Posted by: Harold Knight | 09/04/2014

“. . . the dispossession and disenfranchisement of indigenous populations . . .” (Joel Beinin)

Inauguration of Civil Administration in Palestine, 1920

Inauguration of Civil Administration in Palestine, 1920

According to Benjamin Netanyahu,

(Benjamin Netanyahu. Terrorism: How the West Can Win. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1986, page 9.)

Of Netanyahu’s definition, Joel Beinin (Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History and Professor of Middle East History at Stanford University) says,

While this definition begs the questions of who is innocent and what constitutes innocence in conflictual situations, it is provisionally serviceable if applied to both states and nonstate actors, which Netanyahu does not do. This condition offers the only possibility of rescuing the term terrorism from its predominantly propagandistic usage in current political discourse.

(Beinin, Joel. “Is Terrorism a Useful Term in Understanding the Middle East and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict?” Radical History Review 85 [2003]: 12. Academic Search Complete. Web.) NOTE: I have copied the Wikipedia biographical material of Joel Beinin at the end of this post.

Beinin closes his essay with these observations:

Can the term terrorism be rescued from its imbrication in such a web of propaganda? Is it worth doing so? While I am not absolutely opposed to using the term, it does not seem very useful in furthering understanding of the events discussed here.

The Bush administration’s adoption of Ariel Sharon’s specious argument that Yasir Arafat and Osama bin Laden are equivalents demonstrates how easily the term can be

Ariel Sharon at Temple Mount Mosque in Jerusalem inciting the Second Intifada, Sept. 28, 2000

Ariel Sharon at Temple Mount Mosque in Jerusalem inciting the Second Intifada, Sept. 28, 2000

abused to obscure the disparate histories of events that appear superficially similar. Palestinian extremists have indeed carried out horrific attacks on Israeli civilians. But that is the only similarity between the Palestinian intifada that has been going on since September 2000 and al-Qaeda’s attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.

The principal issue in Israel and Palestine is not terrorism in the abstract, but the struggle of the Palestinian people against Israeli occupation and Israel’s refusal to permit the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state. Sharon, with his record of war crimes and atrocities stretching back to 1953, visited the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on September 28 “to show the Temple Mount is ours”— a provocation echoing the Betar demonstration near the same spot in 1929. Sharon’s visit and the Israeli security forces’ firing on Palestinian stone-throwers and other protestors the next day, killing four and wounding two hundred, sparked the Palestinian uprising, which has continued since.

Attacking civilians in any conflict is morally indefensible and politically counterproductive, but the case of settler colonialism proves more complex than most. Settlers typically claim that they only desire to live in peace. Colonial settlement involves the dispossession and disenfranchisement of indigenous populations, even when it does not entail direct violence. Hence attacks on civilians are a common feature of struggles against settler colonialism— in North America, Northern Ireland, Algeria, Kenya, and even South Africa. Ben-Gurion did not think that the acts of those he considered “Jewish Nazis” invalidated the political claims of Zionism. The reprehensible attacks on civilians by Palestinian extremists should not annul the national rights of the Palestinian people.
Joel Beinin was raised as a Zionist in an American Jewish family. On graduating from high school, he spent six months working on a kibbutz, where he met his future wife. He studied Arabic at university, and received his B.A. from Princeton University in 1970. He spent the summer of 1969 studying Arabic at the American University in Cairo. Intending to move to Israel permanently, he joined other members of Hashomer Hatzair in living and working at Kibbutz Lahav. There, on encountering attitudes that struck him as being contemptuous of Palestinians, he gradually became disenchanted with his early ideals. He returned to the United States in 1973, and took his M.A. from Harvard University in 1974, and, after working in auto plants in Detroit, obtained his A.M.L.S. and Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 1978 and 1982, respectively. He has also studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.


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