What is a terrorist? Someone who uses violence or intimidation for political ends? Noam Chomsky’s remark ”It’s only terrorism if they do it to us” points to the reason the UN have never been able to agree a definition – western governments and their allies routinely use violence and intimidation to coerce and demoralise civilians.
The Israeli government’s answer to this linguistic quandary is to invert the meaning of the word. According to Minister of Strategic Affairs, Gilad Erdan, the protesters gunned down by sniper fire on the Gaza perimeter fence last week, were all “terrorists”.
Last week was the 70th anniversary of what Palestinians call the Nakba or “Catastrophe,” when over 700,000 men, women and children were forced to leave their homes in what is now Israel. They witnessed their houses, schools, whole villages being demolished or given away. Many ended up in Gaza.
In July 2010, David Cameron described Gaza as an ‘open air prison’. A hostile military controls the supply of water and food, restricting these to near starvation levels in a form of collective punishment Israeli officials call putting Palestinians “on a diet”. According to Sarah Roy, Senior Research Scholar at at Harvard University, the water supply itself is so contaminated that “Innocent human beings, most of them young, are slowly being poisoned by the water they drink”. A 2017 UN report sated that the blockade has lead to “unlivable” conditions inside Gaza. Periodically the Israeli army (IDF) conducts exercises in “mowing the lawn” – attacks by the world’s fourth most powerful army on civilians who have no where to go for safety: they are trapped by a perimeter fence, heavily fortified by the IDF, who withhold the right to leave.
The protestors, demanding an and end to these intolerable conditions are, according to Israeli officials, terrorists.
Yaser Murtaja, was a young man known for his infectious smile and his passion for photography and film making. He dreamed of flying one day, though he had never been able to leave Gaza. On April 6th he was shot in the abdomen by an Israeli sniper as he took photographs of the protests. He was wearing a clearly marked PRESS jacket. He died in hospital.
14 year old Wissal Abu Ermana had told her mother she wanted to be a martyr so she would no longer be a burden on her struggling family. She was shot in the head at the perimeter fence and died of her wounds.
Lila Anwar was in a protest camp, hundreds of yards from the fence when an Israeli drone attacked her family with tear gas. Her Grandmother took her to a hospital but it was too late. She had died from suffocation. She was 8 months old.
At the time of writing, 100 Palestinians have been killed since the start of the protests. 2700 have been seriously injured, many will lose limbs or be crippled for life.
These people, according Israel’s government, are terrorists.
In cities around the world, including within Israel, supporters of Palestinian rights have come out to demonstrate against the violence. But these are not terrorists. By an accident of birth they are granted the right to protest without being shot at with live rounds.
In sun drenched East Jerusalem banners with the words “Trump Make Israel Great Again” adorned the streets. Jared Kushner, the son-in-law and senior advisor to President Trump stood up to make a speech. The occasion marked the relocation of the US embassy from the internationally recognised Israeli capital, Tel Aviv, to a city of equal religious significance to the Jewish, Christian and Islamic faiths. Under international law, East Jerusalem is viewed as occupied territory over which Israel has no legitimate claim. In his speech Kushner thanked Prime Minister Netanyahu, currently under investigation by Israeli police for corruption, and congratulated US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman. Friedman was once Trump’s bankruptcy lawyer. Who better to act as go-between from one morally bankrupt government to another? The embassy itself has not yet been built, so the timing – the 70th anniversary of the Nakba – can only be viewed as provocative. However, in Kushner’s cloying address even this had been turned on its head. “Those [protesters] provoking violence” he said, were “part of the problem and not of the solution”.
As Trump’s Middle East Peace Envoy, Kushner is set to unveil his solution to the conflict any day now. Given senior Israeli law maker Avi Dichter’s recent declaration that the IDF has “enough bullets for everyone” we can only wonder how Kushner plans to make the problem disappear.
In the UK, Theresa May has called for an independent inquiry into the killing of peaceful protesters. It’s easy to imagine how measured her tone would be if it was the Iranians or Russians firing live rounds at unarmed civilians. Her party has always resisted calls to recognise Palestine as a state. Perhaps that’s because if Palestinians were granted this basic dignity, we would be forced to officially recognise what is plain to see. That these are not acts of terrorism, but acts of survival. That Palestinians who are striving for liberation, alone, against increasingly insurmountable opposition, to the deafening silence of western liberals, deserve our admiration and support.
When George W. Bush declared ‘war on terror’, he handed a gift to extremists in the US and Israel and to all western backed regimes seeking cover for expansionist goals. In the wake of attacks on civilians, be they American, European or Israeli, it takes work to unpick the false narrative peddled by our leaders as justification for yet another bombing campaign. But in this case the truth is literally out in the open with the peaceful protesters gunned down to the whoops and cheers of soldiers from the “most moral army on earth”. Is this why we pay so little attention? Because we know that the real terrorists are our own leaders and their allies and and that as long as we stay silent, we are complicit.
Words Nicholas Figgis