recent wave of suicide bombings in Israel sharply increasing Israeli casualties, New York Times reporter James Bennet has noted that the ratio of Palestinian to Israeli casualties in the first intifada, 25 to 1, has fallen during the second intifada to only three to one. (13) Bennet’s 25 to 1 estimate, in the same range as shown in the 1989 tabulation, represents the expected difference between wholesale and retail killings. A well-armed state like Israel can and does inflict far more violence on the Palestinians t han the Palestinians have been able to inflict on Israelis. The New York Times has never addressed this huge differential and explained how it is that only the side that has suffered massive victimization as measured by rates of killing is guilty of terrorism.

Israel has also terrorized by small and large deportations and expulsions of non-Jewish populations, in fact engaging in long-term policies of what would be called “ethnic cleansing” if carried out by a non-U.S. client or targeted state. (14) In addition to the massive and rapid expulsions of 1947-48, and the vast clearings of the Jordan Valley and Suez Canal regions in 1970 mentioned by Gur, the Israelis drove 250,000 or more from their homes in the 1978 invasion of Lebanon. But expulsions have been steady in the Occupied Territories over many years, whenever there is land desired by Israelis for their own use, as the Israelis “redeem the land” from unworthy–that is, non-Jewish–inhabitants.

These expulsions fit the category of state terrorism far more clearly than Serbian actions in Kosovo that led to a NATO bombing war, as the Serb actions were military operations in a civil conflict and not a deliberate forcing out of people to make way for Serb occupation. A German Foreign Office report was clear on this point: “The actions of the security forces [were] not directed against the Kosovo-Albanians as an ethnically defined group, but against the military opponent and its actual and alleged supporters.” (15) In contrast, Israeli army operations up to the commencement of Intifada 2, which included hundreds of demolitions of exclusively Palestinian homes, were clearly aimed at an ethnically-defined group, with their task the removal of the non-Jewish occupants from land desired for Jewish settlement.

Israel’s policies of taking over land for Jewish use by force, sometimes incremental, sometimes by large-scale expulsions, is a form of terrorism and ethnic cleansing that rests on a Nazi-like quest for lebensraum sought on behalf of a superior race–the “chosen people.” How in the modem age can such a regressive, brutal and racist policy be sustained, even at a time then Western moralists talk about a new higher morality now guiding Western leaders who will no longer countenance “ethnic cleansing” and human rights violations? How can an Ariel Sharon, the murderer of 66-70 civilians at Qibya, responsible for the slaughter of between 800 and 3,000 mainly women and children at Sabra and Shatila in 1982, be accepted as a legitimate leader of a state in 2002? Carlos the Jackal, the notorious terrorist was reputed to have killed perhaps 80 or 90 people in his terrorist career, most of them not women and children. Can you imagine the Western response if Carlos had been elected head of state in a Soviet satellite be fore the Soviet collapse?

Israel’s ethnic cleansing and state terrorism can proceed, year after year, decade after decade, because of unwavering U.S. support. The United States has armed Israel, gives it massive subsidies, and protects it diplomatically, politically, and by threat of armed force, as it kills, removes, and terrorizes Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and periodically invades its neighboring countries (Lebanon repeatedly). The United States has vetoed UN resolutions some 60 times in order to protect Israel from any international sanctions, allowing it to ignore UN and Security Council resolutions and to commit systematic “war crimes” in violating the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 in its dispossessions and settlements in the Occupied Territories. UN votes are regularly in the order of 150+ to two or three, but as the United States is one of the two or three, the international consensus is powerless and every law and moral standard can be, and has been, violated by Israel.

Why the United States underwrites Israeli ethnic cleansing and state terrorism is in dispute, mainly as to the weight to be given three factors that are part of the mix. The first, and the one widely viewed as of central importance, is that Israel has been given the role of U.S. proxy and military arm to help pacify the locals in an oil-rich area of great economic and strategic interest to the United States. It has also served U.S. imperial interests more broadly, covertly servicing U.S. clients and allies like apartheid South Africa, Mobutu, and various unsavory regimes in Latin America that U.S. officials did not want to seem to be aiding. (16) Of course, supporting Israel has created a fair amount of turmoil and instability in the Middle East, but on the other hand, the system has worked. Fearful and authoritarian Arab regimes in the area, kept in line by U.S. money and protection along with Israel’s interventions and threats, have made possible U.S. domination and exploitation of the local oil resources, despite much dissatisfaction among the underlying Arab populations.

A second factor is the power of the pro-Israel lobby in the United States (and Europe as well), which has maintained great pressure on domestic politicians and the media, helping reinforce the view of a joint interest in supporting Israel. (17) Politicians have been fearful of crossing the lobby, which has been quite successful in ousting those who they considered hostile to Israeli interests, and many politicians have taken a pro-Israel stance quite openly out of fear or financial need. (18) The media have also been kept under siege, helping keep inconvenient facts from public view, causing a huge skew in allowable commentary, and enforcing frames of reference that serve Israeli interests (see below).

A third factor is racism, with the Palestinians and Arabs taking on the scapegoat and easy-to-hate role that the Jews and anti-Semitism played in the pre-World War II era. The shift in stereotypes has been dramatic, although the extent of use and the nastiness of anti-Arab caricatures and derogation in recent years greatly exceeds that once levied at Jews. (19)

As noted, the role of the U.S. government in facilitating and even underwriting Israel’s wholesale terrorism has been crucial. Yugoslavia could be bombed on the grounds of the alleged intolerability of ethnic cleansing to U.S. policy-makers, but Israel suffers not the slightest impediment from REAL long-term ethnic cleansing, and is aided and protected in its cleansing and violence. This is rationalized on the ground that Israel is the victim of terrorism, but does not itself terrorize, a view dutifully expounded in the mainstream media. As noted, this is a miracle of Orwellian word usage, as the use of force to remove Palestinians, the extremely clear ethnic double standard, the long 25 to one ratio of killings by the alleged victim state, and even the open admission of people like Abba Eban and Ariel Sharon of the intent to use force to coerce “afflicted populations,” does not interfere with the political requirement that the Israelis are only the victims of terrorism.

Each successive U.S. president lines up with the Israelis and supports their wholesale terror, and further ethnic cleansing, with great indignation at the responsive retail terrorism. George W. Bush has now joined Ariel Sharon in a “war on terrorism,” calling on Arafat, for a lengthy period confined to a room in Ramallab, to stop the suicide bombings (over which he has had very little control), so that the “peace process”–that is, the status quo of a cruel and illegal occupation, with steady low-intensity warfare and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians–could be renewed.

Sharon’s intent now is evidently to destroy the Palestinian political organization and authority, by killings and decimation of infrastructure, and to so crush and demoralize the population that they will no longer have the power to resist the occupation. Many may move away, in a system of voluntary transfer; many will die; others will be expelled. The Israeli army may permanently occupy much of the former Palestinian enclaves, and it may be further divided into mini-Bantustans under limited Palestinian control.

Sharon and his U.S. friends like to refer to his military assaults as a “war,” but wars usually occur between states, and where the imbalance of forces is immense, we have not war but a deliberate slaughter under a system of state terrorism. The case at hand is more like the Nazi attack on the Warsaw ghetto, and in fact one senior Israeli military officer recommended a study of that struggle as a good illustration of the problems encountered in destroying and pacifying a civilian population resisting an occupation; a study that the army should “analyze and internalize the lessons of….” (20)

The new invasion and occupation has been carried out in violation of virtually every law of war, as well as violating even more blatantly the Fourth Geneva Convention. Amnesty International speaks of Geneva Convention violations over the past 18 months as “committed daily, hourly, even every minute, by the Israeli authorities against Palestinians.” (21) While claiming to be only going after the “terrorist infrastructure,” the Israeli army has been destroying large numbers of civilian residences, killing civilians, attacking and damaging hospitals and preventing access to hospitals, depriving civilian populations of water, food and electricity, and vandalizing everywhere. Uri Avnery argues convincingly that Sharon’s “war” is not to “destroy the infrastructure of terrorism;” rather, it is to “turn the people into human wreckage that can be dealt with as he wishes. This may entail shutting them up in several enclaves or even driving them out of the country altogether.” (22)

Sharon, following in the tradition of Begin and Eban, has acknowledged an intent to attack civilians. Furthermore, the overall Sharon operation, both in working details and strategic conception, very clearly fits the “genocide” category of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Article 2 (c) identifying as genocide the “Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.” Articles 2 (a) and (b) refer to killing (a) and “causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group.” The fit of the word genocide to the Sharon “war” is far better than to Kosovo where, before the period of joint NATO-KLA warfare with the Serbs (March 24-June 10, 1999), the Serbs were fighting an ugly civil war, but were not trying to degrade the conditions of life of Albanians and push them out to make way for settlements by a Serb “chosen people.”

The genocidal Israeli operation has not only received a green light from the Bush administration, even as international observers and-hesitantly, inadequately, and with “balance”–the U.S. media, were reporting major war crimes, the Bush administration continued to oppose international monitors, continued to admonish Arafat, and continued to sanction the wholesale Israeli terror. Cohn Powell visited a site of a suicide bombing, but could not bring himself to visit Jenin. His advice to Israel? “Prime Minister Sharon has to take a hard look at his policies to see whether they work,” and if Sharon concludes that they do work (and Powell and his boss George W. Bush would not question his aims), so be it.

The media’s role in making this massive operation of state terrorism acceptable has, of course, been extremely important. It has built on the already institutionalized bias of many years standing, which has been continued and extended. Relevant elements of bias include: (1) suppressing Sharon’s historic record as a terrorist commander; (2) giving hugely disproportionate weight to Israeli as compared to Palestinian suffering; (3) maintaining the traditional pattern of making the Palestinian attacks unprovoked and not retaliatory, the Israelis always retaliating; and (4), most important, ignoring or playing down the cruel, illegal and racist occupation and ethnic cleansing, including institutionalized torture and collective punishment, which have degraded and made desperate the Palestinian population.

Instead of framing the struggle around an illegal and cruel occupation, the U.S. mainstream media use a frame that rationalizes Israel’s relentless dispossessions, discrimination, brutalization, and now with Sharon, open devastation and massacre. After all, did not Barak offer the Palestinians a great deal at Camp David, etc., etc., so is not Palestinian terror based on a refusal to accept Israel’s existence? This is straight out of Orwell, turning the real Israeli refusal to allow the Palestinians the right to live freely on their own traditional territory, steadily abusing, humiliating and pushing them out, into a mythical threat to the existence of a powerful state that continues to ethnically cleanse with the approval and under the protection of the superpower.

The U.S. media work in this Orwellian world by refusing to feature what for most of the world is the basic issue–Israel’s steadily expanding and brutal and illegal military occupation. During the Sharon assault on the Palestinians the media have paid no attention to his opening of 34 new settlement outposts, his declaration that no settlements would be abandoned, and the April 24th announcement of the first stages of construction work to connect two West Bank settlements by building housing for 480 Jewish families.

The media have also treated very gently the ongoing Sharon assault, which U.N. Middle East envoy Terje Roed-Larsen described as “horrific beyond belief’ and which led veteran correspondent Janine di Giovanni to say that “Rarely, in more than a decade of war reporting from Bosnia, Chechnya, Sierra Leone, Kosovo, have I seen such deliberate destruction, such disrespect for human life.” These people do not understand that, as Elie Wiesel told an audience in Philadelphia on April 28. these are necessary responses to terrorism, and that “even the [Israeli] soldiers are sad; they don’t like what they are doing.”

The Sharon attacks have been so extensive and blatant that the U.S. mainstream media have eventually been unable to avoid reporting on the deliberate bull-dozing and rocket-bombing of civilian homes, barring of access to medical facilities, and systematic vandalism in Jenin and other towns. (23) Nevertheless, given the large numbers of surviving victims with harrowing stories to relate, the reporting of the Sharon violence and terror has been slight; likewise, the photos of death and destruction, and the readily available human interest stories have been inadequately emphasized, and the indignation largely absent. The more detailed attention, human interest stories, photos, and indignation associated with the suicide bombings, in a time when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were being attacked, is striking. Israeli explanations, and stories of captured documents showing Arafat’s link to the “terror”–and Sharon’s “war” was never “terror”–were plentiful. The contrast here between the numerous heart-rendi ng accounts by international observers made available on the internet and what the U.S. mainstream media have reported, has been dramatic.

Lev Grinberg, an Israeli academic at Ben Gurion University, says, “I want to ask: Who will arrest Sharon, the person directly responsible for the orders to kill Palestinians? When is he going to be defined as a terrorist too? How long will the world ignore the Palestinian cry that all they want is freedom and independence? When will it stop neglecting the fact that the goal of the Israeli Government is not security, but the continued occupation and subjugation of the Palestinian people?” (24)

Grinberg is a moral individual fighting against a merciless engine of power. Like Suharto and the Indonesian generals, Sharon and Israel are U.S. allies and serve U.S. interests, as perceived by the dominant U.S. business and military elite. They may therefore kill and terrorize virtually without limit, and without penalty. The hegemon’s enemies alone can be bombed and sanctioned and brought to trial; his own killers are not only free of penalty, they will be given military aid and diplomatic cover even as they escalate their brutality and engage in the most obvious law violations. Meanwhile, at this historical juncture the “international community,” having joined the hegemon in inflicting severe damage on his targets of choice, remains quiescent, if a bit uncomfortable.


(1.) Benjamin Netanyahu, Terrorism: How The West Can Win (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1986), p.9.

(2.) Menahem Begin, Letter, Ha’aretz, August 4, 1981.

(3.) Abba Eban, “Morality and Warfare,” Jerusalem Post, August 16, 1981.

(4.) Al Hamishmar, May 10, 1978; Independence Day Supplement.

(5.) Ha’aretz, May 15, 1978.

(6.) Livia Rokach, Israel’s Sacred Terrorism (Belmot, MA.: Association of Arab-American Graduates, 1980), p. 36. This volume has extensive excerpts from Sharett’s diary.

(7.) Ibid

(8.) On the complexities of the Racak case, see Edward Herman, “The Milosevic Trial (Part 1): Media and New Humanitarian Normalization of Victor’s Justice,” Z Magazine, May 2002.

(9.) The 9/11 hijackings which resulted in the destruction of the World Trade Center and Pentagon was unique in its success in destruction and the killing of large numbers by a non-state terrorist organization.

(10.) “Israel and Torture, An Insight Inquiry,” The Sunday Times [London], June 19, 1977.

(11.) Joel Greenberg, “Israel Rethinks Interrogation of Arabs,” New York Times, August 14, 1993.

(12.) Table 2-1, “Israeli Versus PLO Killings,” in Edward S. Herman and Gerry O’Sullivan, The Terrorism Industry (New York: Pantheon, 1990), p. 30.

(13.) James Bennet, “Mideast Turmoil: News Analysis: Mideast Balance Sheet,” New York Times, March 12, 2002.

(14.) See the three part series by Edward S. Herman on “Israel’s Approved Ethnic Cleansing,” in Z Magazine, April, May and June 2001.

(15.) See “Important Internal Documents from German’s Foreign Office Regarding Pre-Bombardment Genocide in Kosovo,” trans. Eric Canepa, reproduced at http://www.suc.org/kosovo crisis/ documents/ger gov.html.

(16.) See Noam Chomsky, Fateful Triangle (Boston: South End Press, 1983 and 1999), pp. 23ff.

(17.) See Edward Tivnan, The Lobby (New York: Touchstone, 1987); Edward Herman, “The Pro-Israel Lobby,” Z Magazine, July/August, 1994.

(18.) Tivnan and Herman, cites in note 17. Also, Paul Findlay, They Dare To Speak Out (Chicago: Lawrence Hill, 1985 and 1989).

(19.) See Jack Shaheen, Reel Bad Arabs (Northampton, MA.: Olive Branch Press, 2001).

(20.) Ha’aretz, January 25, 2002.

(21.) Amnesty International, Oral Statement, April 2, 2002.

(22.) Uri Avnery, “The Real Aim of ‘Operation Defensive Shield,”‘ at http://www.mediamonitors.net/uri68.html.

(23.) For example, Lee Hockstader, “Trails of Destruction, Tales of Loss,” Washington Post, April 12, 2002.

(24.) http://www.tikkun.org/index.cfm/action/current/article79.html.

Edward S. Herman has written widely on the topic of terrorism; he is a frequent contributor to Z Magazine and is co-author with Noam Chomsky of The Political Economy of Human Rights.

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