“We in Jerusalem have just experienced an unprovoked terrorist attack, a murderous attack that claimed the lives of four young Israelis and wounded others”, said PM Netanyahu in a statement right after the car ramming attack in East Jerusalem two days ago.
He continued, loosely suggesting a link to ISIS terrorism: “This is part of the same pattern inspired by Islamic State, by ISIS, that we saw first in France, then in Germany and now in Jerusalem. This is part of the same ongoing battle against this global scourge of the new terrorism. We can only fight it together, but we have to fight it, and we will.”
We only have Netanyahu’s word for the ISIS connection, and whilst the case has been put under sweeping gag order, nothing seems to really point in that direction.
Netanyahu also has a worrying track record where such proclamations are concerned:
On the 13th of June 2014 three Jewish settlers were kidnapped. Israel officially announced them as ‘teens’, although more precisely one was 19 and two were 16. At the time, the authorities had recording of an emergency call that one of the kidnapped made, which ended with a spray of bullets and chants by the kidnappers. Thus, the Israeli authorities knew to a great certainty that the kidnapped were dead, but had put the case on a gag order and conveyed to the public they were working on the presumption that they are alive. The following action was a massive crackdown on Hamas, arresting almost all Hamas leaders in West Bank. Already on June 15th Netanyahu was blaming Hamas as well as holding the Palestinian Authority responsible. This was of course to play a part in his strategy of rejection against the April 2014 Palestinian unity government, where Netanyahu said Abbas should choose between ‘Peace or Hamas’. Hamas itself denied involvement, and it was already clear to the Israeli authorities at least by 26th of June that Hamas was not responsible. Nonetheless, when the bodies of the three were found on June 30th, Netanyahu ignored that, and said “Hamas is responsible, and Hamas will pay”.
This was the lead-up to the 2014 Gaza onslaught.
With such a track record, one must therefore be extremely cautious about what Netanyahu says about who is responsible, especially when there’s a gag order on the case.
Netanyahu clearly has interest to link the recent case to ISIS and global terror events, because it would alleviate the international diplomatic pressure now facing Israel in the wake of recent UNSC Reesolution 2334 condemning all Israeli settlements as ‘flagrant violations’. If the Jerusalem ramming was an act related to the occupation, as everything so far suggests it is, it could be viewed as a strengthening of the point against the occupation. Netanyahu obviously wants the pretext thrown off as far as possible, and what is more convenient than to place this in the pretext of ‘global terror’ and to link it to France and Germany, thereby garnering western support. Germany has just responded sympathetically yesterday by lighting up of the Brandenburg Gate with the Israeli flag.
Another aspect in the rhetoric of ‘terror’, one that is hardly being questioned at all in mainstream media, is whether this does, at all, constitute terror.
After all, the driver of the truck was a Palestinian, resident of East Jerusalem which Israel considers an annexed part of the ‘complete and united capital’, a claim which no state in the world recognizes. For the whole world but Israel, East Jerusalem is occupied territory. In Netanyahu’s rendering, it is not even significant to mention that the four Israelis who died were soldiers (and not worth even mentioning that the attack also claimed a fifth life, that of the driver, but let’s not get over our heads here). He simply notes them as “four young Israelis”. This is a description that strips the context of its military aspect, and I think Netanyahu knows this very well, as I will elaborate later. By such rhetoric, Netanyahu blurs the distinction between military and civilian targets, a principle which is very important in the distinctions concerning terror. It does not matter whether the soldiers were combat soldiers, as the Israeli media stresses, in regards to this distinction. When we sum up the whole of the setting, what we actually have is a Palestinian under occupation, targeting a gathering which is rather exclusively manned by soldiers, military representatives of the army that is occupying him. All this falls, prima facie, within the distinctions regarding legitimate resistance to occupation. It does not matter how ugly it looks, we cannot without critical appraisal of the context just call it “terror”
But “terror” is precisely what Netanyahu wants the whole world to call this, and so far, it is working quite well. The ISIS claim is supposed to detach this from the local setting of occupation, but we only have Netanyahu’s word for it, and as mentioned, he is a notorious liar and manipulator. His claim about ISIS is loose, but much of the mainstream media seems to be complying uncritically with the ‘terror’ claim.
Netanyahu about ‘terror groups’ and ‘freedom fighters’
It can be interesting to reflect upon how Netanyahu views the question of terror, when it regards not Palestinians, but rather Zionist Jews. I’m not saying ‘Israelis’, because the case which I now will refer to is from 1946 – the bombing of the King David Hotel (which was housing, in part, British Mandate administrative headquarters) by Menahem Begin’s Irgun, an act actually approved by Haganah commander Itzhak Sadeh as part of the joint “rebel movement” of the time, which was a cooperation of ALL the Zionist underground militias, including Haganah, Irgun and Lehi. The bombing killed about 91 people, amongst them 28 British, 41 considered ‘Arabs’, 17 Jews, and 5 others.
In 2006, the Begin Heritage Center held a symposium at the 60th anniversary of the bombing, on the issue of who is a freedom fighter and who is a terrorist. Netanyahu was even recorded on CNN at the point saying that “It’s very important to make the distinction between terror groups and freedom fighters, and between terror action and legitimate military action”,
As Haaretz journalist Tom Segev reported, Netanyahu said that “the difference between a terrorist operation and a legitimate military action is expressed….in the fact that the terrorists intend to harm civilians whereas legitimate combatants try to avoid that.”
Now that is some statement. When mirroring this against the recent Jerusalem ramming attack, it would appear, that the attack may fall quite well within Netanyahu’s own definitions of ‘legitimate military action’.
Segev noted, that “according to that theory, the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier by a Palestinian organization is a legitimate military operation”, and I would say that is exactly right – Gilad Shalit’s capture in 2006 by Hamas was no ‘kidnap’ either, as most all Israelis reflexively regard it. It was a military operation targeting a military subject. It was a mere military capture.
“Of course this is not what Netanyahu meant”, Segev hastened to add. “He learned only this from the bombing of the hotel: that the Arabs are bad and we are good.”
Indeed, the purpose of the Begin Heritage center symposium was hardly real soul-searching scrutiny about past actions of the Irgun. Its purpose was, naturally, to whitewash Jewish terror. The symposium ended with an unveiling of a plaque at the King David hotel, which noted the attack committed by “Irgun fighters at the order of the Hebrew Resistance Movement”. The plaque had initially contained the typical Irgun whitewash narrative: “For reasons known only to the British, the hotel was not evacuated and after 25 minutes the bombs exploded, and to the Irgun’s regret and dismay 91 persons were killed.” I shall not delve into the mass of details regarding the whitewash narrative, that is over 70 years old. But to summate shortly, whilst the Irgun had apparently gotten two of its women to make warning calls about one-quarter of an hour before the bomb went off (according to Thurston Clarke’s analysis contradicting Begin’s 25-minute claim), these calls were not made to the British authorities, but rather to the hotel switchboard (which did not share a direct line with the authorities), the French Consulate nearby and the Palestine Post – this is even the confirmed by one of the alleged callers, in a recent Hebrew interview (Haaretz) 70 years later . It would appear that the whole telephone issue, if it ever happened, was construed to provide a moral whitewash for the bombing.
Back to the plaque unveiling in 2006, The British were rather enraged about this. Simon Macdonald, the British ambassador to Israel, and consul general John Jenkins, wrote to the mayor of Jerusalem protesting at the plaque. “We don’t think it’s right for an act of terrorism to be commemorated,” their letter read. The British embassy said that “There is no credible evidence that any warning reached the British authorities.” This was quite an embarrassment probably not least to centrist MK Tzipi Livni, whose father Eitan was an Irgun member.
The plaque has thus subsequently been amended, dropping the implication that Britain ignored any warnings.
Regardless of warning or no warning, whichever way you turn it, this was an attack that is widely considered to have been a terror attack, this is internationally quite uncontroversial. We do not need to get into the details of how rife such warnings were at the time, nor to address that a search squad had been at the hotel earlier that day apparently following bluff warning. The fact of the matter is that the Irgun and the Jewish Resistance Movement were putting many civilians in real danger. Segev summates in his coverage of 2006: “Her Majesty’s ambassador and the consul have written to the mayor of Jerusalem that such an act of terror cannot be honored, even if it was preceded by a warning. To this day, it is not clear what made the bombing’s planners believe the British would evacuate the building. Would Benjamin Netanyahu, as prime minister, have ordered his bureau evacuated on the basis of telephone threat from a Palestinian terror group?”
What ‘terror’ really means for Netanyahu
But the recent truck ramming attack in East Jerusalem, in the old ‘no-mans-land’ only a short distance from the King David hotel, appears to be a universe apart in Netanyahu’s perception. It doesn’t matter that only military personnel were targeted. It doesn’t matter if he’s Palestinian, it doesn’t matter where it happened – it’s all just “terror”.
We need to be careful that we do not all fall into Netanyahu’s and Israel’s very selective view on what constitutes terror, as well as why it is committed. Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman takes that line and says that the truck-ramming attack was not fueled by the issue of Israeli settlements, rather by the mere fact that “we are Jews and we live here in Israel.” He doesn’t have to provide an evidential basis for the claim. There is apparently none. “There was no other reason and no need to look for an excuse – not Jewish settlements and negotiations but an attack inspired by ISIS” he said . Chief of Police Ronnie Alsheikh said he could not rule out the driver of the truck having been motivated by a similar attack on a Berlin Christmas market that killed 12 people last month – “It is certainly possible to be influenced by watching TV, but it is difficult to get into the head of every individual to determine what prompted him, but there is no doubt that these things do have an effect,” he said.
Yes, why not, why be so pedantic? Let’s just say ISIS, let’s just say terror, what does it matter? Do we really need to get to the bottom of this?
Israel’s Security Cabinet has already decided to approve administrative detention for people identifying with Islamic State, and to destroy the home of the ‘terrorist’ as soon as possible, reject family-reunification requests his family had filed for relatives in Gaza and the West Bank, and not to hand over the terrorist’s body to his family for burial.
The word ‘terror’ for Israel means, that more repression and collective punishment of Palestinians is possible, with less international scrutiny.
It’s a button that makes it all happen.
That’s what ‘terror’ really means for Netanyahu.