Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights University of Ottawa (SPHR) is a student run, non-profit organization that advocates on a strong social justice platform to uphold the rights of the Palestinian people in the face of human rights violations and all forms of racism, discrimination, misinformation and misrepresentation.

April 23, 2009

Essay about Palestine

Final Palestine Essay
Courtney Irwin
April 14, 2009
University of Ottawa
This paper will attempt to dispel the pervasive stereotypical image of what it means to be a terrorist and what narrow minded characteristics must be possessed in order for a group to be classified as such. Western governments, as a result of their power and influence, have the ability to manipulate the internationally accepted notion of terror and create an “us versus them” dichotomy towards the Eastern world. This occurs specifically in regards to terrorism. Because Western governments hold this authority in the international community, the definition is subjective, and restricts the ability for them themselves to be considered terrorists, even if they are party to those activities. The particular example of Palestine and Israel will be focused on heavily because it is a current, relevant illustration of how the narrow minded definition of terrorism serves to maintain particular interests. The government of Israel is presently carrying out apartheid in the Gaza Strip and it will be argued that this is a clear example of state terror. The Israeli government is not being scrutinized for their blatant human rights violations by the international community and there is very little appeal to deem them responsible for state terror because the current definitions are inclined to support Western states and sovereign governments. Thus, the subjective definition allows Western governments who practice state terror to operate freely while states like Palestine fall victim to these injustices. If there was a universal definition, then injustices such as the current apartheid in Palestine could be prevented and remedied. The international attention of the attacks on September 11th will be compared with the siege on the Gaza Strip to demonstrate the asymmetrical nature of the definition of terrorism. The rhetoric that is used for definitions and notions of terrorism are subjective; hence, they are representative of the Western idea of terrorism and serve to maintain particular interests which allow injustices to transpire without scrutiny.

Although there is not a universally agreed upon definition of terrorism, there are many themes and commonalities that can be seen across hundreds of definitions, especially in the Western world. Brian Jenkins, in his article, “The Changing Characteristics of Twenty First Century Global Terrorism” states that terrorism is “the deliberate intention of causing panic, disorder, and terror within an organized society” (16). In addition, he explains that terrorists “do not try to take and hold ground or physically destroy their opponent’s forces” (Jenkins 21). He notes that they usually do not have the resources or influence needed to pursue that goal. Many academics agree that the aim of terrorism is to gain publicity (22). That is, they anticipate that their incidents of violence will force media attention towards their particular cause (22). Jenkins explains that “Terrorism is aimed at the people watching, not at the actual victims” (22). Furthermore, the six basic terrorism tactics revealed by Jenkins are “bombings, assassinations, armed assaults, kidnappings, barricade and hostage situations and hijackings” (Jenkins 23).The problem with this partial explanation of what constitutes terrorism is that it allows those states that practice terrorism to participate in those acts unrestrained while small groups are marginalized and deemed as immoral. This simplistic definition fails to consider a major actor in terrorism, which are governments themselves.

This understanding of terrorism is inadequate because it neglects those states that are participants of terrorism. The most blatant example of a state that uses terrorism is Israel. Although they are not a Western nation, they are entirely supported by the United States. The power and influence that the United States has over the international community is clear, as the actions of the Israeli government against Palestinians are virtually unknown in comparison with the meagre attempts of the Palestinians to defend themselves. The comprehension of the definition of terrorism must be challenged here, as the Palestinian people are often seen as terrorists while the actual state terror employed by Israel remains unchallenged. Charles Kegley, in his article, “The Characteristics, Causes, and Controls of the new Global Terrorism: an Introduction”, defines state terror as “terrorist tactics practiced by a state within its own borders, such as the genocide performed by Nazi Germany” (9). If this definition includes genocide as a form of terrorism, then it can undoubtedly be argued that the Israeli government are perpetrators of state terror.

The plight of Palestinians in Gaza is a direct result of the actions of the Israeli military who are currently engaging in literally terrorizing and forcing apartheid on a group of people. The war on Gaza has led to over “5000 people wounded, 20 000 homes damaged, 15% of all buildings in Gaza damaged or destroyed, 50 000 homeless, and 400 000 without water” (“Factsheet: Israel’s War on Gaza”). In addition, fifty United Nations facilities, twenty one medical facilities damaged or destroyed, twenty mosques, and ten water sewage pipes were damaged or completely destroyed totalling an estimated over two billion dollars in damage (“Factsheet: Israel’s war on Gaza”). Additionally, 48% of all medical facilities were destroyed including fifteen hospitals and forty-three health care centres (“Factsheet: Israel’s war on Gaza”). Thirty-nine schools, forty-two public civilian facilities, one hundred and seven privately owned workshops and small industrial and commercial plants have all been completely destroyed (“Stop the Genocide in Gaza!”). Ninety police and security installations and twenty five sites that were used for military purposes by armed groups have been obliterated by the Israeli military (“Stop the Genocide in Gaza!”). In the most recent siege on Gaza, over three hundred children and seventy-five women were killed in the Gaza Strip (“Stop the Genocide in Gaza!”). Moreover, Palestinian prisoners who can be arbitrarily jailed for years without any reason are subject to torture and degrading treatment (Jarrar 2009). Yafa Jarrar, a Palestinian woman, spoke at the University of Ottawa, and described the cells that Palestinians are kept in as “twenty people kept within a three metre by five metre area with very little food, no access to soap or hygiene, no change of clothing and unable to communicate with family” (Jarrar 2009). Also, in Gaza, the unemployment rate is the highest in the world at over 80% and two thirds of the population are without power and running water (“Factsheet: Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza Following Israeli Assault”.). The Israeli government has created “Jewish only” roads that run through Palestinian land making it extremely difficult to traverse across the city to see family, get to work, get medical attention etc (Shulamit 2007). This is a list of some of the injustices that occur on a daily basis for Palestinians in Gaza, but it is by no means exhaustive.

The Israeli government controls all the borders, the airspace and territorial waters, Gaza’s infrastructure and economy, and decides who may enter and leave the Gaza Strip (“Factsheet: Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza Following Israeli Assault”.). This way, humanitarian and medical aid by the rest of the world can remain out of a place that so desperately needs it. Dr. Abdel Rahman Lawrendy visited the University of Ottawa after being in Gaza in January 2009 and described the hospitals as “without morphine, Tylenol, and Advil; the refugee camps as extremely overcrowded, disease ridden and lacking proper sewage treatment” (Lawrendy 2009). He explained that almost all farms in Gaza were targeted by Israeli military as they shot countless livestock and pulled out hundreds of years old olive trees and burnt down barns (Lawrendy 2009). Furthermore, he noted that many mosques, hospitals, and schools were actually shot at from close range; that is, they were not accidently bombed, rather, they were particularly targeted to cause terror and kill people (Lawrendy 2009). All of these illegal actions can be compared with the defence that the Palestinian people have come up with against the large Israeli military.

In comparison, Palestinians have defended themselves by shooting makeshift rockets and suicide bombings and have, since 2001, killed a total of nineteen Israeli civilians (“Factsheet: Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza following Israeli Assault”). Ramadan Shalah of the Palestinian Jihad explained “Our enemy possess the most sophisticated weapons in the world...we have nothing...except the weapon of martyrdom” (Raymond 82). Yet still, as a result of the subjective understanding and connotations of the term “terrorism”, Palestinians are often deemed terrorists instead of victims attempting to defend themselves. Richard Falk explains this hypocrisy by stating that “the typical description of terrorism often overlooks the calculating character of recourse to wanton and indiscriminate political violence from a variety of sources, including the deepest recesses of governmental bureaucracy operating in a cool, calculating, rational style” (Falk 54). The actions of the Israeli government, who is strongly supported by the United States, is believed to have more legitimacy then the small group of Palestinians who are fighting for their freedom and the land that is rightfully theirs.

All of these facts point to the realization that the Israeli government is not trying to defend itself from the aggression of Palestinians. They are actually targeting civilians in attempts to colonize and oppress residents of Gaza. Their actions fall under some criteria of the description mentioned previously of what the notion of terrorism is, yet, they are uncontested as terrorists internationally. There is a misconception that because they are a legitimate state, they have legitimacy over Palestinians. All of the Israeli aggression has led to serious psychological and physical damage for Palestinians, especially children who live in constant fear of their families being disappeared or murdered or their houses being destroyed at any moment in time (Jarrar 2009). The attacks have evidently been on civilian “soft targets” to cause the greatest amount of harm. There is an obvious effort to cripple the economy and then the embargo on materials that may enter Gaza is representative of a premeditated decision to subject an entire people to brutality. The description of the general definition of terrorism that was mentioned previously is different in the Israel/Palestine context because the Israeli government is not trying to attract any attention to their terrorist actions. Additionally, contrary to the explanation, they are trying to take hold and physically destroy a group of people. Neither of these are generally accepted as characteristic of a terrorist organization. As a result of the incomplete description of what constitutes terrorism, they are able to partake in these actions and are easily able to manipulate media outlets to project the image of “the terrorists” on Palestinians.

The subjectivity of the notion of terrorism towards the Western understanding of it caters to ignorance of injustices that occur internationally. For example, David Rapoport, in his article, “The Four waves of Rebel Terror and September 11th” states “September 11, 2001 is the most destructive day in the long, bloody history of rebel terrorism” (36). Not to minimize or justify the attacks on September 11th, but since that day almost all researchers and academics in the field of terrorism focus on those actions. David Rapoport is one among countless academics that view the attacks on the World Trade Centre as the only major injustice by terrorists, which is a huge oversight. This act of terror was indisputably horrific and significant for Americans; however, the media and international attention that was on those attacks is notably disproportionate to the amount of attention placed on Palestine presently. Following September 11th was a massive campaign of anti-terrorism internationally with many states participating in rectifying the damage that occurred. The economy of the United States was able to recover and the city of New York was still able to prosper following the attacks. These actions can be contrasted with the lack of international appeal to free the Palestinian citizens from the oppression of the Israeli government, improve their atrocious living conditions, and recognize them as a sovereign state. In addition, the readiness to help the Americans and initiatives taken by other states can be distinguished from the uneasiness by the international community to even question the Israeli government for their illegal actions or try them for their terrorist involvement.

One of the reasons that there is no international appeal to assist Palestinians like there was to help Americans is that the understanding of terrorism is biased towards thinking that governments are moral and legitimate and small groups are immoral. Just because Israel is a democracy with Western support does not mean that they are reasonable in their treatment of Palestinians, the natives of the land in question. The biased understanding of what constitutes terrorism allows the Western concept to pervade the international community thus allowing injustices to occur. The stereotypical image of a terrorist from a Western state perspective must be abolished in order for those states that are guilty of terrorism to be reprimanded for their criminal actions. The widely held misconception that terrorism is a senseless act carried out by desperate individuals or a group upon a legitimate government in order to gain attention to their political goal must be eradicated from our understanding (Jenkins 21). Furthermore, just because large states have more resources and intelligence and are able to influence the international arena does not make them legitimate authorities who can justify terrorism. The belief that large states are moral and groups that act contrary to those governments are immoral is a misconception that must be dispelled in order for there to be justice. The international community together must come up with an appropriate definition that will expand the current explanations to include large states that are just as guilty of committing terrorism as small groups.

The failure of the international community to find an accepted definition of terrorism that refrains from only including the stereotyped image of a terrorist and incorporates state terror helps inequalities pervade the lives of Palestinians. The American support for the Israeli apartheid and their own instances of state terror undeniably will make it difficult to come up with a definition that would reprimand state terrorists. Unfortunately, Palestine is not the only victim of state terror by large governments that is occurring today. Thus, if Israel were to be judged for their actions, Americans would also be scrutinized for their illegal activities. Although there is very little international attention and significance placed on the Israeli apartheid, increased awareness and pressure on the instruments of international law to find states accountable for their illegal actions may eventually lead to self determination for Palestinians. The illegal actions of the Israeli government in deliberately trying to suppress and terrorize an entire ethnic group must be remedied. Their attacks on mosques, schools, hospitals, police stations, farms, and universities can no longer be justified as “counter terrorism”. Their actions are deliberate decisions to cripple the economy and make the life of a Palestinian extremely difficult and not worth living in their homeland. The connotations of the word terrorism must be critically examined so as to include major perpetrators of the act. If the international community were to be successful in agreeing upon a more objective explanation of what signifies terrorism, then the blatant disregard for human rights and the lives of Palestinians could be resolved.

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