TCS Daily

The Peculiar Institution: Understanding Why Palestinian Terror Is Different

By Lee Harris - February 28, 2005 12:00 AM


The Palestinian people stand at a critical moment in their history. They can rally behind the efforts of their new leader, Mahmoud Abbas, to bring an end to the Palestinian tradition of terror, or they can continue to give their support to those who are pursuing a fatal and futile fantasy -- a fantasy that has cost the lives of thousands of innocent men, women, and children, both Israelis and Palestinians.

The fantasy in question is the fantasy that one day the so called "Zionist occupation" will end. And the reason it is a fantasy can be easily detected in the phrase "the Zionist occupation."

The state of Israel has long since ceased to be a Zionist project. Like it or not, Israel is a historical fait accompli, a state as real and genuine as any that has ever existed in history. If the Israeli people could have been run out of the area, they would have left long ago. Those who are there are seriously there. They aren't leaving in the future. That is why the Palestinian people have only one realistic choice before them: they must work in every way possible to eliminate the terror virus that was permitted to spread among them under the leadership of Yasser Arafat, especially now when the Palestinians at long last appear to have a leader who is trying to bring an end to Palestine's reign of terror.

Terrorism is a Palestinian tradition that must end. But in order to bring about this desperately needed change, not only must the Palestinian people cease to show sympathy with their indigenous terrorist organizations, so too must Westerners, both in Europe and in the United States. Sympathy with the Palestinian people is in order, but not sympathy for the institution that has held them back from all progress toward a genuinely responsible civic polity.

For that is what terrorism has become among the Palestinians -- it is their peculiar institution, the way slavery was the peculiar institution of the American South in the nineteenth century. For, like the slave system, terrorism, deployed as a means of achieving political goals, ends by poisoning the society that permits it to flourish in its midst. The only group that draws any advantage from its use are those who are ruthless enough to use it. Like slavery, it corrupts whatever it touches, and is of value only to those who live off it. Like slavery, it appears to be an institution that can only be destroyed by those who are willing to use extreme and drastic measures to eradicate it. And, lastly, like American slavery, Palestinian terrorism has its defenders, many of them decent and well-intentioned individuals. In what follows I will try to explain why these individuals are mistaken in extending their sympathy to organizations like Hamas and other "militant" Palestinian groups.


Samuel Johnson once remarked, in a moment of irritation, "I will have no cant in defense of savagery." Well, if he had lived today, he would have had to put up with something even worse than cant in defense of savagery, and that is cant in defense of terrorism. But what would have been guaranteed to push him beyond the limits of his patience would have been the Western school of cant that, for over a half century, has been employed to defend and apologize for one particularly brutal, pointless, and politically self-defeating forms of terrorism: Palestinian terrorism.

What makes Palestinian terror uniquely privileged among all other forms of terror, even among those people who find other form of terrorism unacceptable? And why do so many well-meaning people in the West observe a double standard when it comes to the terrorism used by the Palestinians and the terrorism used by al Qaeda?

That such a double standard exists is hardly a matter of dispute. The Bush administration proved this point some time back by its condemnation of the Israeli government's killing of the Hamas leader, a man whose life had been dedicated to perfecting terrorism as a weapon to be used against innocent Israeli men, women, and children. And where the Bush administration condemns an Israeli action, it is fairly easy to imagine what the rest of the world's attitude on such a question would be.

What accounts for this?

To attempt to provide the answer to this question, I have identified three distinct sources of cant in defense of Palestinian terrorism, each of which may be summed up in the stock phrases that usually spring to the lips of those who are engaged in the process of defending or apologizing for Palestinian terrorism. They are:

(1) The "cycle of violence"

(2) The "legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people"

(3) The "Zionist occupation"

My reason for spending so much time dissecting the cant surrounding Palestinian terror is simple. I am convinced that the West shares much, if not most, of the blame for the most startling fact of our epoch, namely, the political triumph of Islamic terrorism.

If the word "triumph" sounds premature or alarmist, ask yourself what nation state has had the impact on the geopolitical world order that the Islamic terrorists have had in the last half century. Without a navy or an air force or an army, without any of the paraphernalia of a normal nation state, a handful of terrorist organizations have managed to seize the center stage of world affairs, and have been deciding the fate of nations. They have all but shattered the international system of alliances upon which the Pax Americana depended; they have turned many of our former allies into current enemies; they have rallied fifth columnists within every Western democracy, including our own, to champion the cause of radical anti-Americanism; they have seduced the progressive Left into defending the most reactionary regimes in the world. They have turned one European election to their own purposes, and have thereby acquired a technique that can be all too easily applied to other elections, raising a question of the survivability of parliamentary democracy in the face of future coordinated terrorist strikes. They have put the governance of the United States on permanent hold by putting the fight against terrorism on top of our national agenda, where it will remain as long as the terrorists are willing to act to keep it there. In short, it is the terrorists who are calling the shots.

How did this happen? How did the vast power of the West, and the enormous benefits of the Pax Americana, fail to defend us against the demon of terrorism?

This is where Western culpability lies. We meant well. We sympathized with the plight of the Palestinians, and for good reason; but we let this sympathy get the better of our judgment. When the Palestinians first used terror, many liberals argued that this was a legitimate way for a subject people to defend themselves, and we cited what seemed to be analogous conduct on the part of anti-colonialist revolutionaries, like the Algerian nationalists -- or indeed, like the American patriots who fought to shake off the yoke of England. The operative motto was, "One man's terrorist was another man's freedom fighter."

Today, in the era of the war on terrorism, this motto has become a source of uneasiness and confusion. On the one hand, many of us want to declare that all forms of terrorism constitute an unmitigated evil; yet, on the other hand, it is impossible to avoid noticing that some acts of terror have successfully been used in order to bring about desirable political change. Were the Spanish who rebelled against Napoleon in 1808 terrorists? And what about the Germans who tried to blow up Adolf Hitler with a bomb -- they failed in their mission, but would their success have been wrong? Or the Algerian nationalists who wanted France to stop ruling them, and who used a systematic campaign of terror to bring about their national liberation?

For better or for worse, one man's terrorist quite often is another man's freedom fighter. The Algerian nationalists were terrorists to the French, but freedom fighters from the point of view of the nation state that their terror brought into being. This fact, however, has nothing to do with moral or cultural relativism; nor does it give us permission to call someone a freedom-fighter merely because he enjoys blowing people up. Rather, the Algerian experience reflects a particular set of historical circumstances familiar to us from antiquity, namely, the struggle of one people to acquire independence from the control of another people.

Such struggles are not pretty. They were not pretty in the ancient world, nor in the modern one. Like the founding of a state, the liberation of a people is inevitably a violent process in which many innocent lives are lost. Yet there are two things that all such historical struggles have in common: first, the violence has a point, and second, the violence is not an end in itself.

Consider the case of Timothy McVeigh. What point did his violence have? Or, to put it another way, what was he intending to achieve by the bombing of a building full of innocent American men, women, and children? According to McVeigh's own account, it was to raise the consciousness of ordinary Americans, and to make them see how terrible their Federal government was. Did it have this effect? Or, more to the point, could it have had this effect? Did the American people cheer McVeigh for his generous efforts to make them see the truth about the Zionist occupation government? With the exception of Gore Vidal, the answer is no.

Was McVeigh a freedom fighter, or a terrorist? In his own mind, he was a freedom fighter; and if subjective intention is enough to determine this question, then we would be forced to acknowledge that McVeigh was indeed a freedom fighter; but then we would be forced to acknowledge that John Wilkes Booth and Charles Manson were both freedom fighters as well, along with the next lunatic who wishes to slaughter people in order to bring about a popular uprising that exists only in his own fevered imagination.

In short, if freedom fighter is to mean anything, it must have genuine substance to it, and this can only come about in one way: the man who is a real freedom fighter must be fighting for what his entire community recognizes as their freedom, and not merely for his own feverish hallucinations.

This was true of the Algerian terrorists, and it was equally true of the Israeli terrorists, like the Stern gang. Both groups used terrorism as an interim tactic exclusively designed to bring about a political objective, namely, the civic freedom of their respective communities. They were using terrorism not as an end in itself, but as a mere makeshift device, so that once their political objectives had been achieved, those who had used terrorism stopped using it.

You are free to deplore such use of terror; and yet, if you go back to the founding of any lasting state, you will discover lawless violence and illegitimate uses of force -- in short, terror. The only difference is that modern states like Algeria and Israel were formed in a period of history where such acts were considered horrendous atavisms -- which, of course, they were, judged by the standards of modern civilization.

Throughout this essay I will take for granted the idea that terror can be used for legitimate purposes, as it was used during the period of de-colonization, when various peoples, like the Algerians and the Israelis, struggled to create independent nations from what had once been European colonies and mandates. I will even go so far as to accept the idea that such terror could be dialectically justified by the results achieved through it, and that in this case, the ends justified the means.

Once I have granted all of this, however, I will draw a sharp distinction between terror as a means to an end, and terror as an end in itself, because the crisis that the West faces today has arisen in large measure because of the West's failure to understand the chasm that separates instrumental terrorism employed by the Algerians and Israelis to found nation states of their own from the pointless ritual terrorism of the Palestinians, designed not to create a Palestinian state, but to perpetuate a fantasy agenda that involves the ultimate liquidation of the state of Israel.


The failure of the West to distinguish between these two types of terrorism is not due to a liberal bias or to a conservative one, or even a pro-Israeli or a pro-Palestinian one. Everyone from Noam Chomsky to George W. Bush tacitly assumes that Palestinian terrorists should not be treated like al Qaeda terrorists. Many on the left feel a mistaken sympathy for the Palestinian terrorists out of a belief that they are like the Algerian freedom fighters, while many on the right feel that political realism forces them to distinguish between these two forms of terrorism.

Political realism was the primary justification several American administrations negotiated with the late Yasser Arafat, despite his history as an instigator and abettor of terrorism, and it is the same political realism that has led administrations to scold Israel for its elimination of leaders of the various Palestinian terrorist organizations. According to this point of view, it is imperative that the United States must appear to be what Bismarck called "an honest broker" in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, adjudicating between the legitimate claims of both antagonists. Therefore, while the Clinton or Bush administration may deplore Palestinian terrorism against Israelis, each has normally felt obliged to condemn Israel retaliation for continuing what is called "the cycle of violence."

Here we come to the first, and perhaps the most common, form that our modern cant about terrorism assumes -- a phrase that slips so easily off the tongues of anchorpersons that no one ever stops to inspect its meaning.

You walk into my house and shoot my wife dead. I chase you out of the house and gun you down in the street. The next day your son kills me; and two days following my son kills your son.

Now here is a cycle of violence, and yet can there be any doubt who started this cycle? You did. True, I may have done things that, in your opinion, justified your violence; but provided I did not use physical violence against you or yours, then you were the first one to escalate to the deliberate use of violence.

So how could I have stopped the cycle of violence? Well, by not doing anything to you or your kin when you killed my wife.

But would this have stopped the cycle of violence? What if you came the next day and shot my son, and I still didn't use violence to avenge myself. In this case, is my refusal to stoop to the use of violence a factor promoting the end of violence, or an incentive to more violence on the part of the person who first decided to use it?

The "cycle of violence" is a cant phrase, like so many other cant phrases circulating today, in that it permits us to feel as if we have said something profound when in fact we are talking utter nonsense. Yes, violence, once begun, often breeds violence -- but, as history amply demonstrates, violence breeds violence no matter how the other party responds to it. Fighting violence breeds it, but so too does appeasing violence. Furthermore, massive and overwhelming violence, far from continuing the cycle of violence, often stops it in its tracks, like the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

So what is the phrase "cycle of violence" good for? Well, for deceiving ourselves into thinking that we can be even-handed and fair-minded in our approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Since it is all just a cycle of violence, we do not need to take sides, or decide whose violence is justifiable. All violence is equally wrong, on this view; hence the role of the honest broker is to deplore both Israeli violence and Palestinian violence as if there were no difference between them.

This policy is similar to the policy on violence that is fashionable in American public schools today. If two boys are found fighting, both are punished equally, and no attention is paid to the question, "Who started it?" All violence is equivalent. The violence of the bully, and the violence of the boy who is determined to put the bully in his place, are one and the same. The heroic kid, who is prepared to stand up to the bully, is not honored, but sent to detention or expelled.

In the context of a public school, such a policy can be justified by the obvious problem of how do you go about determining who really started the fight when both boys, along with their buddies, are screaming that it was the other side who threw the first punch. Yet matters of expediency must not be elevated to maxims of morality. It is fine to break up two boys with the statement, "One of you may well be totally in the right and the other totally in the wrong -- but, unfortunately, the school system lacks the facilities to pass a judgment on this question. Therefore, we are forced to punish both the guilty and the innocent." But it is not fine to tell them that all violence is equally wrong, and to condemn both equally for resorting to it, since this, rather from being a straightforward statement of school policy, is transparent cant.

Yet this is the position that so much of the world inevitably takes when it is a question of eruptions of violence between the Palestinians and the Israelis. "There they go again," is apt to be the response of many fair-minded Westerners; and each new terrorist act, and each retaliation against it, are weighed against one another as if they were morally equivalent.

Psychologically, it is understandable why so many Westerners feel this way. Those, for example, who have gone back to the origins of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict inevitably discover that their sincere efforts to solve the question, "Who started it?" are baffled by the bloody and violent historical track record of both Israelis and Palestinians. But, in fact, it is not necessary for us to try to determine the question of who started it. This is because, even when we cannot be clear about who started it, we can be reasonably certain about who is not trying to stop it -- and this is certainly true in the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Israelis retaliate against terror, and they try to prevent it; but they do not use acts of terror to deliberately disrupt attempts at a peaceful solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: the Palestinian terrorist organizations do. They have for decades, and they continue to engage in such terror, despite Palestinian national elections and concessions made by the Israelis. Nor is there any reason to suppose that this terror will end, so long as there are Palestinian organizations whose very existence depends on maintaining a condition of anarchy and disorder. Any stable and peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would, in and of itself, rob the terrorist leaders and their followers of their power and importance. Thus, they have a vested interest in keeping uproar and violence alive.

Despite this painfully obvious fact, the apologists of Palestinian terror argue that, unlike the Israelis who have tanks and airplanes, the Palestinian militants lack the means to express their political aspiration, except through acts of terrorism. But couldn't Timothy McVeigh have said the same thing? "Yes," he might have said, "I would have declared war on the Federal government if I had been equipped with my own military force, but, lacking that, I did the best I could: I blew up lots of perfectly innocent people."

The argument does not work in McVeigh's case because we do not accept the legitimacy of his aspirations: we do not see the point of his act of terror, nor do we see any link between the point he was trying to make and the means he elected to make it with.

This, however, is not the way that most of the world views Palestinians acts of terror. These atrocities are looked upon as the expression -- however immature or misguided -- of what is called "the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people."


This second cant phrase is short hand for saying that while, of course, we can't approve of all the aspirations of the Palestinian people, such as the liquidation of the state of Israeli, we can approve of their legitimate aspirations, such as the desire to have a state of their own. But this is like telling a young man who has his heart set on marrying your daughter that you approve fully of his desire to find himself a bride, but that you have no intention of offering him your daughter's hand in marriage. By doing this, you are not recognizing his actual aspirations as legitimate; you are trying to get him to aspire to something quite different -- something that you are prepared to regard as his legitimate aspiration, such as marrying someone else's daughter instead of yours. Thus, when apologists for Palestinian terror use this cant phrase what they really mean is this: If the Palestinians were interested in establishing a state next to Israel that did not continue using terrorism against Israel in the hope of driving it into the sea, then this would be fine with them -- just as a Hitler who was happy in his own homeland and who had no interest in exterminating the Jews would have been fine with Churchill.

It is absurd to suggest that a people who have passionately dedicated themselves to an unacceptable goal, such as the destruction of the Jewish state, are really expressing a reasonable goal cunningly hidden from view within the unacceptable goal. Hitler, for example, in his ultimatum to Poland over the city of Dantzig had a reasonable goal -- the return of a German city to its original homeland -- but accompanying this reasonable goal was one that was quite unacceptable, namely, the use of violence to destroy the independence of Poland. Had Neville Chamberlain said at that time, "Well, Mr. Hitler's ultimatum does reflect the legitimate aspirations of the German people as well as the people of Dantzig," he would have been quite correct -- ninety percent of the city wanted to be re-united with Germany, just as Germany wanted to be re-united with it. But what value were these legitimate aspirations if they were not the real aspirations -- as they clearly were not?

The much maligned Chamberlain was not fooled by Hitler's claims of legitimate aspirations: he had seen what "the legitimate aspirations" model had lead to after the Munich accord when Hitler, not satisfied with re-uniting the Germans of the Sudentenland -- his original legitimate aspirations -- elected to march into the Czech republic and liquidate it as a national entity.

Cant talk of legitimate aspirations, when used in connection with Palestinian terrorism, deceives many well-meaning people into believing that such terror has a realistic and acceptable goal, namely, the fulfillment of the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people to have a state of their own, when in fact the only way to fulfill the aspirations of the Palestinian militants and terrorists is through the liquidation of Israel. That is why any Palestinian political organization that expects Israel, America, or the rest of the world to take it seriously must figure out a way not merely of controlling the terrorists, but eliminating them altogether. No one can take seriously the claims to political responsibility of a people whose elected leaders cannot control gangs of terrorist thugs -- a fact of which the current Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, appears to be painfully aware.

Here, as so often, sympathetic Americans see the plight of the Palestinian people and think to themselves, "What would be my aspirations if I were in such a situation?" And from this premise, they conclude that the Palestinians would aspire to the same kind of thing that we would aspire to under the same circumstances: to create our own state, to operate it independently, and to live in peace alongside Israel. But this is a classical example of the sympathetic illusion that prevails in so much Western thinking about the aspirations of the Palestinians in particular and the Arabs in general.

The upshot of this sympathetic illusion is that we unconsciously replace the Palestinian fantasy aspirations of total victory over Israel with our own modest "Live and let live" attitude, thereby creating the mirage of a legitimate goal to which our imaginary Palestinians would be aspiring if they were just like us.

This mirage of a legitimate goal is essential to all Western apologetics for Palestinian terrorism. Thus an organization like Hamas is seen as seeking a legitimate objective, namely the creation of an independent Palestinian state, but is simply going about it the wrong way. Instead of following the roadmap to peace, they are using terrorism. So get them to stop using terror, engage them in the peace process, and that way, the state of Israel will find peace and the "legitimate aspirations" of the Palestinians would be accommodated.

On this view, the Palestinian aspirations are sound; it is simply that the Palestinians have chosen an unfortunate means to achieve these aspirations, namely, terror. Get them to stop using terror, and help obtain their legitimate goals, and all will be well.

Underlying this Pollyanna scenario is the idea that Palestinian terror is a poor man's form of Clausewitzian warfare. Palestinian terrorism, like traditional war, is politics carried out by other means. Unlike the Israelis, the Palestinians lack the military hardware of their enemy, and hence are entitled to use whatever means necessary in order to achieve their objectives -- objectives that, according to the "legitimate aspiration" thesis, are the same objectives of any other people: national independence.

But independence from what?

Well, obviously from the Israelis.

Yet the moment the conflict is framed in this way, it becomes quite obvious that anyone buying into this scenario is evoking a model drawn from the period of de-colonization that followed World War Two, with the state of Israel cast as the European oppressor, and the Palestinian people cast as the oppressed native population. Hence the origin of the most specious of all the arguments for Palestinians -- indeed, in many ways, the one central premise in the canon of pro-terrorist cant, namely, the notion that Israel is not really a state, but a Western colony, also known as the myth of Zionist occupation.


The spell that this model casts over minds in the West, including minds that should know better, can hardly be overemphasized. For it is this model that permits Western apologists for Palestinian terrorists to see them as freedom fighters who, like the Algerian revolutionaries, are simply using any means that comes to hand to secure their national homeland from European occupation. As a result, the Palestinian struggle against "the Zionist occupation" is no different from the struggle of any other indigenous people to liberate themselves from colonial oppression.

According to this model, the Palestinian use of terror is legitimate because of the noble ends that it serves. As Lenin remarked, "You cannot make an omelet without breaking the eggs," so that, going on this analogy, that Palestinian terror is nothing more than the egg breaking that is necessary in order to rid the Palestinian people from the yoke of European subjugation, with the establishment of an independent Palestinian state playing the role of the omelet.

On this popular view, the Palestinian struggle is the last great battle for independence from European colonialism, and hence it is, in effect, simply an updated version of the Algerian struggle for national independence half a century earlier. The Algerian revolutionaries used terror; the Palestinians use terror. Both forms of terror, it is claimed, aim at the same end -- liberation from colonial oppression. Therefore, if the Algerians were justified in breaking eggs because of the omelet that resulted, why shouldn't the same culinary logic apply to the Palestinians?

Here we have an example of cant thinking that arises out of a completely false analogy, and that best way to see this is to examine the original proto-type.

The Algerian model of terrorism was developed out of the concrete historical circumstances of the Algerian independence movement, concerning which three factors stand out as having a critical bearing on the analogy between the Algerian and the Palestinian model of terrorism.

First, there was never any doubt what the Algerian terrorists wanted. From the initial use of terror, it was clear that the desired political objective was the severing of all ties to France, and the establishment of complete independence -- and at no point did the Algerian terrorists ever waver from this unconditional demand.

Second, independence was a demand that, however painful its satisfaction may have been to many Frenchmen, was still a demand that the French could afford to pay. The independence of Algeria was all about Algeria; it required no drastic alteration in the life of the average Frenchmen, provided he lived in France, and not Algeria. The French, in short, only needed to give up Algeria; they did not need to give up France.

Third, all parties knew that once France had acceded to the demands of the Arab nationalists, that the Arab terror would stop. The French knew this because the Arab nationalists, though still not representing a sovereign nation, acted as if they were already one. Though there were quarrels among them, these never rose to a point where the French government had to wonder, Who represents the Arab nationalists? Thus the French were assured that once the Arab nationalists had obtained what they demanded, that no splinter group will come along to make a set of new demands on France. Besides, what would be the point of these new demands if the French pulled out of Algeria?

These three factors account for the Clausewitzian quality so obviously present in the Algeria independence movement. Terror, in this case, was a form of war used to obtain realistic political ends. Indeed, the only difference between classical Clausewitzian war -- that is, war between independent nation states -- and the Algerian war of independence, was merely a matter of terminology. Algeria was still recognized by most of the world as a colony. But in the same way that certain modern states are merely honorific states, and not states in substance, Algeria might have been called a merely honorific colony, since it proved it was not a colony by fighting a war the same way that any genuine nation fights a war. It behaved like a state first, and got recognition as a state second.

At the time of its revolution, Algeria was not recognized by the world community as an independent and sovereign nation, except by the Communist block. In this sense, it was the mirror image of those failed states that are called "states" simply because their existence has been formally recognized by the United Nations. In this case, what was called a colony was in fact already a real state -- and it proved this fact by acting enough like a real nation state to make demands on France, and to force France to yield to these demands.

Algerian terrorism, whatever else you may say about it, was the breaking of eggs solely for the purpose of making an omelet, and not merely for the joy of breaking eggs. But this kind of terrorism was only available as an instrument of policy because it was terrorism that had a realistic chance of working to achieve its goal.

This realistic chance turned entirely on the historical setting in which the Algerian revolution took place, namely, that period in which European nations were being forced, one after one, to return the colonies that they had established in earlier centuries back to the native populations, for good or for ill. It was this setting that made the use of terrorism by nationalists a realistic political choice, and this is a fact that must be recognized even by those who might have deplored the making of such a choice.

In summary, the Algerian model of terror can only be realistically effective under certain precisely defined circumstances. First, there had to be a colony that wished to gain its political independence. Second, within this colony there had to be an emergent state apparatus in the form of a nationalist leadership that was capable of acting coherently and for a collective purpose. Third, there had to be a point where the colonizing country would call it quits rather than continue to pay an increasingly costly price for maintaining the colonial status of the native population.

This point was reached in France when the French began to genuinely fear that the Algerian revolution would create a veritable civil war in France; and this was a price that the French simply were not willing to pay -- and for good reason. And thus the day came when the French declared: "Enough's enough -- let them have their independence."

In short, in this case, terror worked, and the Algerian nation was born as a result of it. True, eggs got broken, but the omelet, for what it was worth, was made in the end.


Now the problem of using the Algerian model to justify terrorism is quite obvious: when the three conditions enumerated above do not hold, the Algerian model of terror becomes utterly pointless, and ceases to have even a quasi-Clausewitzian purpose; and nowhere is this more evident than in the Palestinian use of terror against Israel. In that case, we need to pay attention to the motto of Joseph la Farina, the nineteenth century Italian nationalist who also fought for his country's independence, and who had learned first hand how much unnecessary blood can be shed in the pursuit of political fantasies.

La Farina's motto goes like this: "In politics the impossible is the immoral." And it is by this motto that Palestinian terrorism grossly fails to live up to the Algerian model. There, terrorism was used in the pursuit of a realistic goal -- France abandoning Algeria; today, the Palestinian suicide-bombers are in pursuit of a fantasy -- the fantasy of Israel abandoning Israel. From this perspective, it is not their use of terrorism that condemns them, but their utter lack of realism.

The rhetoric of the anti-Israeli left is deliberately customized in order to conflate and confuse. It argues that Israel is to Palestine what France was to Algeria -- simply a colonial power occupying territory that does not really belong to it. Israel, on this reading, is transformed from being an independent nation state into being merely a colony of America, or perhaps of the West in general, in which case the model of the Algerian revolution may be piously invoked, as a way of justifying the terror of the Palestinian suicide-bombers. See, the apologists for Palestinian terror exclaim, we are just doing what the Algerians did to gain their independence. If they are justified in what they did, then we are justifying in what we are doing.

This analogy is based on the curious notion that Zionism was a form of colonialism, as if somewhere outside Israel there was a mother country controlled by Zionists -- a contention that can only be made plausible if you accept the argument that America is itself the Zionist mother country. Yet even if you are willing to swallow this absurd premise, the analogy still doesn't hold water -- and a glance back at the Algerian revolution will show us why.

When it became clear that France was going to pull out of Algeria, the pied noirs, or those Europeans who had made Algeria their home generations before, and who were more often than not of Italian and Spanish ancestry rather than French, decided that they were not going to budge, whereupon they themselves began to employ the exact same terror strategy against Metropolitan France that had proven so successful a technique in the hands of the Arab nationalists. The OAS was formed, and the attacks that they carried out were just as ruthless, and often more deadly, than the attacks that had been undertaken by the Algerian revolutionaries -- and all of them designed to force France into reversing its policy of de-colonizing Algeria.

Thus, if the Palestinians wish to evoke the Algerian model of terrorism to justify their own use of terror, they must begin by recognizing that the current population of Israeli does not represent the supposed American colonial power, but are analogous to the stubborn pied noirs who refused to leave the land that they themselves regard as their true homeland -- even if they originally came from somewhere else. It is not necessary to believe that these Israelis are "right" to have such feelings of visceral attachment to Israel -- indeed, you can deplore this attachment as much as you wish; but you must at the same time recognize both the intensity of this attachment and, what is more important, what the people of Israel are willing to do in order to defend what they regard as their homeland, and not merely as a colonial outpost of the American Imperium.

If the Palestinians insist on drawing comparison to Algeria, then they must recognize that they are not fighting American colonialists, who might be willing to leave if things got hot enough for them. Instead, they are fighting against pied noirs who are firmly convinced that they are in their own homeland, and that no one has a right to push them out of it.

But here the analogy breaks down altogether, because the Israelis cannot be compared to the Algerian pied noirs for two reasons. First, because the Israelis are roughly equal in number to the Palestinians, unlike the pied noirs, who were vastly outnumbered by the Muslim population, at a ratio of about 10 to 1. Second, because, unlike the pied noirs, the Israelis do not have to rely on small scale acts of terror, as the OAS did; the Israelis have an army, an air force, and a huge stockpile of nuclear weapons, with a delivery capacity sufficient to devastate every major city in the Arab world. Thus, far from being a vastly outnumbered minority without any means to defend themselves except by copying the terrorism of the Algerian revolutionaries, as the pied noirs were eventually driven to do, the state of Israel possesses the retaliatory capacities that only a handful of states in the history of the world have possessed; and certainly far more than Japan, Germany, Italy, or Spain possesses today. Hence the manifest -- and dangerous -- folly of pretending that Israel is a colony of America or of the West. If the possession of an enormous stockpile of nuclear weapons does not make you a sovereign state, it is difficult to say what would.

In short, the pied noirs could not survive where they were by brute force, whereas the Israelis can. And this one indisputable fact is sufficient to topple the Algerian model completely. It was possible to use terror to drive out the French; but it is not possible to use terror to "drive out" the Israelis, because, like the pied noirs, they are unwilling to be driven out, but, unlike the pied noirs, they have the military might to keep anyone from seriously thinking of driving them out. Hence, those Palestinians who believe that they can secure their goal of driving Israel into the sea are operating on the same level of fantasy thinking that was displayed by Timothy McVeigh in the Oklahoma City bombing.

Furthermore, there is this consideration. If the Israelis feel that they have been betrayed, as the pied noirs felt betrayed by France, they would have the wherewithal to make matters quite unpleasant for the world -- and the traditional Israeli admiration for the martyrs of Masada is an indication of just how far the Israeli government might be prepared to go in extremis. If we are to die, we are prepared to take as many with us as possible -- this represents the ace in the hole of Israel, and one that is so self-evident that there is no need to articulate it. When a proud nation is pressed to the wall, and fighting tooth and nail to insure its biological survival, it may take whatever steps it deems necessary to defend itself. When Louis the XIV attacked Holland, the Dutch immediately broke their dikes and flooded their country, thereby making it impassible for the French armies. Similarly, when Napoleon arrived to celebrate his great triumph in Moscow, an order had already gone forth to burn the great and beautiful city to the ground.

Those who have no sympathy for the Israelis must still have a healthy respect for what they might be capable of doing when they suddenly find themselves in the same desperate situation that their ancestors found themselves in on mount Masada nearly two thousand year before. Those who think that the Israelis would go down without a catastrophic parting shot at the Arab world -- and perhaps Europe as well -- are simply being naïve. Hate the Israelis as much as you wish; you must still take a realistic measure of their awesome capacity to inflict damage on anyone who assumes that they could be removed from their land without one final apocalyptic death spasm; and this single fact renders the Palestinian use of the Algerian model utterly ridiculous. Metropolitan France had a breaking point, and the Algerians revolutionaries were able to push them to this point. But the Israelis cannot afford to have a breaking point; and if they did, the achievement of this breaking point by the Palestinians would not result in the evacuation of Israel, but in the destruction of the Palestinians themselves, and perhaps millions in the Arab world as well.


There is a psychological barrier here that is of profound significance. The Algerian terrorists looked upon terror frankly as a tool. Their strategy dictated that there had to be terror bombings, but the terrorists themselves were not interested in slaughter for the sake of slaughter, so that when the French agreed to pull out, those who had been terrorists turned to something else.

But what do the Palestinians suicide bombers turn into when they stop being terrorists? Into cinders. Those who practice this kind of terror do not see it as a bloody and ghastly instrument that they hope one day to set aside, and in this respect they differ profoundly from both the terrorists who helped to found an independent Algeria and the terrorists who helped to establish the state of Israel.

Yet most in the West refuse to see this difference, or to acknowledge it when they do. Through the cant phrases we have examined, and the absence of serious thinking that is the inevitable product of the repetition of such phrases, the Palestinian terrorists have become officially licensed to use terrorism in a way that no other group of people had been licensed. They became free to murder Israelis decade after decade, and to encourage their own children to kill themselves to achieve this pointless end. Unlike the Algerians and the Israelis before them, the Palestinians were not expected to achieve any serious purpose by these acts, but were permitted to indulge in them virtually as a form of self-expression.

In the culminating cant phrase of all, terrorism became formalized as "the expression of the desperation of the Palestinian people," a book of lamentations written in mangled corpses of the Palestinians' own children -- almost a ritual deserving of respect, like the Jewish Kaddish or the Catholic mass for the dead. It was sacred, and therefore above criticism. Why do they encourage their children to explode bombs against their chests? Because of their desperation.

Other people have despaired, and not one is recorded which decided to express its despair in this particular way: the Armenians persecuted by the Turks, the Jews persecuted by the Cossacks, the Irish persecuted by the English, and down the list, and not a one of them ever thought about immolating their own offspring on such a senseless and bitter pyre. And it is supposed to mean nothing to us that the Palestinians and the Arabs find such a sacrifice ennobling to the family that urges it?

The Palestinian terrorists, in short, are past masters at breaking eggs. But, unlike the Algerian revolutionaries, they appear to have forgotten that the whole point of breaking eggs was to make an omelet. They have become obsessed with breaking eggs only for the pleasure they seem to get from smashing delicate things.

Those who support the endless smashing of bodies for the mere sake of smashing bodies are not standing on the right side of history. They are in league with the forces of anti-civilization. They are cheering on those who no longer remember how to create and construct, and indeed who no longer see any purpose in creating or constructing.

This is why those who have genuine sympathy with the Palestinian people must stop extending sympathy for those who continue to pursue a totally unrealistic fantasy, especially now that a genuine alternative is being offered to them by a leader that they have chosen themselves. But Mahmoud Abbas can only be successful in bringing an end to Palestinian terrorism if the opinion of the rest of the world stands solidly behind him in his struggle to control the virus of terrorism that has plagued the Palestinian people just as much -- if not more -- than it has plagued the Israelis. That is why those who continue to apologize or palliate Palestinian terror are betraying the very people that they are claiming to support. It is time, in short, to stop the cant in defense of terrorism, no matter from what source it may come.

Lee Harris is author of Civilization and Its Enemies.


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