Israel: normalizing terror, one dawn at a time

Relatives mourn during the funeral of four teenage Palestinians from the Najm family in Jabalia in the northern Gaza Strip, who were killed during the latest Israeli bombardment (Mohammed Abed - AFP)

Belén Fernández

Al-Jazeera  /  August 12, 2022

Israel is engaging in straight-up terrorism – at least according to, you know, the Cambridge Dictionary definition.

Israel’s latest military assault on the Gaza Strip – codenamed Operation Breaking Dawn – spanned three days in early August and killed at least 44 Palestinians, including 16 children. According to the Israeli government, the attack was a “preemptive” operation against the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group – which is as creative an excuse as any for spontaneously bombing people for no apparent reason.

A total of zero Israelis were killed over the course of Israel’s sanguinary dawn-breaking in Gaza, an acute discrepancy in casualties that is par for the course in the Zionist state’s dealings with the besieged Palestinian coastal enclave. While lethal and nonlethal forms of Israeli military torment have continued to be fixtures of daily existence in Gaza even after Israel’s so-called “withdrawal” from the territory in 2005, Breaking Dawn was the bloodiest episode since the 11-day Israeli attack in May 2021 – nobly dubbed Operation Guardian of the Walls – which killed more than 260 Palestinians, including 67 children.

A bit farther back on the timeline, you’ll find Operation Protective Edge – when the Israeli military slaughtered no fewer than 2,251 people in Gaza, among them 551 children. For its part, Operation Cast Lead, a 22-day affair that began in December of 2008, eliminated some 1,400 Palestinians, 300 of them children and the vast majority of them civilians. Three Israeli civilians were killed during Cast Lead.

Rewind a bit further to the romantic charm of Operation Summer Rains, which commenced in June 2006 and gave way to the similarly poetic Operation Autumn Clouds. In their book Gaza in Crisis, US scholar Noam Chomsky and Israeli scholar Ilan Pappé posit that Summer Rains constituted the “most brutal attack on Gaza since 1967” – with the “systematic slaughter” gradually assuming the air of “inertia killing, when the continued employment of massive power is done as daily routine and not as the implementation of a policy”.

Of course, if your state’s policy happens to be terror, then seemingly senseless systematic slaughter is one way to implement it.

The online version of the Cambridge Dictionary defines terrorism as “(threats of) violent action for political purposes”. And indeed, this has pretty much been the name of Israel’s game since it violently founded itself on Palestinian land in 1948 – an action that entailed massacring more than 10,000 Palestinians, expelling three-quarters of a million more, and destroying some 500 Palestinian villages.

Since then, politically-motivated violent action and the threat thereof have remained the order of the day – or of the breaking dawn, if you will. Thanks to a US-backed Israeli monopoly on the regional discourse and an all-out assault on logic, however, Israel’s Palestinian victims are instead the ones vilified as “terrorists”.

In response to this month’s bloodbath in Gaza, US President Joe Biden reaffirmed his “support for Israel’s security… including its right to defend itself against attack” – which is neither a surprising pronouncement from the man who recently enthusiastically self-defined as a “Zionist” nor a departure from the tired rhetoric of the US establishment, which holds that Israel is permanently and indubitably acting in self-defence.

Never mind that the whole “self-defence” line doesn’t really fly when you’re “defending” yourself against the people whose land you brutally appropriated and whom you continue to periodically slay in large numbers. It’s like saying Mount Vesuvius was defending itself against the people of Pompeii – or that the fish in the proverbial barrel were threatening the security of the person shooting them.

The Western corporate media have also done their fair share to ensure the propagation of a pro-Israel narrative in lieu of fact – and rarely is there an Israeli military massacre of Palestinian civilians that is not cast as fundamentally the Palestinians’ fault or the result of “clashes” between the two sides. Sure enough, both CNN and Reuters went with “clashes” in their write ups of the truce that went into effect on the night of August 7 – as though this were a remotely suitable descriptor for a situation in which 44 people had died on one side and none had died on the other.

Was five-year-old Alaa Qaddoum “clashing” when she was obliterated by Israeli airstrike? Were the other 15 dead children also “clashing”?

The Washington Post saw Operation Breaking Dawn as an example of “intense cross-border violence” – a similar line was taken by the Associated Press – while the New York Times’ coverage included nefariously ambiguous reports like: “Israel and militants trade fire as death toll reaches 24”.

And yet the most obvious takeaway from Israel’s manoeuvres in the Gaza Strip is the one that cannot be said: that Israel is engaging in straight-up terrorism – at least according to, you know, the Cambridge Dictionary definition.

In the end, terrorism is terrorism, whether it occurs under the name Operation Summer Rains or Whipping Wind or Scampering Goat. And as Israel continues to routinize “systematic slaughter” and normalize terror, it should also be normal to call the country out.

Belén Fernández is contributing editor at Jacobin Magazine and the author of Checkpoint Zipolite: Quarantine in a Small Place (OR Books, 2021), Exile: Rejecting America and Finding the World (OR Books, 2019), Martyrs Never Die: Travels through South Lebanon (Warscapes, 2016), and The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work (Verso, 2011)