by John Spritzler

March 24, 2005



Palestinian suicide bombers kill random Jewish civilians, including children, in busses and nightclubs and restaurants and similar places in Israel. People all over the world naturally respond to these killings with anger, revulsion and moral outrage because the victims (certainly the children!) are not the Israeli soldiers and armed civilians who violently oppress Palestinians and who deserve whatever violence they meet from Palestinian resistance, but innocent human beings minding their own business and threatening nobody. I have the same reaction.

Many Palestinians, however, support the suicide bombings. It's not that they are crazy or fanatical religious zealots or driven by blind hatred. It's because they see no other realistic way to resist an implacable force that wants them to disappear or live forever in squalid refugee camps as permanent outcasts from their former towns and villages. They ask the world, "How else can we stop the Jewish state (spearheaded by Jewish settlers under Israeli military protection) from encroaching every day further and further into the rapidly eroding 22% of Palestine that remains even nominally still Palestinian?" And the world provides no answer, other than to condemn the suicide bombers.

But the world should and must do better than that if it is to take a truly moral stance on these terror bombings!

How, indeed, should good people respond to the conflict between Palestinians and Jews in Palestine? Some people say it's obvious. Their revulsion against these suicide attacks leads them to support all sorts of drastic measures by Israel against Palestinians in the name of self-defense against evil terrorists.  I disagree with that response; there is a far better way to stand up for what is right. Shifting attention for a moment to other instances of terror against innocent civilians may shed light on how best to respond to the conflict in the Middle East.

Three important historical conflicts that involved similar terrorism against civilians come to mind: Native Americans versus white settlers, black slaves versus whites in the American South, and blacks versus whites in apartheid South Africa.  Below are examples of such terrorism from each of these conflicts -- terrorism against white settlers, white Southerners, and white South Africans.

Jefferson County's last Indian massacre occurred on July 17, 1789, when the family of Richard Chenoweth, builder of Louisville's Fort Nelson, was attacked.  Three of Chenoweth's children and two soldiers guarding them were killed at the family home on Chenoweth Run about a mile west of Floyds Fork. [http://www.floydsfork.org/ht/ht_lastindian.htm]

"In August 1831, Nat Turner and his small band of black rebels wreaked fear, violence and murder in Southhampton County, Virginia. Attempting to strike a crushing blow against the institution of slavery, Turner and slave insurgents killed approximately sixty whites, many of whom were children." [http://jsr.fsu.edu/Volume7/Jones.htm]

In South Africa in 1986 Robert McBride, a member of the ANC's special operations unit, bombed Magoos Bar on the Durban beachfront, killing three people and injuring 80, nearly all of them white.

In all three cases the victims were no less innocent than Jewish victims of Palestinian suicide bombers, the violence no less wrong. Native Americans, as virtually everybody now concedes, were the victims of genocide and ethnic cleansing. American slaves were the victims of the morally indefensible practice of chattel slavery. Blacks in South Africa were the victims of apartheid.

White settlers could have responded to the native American terrorism in two basic ways: increase their support for the U.S. cavalry's genocidal campaign against native Americans, or end the conflict by opposing their government's genocide and seeking to live with native Americans in peace by respecting them as human beings with rights fully equal to their own.  Southern whites could have responded to Nat Turner by supporting  increased security measures to protect whites from blacks in a slave society, or by abolishing slavery. White South Africans had to choose between supporting the apartheid government and its draconian methods for controlling the black population under apartheid, or abolishing apartheid. In these kinds of conflicts, the choice is between standing in solidarity with people who are fighting against a terrible injustice, or using the violence against innocent civilians as an excuse for taking the side of those perpetuating the injustice.

In every case cited above, the root cause of the conflict was a fundamental injustice; terrorism was merely a response, however indefensible, of the victims to the injustice. In every case the morally right response to the terrorism was to abolish the injustice, not to step up security measures against the Indians or slaves or black South Africans. Note that this is true regardless of the morality or immorality of the terrorist acts.

Note also that in every case the civilians targeted by terrorism had three things in common: They were individuals who were not personally responsible for the root injustice and may even have opposed it if their elite rulers had allowed this option to be discussed freely. Their opinion in either event carried no weight with their own leaders. They were more easily controlled by their rulers to the extent that they viewed their rulers as protectors against the victims of the root injustice.

Please imagine yourself in the historical period of any of these three conflicts, and imagine your reaction upon reading in the newspaper about the massacre by Indians of that white family in Jefferson County, or the murder of those sixty white people (including children) by slaves in Southhampton County, Virginia, or the awful bombing of people in Magoos Bar in Durban, South Africa. Knowing what you now know about these conflicts, do you think the right way to respond would have been to support the U.S. cavalry's campaign against the Indians, or the slave-owners clampdown on the slaves, or the apartheid government's stepped up policing and oppression of the blacks, all of which would have been presented to you as perfectly reasonable efforts to protect innocent people from evil terrorists? Of course not!

As upsetting as the terrorist acts may be, they are secondary to the underlying injustice, with respect to which they are essentially defensive in nature. The morally right response to each of these conflicts is solidarity with those who suffer from the fundamental injustice, expressed by joining their struggle against it by doing everything one can to help them abolish it. Those engaged in such solidarity have a right to say what they think about the morality or immorality of terrorism. On the other hand, those who defend the injustice while condemning those victims of the injustice who kill innocent civilians are hypocrites because they give aid and comfort to people who are the aggressors and who kill innocent people on a far larger scale.

Likewise, as upsetting as the suicide bombings in Israel/Palestine may be, they are secondary to the underlying injustice. The reason Palestinian suicide bombings have substantial support among the Palestinian people is because nothing else seems to them to strike a real blow against Zionism's five decades of unremitting ethnic cleansing against them. The fundamental question is the morally indefensible purpose behind the ethnic cleansing: to ensure that the western 78% of Palestine will always have a majority Jewish population gathered into a settler state known as Israel; and to ensure that it will be ruled by a government that acknowledges only Jews, and not all its citizens, as the sovereign authority to which it is responsible. The Israeli government hypocritically seizes upon every suicide bombing to justify the far greater Israeli state terror against Palestinians. To side with Israel in this hypocrisy is as morally bankrupt as it would have been to side with slave owners or the genocidal U.S. cavalry or the apartheid South African government because of objections to terrorism. Every important aspect of the earlier three conflicts prevails also in Israel/Palestine. The morally right response to all four conflicts is the same.


John Spritzler is the author of The People As Enemy: The Leaders' Hidden Agenda In World War II, and a Research Scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health.


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