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Who are the real terrorists?

After the Second World War, Americans, revolted by the Holocaust in Europe, supported efforts to establish a Jewish homeland. We cheered Paul Newman and Sal Mineo in Exodus, and admired Jewish settlers who developed a barren desert land. When we heard about Palestinians, it was as terrorists — not ethnically cleansed refugees, refused the lawful right of return to their homeland. Every U.S. administration since 1948 has supported this historic injustice.

A key aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the very biased condemnation of terrorism. The dominant view has been simple: Palestinians are terrorists; Israel is not, because as a U.S. ally it is by definition incapable of terrorism. Through the late 1940s, the late historian Eqbal Ahmad wrote, “the Jewish underground in Palestine was described as terrorist”; there was even a reward offered for the terrorist Menachim Begin, future prime minister of Israel. As news of the Holocaust spread, however, the perception of Jews as terrorists in Palestine changed; they became freedom fighters struggling for a homeland. However, “terrorists change” — just think of Nelson Mandela, once designated as a terrorist by the U.S. government and then fawned over by the very people who supported his imprisonment.

Israel’s treatment of Palestinians has been opposed by the U.N. General Assembly. It has expressed grave concern “that the denial of (Palestinian rights) has been aggravated by the reported acts of collective punishment, arbitrary detentions, curfews, destruction of houses and property, deportation, and other repressive acts against the refugees and other inhabitants of the occupied territories” (Quoted in Edward Said, “The Question of Palestine”). Countless U.N. Security Council resolutions have also condemned Israeli abuses; since 1972, however, the U.S. has vetoed these resolutions at least 42 times. Said argued that U.S. understanding of this tragic conflict would be shaped by whether we are willing to confront a stark historical truth: “mostly-European Jews came to Palestine, a country already inhabited and settled by another people, destroyed their society, dispossessed them,” and drove most of them out.

Writer Norman Finkelstein condemned the most recent Israeli slaughter of unarmed adults and children in Gaza. An American Jew whose parents survived Holocaust death camps, Finkelstein quotes the Israeli sociologist Baruch Kimmerling, who in 2003 called Gaza “the world’s largest concentration camp.” Regarding Israel’s horrific caging of Gaza, one U.N. report asserts that by 2020, “on its present trajectory, Gaza will not be livable.” Ninety-seven percent of the water is so contaminated that it is not fit for human consumption; thus, one million children are being poisoned. With respect to the claim that Hamas provoked Palestinian violence, Finkelstein states, “There was no Hamas violence. I am not a defender of Hamas. I am not an apologist for Hamas ...” He pointed out that Hamas had urged that there be no violence, guns, weapons, and provocations on the Great March of Return.

Finkelstein argues that under international law, Palestinians “have the right to use violence ... a people fighting for self-determination or under alien occupation ... have the right to use violence in order to free themselves. On the other hand, the law is very clear: An occupying power or a power denying people the right to self-determination, they have no right whatsoever to use violence”. Palestinians, who have a right to use violence, are not; Israelis, who have no right, are. Therefore, who are the terrorists?

B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Areas, states that Israel has reacted to the protest in Gaza” with a “Broad, unlawful use of lethal force at a heavy price to lives, baseless legal interpretations issued to justify this policy, and whitewashing of crimes within days.” B’Tselem has urged the international community to “come to its senses and force Israel” to abide by international law and conventions. When an officially designated enemy of the U.S. commits egregious violations of human rights, Washington and the corporate media go on endlessly about “the rule of law.” When will they hold Israel to the same standard?

John Marciano lives in Talent. He was chairman of the Tompkins County, New York Human Rights Commission (1991-’96).