How the Israelis Make Palestinians Into Terrorists

by Jonathan Wallace

I almost called this essay "How the Israelis Create Palestinian Terrorists", but that title was inappropriate because "Palestinian" and "terrorist" are used together so often that they have come to seem like one word. Related to the proposition that all Palestinians are terrorists is that they are all outsiders. We bear no more responsibility for creating them than we do the great white shark attacking the beaches in Jaws. One day, for no reason and without relationship to anything we have done, they turn up to kill us, then are gone.

This approach ignores the unpleasant reality that large numbers of Palestinians live under Israeli control and that such Palestinians furnish the great majority of the suicide bombers recruited by Hamas. These murderers are grown in areas under Israeli jurisdiction; what is the relationship between Israeli governance and their existence?

The following, as a mere beginning to an answer to that question, is from an article from the April 14, 1995 New York Times:

Israeli Patrols Kill 90 Dogs in Arab Town....While the town's mostly Palestinian residents were confined to their houses by the curfew, armed Israeli employees of the civil administration moved through the streets, hunting down and shooting dozens of dogs.

The balance of the quarter-page article quotes various sources on the reason for the shooting. Israelis claim that they were taking action against rabies. Palestinians claim that the dogs barked at night, alerting them to the movement of Israeli army patrols. Israel's Environmental Minister calls the shootings "unacceptable." Hebron's Palestinian health official points out that many of the dogs were pets and working shepherd dogs. A shepherd who lost a dog to the operation is asked by the reporter if he has filed a complaint. "To whom?" he asks. Meanwhile, the Israeli soldiers guarding a small Jewish settlement in mid-Hebron keep a dog of their own. Asked why she was spared, a soldier replies, "She's not dangerous."

No-one identifies what I believe is the real reason: the violence was symbolic. The message delivered to the residents of Hebron was that they are worth no more than dogs. "This could be you next time," was the subtext. At the end of Kafka's The Trial, when Josef K. is stabbed to death, his dying words are: "Like a dog."

Two weeks later, a Palestinian prisoner died in Israeli custody, after being held for three days. He had severe brain damage. Healthy when arrested, his family saw him unconscious and on life support in Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. "He was yellow, he was cold, and he had a large blue and red bruise on his left shoulder," said his brother. In an April 26 article, the Times reported:

Prisoners and human rights groups have said that Palestinians under questioning are regularly beaten, confined to closet-like cells, manacled to miniature chairs with their heads covered with foul-smelling sacks, and denied sleep and food...several prisoners have died under interrogation in recent years.

For thirty years or more, Israelis have bulldozed the homes of Palestinians suspected of terrorist activity, or of their parents or relatives. Palestinian land is expropriated for Israeli construction. Every time a Palestinian commits an act of terrorism, Israel then holds all of the inhabitants of the occupied areas hostage, shutting them off from jobs in Israel.

An article in the August 16, 1997 Times contains an overview of Israel's economic stifling of the Palestinians. In response to yet another horrifying suicide bombing, this time in the Jerusalem market, the Israelis sealed off the Gaza Strip:

The working poor often say they are the ones punished for the inability of leaders on both sides to coordinate police work. In 1996, Gaza was sealed in for 82 out of 277 working days-- 3 days out of every 10.

Gaza's 2,800 fishermen have been "repeatedly blockaded by the Israeli Navy during closings." Almost forty percent of Gaza's people are unemployed. Per capita income is $1300 or $1700, depending upon whom you believe.

The moral of the story is that holding the entire Palestinian population responsible for acts of terrorism is not only criminal, but it is also counter-productive. In order for Israelis and Palestinians to co-exist, Palestinians must live in an environment where they are secure in their possessions, homes and jobs--they must be treated like human beings. If nothing is secure, if they can be beaten at will or locked out of their employment, see their houses razed or their dogs shot, they will themselves be driven to crime. If you treat humans like dogs, they will rise and bite.