Israel’s violence is open terrorism — stop calling it ‘clashes’

Belén Fernández

Here we go again. The state of Israel is committing unchecked barbarism against Palestinians and the Western corporate media has decided it all comes down to “clashes”.

The latest round of so-called “clashes” – sparked when Israeli police decided to mark the Muslim holy month of Ramadan by repeatedly attacking Palestinian worshippers at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque – has produced predictably disproportionate casualties.Hundreds of Palestinians have been arrested and wounded as Israeli forces have once again flaunted their handiness with rubber bullets, batons, stun grenades and tear gas. In return, the police have suffered minimal injuries, while also undertaking to accompany illegal Israeli settlers into the mosque compound.

And apparently not satisfied with simply unleashing violence in Jerusalem, Israel has also launched a barrage of air strikes on the Gaza Strip and southern Lebanon following reported rocket fire.

As with all previous instances of Israeli-Palestinian “clashes”, the media’s choice to deploy such terminology serves to obscure the Israeli monopoly on violence and the fact that Israel kills, maims and mutilates at an astronomically higher rate than its supposed counterpart in “clashing”.

It also obscures the reality that Palestinian violence is in response to a now nearly-75-year-old Israeli policy defined by the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, the occupation of Palestinian land and the periodic perpetration of massacres – pardon, “clashes”.

Take your pick of contemporary, Israeli military assaults and you’ll find manoeuvres like Operation Protective Edge, the euphemism for the 2014 slaughter of 2,251 people in the Gaza Strip, including 551 children. Over a period of 22 days starting in December 2008, Operation Cast Lead took the lives of some 1,400 Palestinians in Gaza; three Israeli civilians died.

“Clashes” also abounded in 2018 when, in response to the Gaza border protests, the Israeli military killed hundreds of Palestinians and wounded thousands. And in May 2021, an 11-day Israeli rampage titled Operation Guardian of the Walls killed more than 260 Palestinians, approximately one-fourth of whom were children. As it so happens, this last operation was set off by – what else? – “clashes” at Al-Aqsa Mosque.

This bit of trivia has prompted certain news outlets to fret about what the current “spiralling bloodshed” between Israelis and Palestinians may portend – another media catchphrase that ultimately whitewashes Israel’s predominant role in the shedding of blood.

It is difficult, of course, to find any linguistic or moral equivalent to the media obsession with reporting Israeli savagery as “clashes”. One would not perceive an elk as “clashing” with a hunter’s rifle, just as one would not perceive a “clash” between a human neck and a guillotine.Nor would one describe the United States’s lethal 2015 bombing of a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan as a “clash” between a medical facility and an AC-130 gunship.

But while clearly unethical, the Western media’s obsequiousness vis-à-vis the Israeli narrative is nothing new. Much of this has to do with the fervent backing of the US, in particular, for the Israeli point of view, which casts victimisers as victims and slaughter as self-defence.

Perhaps the very founding of the state of Israel in 1948 – which saw thousands of Palestinians massacred and more than 500 Palestinian villages destroyed – was in the end nothing more than one big “clash”. To be sure, Israel’s long-term propaganda campaign to conflate Palestinians with terrorism continues to pay considerable media dividends.

This is the case even among ostensibly more progressive venues that are willing to call out Israeli crimes but that still can’t quite manage to place Palestinians on the same level of humanity as Israelis. In February of this year, for example, The New Yorker magazine’s Lawrence Wright tweeted a video of Israeli soldiers shoving and kicking Palestinian peace activist Issa Amro while Wright was interviewing him in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron. The New Yorker writer’s takeaway: “I can’t stop thinking how dehumanising the occupation is on the young soldiers charged with enforcing it”.

In other words: Israeli soldiers are victims of moral degradation and dehumanisation while Palestinians don’t really ever get to be humans in the first place.

Now, as Israeli security forces proceed to dehumanise and be dehumanised in Jerusalem and Gaza, the whole jargon about “clashes” only validates the idea that Israel is fundamentally justified in its violence, which is cast as merely part of a fair, tit-for-tat competition between two equitable sides.In August 2022, a three-day assault by the Israeli army on Gaza killed at least 44 Palestinians, including 16 children – the bloodiest episode since Operation Guardian of the Walls in May 2021. Exactly zero Israelis were killed as a result of the August affair and yet, the Western media were still standing dutifully by with breathless reports of “clashes”.

As I noted in an article for Al Jazeera at the time, the online version of the Cambridge Dictionary defines terrorism as “(threats of) violent action for political purposes”. And the more often we remind ourselves that Israel is literally terrorising Palestinians, the sooner, perhaps, we can put a stop to all this talk of “clashes”.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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