Why Palestinian terrorism and Israeli counter-terrorism are not the same

There has never been an authentic "cycle of violence" between Palestinian Arabs and Israelis. Never.

Smoke rises following what witnesses said was an Israeli air strike in Gaza City (photo credit: REUTERS)
Smoke rises following what witnesses said was an Israeli air strike in Gaza City
(photo credit: REUTERS)
For too long, the journalistically-pleasing phrase, "cycle of violence," has been applied glibly to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Always, whatever the intent of a particular phrase-maker, the resultant effect has been the same. That is, to create a conveniently simplistic equation between terrorism and counter-terrorism, between an incessantly crude criminality, and an utterly indispensable form of law-enforcement.
Now that sectarian violence is rising once again in this protracted struggle, it is important to point out there has never been an authentic "cycle of violence" between Palestinian Arabs and Israelis. Never. Rather, what has been ongoing since May 1948, is a cyclically gratuitous targeting of Israeli noncombatant populations by willful murderers, followed by a carefully measured Israeli effort at self-defense.
Ritually, Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), etc. - it makes absolutely no difference - will shamelessly explain their calculated explosions of violence against the Jewish innocent as "resistance to occupation." But where, exactly, are the Israeli "occupiers" in Gaza? They are, of course, long gone in a well-intentioned departure mandated years ago by then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's far-reaching territorial concession.
What about the "West Bank," what Israel more correctly prefers to call Judea/Samaria? First recall that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was formed in 1964, three years before there were any "Israel Occupied Territories." What, then, were the Palestinian fighters attempting to "liberate?" Even now, by deliberately launching their rocket attacks upon Israeli soft targets from populated Gaza areas, Hamas, Islamic Jihad (al-Quds Brigades,) and others still resort to the plainly illegal practice of human shields. In ordinary speech, one would call any such policy of hiding behind one's own women and children for safety as inherently barbaric. In law, there is also a formal term for such exceptional and punishable cowardice. This term is "perfidy."
"Moderate" Fatah, supported by millions in US tax dollars, and recently trained in nearby Jordan by American General Keith Dayton, reveals in its Internal Order Document (Article 17): “The armed popular revolution is the only inevitable way to the liberation of Palestine.” Article 19 also deserves a wider reading, “The struggle will not end until the elimination of the Zionist entity, and the liberation of Palestine.”
“Palestine,” for all Arab terror organizations, includes all of Israel. On official Palestinian maps, Israel is still expressly identified as "Occupied Palestine." According to several prominent and recurrent Hamas bulletins, "Haifa, Jaffa, and Tel-Aviv...all of Palestine will be liberated." The Palestine Liberation Organization was founded in 1964. What was the PLO seeking to liberate from 1964 - 1967? What was the rationale for persistent Arab "Fedayeen" terror from the 1949 armistice, until June 1967?
During that eighteen-year period, Gaza was held illegally by Egypt, and the West Bank (Judea/Samaria) illegally by Jordan. In that time, the idea of independent Palestinian statehood was never supported in Cairo or in Amman. Religiously, this lack of support has identifiable foundations in the Koran, which, ironically never even mentions "Palestine," and which grants (see Sura 26, verse 59) Israel as an exclusive inheritance to the Jewish People.
Even as the Palestinian Authority sought the beginnings of formal statehood via the UN General Assembly back in November, 2012 (then, the GA elevated PA status to that of a "nonmember observer state,") Fatah’s refractory stance still calls for more terrorism. From the standpoint of international law, there is no reasonable way that such a gratuitously-belligerent stance could ever be judged comparable to Israel’s commitment to oppose international terror-crime.
To argue otherwise – to suggest that there continues some sort of “cycle of violence” in the Middle East – would mean to accept the following: (1) a duly constituted democratic state, and a criminal terror organization are of an equivalent legal stature; and (2) terrorist leaders and defenseless civilians represent equally permissible targets.
In world politics, there are always irremediably vital differences between criminality and law-enforcement. To be sure, the ongoing "war" between Hamas and Israel is a quintessential and unassailable example of these vital differences.
Even if the incessant Palestinian refrain of an Israeli "occupation" were not entirely concocted, and even if the corollary claims of "stolen Palestinian land" made any real sense, there could still never be any defensible legal justification for deliberate Fatah and Hamas policies of terror.
As long as Israel feels bound by pressures from Washington to travel along a suicidal "Road Map," Palestinian “suicide” bombers will emerge and reemerge with expanded enthusiasm and destructiveness. These terrorists will fight first for their own personal reputations (fame), and ultimately, for their own personal immortality. Although still generally unrecognized, Arab "suicide" terrorists typically fear death more intensely than ordinary human beings. This is because the suicide they expect to suffer is little more than a momentary inconvenience. What matters much more to them is that they will soon be rewarded by entrance into the eternal blessedness of a "martyr's" paradise.
Palestinian terrorists are not militants. They are not revolutionaries. They are not freedom fighters. Their expected "martyrdom" is merely a personally desperate way to defy death.
When packing explosives with nails, screws, and razor blades dipped in rat poison, Hamas and Fatah operatives are obviously cruel murderers. When, moreover, choosing to kill at much safer distances, they fire barrage after barrage of rockets into Israeli nursery schools, summer camps, shelters, and hospitals, they are also unparalleled cowards.
Terror groups have no right to "retaliate" under international law, no more so than would any individual criminal in domestic society have such a right against municipal police authorities. On the basis of their own current actions against Israeli noncombatants, Fatah, Hamas , Islamic Jihad, and DFLP are organizations that simply recognize no civilizing boundaries in the use of violence. They take this barbarous position in very direct opposition to humanitarian international law, or the law of armed conflict.
There has never been a "cycle of violence" in the Middle East. Never. It is about time, therefore, to cease alleging any sort of equivalence between Palestinian terror, and Israeli counter-terror. Journalistically, such reassuringly rhythmic allegations are not only wrong unto themselves; they are also destructive of any still remaining and residual hopes for peace and justice in the region.
The author is a professor of International Law at Purdue, was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971.) He publishes widely on terrorism and international law. Dr. Beres is the author of many of the earliest major books dealing with nuclear war and nuclear terrorism, and with Israel’s nuclear strategy. In Israel, he was Chair of Project Daniel (2003.) His latest scholarship has been published in the Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; The Brown Journal of World Affairs; Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs; Parameters; Journal of the U.S. Army War College; Oxford University Press; and International Security (Harvard.) His more popular opinion columns can be found at The Jerusalem Post; U.S. News & World Report; and The Atlantic. Professor Beres was born in Zürich, Switzerland, on August 31, 1945.