State of Terror: How Terrorism Created Modern Israel, Thomas Suárez, Olive Branch Press (2017)
Israel’s propaganda playbook attempts to reframe the Palestinian liberation struggle as a question of terror, not territory. Thanks to a dutiful media, this effort to portray Palestinians as terrorists has had significant traction among some demographics.
But how did terrorism originate in Palestine and what was its outcome, both historically and today?
Thomas Suárez sheds much new light on those questions in State of Terror: How Terrorism Created Modern Israel. He does this largely by mining previously neglected declassified documents from the British National Archives, covering the period of the British Mandate for Palestine (1920-1948).
Suárez’s principal thesis is that Zionist terrorism “ultimately dictated the course of events during the Mandate, and it is Israeli state terrorism that continues to dictate events today.”
The author cautions that while he unequivocally condemns Palestinian terrorism against civilians, he recognizes that some were driven to extreme measures due to an asymmetry in power and in reaction to attempts to subjugate the Palestinian people and expropriate their resources, land and labor.
Zionist terrorism aimed to prevent Palestinian Arabs from exercising their right to self-determination, Suárez argues, and when an aggressor encounters resistance, it can hardly use self-defense as a justification for its own acts of violence. “Otherwise,” Suárez writes, “all aggression would self-justify.”
Suárez is not a professional historian. However, State of Terror has drawn praise from such figures as Israeli historian Ilan Pappe who – on the book cover – calls it a “tour de force” and “the first comprehensive and structured analysis” of the violence employed by the Zionist movement both before and after Israel’s creation. Indeed, Suárez’s scholarship is impressive and the book includes nearly 700 endnotes consisting mainly of original sources.
At its best, State of Terror is an insightful meditation on history. This is apparent especially in the opening chapters that cover the period leading up to the British Mandate and the issuance of the 1917 Balfour Declaration, in which Britain decreed a “national home” for Jews in Palestine.
Suárez offers a penetrating analysis of the roots of Zionist ideology, showing not only its racist underpinnings and colonialist attitudes toward Arabs but also its attempt to exercise political, religious and cultural hegemony over the Jewish people. In a sense Suárez exposes political Zionism as a form of anti-Semitism and a kind of totalitarianism.
The Zionist mistreatment of Jews is a sub theme that runs throughout Suárez’s narrative. Early Zionist leaders tried to depict Jews as a “race” and “nationality,” rather than a people of faith and ethnic identity. Zionist leaders such as David Ben-Gurion also maintained that Jews were ”obliged to settle in Palestine.”
Suárez cites an early opponent of Zionism, the English Jewish journalist and historian Lucien Wolf who condemned Zionism as “a comprehensive capitulation to the calumnies of the anti-Semites” that would set back the Jewish struggle for equality in their home countries.
In support of this claim, Wolf notes that Arthur James Balfour, who was foreign secretary at the time of the declaration that bears his name, appears to have been motivated to promise a “national home” for Jews by classic anti-Semitism: as prime minister in 1905, Balfour had attempted to block Jewish refugees escaping Czarist Russia’s pogroms from immigrating to Britain, viewing them as an “undoubted evil.”
Suárez makes the dramatic claim that “most victims” of the targeted assassinations carried out by Zionist paramilitaries in Mandate Palestine were Jews, in part because these militias identified British Jewish soldiers and police as traitors. This was the case even during the Second World War when Britain was engaged in a life-and-death struggle with Nazi Germany.
Partition plan capitulation
State of Terror asserts that most acts of terrorism were directed at Palestinian Arab civilians. Both the Labor and Revisionist wings of Zionism engaged in terrorism and often colluded with each other in carrying out terrorist attacks, which escalated following the end of the Second World War, culminating famously in the King David Hotel attack in July 1946 that killed 41 Palestinian Arabs, 28 Brits, 17 Jews, 2 Armenians, 1 Russian and 1 Egyptian.
Suárez maintains that the United Nations Partition Plan of 1947 was largely a capitulation to this terrorism. Here his conclusion differs somewhat from that of other historians, including Tom Segev, who argues in One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs Under the British Mandate (1999) that the exhausted and bankrupt British Empire was intent on leaving Palestine regardless of Zionist terrorism.
In Segev’s account the British departure was a foregone conclusion, and the terrorism of both the Labor Zionist and Revisionist-led militias represented a competition between them “for control of the state that would soon be established.”
“The British were not the real enemy,” Segev writes, “the Arabs were.”
The numerous acts of terrorism against Palestinian civilians during the Nakba of 1947-1949, such as the massacre at Deir Yassin, figure prominently in Suárez’s concluding chapters.
With the creation of Israel in 1948 paramilitary terrorism transformed itself into official state terrorism.
Suárez calls out the Orwellian newsspeak that statehood seemingly confers on acts of terrorism by contrasting the reaction of world opinion to Deir Yassin in April 1948 with the bloodier mass murder that occurred in the village of al-Dawayima in October 1948 after Israel had declared statehood.
That massacre, estimated at 145 people by the village mukhtar (chief), was regarded largely “as a military operation” at the time, according to Suárez, although recent scholarship has more accurately described it as an example of state terrorism.
Suárez devotes considerable attention to Zionist efforts to thwart Holocaust survivors from immigrating to countries other than Palestine and the kidnapping of young Jewish survivors from foster homes in Europe and their transfer to Palestine. In this, he relies heavily on Yosef Grodzinsky’s groundbreaking In the Shadow of the Holocaust: The Struggle Between Jews and Zionists in the Aftermath of World War II (2004).
Suárez also recounts the false-flag terrorism in Egypt designed to win US support for Israel. Famous at the time, but largely forgotten since, Israel’s Unit 131 carried out terrorist bombings against civilian targets in Alexandria and Cairo, mainly cinemas frequented by US and British citizens, in what a Central Intelligence Agency bulletin, declassified in 2005, described as a bungled false-flag operation.
He also includes the shameful blaming of Holocaust survivors by Israeli and Zionist officials for acts of collective punishment carried out in secret by Israeli military forces, such as the massacre in the West Bank village of Qibya in 1953, led by Unit 101 under the command of Ariel Sharon.
State of Terror is a comprehensive guide to Zionist and Israeli state terrorism and one that sheds valuable light on today’s situation.
As Suárez concludes: “Terrorism … is the only means through which an indigenous population can be subjugated, dehumanized and displaced. This, stripped of all baggage, is the reality of today’s Israel-Palestine ‘conflict.’”
Rod Such is a former editor for World Book and Encarta encyclopedias. He lives in Portland, Oregon, and is active with the Occupation-Free Portland campaign.