Skip To Content
Back to Opinion

Israel calls all Palestinian resistance ‘terrorism’. That’s not just racist – it’s dangerous.

On Wednesday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights released a list of companies with ties to the settlements. We knew we didn’t have to wait long to hear the list besmirched with that go-to word when it comes to any form of Palestinian resistance, however nonviolent: terrorism.

We Palestinians are used to being called terrorists. It’s bad enough on its own. But perhaps even worse is the tendency in the right wing pro-Israel camp to designate as terrorism any form of Palestinian resistance, from a poster to a refusal to purchase goods to a list. It’s not only inaccurate and racist; it de-incentivizes Palestinian non-violence, and conveys the message that from the point of view of these advocates, there’s no difference at all between violent terrorism and nonviolent resistance.

Muhammad Shehada | artist: Noah Lubin

Muhammad Shehada | artist: Noah Lubin

This past Tuesday, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert held a joint press conference near the United Nations to push back against Trump’s catastrophic “Deal of the Century” and revive the peace process on more serious and genuine lines. They suggested reviving the negotiations of 2008 between the two leaders, which had inched closer to a mutually satisfactory resolution to the conflict.

But instead of embracing the desire to negotiate, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, slammed the joint event as a Palestinian act of “diplomatic terrorism,” a term Danon often uses to describe any form of Palestinian diplomacy, such as when the International Criminal Court decided to probe into suspected Israeli war crimes in the occupied territories last December.

What is “diplomatic terrorism”? Diplomacy is the opposite of terrorism. And in combining them, Dannon erases the difference between them, essentially equating violent terrorism with its opposite.

Dannon is not alone. Around the same time as Danon’s controversial remarks, Israel summoned Belgium’s deputy ambassador to reprimand the country for taking part in this “diplomatic terrorism” by inviting a representative of Defence for Children International — an NGO working for Palestinian children rights — to address the UN Security Council.

Israel’s ambassador to Belgium, Emmanuel Nahshon, said it was outrageous to invite such “terror supporters” to the UNSC — making it clear that for Netanyahu’s gang, the words “terrorists” and “Palestinians” have become interchangeable.

This cruel vilification of almost all Palestinian actions including non-violence and diplomacy isn’t confined to Danon’s or Nahshon’s personal views. There has always been a systematic effort to make it the norm to lump together all forms of Palestinian struggle as hostile.

In 1982, Israeli strategic analyst Avner Yaniv coined the term “Palestinian peace offensive” in his book “Dilemmas of Security” to describe the process by which Palestinians become too moderate and Israel has no choice but to sit with them at the table and compromise. To Yaniv, a moderate PLO back then “could become far more dangerous than the violent PLO of the previous years,” and so he concluded it was necessary to “undermine the position of the [Palestinian] moderates” to perpetuate the status quo.

This mentality made a strong comeback under Netanyahu’s premiership. His approach has been centered on crushing Palestinian non-violence and diplomacy without a thought for how undermining our peaceful resistance only gives rise to the extremists who insist that might is the only way to make right when other tactics have been proven to be a waste of time.

In Netanyahu’s Israel, one can always expect mainstreamed catchphrases to attack all Palestinian actions. Thus, when Gazans launched the first non-violent grassroots protest in decades, the Great Return March, to demand an improvement in their barely human existence, Israel justified crushing the protest by calling our non-violence “PR terrorism,” while dismissing our suffering as a staged “Pallywood” stunt, or “self-inflicted misery” — despite the fact that Gaza has become unlivable under Israel’s blockade. Even when kids were killed at Gaza’s perimeter fence, the response was to call it “child sacrifice ritual,” a canard appropriated from South Africa’s Apartheid era.

Similarly, the non-violent Palestinian boycott of Israel is called “economic terrorism.” And when Palestinian detainees go on a hunger strike to demand dignity, it is called “terrorism in prison.” And when we attempt to strengthen the Palestinian presence in Area C of the West Bank to maintain the viability of the two-state solution, it is called “construction terrorism,” and so on.

The only thing Palestinians can do to avoid being called terrorists is submit to slow death under occupation and blockade until we disappear.

Blurring the distinction between Palestinian non-violence and violence only gives prominence to advocates of the latter while strangling the former. Extremist advocates of force would say that if we are blamed either way, then let it be an eye for an eye, violence for oppression. Militarists feed not on the appeal of their agenda so much as on the despair of the population and the failure of other options such as diplomacy and non-violence to achieve tangible results.

It’s astonishing to see Israel underwriting this paradigm, meeting Palestinian diplomacy and non-violence with scorn, while Netanyahu’s response to Hamas’s occasional projectile attacks is to allow in a flood of Qatari cash in to maintain calm.

As Palestinian diplomacy and non-violence are proven futile by Israel and the US again and again, pressure grows on Abbas to end the PA’s security collaboration with Israel and let armed resistance loose in the West Bank to shake the status quo.

Israel still has a choice: It can show respect and responsiveness to Palestinian non-violence and incentivize peace, or it can continue to undermine and attack all forms of Palestinian resistance, unleashing violence.

Muhammad Shehada is a contributing columnist for the Forward.

A message from our editor-in-chief Jodi Rudoren

We're building on 127 years of independent journalism to help you develop deeper connections to what it means to be Jewish today.

With so much at stake for the Jewish people right now — war, rising antisemitism, a high-stakes U.S. presidential election — American Jews depend on the Forward's perspective, integrity and courage.

—  Jodi Rudoren, Editor-in-Chief 

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.