The History of Terrorism in Israel and Palestine

Israel’s Sacred Terrorism

See also, Table: Israeli Versus PLO Terrorist Killings below.

Edward Herman
Excerpt from The Real Terror Network
South End Press, 1982
As quoted by Third World Traveler

Among the recipients of U.S. military and economic aid and diplomatic support, Israel occupies a unique place. Israel is generally portrayed by the U.S. mass media as the victim of terrorism, a characterization that is in part correct. Its own role as a major perpetrator of state terrorism is consistently downplayed or ignored, in accordance with the general principle, discussed earlier, that violence employed by ourselves or by our friends is excluded from the category of terrorism, by definition. The record of Israeli terrorism, however, is substantial, far too extensive even to attempt to sample here. A small glimpse into the reality was given by Prime Minister Menahem Begin in a letter published in the Israeli press in August 1981, written in response to what he regarded as hypocritical criticism of the Israeli bombing of Beirut, which killed hundreds of civilians Begin offered a "partial list" of military attacks on Arab civilians under the Labor governments, which included over 30 separate episodes that left many civilians dead. He concluded that "under the Alignment government, there were regular retaliatory actions against civilian Arab populations; the air force operated against them; the damage was directed against such structures as the canal, bridges and transport." "The picture that emerges," former UN Ambassador and Foreign Minister Abba Eban wrote in response, "is of an Israel wantonly inflicting every possible measure of death and anguish on civilian populations in a mood reminiscent of regimes which neither Mr. Begin nor I would dare to mention by name." Eban is harshly critical of Begin's letter because of the support it gives to Arab propaganda; he does not contest the facts. He even defends the earlier Israeli attacks on civilians with the exact logic which orthodox analysts of terrorism attribute to-and use to condemn-retail terrorists namely, that deliberate attacks may properly be made on innocent parties in order to achieve higher ends. Eban writes that "there was a rational prospect, ultimately fulfilled, that afflicted populations [i.e., innocent civilians deliberately bombed] would exert pressure for the cessation of hostilities."

Begin's list is indeed "partial." It is supplemented by former Chief of Staff Mordechai Gur, who stated that "For 30 years, from the War of Independence until today, we have been fighting against a population that lives in villages and cities," offering as examples the bombardments that cleared the Jordan Valley of all inhabitants and that drove a million and a half civilians from the Suez Canal area in 1970, among others. The Israeli military analyst Zeev Schiff summarized General Gur's comments as follows: "In South Lebanon we struck the civilian population consciously, because they deserved it...the importance of Gur's remarks is the admission that the Israeli Army has always struck civilian populations, purposely and consciously...the Army, he said, has never distinguished civilian [from military] targets... [but] purposely attacked civilian targets even when Israeli settlements had not been struck."

There are other examples that might be cited, among them, the terrorist attacks against civilian targets (including U.S. installations) in Cairo and Alexandria in 1954 carried out in an effort to poison relations between the United States and Egypt; the murderous attacks on the villages of Qibya, Kafr Kassem, and others; the shooting down of a Libyan airliner in 1973 with 110 killed as it was attempting to return to Cairo after having overflown the Sinai in a sandstorm; and many others. Lebanon has been a regular target of Israeli terrorism, including direct invasion and systematic bombardment of cities, villages and rural areas that has caused hundreds of thousands of refugees and many thousands of casualties. Still another dimension of state terrorism is the brutal treatment of the civilian population in the occupied territories, and the murder of Palestinians in the interchange of terror that has been proceeding in Europe for many years. Terrorism in the pre-state period was also extensive, another story that is largely unknown in the United States, where commentators like to pretend that terrorism is an invention of the Palestinians. The Diary of former Israeli Prime Minister Moshe Sharett is a major source of evidence for a conscious policy of deliberate, unprovoked cross-border attacks, in which advantage was taken of superior military power and a servile western propaganda machine, with the intent of destabilizing neighboring states and provoking them into military responses. Sharett was a footdragger in these enterprises, often shaken by the ruthlessness of the military establishment-"the long chain of false incidents and hostilities we have invented, and so many clashes we have provoked;" the "narrow-mindedness and short-sightedness of our military leaders" [who] "seem to presume that the State of Israel may-or even must-behave in the realm of international relations according to the laws of the jungle." Sharett himself referred to this long effort as a "sacred terrorism."

Where Israeli state terrorism is acknowledged in the United States, it is almost invariably described as "retaliatory," hence not criminal even if regrettable. To cite only one example, consider the laudatory article by Amos Perlmutter on General Ariel Sharon in the New York Times Magazine. Commenting on Sharon's exploits as the commander of Unit 101 in the early 1950s, Perlmutter writes that "Every time terrorists were captured in Israel, they would be interrogated to determined where they had come from. Then an Israeli force would return to the terrorists' villages and retaliate against them, an eye for an eye- or, more often, two eyes for an eye." Perlmutter is a knowledgeable military historian, who certainly knows that this is an outrageous falsehood. The "retaliatory actions" of Unit 101 were characteristically directed against completely innocent civilians in villages that had no known relation to terrorist acts, for example, Qibya, where 66 civilians were massacred in October 1953 in the first major operation of Sharon's Unit 101. There was no known connection between the villagers of Qibya and any terrorist actions against Israel. Israel angrily denied charges that its military forces were responsible for this massacre, pretending that the "retaliation act" was carried out by "border settlers in Israel, mostly refugees, people from Arab countries and survivors from the Nazi concentration camps..." Commenting on this fabrication in his diary, Prime Minister Moshe Sharett observed that "Such a version will make us appear ridiculous; any child would say that this was a military operation," as was tacitly conceded much later. He writes that in the cabinet meeting following the massacre, "I condemned the Qibya affair that exposed us in front of the whole world as a gang of bloodsuckers, capable of mass massacres regardless, it seems, of whether their actions may lead to war. I warned that this stain will stick to us and will not be washed away for many years to come." Sharett was wrong in thinking that "this stain will stick to us." The typical response is falsification of the sort practiced by Perlmutter in the New York Times. A critical commentary on Perlmutter's whitewash of the bloodthirsty General Sharon in The Nation fails to mention this remarkable suppression and distortion of the historical record. This single example is, unfortunately, quite typical of a long and ugly story of atrocities and cover-ups.

Israeli Versus PLO Terrorist Killings*

Edward Herman and Gerry O'Sullivan
Excerpt from The "Terrorism" Industry
Pantheon Books, 1989

Event or Class


Numbers Killed

Fraction or Multiple of PLO Killings (Row 1)

PLO Killings

1. Total Israelis killed by PLO




Israeli Killings

2. Deir Yassin

April 10, 1948

254 (100+ women/children)


3. Doueimah

Oct. 28, 1948



4. Qibya

Oct. 14-15, 1953

66-70 (¾ women/children)


5. El-Bureig

Aug. 31, 1953



6. Kafr Kassim

Oct. 29, 1956

49 (29 women/children)


7. Khan Yunis

Nov. 3-4, 1956



8. Rafah

Nov. 12, 1956



9. Abu Zaabal

Feb. 12, 1970



10. Bahr al-Baqr

April 8, 1970

40-47 (all children)


11. Syria (9 air raids)

Sept. 9, 1972



12. Refugee Camp

May 1974



13. Refugee Camps

Dec. 2, 1975



14. Lebanon

Nov. 9, 1977



15. Beirut

July 17-18, 1981



16. Refugee Camps

June 3-4, 1982



17. Sabra-Shatila

Sept. 16-18, 1982

1,800-3,500 (large % women/children)


18. Beqaa Valley

Jan. 1984

100 (many children)


19. Majdal Anjar

Aug. 28, 1984



20. Tunis

Oct. 1, 1985



21. 1987-89 uprising

May 1989



22. Aggregate of rows 2-21



Note from IAK: To summarize, when looking at all people killed during this time period, 4% of the victims were Israelis and 96% were Palestinians.


  1. B. Michael, from official Israel police statistics, Ha’aretz, July 16, 1982.
  2. Yediot Ahronot, April 4, April 20, May 5, 1972 (eyewitness accounts); N. Chomsky, Towards a New Cold War, (New York: Pantheon, 1982), pp. 296-97.
  3. N. Chomsky, Turning the Tide (Boston: South End Press, 1985), pp. 76-77.
  4. D. Hirst, The Gun and the Olive Branch (London: Faber & Faber, 1984), pp. 181-82; N. Chomsky, The Fateful Triangle (Boston: South End Press, 1983), p. 383.
  5. Chomsky, Fateful Triangle, p. 384.
  6. S. Hadawi, Bitter Harvest (New York: New World Press, 1967), pp. 209-11.
  7. K. Love, Suez: The Twice-Fought War (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1969), pp. 551-52.
  8. Ibid., p. 553.
  9. Hirst, Gun and Olive Branch, p. 252.
  10. Ibid., p. 252.
  11. Ibid., p. 251.
  12. E. Said, The Question of Palestine (New York: Vintage, 1980), p. 249; Chomsky, Fateful Triangle, p. 189.
  13. Chomsky, Fateful Triangle, p. 189.
  14. “Who Hit Whom First,” Economist (London), Nov. 19, 1977; N. Chomsky, Pirates and Emperors (New York: Claremont Research, 1986), pp. 67-68.
  15. J. Kifner, New York Times, July 25, 1981; Chomsky, Towards a New Cold War, pp. 296-97.
  16. Hirst, Gun and Olive Branch, p. 407.
  17. See table 3-1, row 8, below.
  18. Chomsky, Pirates and Emperors, pp. 106-7.
  19. Journal of Palestine Studies, Fall 1984, p. 244.
  20. Chomsky, Pirages and Emperors, pp. 51-52, 114.
  21. J. Brinkley, “Four Are Slain in Gunfight in West Bank,” New York Times, May 20, 1989.

*[This table] does not purport to be even an approximate measure of comparative totals. The estimate of Israelis killed by the PLO runs for only fourteen years, although it is an aggregate figure. The individual entries of killings by Israel run over a longer period, but it is by no means an exhaustive list, and there are six entries in this listing that equal or exceed the row 1 total for fourteen years. We believe that the table is suggestive of orders of magnitude of killings on each side. For data on many more episodes of Israeli killings of civilians that run to double or triple digits, see Alan Mattlage, "Chronology: 1800-1989," The Peace Resource Center, Box 2600, Station A, Champaign, IL 61820.

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