In recent weeks, the Israeli army has launched “counter-terrorist” activities in the West Bank camp of Jenin.
For insights into what is happening, let me begin with a question:
Question: “If a twelve-year-old throws a rock at a soldier who has wreaked devastation on his/her home and the community, is he/she a terrorist?”
When it comes to war and acts of violence, we too often think in terms of the good guys and bad guys. And often the hooligans on the streets and their mob violence are the bad guys.
But what happens when the government and its military are the ones who are inflicting terror?
Barabbas or Jesus?
Many of you know the story. During the trial of Jesus, Pilate, the Roman procurator, offers to release a prisoner in order to pacify the people (Mark 15:6-10; Matt 27:15-23; Luke 23:17-19). It appears that Pilate didn’t want to have Jesus killed and he was looking for a way out (and it is not because he was concerned with justice).
So, he offers the crowd a choice between two prisoners: Jesus or “Barabbas”—which was certainly not his name (who names their son, “a son of a father”?; which is what “Bar Abbas” means; NB: there are some manuscripts of Matthew’s account that indicate Barabbas’ real name was “Jesus.” If this is so, then Pilate’s offer was to release, “Jesus Barabbas [Jesus, a son of a father]” or “Jesus, the Son of God [Jesus, The Son of The Father.”).
In this story, Barabbas is the bad guy.
The Gospel of Mark indicates that he was a murderer (Mark 15:7) Matthew says that says he was “a notorious prisoner” (Matt 27:16). He wasn’t just a murderer, however. Mark says that he committed murder “in the insurrection” (Mark 15:7). That is, Barabbas killed a Roman during a revolt against Rome’s occupation of Judea.
In other words, Barabbas was a terrorist.
NB: The reason why Pilate assumed that the people wouldn’t want Barabbas released was not because the people didn’t agree with Barabbas’ cause, but because whenever people such as Barabbas opposed Roman rule the Romans would collectively punish everyone. Pilate surely thought that the people would reason: “Why risk setting this man free and getting us all in trouble?”
Was Barabbas a terrorist?
Sure, Barabbas opposed Roman rule and he did so by means of violence.
But why does that make Barabbas a terrorist? After all, as the saying goes, “One person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter.
Think about it: if Rome invaded your city, enslaved your brothers, and did untold horrible things to your sister, your mother, your wife, or your daughter would you not resist? Would you not be driven to violence?
NB: I must confess. I am not sure how I would react if Rome or any other empire came into my home and committed such atrocities against my family. Yes, I believe that God has called us to live non-violently (I don’t like the word “pacifism” because it suggests inactivity. Non-violence and pacifism are not the same). And I hope that I would respond in accordance with my ideals. But.
The problem is that I don’t see how someone who responds to such tyranny and oppression is necessarily a terrorist. They might well be fighting for justice!
NB: This is not to deny that some are fighting out of vengeance.
Maybe my problem is not with the label “terrorist” but with the almost universal assumption that “terrorists” and “terrorism” from a secular perspective are always bad! Again, I do not condone such actions on an individual level: and I personally object to war. But I am not naïve enough to suggest that nations cannot go to war. Nor am I about to invoke my ideals and impose them upon others who are suffering under an oppressive regime.
Why is it then that the Romans can crucify thousands of people at one time (Josephus says that the Romans crucified 2,000 outside Jerusalem in one day), some of whom did nothing wrong—beyond standing in the wrong place at the wrong time—and, yet, we don’t consider the Romans as terrorists?
Yet, Barabbas or any civilian that opposes Rome’s oppressive regime is?
Recent turmoil in Jenin
In recent weeks, the Israeli government has leveled an all-out assault on the Palestinian camp in Jenin. The assault has been justified by the Israeli government as an act of counter-terrorism. In fact, Prime Minister Netanyahu, as reported in the Jerusalem Post, has vowed that this is not the end of their counter-terror activities, “In these moments we are completing the mission, and I can say that our broad action in Jenin is not a one-time thing. We will continue as much as necessary to cut off terrorism” (Jerusalem Post).
Now, I am not doubting that the camp in Jenin has been a hotbed of terrorism for many years. I am, however, contending that there is more going on here than meets the eye (especially, when our “eye” is what the media feeds us).
This leads me to query: Is it possible that, in the name of counter-terrorism, a government can also be terrorists?” Can an established government go too far in its efforts to eradicate terrorists so that their acts of collective punishment constitute terrorism?
After all, was it necessary for the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) in their efforts to counter terrorism to bring bulldozers into town in order to level civilian homes and buildings? Was it necessary to displace up to 4,000 residents of Jenin (the tragedy is that some of those who were displaced were already refugees)?
Is Israel using “counter-terrorism” as a pretext for an all-out assault on all of the residents of Jenin?
The UN seems to think so. According to a report from the UN Human Rights office Israel’s recent “counter-terrorism” activities in Jenin are under investigation for human rights violations.
NB: I realize that many Christians object to what I am saying here because they believe that we are supposed to bless Israel at all times (I have written on this previously: Blessing Israel; Blessing Israel unquestioningly).
Life in Jenin
Another problem, which is seldom relayed in the media, is that the Palestinians in Jenin live under an oppressive Israeli occupation—which, ironically, is also justified as a means of counter-terrorism. (hmm, has anyone thought that maybe one leads to the other?—just saying).
The camp in Jenin is already a ghetto. Most of the residents live in abject poverty. Unemployment rates are higher in Jenin than in most of the West Bank.
Another problem, which goes underreported, is the amount of violence brought about by armed settlers (see this report in the Israeli publication Haaretz (June 21, 2023). Another Haaretz report noted that according to a senior defense source, there have been, “hundreds of cases of nationalist crime by Jewish settlers” (June 27, 2023).
Yet, we never seem to include the Israeli settlers in the category “terrorist.”
But the settlers are civilians just as much as the Palestinians.
Why is it, that when a Palestinian commits an act of violence he/she is a terrorist?
But if settlers lay siege upon a Palestinian community, their actions are at worst labeled, “settler violence.” What is that even supposed to mean?
Why can we not call a spade a spade?
. . . to be continued (next post will go live on Wed July 19)
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