Al-Aqsa under attack: Why Israel needs to be labelled a terrorist state
Over the past year, Israel’s repression of Muslim worship at the Al Aqsa Mosque sparked Palestinian outrage and resistance. Last April, during Ramadan, the Likud government provoked riots in East Jerusalem, when it denied worshippers access to the Damascus Gate, where they congregated socially after prayers. Israeli Border Police, notorious for their brutality, responded with a paroxysm of violence.
Palestinian anger quickly spread to all the Palestinian communities in Israel. Such national resistance was unprecedented in this history of the conflict which, except in a few rare instances, has been confined to the Occupied Territories.
Israeli Jews were alarmed. The far-right Kahanist gangs began using social media to organise vigilante squads. They invaded Palestinian neighbourhoods, terrorising and beating people up.
Hamas responded by launching rockets into Israel, in its role as protector of the Muslim holy places in Jerusalem. Israel then launched a full-scale air assault that lasted 11 days and killed 250, most of whom were women and children.
This year, Ramadan is rapidly devolving into the same mayhem. After four Palestinian terror attacks in less than two weeks, killing 11 Israelis, thousands of Israel’s troops have been poured into Palestinian villages, hundreds have been arrested and nearly 20 have died.
''If terrorism is the use of violence in pursuit of political aims, then Israel’s policies must also be seen as state terrorism. Thus, Palestinian violence is no longer the acts of “terrorists” as Israel has labelled them, but a legitimate political response to Israeli apartheid and mass violence, including the murder of tens of thousands of Palestinians since the founding of the state in 1948.''
Even more destabilising has been the response by the Israeli border police, who early yesterday brought over 500 settlers into the courtyard directly in front of Al Aqsa. They were led by the most hated extremist in the Knesset, Itamar Ben Gvir. The assault was timed for early morning, when worshippers congregated for daily prayers. The Police invaded the sanctuary, using flash grenades, tear gas and batons to take control of the mosque and suppress any resistance. Nearly 400 were arrested and 150 injured.
While Palestinian militancy has been strengthened by adding a religious dimension to the political conflict, there is a danger as well. Historically, the zeal of two conflicting sets of believers can quickly escalate.
The traditional international response to armed Palestinian resistance has been to denounce it unconditionally, while sympathising with Israeli acts of “self-defence.” But the world increasingly sees Israeli incitement as a primary motivator of violence.
As criticism of Israeli aggression mounts, it is time to re-evaluate the conventional understanding and definition of terrorism.
If terrorism is the use of violence in pursuit of political aims, then Israel’s policies must also be seen as state terrorism. Thus, Palestinian violence is no longer the acts of “terrorists” as Israel has labelled them, but a legitimate political response to Israeli apartheid and mass violence, including the murder of tens of thousands of Palestinians since the founding of the state in 1948.
In support of this view, Israel has employed terror since its founding to control, dominate and suppress Palestinians. Even before the founding of the state, David Ben Gurion often called for expelling the “Arabs” of Palestine in order to ensure a nation dominated by a Jewish majority.
The Jewish terror militias were rivals of the Yishuv Zionist leadership. They showed their disdain by mounting terror attacks to declare Jewish dominance. One of their joint militia operations in April 1948, led by future PM, Menahem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, destroyed the village of Deir Yassin, killing 100 including women and children. Jewish gunmen under the direction of Shamir assassinated Count Folke von Bernadotte, a UN peace negotiator, because he proposed territorial compromise disadvantageous to Jewish interests. Finally, in the most gruesome terror acts of all, Beg’n's forces bombed the King David Hotel, the headquarters of the British Mandatory authority, killing over 90 victims.
Though the Jewish terrorist underground used violence most prolifically, the Yishuv used it in an even more systematic way: Plan Dalet drove a million Palestinians from their homes and into exile as refugees in camps from Gaza to Syria. The Nakba is perhaps Israel’s first systematic act of state terror.
In this historical light, current Israeli policy should be re-examined: the repeated attacks on Gaza (2009, 2014, 2021) causing the deaths of thousands, and the destruction of tens of thousands of homes must also be seen as acts of terrorism. In 2018, Israeli snipers confronted tens of thousands of peaceful protesters during the Great March of Return. They mercilessly picked them off as if they were shooting fish in barrel. Hundreds of unarmed protesters were murdered and thousands were maimed for life.
''Israeli terrorism is a comprehensive policy employing all the power of its security apparatus on behalf of state interests. It is much more than a gunman running rampant on a Tel Aviv street. It is an entire national police force mobilised against adherents of an entire religion. ''
The theft of Palestinian lands, the uprooting of entire communities, the repression of religious worship, the endless cycles of violent incursions into homes in the dead of night, the arrest of thousands, including children: all these must be seen as yet more acts of state violence.
The difference between Palestinian resistance and Israeli state terror is that Palestinians engage in individual acts of violence. As horrifying as the death toll may be, these are either lone wolf attacks or acts of violence with a limited impact.
Israeli terrorism, on the other hand, is a comprehensive policy employing all the power of its security apparatus on behalf of state interests. It is much more than a gunman running rampant on a Tel Aviv street. It is an entire national police force mobilised against adherents of an entire religion. It is hundreds of border police defiling a holy place by turning it into a battlefield; and all for the benefit of messianic Jews seeking to destroy the Muslim sacred places in order to rebuild the Jewish Temple.
The International Criminal Court shares many of these concerns and has opened an investigation of potential Israeli war crimes. This does not guarantee that it will find Israel guilty. But transforming the understanding of Israeli policy is critical for a proper evaluation. This policy is not merely unjust. Even calling it apartheid, as accurate as the definition is, does not do justice to Israel’s 70 years of systematic suppression of Palestinian rights. It is, simply, a comprehensive policy of state terror.
Today, the world understands that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, its deliberate assaults on civilian targets, its eradication of the entire city of Mariupol, its execution of bound civilians, bring to mind the atrocities of the Nazi Wehrmacht and SS during World War II. The world now clamours for accountability, demanding that Putin and his generals be tried for war crimes.
Israel’s terrorism has lasted far longer and killed more than Russia’s. For the sake of moral consistency, it must treat the crimes of the Israeli state the same as the crimes of Russia. No longer can the world accept claims of Israeli victimhood or self-defence as justification for its criminal behaviour.
Terrorism in the Israeli context must be redefined. Israel’s perpetual war approach to its frontline neighbours (Syria, Lebanon, Iran, etc.) and Palestinians, destabilises the region and violates international law. The world must no longer give Israel the benefit of the doubt. It must reject its justifications for mass violence. We must call Israel what it is: a terror state.
Richard Silverstein writes the Tikun Olam blog and is a freelance journalist specialising in exposing secrets of the Israeli national security state. He campaigns against opacity and the negative impact of Israeli military censorship.
Follow him on Twitter: @richards1052
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