Words not only have meanings, they have power. Words affect people's perception, and perception affects behavior. Words used in a consistently deceptive manner can become weapons of war.
Deception is much more effective when it appears to be unintentional. I want to consider just one innocent-sounding phrase that is actually loaded with political implication: "cycle of violence."
The term is so effective because often it is valid. History provides many examples, from feuding clans to warring ethnic and religious groups, in which violence keeps escalating because each attack from one side provokes retaliation from the other. Neither side can let the other fire the last shot. What is defense to one side is offense to the other, and justification for further violence. And so the violence continues without end, since neither side is willing to call a truce. Cycles of violence are a reality in human experience.
It is precisely because this term does have real meaning that it is so dangerous when applied to the Middle East. I am writing this shortly after the blast that killed seven and wounded eighty in the student cafeteria at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Just about every report I have heard has called this attack the latest in the ongoing "cycle of violence."
To call this a "cycle of violence" implies the following:
1. The actions taken by both sides have the same moral weight and are equally objectionable.
2. If either side would only desist from aggressive action, the cycle would end and there would be peace.
Let's look at both of these assumptions.
The latest "cycle of violence" has been going on for close to two years. How did it begin?
In September 2000 Ariel Sharon, shortly before he became Prime Minister, visited the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, also the site of a Muslim holy place known as the Dome of the Rock. Palestinians called this visit a provocation and responded with violence that has escalated into what is now called the "second intifada." It is common to blame Sharon for having instigated this "cycle of violence."
But as usual in the Middle East, appearances are deceptive. Sharon's visit was a pretext. The violence had been planned months in advance. The semi-official Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam reported the following on December 6, 2001:
Speaking at a symposium in Gaza, Palestinian Minister of Communications, Imad Al-Falouji, confirmed that the Palestinian Authority had begun preparations for the outbreak of the current Intifada from the moment the Camp David talks concluded, this in accordance with instructions given by Chairman Arafat himself. Mr. Falouji went on to state that Arafat launched this Intifada as a culminating stage to the immutable Palestinian stance in the negotiations, and was not meant merely as a protest of Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount.(1)
In addition, the Mitchell Fact-Finding Committee (April 2001) discredited the Palestinian effort to blame Sharon's visit for the violence. It states: "The Sharon visit did not cause the 'Al-Aqsa Intifada.'"(2)
Then why did the violence begin?
In July 2000 American President Bill Clinton hosted a Middle East Peace Summit at Camp David. Prime Minister Ehud Barak of Israel and Yasser Arafat were both present. Those talks resulted in a proposal, to which Barak agreed, that would have given the Palestinians 97% of the West Bank and Gaza plus shared control of Jerusalem. Arafat rejected the offer and did not even bring a counter-proposal. The Palestinian response to the peace offer at Camp David has been two years of unremitting and escalating violence.
This violence has consisted of repeated attacks by Palestinian terrorists against Israeli civilians. Hundreds of innocent people have been murdered without provocation. Palestinian terrorists have launched so many attacks that to try to describe all of them would be numbing. The following are very typical:
On August 9, 2001 a suicide bomber struck the Sbarro Pizzeria in Jerusalem at the height of a crowded lunch hour. The restaurant was destroyed. Casualties included fifteen dead and over 130 injured. Seven of the dead were children. The bomb was packed with nails, screws, and bolts to maximize the human damage. (This is how most of these bombs are made. The latest variation is to soak the lethal pieces of metal in rat poison, which is known to prevent coagulation of the blood.)(3)
Saturday night, the end of the Jewish sabbath, appears to be a favorite time for suicide bombers to strike. On March 2 of this year a bomber attacked a group of people near a yeshiva at the center of Jerusalem. The terrorist set off his bomb right next to a group of women with their baby carriages. They were waiting for their husbands to finish their prayers at the synagogue close by. A number of children were killed.(4)
Several weeks earlier, on January 17, a Palestinian gunman burst in on a twelve-year-old girl's birthday party in the northern Israeli city of Hadera. He fired on her family, killing six and wounding more than thirty. As one report states,
For Ina Kardashov, the bat mitzvah girl's mother, it meant everything to have the whole family together for the celebration, and she had worked day and night for the past year in order to make it come about. In the words of one of the family members, "We were preparing for a bat mitzvah and ended up getting ready for funerals."(5)
And on March 27, just as the festival of Passover was beginning, a terrorist burst into the dining hall of the Park Hotel in the city of Netanya where hundreds of people, many of them elderly, were preparing to have their meal. The explosion he set off demolished the hall, killed twenty-eight and injured over 100 others. The bomber had been on Israel's wanted list for over four years but was never arrested.(6)
Attacks have occurred in just about any setting one can imagine: in cafés, in discos, in markets and in shopping malls, in countless buses, including schoolbuses full of children. The young and the elderly are favorite targets of Palestinian terrorists.
This deliberate targeting of civilians is precisely what Israel does not do. Israel does not target innocent people, only those who kill innocent people. The two are not morally equivalent.
Deep down, the Palestinians realize this. Therefore their strategy is to make it seem that the Israelis are as morally depraved as they are, in their effort to manipulate world sympathy. After an unprecedented series of attacks that culminated in the March Passover Massacre, Israel launched "Operation Defensive Shield" to try to prevent any further attacks. Israeli soldiers went into Palestinian towns looking for terrorists whom the Palestinian Authority had failed to apprehend. After the operation the Palestinians claimed there had been a "massacre" at the Jenin refugee camp, with over 500 Palestinians killed. They accused Israel of doing exactly what they do: killing civilians indiscriminately. However, even though much of world opinion reflexively joined the call for Israel's condemnation, not one shred of evidence for any massacre could be found. The United Nations, certainly no friend of Israel, issued a report that stated:
Fifty-two Palestinian deaths had been confirmed by the hospital in Jenin by the end of May 2002. IDF also place the death toll at approximately 52. A senior Palestinian Authority official alleged in mid-April that some 500 were killed, a figure that has not been substantiated in the light of the evidence that has emerged.(7)
The Palestinians themselves eventually dropped their exaggerated and fraudulent claims.(8)
To sum up, what is commonly referred to as the "cycle of violence" in the Middle East consists of Palestinian terrorists attacking Israeli civilians, while Israelis try to find those responsible and prevent further attacks. To equate the two would imply that Israelis have no right to defend themselves. While Israel has not been able to stop the attacks completely, the countermeasures it has taken have greatly reduced their frequency. When terrorist attacks stop, the countermeasures will stop. No other country on earth would be asked to remain passive while its civilians are murdered with impunity. Why should Israel be the only exception?
It should now be clear that committing terrorism and responding to terrorism are not the same thing. But what about the claim that to fight terrorism only provokes more terrorism? Every time Israel tries to strike at the terrorist network, some organization uses it as an excuse for "retaliation." If Israelis were really smart, wouldn't they just stop giving Arab terrorists excuses to retaliate?
Many terrorist attacks were not followed by Israeli reprisals; nevertheless, the attacks continued. On June 1, 2001, ten days after Israel declared a unilateral cease-fire, a suicide bomber attacked the Dolphinarium Disco in Tel Aviv. Twenty-one were killed and 120 wounded, many of them teenagers who came to attend a dance party. In the spring of this year, without any Israeli provocation, the pace of attacks increased until finally after the Passover Massacre of March 27 Israel felt compelled to respond and launched Operation Defensive Shield. While the goal of this operation was defensive and while it did in fact slow the pace of the attacks, Palestinian terrorists nevertheless used it as an excuse for further "retaliation." There is no such thing as a "cycle of violence" when the other side attacks you whether or not you do anything to defend yourself.
The terrorists are playing a subtle but devastating word game.
Whether or not Israel takes any specific measures against the terrorism, the terrorists claim they are "retaliating." Retaliating for what? No matter what Israel does or doesn't do, they have an excuse for "retaliation": the "occupation." A senior Hamas official recently stated that suicide attacks would not stop as long as the Israeli "occupation" of Palestinian territories continues.(9) So much for the "cycle of violence": Israel need not commit any specific act in order to be worthy of "retaliation." Since this issue of occupation comes up so frequently, it is important to give it a hard look.
It is important to understand the following:
Israel's presence in the West Bank and Gaza is the result of a defensive war, provoked by the Arab states in 1967.
After the 1993 Oslo Accords the Palestinian Authority was granted autonomy over those territories. This is what the Palestinian Authority has chosen to do with its autonomy:
It has sponsored an educational system that dehumanizes the Jewish people, teaches children hate, and incites them to violence.
It has allowed the growth of a terrorist infrastructure complete with a network of bomb factories.
It has reneged repeatedly on promises to arrest those involved in terrorism.
It has authorized funds to support terrorist operations.
Meanwhile streams of terrorists infiltrate into Israel, their goal to murder as many as they possibly can.
This is why Israel cannot leave the territories unilaterally. They would become a terrorist fortress.
And let us not entertain any illusions that the terrorism would stop if Israel did leave. It would escalate. For proof one need go no further than the words of the terrorists themselves. Following are excerpts from the charter of the most aggressive terrorist organization today, Hamas.(10) Hamas takes these words very seriously. We need to take them just as seriously.
Israel will rise and will remain erect until Islam eliminates it as it had eliminated its predecessors. (Preamble)
For our struggle against the Jews is extremely wide-ranging and grave, so much so that it will need all the loyal efforts we can wield, to be followed by further steps and reinforced by successive battalions from the multifarious Arab and Islamic world, until the enemies are defeated and Allah's victory prevails. (Preamble)
The Prophet, prayer and peace be upon him, said: "The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! there is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him! This will not apply to the Gharqad, which is a Jewish tree." (Article Seven)
[Peace] initiatives, the so-called peaceful solutions, and the international conferences to resolve the Palestinian problem, are all contrary to the beliefs of the Islamic Resistance Movement. For renouncing any part of Palestine means renouncing part of the religion; the nationalism of the Islamic Resistance Movement is part of its faith, the movement educates its members to adhere to its principles and to raise the banner of Allah over their homeland as they fight their Jihad: "Allah is the all-powerful, but most people are not aware." (Article Thirteen)
We must spread the spirit of Jihad among the [Islamic] Umma [community], clash with the enemies and join the ranks of the Jihad fighters. (Article 15)
The Arab states surrounding Israel are required to open their borders to the Jihad fighters, the sons of the Arab and Islamic peoples, to enable them to play their role and to join their efforts to those of their brothers among the Muslim Brothers in Palestine. (Article Twenty-Eight)
Israel, by virtue of its being Jewish and of having a Jewish population, defies Islam and the Muslims. (Article Twenty-Eight)
From the terrorists' own words it could not be clearer that they consider Israel's very existence, its Jewish nature, to be an offense worthy of "retaliation." The "cycle" of violence is a myth. When somebody attacks you simply because you exist, it makes no sense to speak of a "cycle."
The term "cycle of violence" is a complete misnomer. Why, then, is it used so frequently?
The terrorist war against the civilized world is not just a war of guns and bombs, it is a war of words. And just as surely as bombs, words can cost lives. Israelis do not speak of a "cycle of violence." One usually hears the term from two sources: from apologists for Arab terrorism, and from the media. That the term has become so common in news articles and television commentaries means that the terrorists are winning the battle of words.
If this sounds like an exaggeration, consider the effects these words have. "Cycle of violence" implies that both sides are equally to blame, that both sides are escalating the conflict, and that both have equal power to put an end to it. But this is simply not true when the very existence of one side is a mortal offense to the other. Sloganeering about a "cycle" of reciprocal violence tries to erase this inconvenient fact. Speaking of a "cycle of violence" and "retaliation" create a rationale for the justification of terrorism. I strike you, you fight back, and I hit you harder because now I have the right to "retaliate." I would have hit you even if you had done nothing, but now I can justify it. And so the world looks on, buying the rhetoric of the "cycle," thinking the Jews brought this on themselves, and innocent people die with not a word of protest from the international community. The silence - and even tacit approval - of much of the world community allows the loss of life to continue.
Can there be any doubt, after witnessing the actions of the terrorists and reading their own words, that we are facing an evil as irrational and as depraved as any the world has ever seen? Why doesn't the rest of the world rise up to condemn it, before the fire spreads?
Words, like bombs, can cost lives.
And so the term "cycle of violence" when applied to the Middle East should be recognized for what it is: a propaganda tool robbing the victims of terror of their identity. It is the tool of a people without morality using the language of morality to justify immoral acts. And this is what makes it so insidious. For if the language of morality can be used to obliterate morality itself, then what hope is there left of living in a moral world?
Two years ago a peace plan was put on the table. Israel accepted; the Arabs responded with violence. The only way to stop the violence is to start treating each other like human beings. This means recognizing and dismantling the system of institutionalized hatred that permeates Arab society, in the school curricula, in the newspapers and on television, in sermons spoken in mosques. There is nothing in Israel remotely comparable to the way that words of hate have become an officially sanctioned and deeply ingrained aspect of Arab culture. These words have the power to kill. And they have already killed.
Every country that witnesses the near-daily slaughter of innocents, the intentional killing and maiming of women, children, and the elderly, and does not recoil in horror, bears some responsibility for the descent of this world into barbarism. The only thing certain is that Israel will not be the final stop.
1. "Israel - the Conflict and Peace - Answers to Frequently Asked Questions," Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, November 5, 2003. See also "Sharon and the Intifada" on this web site.
2. "Sharm El-Sheikh Fact-Finding Committee Report," U.S. Department of State, April 30, 2001.
3. "Suicide Bombing at the Sbarro Pizzeria in Jerusalem," Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, August 9, 2001.
4. "Suicide Bombing in the Beit Yisrael Neighborhood in Jerusalem," Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, March 2, 2002.
5. "Six Killed in Bat Mitzvah Terror Attack," Jewish Agency for Israel, Partnership 2000, January 18, 2002.
6. Israelinsider Staff, "Israel Mobilizes Troops as Netanya Bombing Death Toll Rises to 22," Israelinsider, March 29, 2002.
7. "Report of the Secretary-General Prepared Pursuant to General Assembly Resolution ES-10/10 (Report on Jenin)," United Nations, May, 2002.
8. Paul Martin, "Jenin 'Massacre' Reduced to Death Toll of 56," Washington Times, May 1, 2002.
9. Daniel Sobelman, "Hamas Says Looking to New 'Creative' Methods," Ha'aretz, August 5, 2002.
10. Hamas, "Hamas Charter."
Peace with Realism