I’m teaching Edward Said’s Covering Islam tonight and as I spent the evening preparing for class I was horrified to see just how ignorantly and cold heartedly the Western news media recycles the same scenario: I heard it on the BBC, and of course I read it in various U.S. newspapers online like the New York Times. Once again there was a terrorist bombing in Tel Aviv; the first in a long time and it was not claimed by Hamas, who, unlike Israel, has abided by a truce for over a year. While the death of these Israelis is tragic, for me what is far more tragic is the fact that no mainstream U.S. media that I’ve consulted in the last twelve hours has framed the story in its proper context.
Where are the news articles telling Americans that Ghaza has been bombarded for weeks and months on end with nothing–no food, just bomb after bomb exploding over civilian neighborhoods. Hundreds of shells each day. There is no military there. Thus, all of Israel’s actions are directed at a civilian population. Is it any wonder that one person would seek retaliation? Revenge? Why is the U.S. government and the U.N. completely unwilling to hear the validity of Hamas’ response that they have “a legitimate right to defend themselves”?
Let me be clear: I am not condoning violence. That said, I want a serious acknowledgment from the U.S. and world media–to say nothing of its leaders–about the context from which this attack came.
It is quite clear, from the words of Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s mouth what his intentions are:“The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.” Obviously, as we can see from yesterday’s suicide bombing that Hamas is not the government Palestinians want to push out. They are not going to rise up and overthrow Hamas; they are smarter than that. They know who is creating the colonial conditions which literally starves them from food and employment and medicine while bombarding them with heavy artillery shells every day.
What would you do? Seriously, anyone reading this: how would you respond? And please keep in mind that none of this is entirely new. This Israeli occupation of Palestine has been in effect for 58 years. Would you, without a state, without an army, just sit back and starve and die? Or at some point would you, your children, your grandchildren fight back?
The U.S. doesn’t even have to have anyone shelling at them before it bombards a nation with artillery. Why is it that we should expect differently from a nation that actually is under attack?
Before all of this happened yesterday I was thrilled that Ha’aretz’s Gideon Levy published an article with the powerful, questioning title, “Who Is a Terrorist?” Finally, an Israeli reporter is boldly putting this in his headline. And that this should happen on a day when there is a suicide bombing is crucial. It is worth repeating some of what Levy said in the aftermath of Monday’s bombing so that, especially, American readers will think about the fact that it is important to look at the context and see not only who the real terrorist is, but to acknowledge that Israel does indeed use state terrorism against Palestinians:
It was a chilling, united chorus. Israel is dropping thousands of bombs on towns and villages, on the “the launching pads” of the Qassams – another dubious term created by the defense establishment and blindly adopted by the press – and only the Palestinians, whose Qassam rockets haven’t killed anyone since the disengagement, are called “terrorists.”
Nor was there any substantive debate after a possible slip of the tongue by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, in an interview to the BBC, in which she said that there was a difference between attacking civilians and attacking soldiers. Even though she did not resolutely stand by her own words in an interview with Channel 10, Livni dared to speak the truth: If harming civilians is a measure of terror, then Israel is a terror state. With 18 killed in Gaza alone in 12 days, three of them children, the absence of intent cannot suffice for us. Someone who uses artillery to shell population centers and says with horrific indifference that this is “just a preview,” as if it were another reality show on TV, cannot claim that he does not intend to kill children.
Those responsible for such bombings around the world are rightfully considered war criminals. That’s terror – just ask Livni. And when it is done in the name of a state, it is much worse than in those cases when the perpetrators are from rogue organizations.[….]
No Qassam justifies the killing and terror that the shells sow in Gaza. Cannons are meant for war against an army. Using them against a helpless civilian population is supposed to be beyond the realm of the legitimate, without any ifs or buts about it. A state does not shell towns. Period. Just like in the war against crime that is also deadly and endangers state security, no end justifies all the means. Would it ever occur to the Israeli police to evacuate an entire neighborhood from which some murderers came? Would anyone decide to shell such a neighborhood, even if it would mean minimizing the crime coming out of it?
Those who really want to end the Qassam launches from Gaza, should turn Israeli policy upside down. To show restraint in the face of the Qassams, to lift the siege, to immediately meet with the elected Palestinian leadership and call on the world to stop withholding the funds from the Palestinian Authority. Only a free and secure and thriving Gaza will stop launching Qassams. Have we ever tried that?