The Logic of Terrorism and What Can We Do About Palestine

This is now the third jumu’a during which, as we speak, Gaza continues to experience heavy bombing. In the eyes of the world, the lives of 2.4 million Palestinians do not seem to be worth even the most minimum of protections, let alone a condemnation of Israel’s actions. It is not just through the Al Jazeera channel. In this age, we can all see the heartbreaking images coming out of Gaza. We have all seen the grim and terrifying reality where entire residential buildings have been razed to the ground in a single strike. Residential structures, several floors high, are hit and crumble to the ground. The images that follow show the mutilated, the injured, the deceased. Bodies are deposited at the side of the road, awaiting identification, tagging, and bagging. People emerge bloodied, rushed into ambulances to hospitals that have simply run out of the resources to help the injured in any meaningful way. 


There are images of people being dug out of the rubble, but there is the tragic reality that many more people, without the equipment capable of digging through the rubble of cement and metal, will remain trapped under the rubble. There are journalists from all over the world reporting that the smell of death in Gaza is overwhelming, and that Gaza is starting to witness the types of diseases that come from rotting bodies still under the rubble. Yet the world in which we live, including our very president, claims that the authorities in Gaza are exaggerating the death toll. He seems to consider this some type of moral or ethical defense, or even a relevant factor at all. This is at a time when every respectable human rights institution, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders, and the Red Cross, knows that the death toll in Gaza is, in fact, much higher than is what is being reported because Gaza only reports on the bodies that have been retrieved. In other words, the numbers do not include all those still trapped under the rubble. And the realization of all these human rights organizations is that scores of people remain under the rubble. Whatever the reported death toll, then, the actual number of children, women, and civilian casualties will be much higher. But the true number will not be discovered until Gaza is in a position to actually dig into the rubble with heavy equipment and retrieve all the bodies.


The scale of what is happening is mind-numbing. It is bewildering. In three weeks of unrelenting bombardment, we have witnessed entire neighborhoods in Gaza flattened. Nor is the scale of the bombing decreasing. There is bombardment by air, by sea, and by ground. So the civilian casualties are in no way decreasing. They are, indeed, increasing out of all control, and Gaza has already run out of medical supplies, fuel, and food. In three weeks, the entire Muslim world has been able only to relieve Gaza with 20 trucks through the Rafah Border. As I said previously, this represents no more than 2.5% of what Gaza needs simply for sustenance and preservation in a single day during peacetime. The details that are truly mind-numbing, and they give one serious pause about the morality of those who are, intentionally or not, becoming cheerleaders for an actual genocide. 


The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is the UN organization charged with taking care of Palestinian refugees. The UN is fully aware that the Palestinian refugee problem was, in part, created by the UN when the UN decided to partition Palestine and the Palestinian refugee problem was born. The UN was fully aware, along with Western countries, that the Palestinian problem was going to be particularly trenchant and unsolvable. In the case of other refugees around the world, the plan is always that circumstances will eventually change in due time so that displaced people can return to their homes; regardless of how complicated the issue is, there is always a home to go back to. But the UN, including Western powers like the United States, knew very well that this was not possible in the case of the Palestinians. They knew that the UN was confronted with a unique problem, that is, Israelis were displacing Palestinians with no intention of ever allowing them to return to their homes. It was because of the permanence and the durability of the problem that the UN was fully aware that it has a group of displaced people, refugees from Palestine, with nowhere to go.


The UN Refugee Agency normally provides aid of temporary status, so they build tents, schools, medical centers, and homes, fully planning for these structures to be temporary. They do not invest the type of money for a permanent replacement of refugees, because the assumption is always that the problem will be solved in due time, and refugees will return to where they came from. Not in the case of Palestinians, however. Palestinians are the one and only refugee group for which an entire UN organization has been created, with the realization that generations of these refugees will live and die in refugee camps. That makes a difference to the type of resources they ask for, the type of money they ask for, the type of schools and hospitals they build, to everything. It is, fundamentally, an entirely different endeavor. The UNRWA was created with a considerable amount of moral and ethical embarrassment, then, because this is the one situation in which the UN was telling these refugees, "You may dream of going back home, but we cannot force any country to take you," in other words, they cannot force any country to absorb this refugee population, "and we cannot promise you anything better than your current situation. So you will, in all likelihood, live and die in these refugee camps."


This was the politics of the UNRWA. These were the discussions. Today, we often forget that the UNRWA was not created as some type of benevolent exceptionalism in favor of Palestinians. The UNRWA was created because Palestinians were a problem that embarrassed the world, particularly Western countries. European countries were well aware that but for the Balfour Declaration, World War II, the Holocaust, and the creation of the state of Israel, the Palestinian refugee problem would not have been. So UNRWA was created as an exceptional solution for an unsolvable problem that the West knew, fully well, that it had played the most direct and critical role in creating.


Today, a helpless civilian population in Gaza is being bombed and only 20 trucks have been allowed to enter. We learned that part of the negotiations for aid to Gaza was the most basic human element: flour. Not flour for bakeries run by Palestinians. Not flour for privately owned bakeries. Not even for bakeries run and controlled by the authorities in Gaza. That was non-negotiable. What Israel agreed to is very limited amounts of flour to go to the only bakery in the entire north of Gaza run by UNRWA. Normally, refugee agencies do not manage bakeries, but the UNRWA was forced into the bizarre position in which it has to effectively act as the cleanup crew for the conscience of the world. The world denies Palestinians a future, so UNRWA has to clean up for that. The world denies Palestinians an education, so UNRWA has to clean up for that. The world denies Palestinians clean water, so UNRWA has to clean up for that. The world even denies Palestinians sufficient food, and UNRWA has to do the cleanup for that. So UNRWA is allowed to receive a limited amount of flour to keep a bakery run by UNRWA staff functioning in Gaza. Shortly after receiving the flour, however, the UNRWA bakery was bombed by the Israelis. It was destroyed. Israel knew fully well that this was an UNRWA bakery, because this is precisely what they had been negotiating.


The role of the UN, and Western powers in particular, in passing the Palestinian problem to UNRWA is a story in itself. It is an obscene story, and the obscenities are manyfold. It is already obscene that this grave human rights problem is basically tossed to this UN organ. But this UN organ then finds itself incapable of performing the tasks expected of it. The Israeli authorities were well aware that the shipments that had just entered the UNRWA bakeries contained only flour, because that flour was inspected by Israeli authorities, approved by Israeli authorities, and allowed to reach its destination by Israeli authorities. Regardless, shortly after the flour arrived, the bakery was bombed.


There is another layer to the story. Normally, when UN employees are killed or injured, the Secretary-General speaks out very loudly because, organizationally, these employees belong to the UN. Their ultimate boss is the Secretary-General of the UN, and their salary comes from the UN. There is an internationally known treaty that states that UN personnel enjoy a protected status and are supposed to be immune from any sort of targeting or attacks. Normally, then, when UN employees are hurt, it becomes an international issue. The Secretary-General issues a release about the employees and condemns those responsible. In many situations, the UN makes it a point to sue or bring a claim against the party. There is a famous case by the International Court of Justice on this very issue. The only exception to this standard, of course, are employees of UNRWA. Israel has repeatedly targeted UNRWA employees. Israel has often bombed UNRWA schools, UNRWA hospitals, and UNRWA installations, but we never hear a peep from the Secretary-General. We never hear a peep from the UN Security Council. We never hear a word when people who have a status of immunity working for the UN are targeted and killed.


I mentioned in my last khutbah that the genocidal narratives in Israeli media are truly mind-numbing. Israeli media speaks freely about the possibility of a “second” or “greater” Nakba. This is not just theory. Israeli settlers have been passing out leaflets to Palestinians in the West Bank, putting them on notice that they must promptly leave for Jordan because, if they do not, they will face a second Nakba that will be much greater than the first. We also hear the Israeli government bragging about forming 600 armed settler groups in the West Bank and distributing weapons to settlers, which has led to repeated incidents of settler attacks against Palestinians and Palestinian homes.


Whether people realize it or not, this is a violation of the Genocide Convention, but it is met with a deafening silence from the international community, the UN Secretary General, and, so far, the Human Rights Council. After repeated attempts, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court finally responded and said that he will begin an investigation into war crimes committed, obviously by both sides. 


All those who have decided to speak on this matter, as a matter of conscience and principle, Muslim and Muslim, will have heard the Israeli response—"We will wipe out Hamas”—and, immediately, what came to mind was all the other times that Israel has bombed Gaza. Some of us remember the days when Israel bombed Beirut and the slaughter that followed. We knew, then, that when Israel says, "We will respond to Hamas," they are not going to go after Hamas fighters directly, soldier to soldier. We all knew the pattern of Israeli responses. We knew that Israel relies on its technological superiority to bomb from the air, and we all knew what bombing from the air means. People like me grew up seeing Israeli bombings of Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon like it was a regular matter. In all the years, amid all the bombardments, all the crimes, I still remember when Israel committed the massacre of school children in Bahr el-Baqar in Egypt. The Egyptian army carried out a military operation in a port called Eilat, and the Israeli response came the very next day. I still remember, to this day, the pictures of all the mutilated schoolchildren. Israel never apologized for the incident. First, Israel said what it always says: "There was a military target and the Egyptian army was using the children as human shields." Later, Israel was forced to admit that there was no military target. "Well, it was a mistake." And that was that. Later on, in the '90s, survivors from Bahr el-Baqar and their parents sought to bring a lawsuit against Israel, demanding compensation for the massacre. They attempted to file the lawsuit in international courts, but they were unable to do so because Israel does not submit to the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice. So, instead, they attempted to file the lawsuit in Israeli courts. Of course, the lawsuit was dismissed.


The point is that there are people like me who grew up with the idea of Israeli air power being the response of choice. Yet, simply knowing what Israel has done in Gaza since 2005 is enough to know what was going to come. We all knew that we would see countless children mutilated, destroyed, blown up, and killed. We knew the misery that was about to occur.


For those of us who choose to speak, the response of the so-called “civilized world” has been terrifying. Students at Harvard have been blacklisted by employers. Law students find job offers rescinded. Professors and academics find that they are treated as if they are supporters of or complicit in terrorism.


There is a pattern of practice in which Palestinians always exist below the line of basic rights and entitlements. As an occupier, Israel has always demanded discretion and the benefit of all doubt. Israel, for decades, has said, "I am an occupier." There are a small number of Palestinians who are citizens of the state of Israel, and Israel has insisted that the world has no business looking into how it treats its Palestinian citizens. For decades, Israel has insisted that once it displaced Palestinian and threw them off their lands, they were now the charge of the UN. For decades, Israel has been saying, "Don't bother us about those people. You want to educate them? Go ahead, pay for it. You want to treat them? Go ahead, pay for it. You want to build homes for them? Do it, but do not ask us to be in any way accountable or responsible for the people we displaced. We will never allow these people to return to their homes." 


As to the Palestinians under occupation, Israel is a signatory to the Geneva Conventions, so it knows what it means to be an occupying power. Israel has always said that it takes exception, upon exception, upon exception to what the Geneva Conventions say, "Because Palestinians are particularly violent. Because Palestinians are Muslim. Because Islam is an evil religion. Because Palestinians are particularly fanatic. Because Palestinians are barbarians. Palestinians are human animals." For decades, Israel has said that it can take exceptions to whatever the rules of the Geneva Conventions state. This was clear in the famous case by the International Court of Justice, which ruled, among other things, that Israel was building walls of separation in a way that created virtual concentration camps for its occupied population. To all of this, Israel has always said, "There is the rule of exceptionalism. We are threatened, and when we are threatened, our response to the threat does not abide by the normal, ethical constraints that have been enunciated in international treaties." For many years, the US and other Western countries, every single time, have responded, "Amen." 


But just look at the logic that we end up enforcing. Look at the logic that we have ended up teaching the world. “You can create a problem, but because of your exceptional status, you can take no responsibility for the problem. You can create a problem, and you can then shift the burden of the problem to the nations of the world. Not only this, but whenever you deem it important or necessary, you can pay very little heed to how the world is carrying the charge for the problem you have created. In addition to this, you have also turned what are supposed to be nondischargeable ethical and moral standards into merely advisory standards subject to your discretion.”


What this teaches the world is the logic of exceptionalism. Israel and its supporters pretend to be shocked by protestors. But the logic of exceptionalism is exactly the same logic that terrorists use. Israel is saying, "There are bad people. We cannot get to the bad people unless we kill good people." There is so much racism, and it seems that Israel thinks that all Palestinians are bad people. But let us continue with the argument. Israel says, "There are bad people. We cannot get to the bad people unless we kill good people, and while we are killing, please do not bother us. Do not bother us about the good people we are killing.” In other words, give us deference and discretion. Step out of the way as we get the job done of getting to the bad people. How many good people they kill is besides the point. The logic that terrorists use is precisely that. "There are bad people, but we are too weak to get to the bad people directly. We cannot strike against Israeli military air bases. We cannot reach Israeli military air bases. We cannot strike face-to-face against military targets. So the only way we can get to these bad people is through going through good people," meaning civilians. I am dumbing it down because I am in a state of moral and intellectual dissonance about the ethical stupidity, if not the sheer immorality, of people from whom I expected much better. The logic of exceptionalism is, "Do not ask us about the price paid in terms of good people, because our ultimate objective is to get to the bad people."


When the United States invaded Iraq, killed one million Iraqis, demeaned and degraded the Iraqis, it did not teach them democracy. Nor did it teach them the rule of law. As an invading and occupying power, what it taught the Iraqis is the logic of self-interest, vindictiveness, revenge, and raw power. So we created the very boogeyman that we had to later slay. In other words, we, through the invasion of Iraq, created ISIS. We created the immorality and insanity of ISIS. Do you not think that these million people have brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, grandchildren and parents? When you murder people systematically for a decade, and that is just a decade, you create a social ailment. To then pretend, "We do not know where ISIS came from" is simply disingenuous. Israel has created the very logic, the very boogeyman that it has been confronting since making it clear to the Palestinians that Israel embraces the logic of exceptionalism.


Supporters of Israel do not realize that they are, in fact, harming Israel. The worst thing that has happened to Israel in modern times is Netanyahu and his government. But that is a different subject for a different day. Let us look at this from another angle. Israel’s attitude throughout the slaughter is that there is a price to pay for moral wrongs, the moral wrong, in this case, being the fact that Hamas is in control of Gaza. But do we have a single incident in which Israel or its allies in the West have supported a single democratic movement in the entire Muslim world? No. In fact, we do exactly the opposite. Israel has gone out of its way to protect the despotic government of Saudi Arabia and to ensure the failure of all the democratic movements in the Arab Spring. Yet, the logic is that there must be a cost, and the cost for Gazans is a blockade, starvation, a lack of freedom, and a lack of opportunities. This is a cost that Israel claims is acceptable for those it designates as “terrorists.” But let us be clear that Israel does not only find terrorists in Hamas and Hamas alone. Israel finds terrorists in anyone who opposes the Israeli occupation. Israel started bombing people in the West Bank and immediately called them “militants.” Israel could not call them Hamas because it knew that they do not belong to Hamas.


Throughout the long history of Israeli occupation, anyone who opposes the occupation, if one so much as throws stones, Israel will shoot them, try them, convict them, and imprison them. Some stone throwers have been sentenced to years and years in prison because Israel considers throwing a stone an assault with a deadly weapon. Even if they do not throw stones, however, and just demonstrate, Israel could still shoot them, maim them, kill them, and prevent an ambulance reaching them, all because they broke the law of occupation. Again, Israel says, "Leave this occupation to our discretion. Do not bother us with the Geneva Conventions. The United Nations is not our problem."


The logic we always return to is the idea of cost. "Yes, we know that babies are killed. We know there are children being blown apart. We know there are civilians, but that is the cost." That is the cost of hurting Israel. The implied argument here, of course, is that that cost is acceptable. The cost is worth it, whatever it is, regardless of the thousands of civilians killed. It is an acceptable cost. I am sure that even if 30,000 civilians are killed, or more, we will be told that it was a reasonable and acceptable cost. The logic is that moral precepts are not absolute. Ethical precepts that say you must bear the risk of harm rather than bring harm to a child are not absolute. In fact, all ethical precepts can be compromised so long as the price is acceptable. 


Look at where that logic takes us. Look at the “acceptable” price for Israel's long history of occupation. If you accept the logic that ethical precepts can be compromised for a cost, then that is a double-edged logic. We can leverage that question right back. We can say, "Okay Israel, you have made the displacement of millions of people the UN's problem, not your problem. You did not even respect the rules of inviolability or immunity for the UN that bears the problem you have created. Your supporters have imposed a bizarre, exceptional logic that the UN will speak up for its personnel in all cases except when these personnel are targeted and killed by Israel. But beyond the refugee problem that you have created, how about the problem of the population that you control under the Geneva Conventions? According to international law, you know what is an occupation. You keep annexing land, and you know that you are not supposed to do that. You keep altering the topography of the land, and you know you are not supposed to do that. You keep inviting settlers to the land, and you know you are not supposed to do that. You keep kicking Palestinians off their land, and you know you are not supposed to do that. You keep violating the sanctity of mosques and churches, and violating the sanctity of the al-Aqsa Mosque, and you know you are not supposed to do that. You keep arresting people and jailing them without due process, and you know you are not supposed to do that. You keep killing people every week, and you know you are not supposed to do that. You keep doing this, and you have been doing it for decades." 


By that same logic, what is a reasonable cost for that? You have established the principle that there is a cost. What, then, is the reasonable cost for 75 years of occupation and brutalization?


People will try to throw the problem into your court and say, "Well, Hamas committed the terrorist attack, so what do you want Israel to do?" But by the very same token, what do you want Palestinians to do? Do not throw the problem at me, because I can throw it back at you. You have established the principle that killing thousands of innocent people is a reasonable price to pay. What, then, is the reasonable cost of occupation? Tell me.


Do I like the fact that Hamas killed civilians? Absolutely not. Nothing could be more reprehensible. But I am not an idiot. I do not put my head in the sand and pretend that you did not teach that moral lesson to Hamas, that the United States did not teach that moral lesson to Iraqis, and that this moral lesson was not taught by colonialism to indigenous and native populations for centuries.


I am not willing to act as a dunce so that your party can go on. We are always told "Condemn Hamas and that is the end of it." Yes, I condemn Hamas. So what? What is the reasonable cost? Do not take the high moral ground. Your position is morally repulsive. None of your positions withstand moral scrutiny. I am searching for ethics and morality that can fit whether White or Black, Muslim or non-Muslim, believer or non-believer. I am searching for an ethics that can apply equally to all human beings. I do not embrace the logic of exceptionalism, but you do. For you are deeply enraged when a White person is killed, but you hardly pause when the murdered person is a Palestinian, an Arab, a Muslim, or  dark-skinned. Lindsey Graham said, "This is a religious war. Israel, wipe them out." Do I look at you and say, "The American people, you have elected a fascist to power. American people, you are all culpable. American people, you must all pay a price for a murderous fanatic uttering foul language"? Of course not. Moral discernment teaches me that Lindsey Graham does not represent even the people who elected him. But you do not extend the same courtesy to us dark-skinned people. You do not extend the same courtesy to Muslims. If one Muslim commits a misdeed, all Muslims must apologize for it.


In the midst of all of this, as innocent human beings are being slaughtered—and I am saying human beings because that is what matters, not that they are Palestinian—I have noticed something very important. I have seen more dead children in these past three weeks than I can possibly erase from my tormented mind. I have seen pictures of them living and happy, celebrating birthdays, hugged by their parents, posing with siblings, and I have then seen pictures of their mutilated bodies. I have seen their names. I have seen their ID numbers. Those who care about human rights have repeatedly asked the Israeli authorities for the names and IDs of the children who, the Israelis claim, have been killed by Hamas, and the Israeli authorities have not supplied Human Rights Watch or any other human rights organization with the names or ID numbers. Why is it important? Because human rights organizations are supplying this evidence to the International Criminal Court, urging the Court to investigate and pass down indictments, including against Hamas personnel. But Netanyahu's word or Ismail Haniyeh's word is not enough. In this field, we need evidence, and we go out of our way to seek and document evidence.


In the midst of all this, believe it or not, the country that serves as the “Guardian of the Two Holy Sites,” the country of Mecca and Medina, the country that is supposed to represent Muslims, is celebrating the launching of its new entertainment season, announcing an impressive list of singers who are coming to Saudi Arabia. They launched video game competitions. They are in festive celebrations. One can hardly tell by watching Saudi TV that anything is going on in Gaza. Israeli TV is, in fact, too much. They constantly have people talking about it. It is Gaza, Gaza, Gaza. With Saudi TV and Emirati TV, however, one would think nothing is going on. Emirati TV actually mirrors Israeli discourse about the Palestinians. "They brought it upon themselves. Palestinians are to blame for their own misery. It is their fault."


I keep getting messages from Muslims who ask, "What can we do?" There is no magic potion. No one is going to give you a miraculous solution. But what you can do is be active. If there are demonstrations, join those demonstrations. If there are petitions, join those petitions. Go to any active organization, offer your help, and see if they can put you to use. But even more important, in my opinion, is to commit to transforming yourself. 


First, commit to the moral realization that the Saudi and Emirati governments are morally reprehensible and that they do not represent you as a Muslim. Second, commit to the moral realization and take the principled stand that anyone, including any religious figure, who aids or supports the Emirati and Saudi governments does not represent you. Do not allow yourself to be influenced or in any way persuaded by them. Third, commit to being the very best Muslim you can. Commit to success. Commit to being a successful Muslim who perfects whatever they achieve. In the position that we are in, we need as many successful and accomplished Muslims as possible. We need Muslims in every aspect of life who are at the top of their fields, and who, when the time comes, can and will help their Ummah because they are successful in whatever field they are in.


Do you want to know the best response to what is happening in Gaza right now, other than donating money, going to demonstrations, and things of that sort? Excellence. The response is excellence. Commit to excellence as a Muslim. Commit to being an achiever, the best in your field that you can possibly be. Commit to God that when called upon to help your fellow Muslims, to stand up against tyranny, to help in the overthrow of corrupt rulers, and to support democracies and just governments all over the Muslim world, you will do so in every possible way that you can. 


That is the best response.

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