Leadership systems that cannot understand the causes of violence as a precondition to dealing with them are destined to fail. (John Ralston Saul)
It has become fashionable of late in North America to label all those in the world opposed to the American Dream as terrorists. This is especially true for those who deliberately stand in the way or actively seek to undermine the aspirations of the United States. If one would believe western political leaders one would, of necessity, think that terrorists have emerged on the landscape of history because they are intrinsically evil and hate freedom. And that terrorism as a movement was born somewhere in the heart of the Arab world where the Muslim faith is predominant.
It might be helpful at the outset to step back a little to get a broader perspective on the origins of terrorism as it is generally thought of today. Most people claiming to know the identity of terrorists are not opposed to the use of violence, per se. They see violence as legitimate when used by a recognized state in defense of its rights and in the promotion of its agenda. However, when “illegitimate” groups, so defined by “legitimate” groups, use violence to achieve their goals, they are said to be terrorists. So the notion of terrorism is colored by the context out of which one speaks.
There are two major camps in the Middle East today, each accusing the other of terrorism. On the one hand we have militant Zionism, claiming a divine right to real estate where it is seeking to establish Jewish identity in the aftermath of centuries of persecution that culminated in the unthinkable holocaust. This camp is passionately supported by Jews in the diaspora, western powers mainly interested in access to oil in that region and Christian fundamentalists who see the formation of the Jewish state as a fulfillment of biblical prophecy. On the other hand there is the Arab world that sees Israel as a puppet of the West and sides passionately with Palestinian grievances over the brutality they have experienced at the hands of the Israelis.
Whatever one thinks about the legitimacy of the State of Israel, there is no question that the events of 1948 and 1949, which culminated in Palestinians being driven off their lands injected a tension into the Middle East that has only escalated since then. And it might be helpful for us all to admit that the expulsion of the Palestinians from their lands would by present definitions be called an act of terrorism. This record of Israeli terrorism is indisputable and its memory lives on in those who were brutally forced from their homes as well as in their descendants.
How can these victims of terrorism forget that collective trauma? Thousands upon thousands driven from their ancestral homes, and their villages destroyed so that there would be nothing to return to. Some Palestinians fled eastward across the Jordan. Others southward to Gaza and Jordan, and still others north to Lebanon. Those who refused to leave were massacred. And as the rest of the Arab world watched they empathized in solidarity with the plight of their brothers and sisters. And empathy grew to anger as they watched the support of western powers for Israel grow.
Of course Zionists would like the world to forget this sordid story of the past. And Israel had hoped that if they kept the Palestinians shut out long enough, succeeding generations would forget the trauma of the expulsion of their forbears. But that story lives on and has gained momentum. It is the underlying story that fuels the conflict of the two worlds we have described. It is the story that people in the West are asked to forget along with the Palestinian victims. But it is foolishness to think that the present state of conflict between Israel and Palestine can be resolved without understanding the source from which the conflict has emerged.
That is not to say that we can endorse the actions of Palestinian suicide bombers. They too kill and destroy innocent civilians. But it would be helpful to understand that their actions arise from a sense of despair that justice will ever be done. And that despair only deepens when their actions of reprisal are met with Israeli retribution that generally leaves at least ten Palestinians dead for every Israeli killed. And the fury with which Israel strikes back at them is interpreted from within the Palestinian world as acts of terrorism. Terrorism that has basically continued unabated for more than half a century.
Now I realize I am treading on thin ice right about now. It has become politically correct in much of today’s world to endorse whatever the State of Israel chooses to do. To criticize Israel is to be anti-Semitic, and that is tantamount to denying the reality of the holocaust. Let me be clear about this. I decry the horrors that the Nazis inflicted on the Jewish people during the holocaust. Their actions were nothing but terrorism honed to perfection. But what amazes me is the fact that the Jewish survivors of the holocaust and their descendants have inflicted untold suffering on Palestinians for three generations in a row by now – and that, seemingly without a shred of sympathy for their state of victimization.
I am also on thin ice within much of the Christian community because of what I have said. Christian Zionism lies near the surface in one form or another in circles where I move, especially those that hold dispensationalism as a grid through which to interpret biblical prophecy. From my point of view Christians should reject all Zionist claims to divine right to the land. Since the coming of Jesus, God has abandoned the real estate business – and so should we. Secondly we should judge the actions of Israel with the same moral rigor we apply to any other state in the world. Unless we do the Christian community will only serve to exacerbate tensions in the Middle East and terrorism will continue – coming from both sides of the great divide.