Has the world rewarded Palestinian terrorism? Readers respond to the Alan Dershowitz interview.

By Salon Staff

Published September 13, 2002 7:00PM (EDT)

[Read Suzy Hansen's "Why Terrorism Works."]

Alan Dershowitz's comments on "Why Terrorism Works" deserve a full and detailed rebuttal. I don't have time for that. Instead, I will make two brief points.

First, Mr. Dershowitz is incorrect in suggesting that Menachem Begin is not comparable to Yasser Arafat in his use of terrorism. The Irgun, of which Mr. Begin was part, was responsible for, or participated in, many terrorist acts against Arab civilians, the most famous being the Deir Yassin massacre. At Deir Yassin, Jewish military groups killed up to 250 Arab civilians. At the time, the International Committee of the Red Cross reported finding the maimed bodies of approximately 150 women and children in a cistern. The details of the Deir Yassin massacre are disputed, of course, but it is clear that many women and children were murdered as part of a larger effort at "ethnic cleansing" in the region. This massacre -- and several others committed by the Israeli Defense Forces during the early period of Israeli state consolidation -- are detailed by Mia Bloom in "Atrocities and Armed Conflict: State Consolidation in Israel, 1948-56," Journal of Conflict, Security and Development, 1:3 (2001): 55-78. Many other sources also report on Deir Yassin and the deliberate targeting of civilians by Jewish paramilitaries and, later, the IDF.

Second, following from the first point: Many Palestinians regard the establishment of Israel as a prime example of the successful use of terrorism to obtain a state. Ironically, for many Palestinians, Israel is their inspiration. While we should not exaggerate the role of terrorism in creating Israel, it was an important part of the overall equation, particularly in facilitating ethnic cleansing. Mr. Dershowitz may have forgotten this; Palestinians have not, and names like "Deir Yassin" still have great resonance today among the Palestinian people. In the end, there really isn't anything to distinguish Palestinian terrorists in their tactics from the Jewish terrorists who were so instrumental in driving the Palestinians off their land.

-- Shaun Narine

I'm a little confused by the logic behind Mr. Dershowitz's proposal to delegitimize Palestinian terrorism by rewarding Palestinian leadership for ending terrorism and calibrating that reward based on their success over a two-year period.

To reward Palestinian leadership for curtailing terrorism, but not other colonized or oppressed peoples for refusing to promote their cause through terrorism, still legitimizes terrorism, since you can't be rewarded for stopping something you didn't first start.

I am sympathetic to the interests of the colonized and the oppressed. But had the IRA, for example, never engaged in terrorism, they could not be rewarded for stopping it. Thus their tactics seem to have achieved their goals.

A better approach to reduce the use of terrorism might be to more actively promote the causes and reward the struggle of people who choose to live nonviolently through their oppression, rather than only paying attention to those who, for whatever reason, resort to violence and bloodshed to be heard.

-- Todd Schrenk

Every day, it seems, Salon gives wide coverage to racist opinions about the Middle East. Today it is Alan Dershowitz over five long pages defending the indefensible.

He compares Palestine to the situation of the Kurds and the Tibetans. Why not compare it to East Timor, for instance? The difference between Palestine and these other cases is that Europeans (Jews, as it happened) took over Palestinian land and forced native Palestinians from their homes. The reason the "offers" (how generous to take over someone's land by force and "offer" them a small piece of it back!) of statehood were rejected was that Palestinians did not want to legitimize Israel's takeover of even part of their land. But gradually the weak Arabs have been forced to accept that they will never overcome the might of the United States backing Israel. This doesn't make what happened in 1948 right.

Dershowitz is correct when he says that terrorism is not about poverty. But it can sometimes be about one word that is taboo in writing about terrorism: The word is "justice."

It would, I believe, have helped the Palestinian cause tremendously if their movement against Israel's occupation was nonviolent. Europeans are always very good at claiming the moral high ground; Britain did it tremendously well while enslaving half the world. The only way to trump that, as Gandhi showed, was to be so perfectly moral that all the spin doctors in the world would not be able to make you look evil.

Having decided to use force, though, Palestinians had two choices: To take on the Israeli army, which is obviously impossible with the U.S. backing it, or to hit soft targets, i.e., civilians.

If the United States can claim that Saddam Hussein is to blame for the hundred thousand innocent Iraqi civilians who have died since the Gulf War, a case can certainly be made that war criminals like Ariel Sharon are partly responsible for the deaths of innocent Israeli civilians in Palestinian suicide bombings.

-- Girish Merchant

I simply couldn't read your interview with Alan Dershowitz to the end, so astonished was I with its contradictions and utter stupidity.

How can a man of such intellectual stature defend torture? Rarely have I seen such disregard of basic human rights based on prejudice against ethnic groups.

According to Dershowitz, the moral judgment of massacres depends on whether the dead use uniforms. How can you rate a terrorist? For the number of innocent civilians he's killed? For the possible reasons he had to do it?

I sincerely hope the American and Israeli people don't share Dershowitz's vision of terrorism and human rights. When being considered human depends on your ideological views, your ethnic background or your nationality, we are doomed to barbarism and violence.

-- Paulo Lima

I hesitate to respond at length to this piece, because it is precisely the type of thing that seems calculated to elicit an overwhelming emotional response, and I hate to fall into that kind of "foaming at the mouth" trap. However, I must express that Mr. Dershowitz's ideas, though well thought out and presented, were nevertheless very upsetting to me. His ability to write off the concept of the cycle of escalating violence, and remove Israel from its share of the blame, is inexcusable. Similarly, he negates the assertions that poverty, oppression and lack of education are the foundation of terrorism, which I find impossible to believe. Lastly, his point that many people who favor a Palestinian state are unaware or unsupportive of similar demands by Basques, Kurds, and Armenians is simply untrue in my experience.

-- N. Metzler

Salon Staff

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