Creating new perspectives since 2009

Blaming the innocent, Israel adopts the logic of Al-Qaeda’s Bin Laden to carry out war crimes

October 16, 2023 at 4:27 pm

Palestinians fill water bottles and take them home as a UN report states that more than 2 million people struggle with water shortage, in Khan Younis, Gaza on October 14, 2023 [Mustafa Hassona – Anadolu Agency]

Terrorists are known to resort to moral contortions to justify collective punishment and appalling violence against innocent civilians. Perpetrators claim their victims “had it coming” and somehow deserve their gruesome fate. By accusing victims of complicity in policies which the attackers oppose, terrorists absolve themselves of murder. The humanity of innocent civilians is erased, and the lives of people are reduced to faceless collateral damage in the service of a political cause. Through this malignant logic, terrorists grant themselves permission to unleash unspeakable cruelty.

Leaders of Al-Qaeda are known to have resorted to such moral contortions to justify attacks on civilians. “The American people are the ones who choose their government through their own free will; a choice which stems from their agreement to its policies,” Osama bin Laden said in his justification for targeting American civilians. “Thus, the American people have chosen, consented to, and affirmed their support for Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians, the occupation and usurpation of their land, and its continuous killing, torture, punishment and expulsion of the Palestinians. The American people have the ability and the choice to refuse the policies of their government, and even to change it if they want.”

READ: History won’t forgive our leaders for supporting war crimes in Gaza

In a separate remark, the Al-Qaeda leader said: “Given that the American Congress is a committee that represents the people, the fact that it agrees with the actions of the American government proves that America in its entirety is responsible for the atrocities that it is committing against Muslims.” Bin Laden reiterated this view in a 2002 letter, stating that “the American people are the ones who voted for Bush and Congress … They are the ones who pay the taxes which fund the planes that bomb us in Afghanistan, the tanks that strike and destroy our homes in Palestine.” Other Al-Qaeda figures have echoed this rationale. Ayman Al-Zawahiri claimed “all Americans are legitimate targets” since they pay taxes used for “unjust policies against Muslims”.

Very little separates Bin Ladin’s remark justifying the targeting of civilians from Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s defence of collective punishment of Palestinians in Gaza. “It is an entire nation out there that is responsible,” Herzog said at a press conference on Friday. “It is not true this rhetoric about civilians not being aware, not involved. It’s absolutely not true. They could have risen up. They could have fought against that evil regime which took over Gaza in a coup d’état,” Herzog added, doubling down on his earlier remark.

As Herzog advocated collective punishment, Israel unleashed its war machine on the besieged population of Gaza. Missile strikes and shelling, relentlessly bombarded the densely populated territory. Entire families were swallowed in explosions, leaving 750 children among the 2,750 dead. Another 9,700 people suffered horrific injuries, in an Israeli military campaign launched with the stated terrorist goal of collectively punishing Gaza’s 2.1 million civilians, half of whom are children. A goal that was explicitly stated by its Defence Minister. “We are putting a complete siege on Gaza. … No electricity, no food, no water, no gas – it’s all closed,” Yoav Gallant said in a video statement last week. He justified collective punishment by describing Palestinians as “beastly people”.

Instead of denouncing the same Al-Qaeda reasoning that has been used to justify collective punishment, several western leaders backed the Israeli operation. In their eyes, the right of the apartheid state to “defend itself”, trumped all moral and legal considerations. Sections of the western media also resorted to the terrorist logic of holding civilians guilty for the actions of their leaders.

READ: Saudi tells Blinken: We reject targeting civilians, disrupting infrastructure in Gaza

“But, of course, Palestinians are not pro-Hamas,” said right-wing political commentator, Andrew Neil, his words dripping with sarcasm. The former BBC presenter and Chairman of the Spectator shared a tweet on social media site, X, employing it as supposed proof that Palestinians were collectively guilty for Hamas’ crimes. The referenced tweet cited a 2021 survey claiming “Some 77 per cent Palestinians from the West Bank see Hamas is a winner in the ongoing conflict and 53 per cent believe Hamas deserves to lead all Palestinians, according to a new poll.”

Neil weaponised these selective statistics, through what appears to be a justification for his broad-brush condemnation of all Palestinians, smugly dismissing any nuance regarding Palestinian public opinion and support for Hamas amid a brutal occupation. Putting aside the fact that half of Gaza’s population is under 18 and, therefore, would not have been eligible to vote during the 2006 election, the suggestion that Palestinians are responsible for the outcome of an election held 17 years ago, is as morally bankrupt as Bin Laden’s assertion that all American’s are responsible for the crimes of its leaders.

Neil peddled the terrorist logic of collective punishment on more than one occasion. “So who elected Hamas, allowed Hamas to abolish further elections and who aver in polls that, if elections were reinstated, they’d re-elect Hamas. Is it all the work of the tooth fairy?” he said in an earlier tweet in response to a post stating that “Only racists think Palestinian people = Hamas”.

While several commentators peddled the same narrative in an apparent attempt to dehumanise Palestinians, thus providing justification for the impending death and destruction, the logic used by terrorists to justify killing innocent civilians was widely trounced.

“You could say the same about the Israeli’s who turn a blind eye to their country’s apartheid system,” said a follower of Neil in response to his comments in X. “Could even argue that’s a justification for calling them legitimate targets. That would be heinous, just like the Israeli justification of killing civilians in Palestine”.

Without belabouring the point, according to Neil’s logic, Israelis are legitimate targets because they voted in the most extreme hard-line government in the country’s history; a government that calls for “wiping out” Palestinians villages, a government that has ramped up illegal settlements and threatens to annex the West Bank; a government that incites violence in the Occupied West Bank and empowers the most extreme elements of Israeli society.

The dangerous rationalisations of Israeli leaders and their supporters, justifying the targeting of Palestinian civilians, must be categorically rejected.

Civilians do not forfeit their humanity or become acceptable targets based on election outcomes, opinion polls or the actions of militants. Collective punishment is state terrorism, plain and simple. Israeli leaders’ justification for bombing blockaded Gaza as “self-defence”, parallels the mental gymnastics of terrorists. When the state embraces cruel collective punishment, when officials call one million child civilians “beasts”, they betray our universal humanity. Civilians do not forfeit dignity by election or circumstance.

READ: South Africa’s president: Israel is an apartheid state

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.