When is “terror,” terror? When is it something else? Who defines what is “terror?”
Tonight’s post will be difficult to write because it will try to parse the linguistic thicket defining “terrorism” in the Israeli context. Most of us understand terror as an act of violence by individuals or groups aggrieved for their treatment at the hands of others. In some cases, the target is a nation which rules over them. In others, terror is used to eliminate perceived political, religious or ethnic enemies.
In Israel, terror is used by both Israeli Jews and Palestinians. Among Israeli Jews there is ad hoc terror perpetrated by settlers. But there is also state-sponsored terror, which is based on historical policies of theft, oppression, ethnic cleansing, assassination and murder. Israelis seem to think that states, or at least their state, are outside the definition of “terror” since they’re not individual actors or oppressed groups. This simply isn’t the case. In Israel’s case, its state policies are terror because they employ mass violence to uphold a regime systematically oppressing the Palestinians in violation of international law. Keep in mind that approximately 40,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces since 1948.
In that sense, today’s ethnic cleansing of the Bedouin village of Um al Hiran was an act of state terror. Hundreds of police brandishing weapons, tear gas and other forms of repression assaulted the village and began destroying its residences. The village had been founded in 1956 when the IDF sent its residents there to live after their previous village had been destroyed during the 1948 War. Unlike other Bedouin communities which were established by the residents themselves under their own initiative, Um al Hiran was founded by State authority.
But now, the Judaizing policies of the current Israeli regime plan to remove thousands of Bedouin from their ancestral homes in favor of new domestic settlements for Jews. This village is slated for demolition as are many others. The Bedouin “refusers” will be forcibly moved to urban towns artificially decreed for the habitation of Bedouins. No attempt has been made to consult with Bedouin about any of this (the Prawer Plan was a State attempt to negotiate Bedouin acquiescence to the expulsion, which the Bedouin rejected). They’re merely plopped down in the middle of an environment that is totally alien to their way of life; then told to make do.
This is an act of cultural dispossession. It is a throwback to the colonial era when ruling powers could treat native peoples arbitrarily and such policies often resulted in acts up to, and including genocide. I am not using that term in connection to the Bedouin. But the echo of earlier powers who did engage in it is not accidental on my part as a warning of what the future might hold.
The native Bedouin residents of this village appealed to the Israeli Supreme Court asking for their right to their homes. The Court, which has now been eviscerated of any previous sympathy for the civil rights championed by former justices like Aharon Barak, turned down the appeal. That exhausted the legal remedies of the Bedouin. And set the stage for this morning’s tragedy.
As the police began their destruction, a Bedouin schoolteacher named Yaqoub Abu Alqiyan plowed his car into one of them. One policeman was killed and another seriously wounded. Abu Alqiyan was shot and killed.
UPDATE: IDF drone footage of the killing shows the car driving along a road. It appears to be driving slowly, deliberately and not in a manner threatening to the police. Then a group of Border Police run toward the vehicle, firing at it. Only at that point, does the driver speed up and appear to strike a policeman later along the road.
From this vantage point, it’s impossible to confirm the police claim that this was a deliberate terror attack. It’s also impossible to claim the driver was an innocent party. But it does appear possible the driver, upon being fired at, speeded up and then possibly as a result of being shot lost control of the vehicle and hit the officer.
Israeli Palestinian MK, Ayman Oudeh, was also shot in the face by a Border Police rubber bullet. The bullet which struck his temple (from what I can tell in pictures) could easily with a millimeter’s difference, have struck his eye and blinded him. I can’t recall any other instance in Israeli history when an official representative of the state shot and injured a member of Knesset. Of course, being a Palestinian MK excludes him from the circle of protection the authorities would afford Jewish MKs. Which is a further confirmation of the level of racism in Israeli society.
The Border Police in willing collaboration with Israeli media are spreading the lie that Oudeh was struck by a rock thrown by Bedouin protesters. You might just as well claim Oudeh threw the rock at himself and struck his own head. The idea that a protester would strike a Palestinian MK is not only preposterous, it’s offensive. The idea that the Border Police would shoot at a Palestinian MK is not only credible, but likely. The whole sordid show is typical of the lies of the Israeli police (remember when they said Mohammed Abu Khdeir was murdered by his family in an honor killing because he was gay? ‘Nuff said) and hasbara apparatus.
The family of the attacker claimed he was murdered in cold blood and that he was neither a terrorist or an Islamist. Apparently, according to my sources this is not true. A security source tells me he was an Islamist. Israeli reports have variously associated him with the Islamist Movement and Islamic State. Those are two entirely different entities, but ones about which most Israelis don’t make any distinction.
But for the purposes of this discussion, I think it hardly matters whether the man was an Islamist or not. His village was being destroyed by the Israeli state. To him this was an act of state terror. He responded in the most dramatic fashion he could.
While I don’t endorse violence myself, I simply cannot call his act unjustified. When a state blocks every avenue of redress for a people who are being robbed of their homes and lives, what should they expect? Silent and sullen acceptance? No, Israel is at fault in this. It brought the residents to this place then tried to steal it from them. It denied them any legal or peaceful recourse. I don’t see any other outcome that was possible under the circumstances.
Oh, and I’ll offer a deal to all the Israel-defenders out there who are screaming bloody murder about this new “terror attack.” If you’ll call the systematic dispossession of tens of thousands of Negev Bedouin an act of State terror, then I’ll agree to call this killing an act of terror. Any takers?
The world should rally round the Negev Bedouin. It should declare their ethnic cleansing to be a violation of international law. It should add this crime to the long list which will sometime be sent to the Hague for deliberation. It should add this to the list of crimes which should be addressed in UN resolutions and sanctions.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.