Last Friday, the Israeli Air Force killed two members of the Palestinian Resistance Committee in Gaza, who were believed to be planning an attack on Israel from the Egyptian Sinai some time in the following days. This sparked an onslaught of rocket attacks from Gaza into Southern Israel, and Israeli airstrikes on Gaza, with civilian and militant casualties on both sides. In the wake of the attacks, Israeli journalist Larry Derfner, in an article in +972 Magazine, chose to address a common justification for military violence by the state of Israel, that “Palestinians have no right to lift a finger against our control of their lives and land,” and called for a rejection of the idea that “we [Israel] will always be totally innocent, while they will always be totally guilty.”
Derfner’s article led me to think further about common discourses of morality, war, and terror. Anthropologist Talal Asad asks: “how is the difference between terrorism and war defined in contemporary public discourse?”1 It is commonly understood that war is “a legal activity when it fulfills certain conditions,” and that international law protects certain acts of war.2 Conversely, terrorist violence is considered morally worse because of its illegality. In other words, terrorism kills innocent civilians, whereas war kills “only those who are legitimately killable.”3 This means that states that legally wage war can determine who can and cannot be killed. This kind of power has serious implications particularly in the so-called War on Terror: take the common assumption that Muslims or Arabs are perpetrators of terrorism because of a culturally ingrained tendency towards violence – does that imply that Muslims or Arabs as a group are legitimately killable when the West decides to wage a “moral” war against terror?
The planes that we had been waiting for since the day before yesterday arrived today. Bombing appeared to be imminent, so everyone rushed beneath the staircase. But when I watched closely, I realized that the planes were not bombers, but fighters. I heaved a sigh of relief.
The fighters first circled the area and then dived towards some place north of us. We heard two loud blasts, and the jets rose back up in the sky. But they immediately dived back again, strafed a few bullets, and shot back into the sky. This time when they turned they were heading towards us. They dived straight in our direction, probably because during their first round, a few shots had been fired at them from the bunker close to our house. They were now flying as low as the coconut trees. They strafed at a place known as the Fire Brigade which was about twenty yards from our house. They shot back into the sky, took a U-turn, dived back one more time, strafed again, and flying up towards the sky, passed over our heads. They came so close that we could see the plane in all its details including the inside of the cockpit.
This time when they dived they strafed at Graiter Road, which was about a hundred yards away from our house and was occupied by the EPR. One of the planes disappeared behind the trees in mid-flight. It seemed as though it had gone out of control and was about to crash. But the next moment it rose to the sky again, and within no time was followed by the sound of machinegun fire.