Calling opponents ‘terrorists’ solves nothing in Palestine and Israel. It just makes everything worse.

Israel-Palestine wall with soldier and child in front
Ed Sykes

Anyone who uses violence to try and get their own way is a kind of terrorist. States. Corporations. Political organisations. Individuals. But shouting ‘terrorist!’ at our opponents is about as useful as a wasp in a hospital. It just makes things worse, pushing peace further and further away. And there are few places in the world where this tactic has done more damage than in Palestine – a place where dispossession and oppression have become a painful routine.

This ‘terror-slinging’ strategy must stop.

Taking humanity away with just one word

Just think about what images the word terrorism brings to mind. Pools of blood. The loss of innocent lives. Immense suffering.

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What about the human being behind the word ‘terrorist’? Well, our minds usually picture the most repulsive monster they can conjure up. We strip them of their humanity. They become non-beings. And we feel nothing for them but hatred and anger.

The word terrorism is like a nuclear bomb. We drop it and it doesn’t just dehumanise the person behind the horrific act. It has a much wider effect: clouding our reasoning and appearing to justify all sorts of revenge.

So what happens when we call children terrorists? Or an entire civilian population? It instantly makes it easy for us to punish an entire people for the actions of a few individuals. Because if they’re all monsters, then why the hell should we feel bad about killing them or blowing their homes and schools to pieces?

That’s precisely why unscrupulous politicians and media outlets routinely use the word ‘terrorist’ when talking about their opponents. And it’s a tactic Israel’s far right is particularly fond of.

Israeli minister: ‘shoot to kill’ Palestinians, including children

Israel’s education minister Naftali Bennett is a prominent figure on the country’s far right. He represents a political current that seeks to portray Palestine as the aggressor and Israel as the victim – however much the facts tell us the opposite. And this week, while advocating a “shoot to kill” policy against “terrorists” crossing into Israel from the open-air prison that is Gaza, he said of underage Palestinians:

They are not children — they are terrorists.

And this is nothing new. As Mondoweiss argued in January, Israeli prosecutors were trying to ‘terror-smear’ Ahed Tamimi – the Palestinian teenager who slapped Israeli officials outside her home in the occupied West Bank after an Israeli soldier had shot her 15-year-old cousin in the face. Indeed, far-right Israeli ‘politician‘ Oren Hazan did his best to explain how “a slap is terrorism”. And while authorities jailed Tamimi, they released an Israeli citizen who committed the same ‘crime’ – revealing their double standards for the world to see.

One Israeli scholar, meanwhile, has previously accused school textbooks in Israel of depicting Palestinians exclusively as “refugees, primitive farmers and terrorists”.

Israeli terrorism and double standards

The reality, however, is that there have been numerous ‘terrorist’ acts from both sides during Israel’s apartheid and occupation of Palestine. From Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza (which killed at least 1,483 Palestinian civilians) to the Black September group’s murder of 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team in 1972, and from the right-wing Zionist attack on the King David Hotel in 1946 (which killed 91 people) to the Coastal Road Massacre of 1978 (when Palestinian militants killed 38 civilians), the suffering seems endless.

In short, while right-wingers like to portray Israel as an innocent victim, the history of Israeli terrorism is long and bloody. But Israel doesn’t seek to dehumanise its own terrorists. Instead, it elevates them as heroes (and even prime ministers).

Meanwhile, +972 Magazine has described Israeli authorities as “either ill-equipped or totally uninterested in preventing attacks against Palestinian civilians”.

All war is terrorism – no matter who wages it

War is always horrific. And innocent people always get caught in the middle. So calling all war ‘terrorism’ makes complete sense.

Resolving conflicts, however, depends on recognising the humanity in your opponents. It means finding common ground: love for our children, the desire for a dignified life, or the desire for freedom. And that’s precisely why throwing the word terrorism around doesn’t help. Because it makes that recognition of our enemies’ humanity impossible – clouding our reasoning and preventing us from understanding them.

For a peaceful end to the occupation of Palestine, humanity is key. Because dehumanisation just fuels further suffering, pushing peace far off into the distance. It helps no one. And it must stop.

Get Involved!

– Join B’Tselem’s campaign against the forcible transfer of civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. And support the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement.

– Also support the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, and see previous Canary articles about recent boycott campaigns.

– In the UK, write to your national or local politicians to ask them to push for peace talks between Israel and Palestine.

Featured image via Justin McIntosh/Wikimedia Commons

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