Labelling opposition “terrorists” – Delegitimising dissent against Israeli policies

This article will present the Israeli governments efforts to delegitimise opponents by making ordinary political actions illegal and labelling them ”terrorism”. Three recent events have escalated this process. The elections in Palestine 2006, the growth of boycotts and sanctions, and the actions by Freedom Flotilla to break the isolation of Gaza have all proved to create a more serious threat to the Israeli government than all armed struggle from a diversity of Palestinian groups together. Even the process of reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah is seen as a threat and analysed with a “terrorist” perspective. One of the reactions from the Israeli state is to label people and organisations that oppose the present official policy of the state of Israel ”terrorists”.

Keywords: terrorism; dissidents; democracy; counterterrorism

Introduction to Israel reactions on pro-Palestinian opposition

When the Palestinian Authorities (PA) decided to have their first ever democratic elections for the Legislative Assembly in 2006 the Israeli government got a lot of foreign governmental support for their criminalisation of the winners of those elections. The elections were judged “free and fair” by external observers (Carter, 2006). Javier SOLANA, European Union High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), issued the following:

“The Palestinian people have voted democratically and peacefully. I welcome this. The European Union has supported the smooth running of these elections.
The position of the European Union in support of the recognition of Israel and a peaceful negotiated solution leading to two States is well known.” (Solana, 2006)

This was obvious a huge step for Hamas; from fighting with arms to become a political party fighting with parliamentarian means. But the positions of the US government and EU changed very soon to be very hostile and support the condemnation of the result. Economic sanctions against the Palestinian National Authority were imposed by Israel and the Quartet on the Middle East against the PA and the Palestinian territories (Erlanger, 2006).  The Bush Administration sought to isolate and remove Hamas from their newly gained power (Morro, 2007). Even most of the civil society actors around the world that normally are pro-Palestine kept quiet when Israel got support from USA and EU to treat the winners as terrorists. Extremely few voices spoke loudly in defence of Hamas and their right to take power after the free and democratic elections.

Four years later a new development made the situation even more difficult for the government in Tel Aviv. Critical views on the Israeli occupation of Palestine are not new, but they were taken to a new level when the Freedom Flotilla was heading for Gaza with humanitarian aid in 2010. Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) killed nine activists while boarding the ships on international waters (Bayoumi, 2010). Global condemnation of the attack was strong (Blumenthal, 2010, Sherwood, 2010, Siegman, 2010). Even the UN Security Council condemned the raid (MacFarquhar and Cowell, 2010, UNSC, 2010).

Within Israel there was a wave of ”counter attacks” on all sorts of criticisms of Israel. When the Freedom Flotilla tried to end the siege of Gaza they were described as ”terrorists” by Israeli politicians and in Israeli mainstream media (Katz, 2010a, Katz, 2010b, Meranda, 2010). Another example of such Israeli reactions is the new law that passed the Knesset in 2011, making promotion of boycotts of Israeli products illegal. Such boycotts were referred to as ”economic terrorism”. The other form of boycott that has been criminalised is by artists who refuse to entertain in Israel proper or on settlements. Those who take part in or support such boycotts are labelled ”cultural terrorists”. One more case of Israeli policies against threats is the criminalisation and punishment of the attempts to reconcile between Hamas and Fatah in November 2011 (Hass, 2012).

In all these cases the public rhetoric used the label ”terrorist” in order to discredit and criminalise the opponents of the Israeli politics against Palestinians and others who opposed the occupation. When you can portray actors as ”terrorists” it will justify almost any sort of means used against them. If governments, or international bodies like the UN and the EU, label someone as a ”terrorist” it is in itself a type of criminalisation. Even without a court case those who are listed as terrorist will be treated accordingly. The listing itself is enough for regarding them as the worst forms of criminals. And the very vague concept made it possible for extension of police powers and the use of coercive means. Post 9-11-2001 all member states of UN were ordered to create special laws to be used against ”terrorists” (UNSC, 2001b). The resolution stated that all States “should also ensure that terrorist acts are established as serious criminal offences in domestic laws and regulations and that the seriousness of such acts is duly reflected in sentences served.” Most of these new laws include tougher punishment, less rigorous civil rights, and that the burden of proof is less strict than otherwise. Public support is huge for a tough policy against anyone labelled ”terrorist” in Israel. Israel went to the extreme to label oppositional voices terrorists. The examples in this article should be analysed in the context of the so-called ”war on terror” post September 11 2001 and Israeli domestic politics.

Terrorists or Freedom Fighters – a global process

The United Nations Security Council Resolutions No 1368 (UNSC, 2001a) and No 1373 (UNSC, 2001b) were passed in the days following the attacks on World Trade Centre and Pentagon. Both opened up new approaches to stop and prevent political violence. They expanded the traditional use of criminal law, police, and court systems and added adoption of international law and military means against political violence. One direct result of the global efforts by states to fight ”terrorism” is an expansion of the definition and use of the term ”acts of terror”. Due to lack of consensus on what constitute ”acts of terror” or who are ”terrorist” these resolutions left it to each state to come up with their own definitions and use of such labels. The old UN definition from 1992 was
“An anxiety-inspiring method of repeated violent action, employed by (semi-) clandestine individual, group or state actors, for idiosyncratic, criminal or political reasons, whereby – in contrast to assassination – the direct targets of violence are not the main targets” (International Terrorism and Security Research)

Post 9/11-2001 this definition was not accepted because it did not adequately separate ”terrorists” from ”freedom fighters”. When the UN General Assembly’s Ad Hoc Committee (AHC) on Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism concluded its 15th Session on April 15, 2011 they had still not reached agreement on the draft Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT). The AHC’s report of April 15, 2011 states that  “several delegations reiterated that the convention should contain a definition of terrorism, which would provide a clear distinction between acts of terrorism covered by the convention and the legitimate struggle of peoples in the exercise of their right to self-determination.” (UNGA, 2011)

This global context is relevant to Middle East conflicts. And it is especially relevant for the cases covered in this article. Should traditional nonviolent actions in support of Palestinian self-determination or autonomy be seen as part of a legitimate struggle or as acts of ”terror”? As we shall se the official Israeli point of view is the latter, while a number of others argue such actions are legitimate (Awad, Pappé, 2006).

Israel expands the use of the term “terror”

Many Israeli politicians in Knesset and government see themselves as under attack by ”terrorists”, whereas the majority of Palestinians see the on going conflicts as part of a liberation struggle.

In many of the multiple complex conflicts in the Middle East the Israeli legislators play an important role. Faced by an increasing hostility from former friends and escalating international nonviolent campaigns against the Israeli policy on occupied territories and in Gaza, they have been forced to rethink their strategies. In recent decades there have bee a growing number of campaigns to boycott Israeli products and specifically products from companies established on the West Bank. In the beginning the effects of such campaigns were minimal and did not constitute a threat to either the state or to business communities. In recent years such campaigns have both expanded in numbers and in the targets they have been focusing on. Initiatives for boycotts by Israeli citizens as well as new groups such as international artists and academics have taken the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement to a new level (Anderson et al., 2011, Barghouti, 2011) Within Israel the boycotts have only a minor economic impact, but a strong symbolic value. Internationally these BDS activities have expanded and been picked up by commercial chains of shops, some investment funds, pension funds, trade unions etc (Anderson et al., 2011, Barghouti, 2011). As a consequence of a report (Human Rights Council, 2013) to be presented to the Human Rights Council at its 22nd session in March 2013 pension funds have decided to withdraw their investments from companies that have activities connected to the occupation (Alternative Information Center, 2012). For some businesses these activities make it increasingly difficult to run as normal. Combined with well-organised campaigns from the Palestinian Authorities (PA) to boycott products from settlements these political activities have become a political force of serious proportions. The Al-Karameh National Empowerment Fund campaign had a consumption impact on the consumption of settlement products by Palestinians on the West Bank. With resources from the Customer Protection Unit in the Ministry of Economy and other parts of the Palestinian Authorities this campaign soon was seen as a more serious threat than earlier encouragements to not buy products from settlements. The actual loss for companies targeted by the Al-Karemeh National Empowerment Fund is not known, but the sales of products from settlements fell substantially after the campaign started.

The many different BDS campaigns were most probably more difficult to handle than the armed resistance against the occupation. The Israeli government has felt compelled to act against the BDS movement. The experiences and skills they have to defend the country against guerrilla soldiers and freedom fighters proved to be of little value against the non-armed, broad based movements of citizens around the world that do not want to support the Israeli state and companies supporting the state (Sandercock, 2004). These lacks of skills in handling nonviolent movements become clear already in the first intifada (Schiff et al., 1990, Rigby, 1991, Schleifer, 2006, Alimi, 2007, King, 2007).

When the Freedom Flotilla in 2010 took a strategic step from boycott and critique to in practice challenging the isolation of Gaza the Israeli government responded with brute force. They killed nine activists while the ships were still on international waters. Many were beaten and all on-board, journalists included, were arrested and taken to a prison in the Israeli harbour in Ashdod. The Flotilla and the attack on it increased the international pressure on Israel to lift the blockade. Hamas West Bank parliamentarian Aziz Dweik concluded: “The Gaza flotilla has done more for Gaza than 10,000 rockets.” (Levinson, 2010)

Following the massive condemnation of killing unarmed people on-board ships with medical supplies, building materials and other goods needed in Gaza several international artists cancelled their planned concerts in Israel. Financial Times wrote:
The fashion started early this year, when ageing guitar hero Carlos Santana cancelled his planned summer gig in Tel Aviv without explanation. It gained a new follower last month, when Elvis Costello, the British singer, said his “conscience” would not allow him to perform in Israel. (Buck, 2010)

Soon after other musicians followed. When the US alternative rock group The Pixies cancelled their first-ever gig in the Jewish state their promotor Shuki Weiss published a statement in which he wrote:

“I am full of both sorrow and pain in light of the fact that our repeated attempts to present quality acts and festivals in Israel have increasingly been falling victim to what I can only describe as a form of cultural terrorism which is targeting Israel and the arts worldwide” (Ward, 2010).

This set the stage for the subsequent discussion; the term ”cultural terrorism” became part of the vocabulary for referring to artists protesting against the Israeli politics and practice against Palestine, Palestinians, and supporters worldwide by refusing to perform in Israel. The terms ”terrorism” and ”cultural terrorists” with all the values and connotations became popular in Israeli political discussions and frequently used against many forms of opposition to the governmental policy (Fayyad, 2010, Ya’ar, 2012). Whether this had an impact of artists who didn’t want to risk being criminalised in this way is not known. But for those who took a stand and refused to entertain in Israel and on settlements the critique were tough. Media naming someone a ”terrorist” is a form of delegitimisation and stigmatisation that it is difficult to defend against and there is no court that can free individuals from such accusations.

A similar development took place for those academics that went public about boycotting Israeli universities and research institutes. In 2007 the congress of the British University and College Union votes in favour of circulating a boycott request by Palestinian trade unions to all branches for information. It called on lecturers to “consider the moral implications of existing and proposed links with Israeli academic institutions” (Taylor et al., 2007). Haaretz reported that in the wake of the 2008-2009 war on Gaza, a group of American professors has joined the boycott call:

“While Israeli academics have grown used to such news from Great Britain, where anti-Israel groups several times attempted to establish academic boycotts, the formation of the United States movement marks the first time that a national academic boycott movement has come out of America.” (Ahren, 2009)

Several hundred academics have endorsed the call for boycott (USACBI). The University of Western Sydney’s Student Association formally affiliated to the “Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel” in February 2009 (Bullimore, 2009). The popularity of the academic boycott resulted in academic boycotts being included in new legislation making these boycotts illegal.

New legislation in Israel

Historically political rhetoric in Israel has always included harsh language. A strong tradition of freedom of speech was established in the Israeli Declaration of Independence, which states: ”it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture” (State of Israel, 1948). According to the 2005 US Department of State report on Israel, “[t]he law provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the government generally respected these rights in practice subject to restrictions concerning security issues.” (US Depargtement of State, 2005) The declaration as well as the US report is valid for Jews in Israel but not on the same level for Arabs and other non-Jews in Israel. In the occupied territories it is valid only for Jews living on settlements, but not for Arabs. This tradition of freedom of speech can help explaining why this new terms are allowed, but not why the new terminology took off in the summer and fall of 2010. In other countries such biased languages for disputable activities would probably not have been accepted. Freedom of speech can be used as a justification also for offensive and discriminative attacks on your opponents.

In Israel, adverse reactions to the term ”terrorism” being used for activities that through the ages have been seen as part of a living democracy were few. Human Rights organisations like B’Tselem (B’Tselem, 2013) and some others were exceptions with their voices against the expansion of use of the term ”terrorist”.

Politicians frequently used the term in public discussions. In 2010 ”economic terrorism” became a regular term used by politicians and other representatives for the Israeli establishment. The term became the name for boycotts of Israeli products in general and settlement products in particular (Grossman, 2010, Friedman, 2012).

“This is economic terrorism,” complained the Yesha Council (YC), an umbrella organisation of municipal councils of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. (Frykberg, 2010)

This gave the legislators an opportunity to act with new laws against the boycotts. To forbid ”terrorism” was not a difficult law to sell to a population feeling the international critique as a growing problem. If those who are against Israel can be seen as evil, almost by definition, the Knesset could reduce the effect of the critique and at the same time act with police and courts against those who continued with boycotts. Politicians from the right wing Liqud party acted quickly and proposed a new law making promotion of boycotts against the State of Israel a ”civil wrong”. The law is called ”Preventing Harm to the State of Israel by Means of Boycott” and passed the final round in the Knesset July 11, 2011. It defines  a boycott against the State of Israel” as – deliberately avoiding economic, cultural or academic ties with another person or another factor only because of his ties with the State of Israel, one of its institutions or an area under its control, in such a way that may cause economic, cultural or academic damage. (Knesset, 2011)

There are three examples of ”Boycott – a civil wrong” in the law:

Knowingly publishing a public call for a boycott against the State of Israel will be considered a civil wrong to which the civil tort law applies, if according to the content and circumstances of the publication there is reasonable probability that the call will bring about a boycott and he who published the call was aware of this possibility.

In regards to clause 62 [A] of the civil tort law, he who causes a binding legal agreement to be breached by calling for a boycott against the State of Israel will not be viewed as someone who operated with sufficient justification.

If the court will find that a wrong according to this law was deliberately carried out, it will be authorized to compel the person who did the wrongdoing to pay damages that are not dependent on the damage; in calculating the sum of the damages for example, the court will take into consideration, among other things, the circumstances under which the wrong was carried out, its severity and its extent. (Knesset, 2011)

Calling for boycotts is not a criminal offence but can be deemed as a civil wrong. Those who do so might be exposed to lawsuits and claims for financial compensation. The law applies to economic, cultural, and academic boycott of the settlements and state institutions inside the borders of 1967.  Any boycott of academic institutions or a consumer boycott of settlement products – are included within this law. The law can be used against any citizen, disregarding citizenship. Anyone who is in Israel and on thei occupied territories can be taken to court for a violation of this law.

This law has serious implications for individuals or organisations that call for or participate in boycotts. According to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI)  anyone who publishes a call for boycott as defined in the law could be subject to a civil lawsuit (for compensation) filed by those who were harmed by this boycott, for damages, economic or otherwise, caused to them. Furthermore, according to section 2(b) of the law, if a company violates or cancels a contract because of a call for boycott, those who called for the boycott can be sued for any subsequent damages.

Further sanctions, that could apply to companies and organisations, are limiting their ability to participate in state tenders and limiting their eligibility to receive various kinds of support from the State (such as being considered a public institution, including for budgetary support or income tax benefits, receiving funding from the Council to Regulate Sports Gambling, guarantors under the Guarantors on Behalf of the State Law, and benefits under the Encouragement of Capital Investment Law or under to the Encouragement of Research and Development in Industry Law). (ACRI, 2011)

The use of boycotts as concerted economic or social ostracism of an individual, group, or nation to express disapproval or coerce change (PBS, 2005) is as old as human history (Sharp, 1973, Cortright and Lopez, 2002, Wallensteen and Staibano, 2005, Hufbauer, 2007). It has been frequently used as a tactic by movements for democracy and against injustices, often with success. A well-known case is the use of boycotts and sanctions against the Apartheid regime in South Africa (Eriksen et al., 2000, Presbey, 2006). To criminalise advocacy of boycotts is a serious attack on a basic democratic right.

Elections in Palestine 2006: criminalising the winners

For decades there has been a demand for more democracy in Palestine. Not just from external donors, supporting states, and organisations, but from within as well. During the leadership of Yasser Arafat there was a deficit of democracy in Palestine. The change from leading an armed movement to the head of an ”autonomous/occupied territory” gave little room for democratic implementation. Over the years elections for decision making bodies were held on local levels in Palestine and after Arafat died plans for national elections came on the table. Within Hamas participation in local elections had proved to be successful, but many were hesitant to be part of national elections. Hence Hamas declined to stand for election in the elections for Presidency in 2005. Long and tough internal discussions ended with a majority in favour of participate in the elections for a new legislative body (Parliament) in early 2006. They hoped to get enough seats in the legislative assembly to make a difference. Fatah was expected to get a majority of the votes.
When the elections took place in January 2006, the results shocked almost everybody. Hamas won 74 of the 132 to seats in the legislative body (Pina, 2006, p. 6). The rise of Hamas to power through a democratic process is unique in the Arab world. No other Arab state had ever had such open, democratic, free, and fair elections (Posusney, 2002). This was a serious step for Hamas; moving from being an armed liberation movement to a political party. But it had little impact on the Israeli view that Hamas was a ”terrorist” organisation. Most other states did not recognised the results of these free and fair elections either. The election observers concluded differently. Jimmy Carter was monitoring the elections and he gave a very clear supportive message in his report:

On election day, Rosalynn and I visited 25 polling sites, in East Jerusalem and its outskirts, Hebron, Ramallah, and Jericho. It seemed obvious to us and other observers that the election was orderly and peaceful and that there was a clear preference for Hamas candidates even in historically strong Fatah communities. Even so, we were all surprised at the enormity of the Hamas victory. (Carter, 2006)
But the reactions from the Israeli government and security forces were that all the elected representatives would not be granted necessary permissions to be able to move to Ramallah and start their work. Carter writes:

[I] was told that no Hamas party member would be given a pass to change location anywhere within the occupied territories. This would prevent the results of the election from being implemented,… (Carter, 2006)

Not only were the newly elected representatives refused permissions, the rhetoric about these newly elected parliamentarians being terrorists escalated in the Israeli and international press. Israel, USA, EU, several Western states and many Arab states imposed sanctions and suspended aid. Those sanctions, if anything, would deserve the label “economic terrorism”. Hamas never got a real chance to prove that they could run the country. With almost no money they could not deliver what they had promised in the election campaign.

The criminalisation of the winners of these democratic and open elections went far beyond using police and, criminal law, court systems, and prisons against them. In this case the Israeli government engaged the army to fight the ”criminals” and “terrorists”.

Soon after the elections Israel, some Arab states, and US supported president Abbas and Fatah in the war they started against Hamas (IISS, 2007). Military training, equipment, and intelligence made it possible for those who lost the election to take back the power through armed struggle and gain control on the West Bank; but they did not succeeded in Gaza. According to leaked documents Palestinian Authorities got help from the British MI6 to crack down on Hamas (Milne and Black, 2011). Under the heading “Degrading the capabilities of the rejectionists”, the MI6 “Palestinian Security Plan” recommends “the detention of key middle-ranking officers” of Hamas and other armed groups (Black and Milne, 2011). “The situation has gotten to be quite dire in Gaza, we have a situation of lawlessness and outright chaos,” Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton, who was overseeing the US program, said. “This chaotic situation is why the [US] is focused on [helping] the legal, legitimate security forces in our effort to re-establish law and order.” (Harel and Issacharoff, 2006, Kalman, 2006, Murphy and Mitnick, 2007) This Palestinian Civil War had more than 600 causalities (Reuters, 2007).  Most international actors and stakeholders labelled Hamas a ”terrorist organisation”. And as a consequence they could be attacked by all means without the perpetrator being blamed for any wrongdoing. In June 2008 the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs published a typical statement illustrating the use of ”terrorist” rhetoric: ”Terror in Gaza: Twelve months since the Hamas takeover” (Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2008). The government intensified accusations that Hamas was a terrorist organisation and made it possible to get enough support for an attack in late 2008. The large-scale military invasion, called ”Cast Lead”, into Gaza in 2008-2009 was justified by the argument that Hamas was a terrorist organisation. This was the peak of a long process of criminalisation of the party that won the 2006 elections. Following the ”War on Terror”, launched by US after 9/11 2001 it is acceptable to use military means against opponents when you label them as terrorists. When the UNSC and other main bodies on the international scene accept the use of military means by one member state it creates a precedent for other states to do the same.

The war in Gaza lasted for 22 days (CNN et al., 2009). Reuter reported Israeli warplanes pounded the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on Saturday, killing at least 229 people in one of the bloodiest days for the Palestinians in 60 years of conflict with the Jewish state. (al-Mughrabi, 2008)

In total the number of casualties reached 1,400 and one year after the ceasefire approximately 20,000 people remained displaced (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs occupied Palestinian territory, 2009, p. 1). The punishment of these, in Israeli eyes, ”criminals” did not end with the war in 2009.

Collective punishment and Criminalisation of Aid

The war was followed by tight sanctions leading to serious misery in Gaza. This punishment of a whole population had serious consequences for the survival possibilities in Gaza (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs occupied Palestinian territory, 2011). Everyone living in Gaza were punished because the territory was run by the winners of the elections in 2006 and Israel labelled them terrorists. It is also relevant to know that extremely few are allowed to leave Gaza. Israeli authorities does not give people permits to leave. Many attempts to open up for humanitarian help to Gaza have been turned down. The Israeli sanctions against Gaza included restrictions on exporting products from the Gaza strip. The argument for blocking import is to prevent weapons that will arm Hamas. The only reason to prevent export is to damage the economy and apply collective punishment.

International activists, politicians, and human rights workers joined their forces and organised a ”Freedom Flotilla” of ships filled with medical supplies, building materials and other goods needed.  The flotilla was ready to sail in May 2010. The Freedom Flotilla created a classical dilemma for the Israeli government. It had two choices: Let the ships reach Gaza and hence breach the blockade, or use force to stop peaceful activists. The first alternative would be a direct victory for the Flotilla – in practice overcoming the blockade. The second alternative would show the true, grim, and brutal policy of the government and the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). Preventing humanitarian assistance to people who suffer is difficult to justify. A similar flotilla was mobilised for the summer 2011. In both cases the government, their supporters, and IDF did their best to blame the activists as ”terrorists” or ”supporters of terrorists” (Katz, 2010b, Harris, 2011, Shamir, 2011), but the conclusion is that the Israeli state lost a lot of support and was blamed by former allies worldwide. The attack on the flotilla escalated quickly when commando soldiers entered the ships and killed nine unarmed activists. IDF confiscated almost all photos, videos and other equipment for recording what happened (Jones and Smith, 2010). Even journalists on-board lost their computers, cameras etc (Paterson, 2010). The ships were still in international waters when they were attacked and most experts on international law agree that the attack was illegal (Falk, 2010).

This attack on humanitarian aid must be understood in the context of a more general policy of criminalising every activity that challenges the Israeli policy concerning Palestine.  Not even the most peaceful support of people in need could be tolerated. Those who wanted to support the people living in Gaza were labelled terrorists and military means used against them.

Punishment of reconciliation and cooperation

After the civil war in Palestine several attempts have been conducted to try to bring the two parties together. President Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad have both tried to negotiate a truce. When negotiations between Hamas, Fatah and President Abbas became known in the fall of 2011, the Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni warned Abbas that cooperation with ”terrorists” would not be a accepted (Issacharoff, 2006). Fatah and Hamas were close to forming a unity government in late November 2011. At stake was the wish to have the UN recognise Palestine as a sovereign state. A first test was done in UNESCO and there Palestine got enough votes to be a member (UNESCOPRESS, 2011). The next step was to ask UNSC for recognition and hence become an ordinary member of the UN. UNSC did not accepted Palestine as a full member, but in November 2012 they were upgraded to “Non-member observe state status” with 130 states in favour, nine against, and 41 abstentions (UN General Assembly, 2012). All these steps have been seen as hostile and dangerous by the Israeli government. They have withhold Palestinian tax revenues and finance minister Yuval Steinitz told Israeli Radio: “I do not intend this month to transfer the funds to the Palestinians.” (Funaro, 2012)

Also when the talks between Hamas and Fatah become known the state of Israel immediately punished the Palestinians by withholding the tax revenues they are collecting on behalf of PA. Prime Minister Fayyad said ”Israeli sanctions have ‘devastating impact’ on Palestinian economy” (Associated Press, 2011). This is a way to criminalise and punish cooperation and reconciliation between the main stakeholders on the Palestinian side. It appears as if the Israeli government does not want to see a unified Palestine. That could end the efficiency of its policy of divide and rule.

It can be argued that this is not actually a case of criminalisation. Palestinian leaders are not accused of a violation of a specific law. But by punishing the actors the Israeli authorities imply that the actors are engaged in bad/criminal activities. Punishment is meant to be a reaction to a criminal act. The juridical principle ”Nulla poena sine lege” (No crime, no punishment without a previous penal law) is a basic maxim in most Western legal thinking. If some one is punished he/she ”must” have committed a crime. Since they are punished it is easy to regard them as having committed crimes. The Israeli punishment is done without a reference to a violation of a law. These reactions are political reaction with sever consequences for the victims. In consequence the punishment of Hamas, the population of Gaza, and Fatah implies they are criminals.

Negative attitudes to Israel

According the annual rating poll conducted by GlobeScan/PIPA the support for Israel is low and falling in the 27 selected countries around the world. For the 2012 50% of those asked are “mainly negative” and only 21% mainly positive (BBC, 2012).
Evaluations of Israel’s influence in the world—already largely unfavourable in 2011—have worsened in 2012. On average, in the 22 tracking countries surveyed both in 2011 and 2012, 50 per cent of respondents have negative views of Israel’s influence in the world, an increase of three points from 2011. The proportion of respondents giving Israel a favourable rating remains stable, at 21 per cent. Out of 22 countries polled in 2011, 17 lean negative, three lean positive, and two are divided. (BBC, 2012)

Support has improved only in US.

In the EU countries surveyed, views of Israeli influence have hardened in Spain (74% negative ratings, up 8 points) and in France (65%, up 9 points)—while positive ratings remain low and steady. Negative ratings from the Germans and the British remain very high and stable (69% and 68%, respectively). In other Anglo-Saxon countries, views have worsened in Australia (65% negative ratings, up 7 points) and in Canada (59%, up 7 points). This hardening of opinion towards Israel’s influence in the world is strongly apparent in South Korea, where negative views have risen (69%, up 15 points) while positive views have decreased by 11 points (to 20%). Negative attitudes have also increased among the Chinese, the Indians, and the Russians. In China, a 9-point drop in positive ratings (to 23%) makes the overall balance of views even more negative (23% positive vs 45% negative). In India, negative perceptions have gone up 11 points (to 29%), and overall opinion has shifted from being divided in 2011 (21% vs 18%) to leaning negative in 2012 (17% vs 29%). In Russia, public opinion has shifted from leaning positive in 2011 to being divided in 2012 (25% positive vs 26% negative). (BBC, 2012)
Israeli politicians are feeling the pressure as the country loses popularity around the world. Prime minister Netanyahu is obviously aware of the problem:

Netanyahu’s concern was evident at a recent cabinet meeting, when he was reported to have angrily pounded the table. “We are in a very difficult international arena,” the Haaretz newspaper quoted him telling ministers who wanted to step up settlement-building. “I suggest we all be cautious.” (Cook, 2011)

The reasons for these change in attitudes are many. Key to them all is the occupation of Palestine. The occupation itself, the expansion of settlements, and the brutality towards opponents all contribute to a growing negative attitude towards the Israeli state (ABC News, 2010, Rogin, 2010, Oren, 2012, Burt, 2013).


The criminalisation, and punishment, of those who oppose the Israeli occupation policy started a long time ago. This article documents the new development where the criminalisation is based on the use of the label ”terrorist” for ordinary nonviolent activities by civil society actors. Since there is no scientific or judicial consensus on a definition of the term “terrorism” it is more or less up to politicians and legislative bodies to stick that label on opponents.

The frequent use of the term ”terrorist” have been utilised in a number of contexts. Some of them are creative and new inventions Israeli authorities; others have a long history.

The events on 9/11 and the subsequent US-led ”War on Terror” have made it possible to apply the term ”terrorist” to almost anyone a state does not like. Normal judicial rules and principles have been left behind in a witch-hunt for those who authorities label ”terrorists”. When an organisation, a network, or an individual has been so categorised there are few limits to what can be done against them.
This has been a global phenomena. In Israel the government has utilised this process of criminalisation and labelling of political opponents “terrorists” in many different arenas since 2006. It has developed new laws criminalising promotion of consumer and academic boycotts as well as artists who refuse to entertain. Israel has criminalised a political party that won the first open, free and fair election in any Arab country. Israeli authorities have, with support of the US government, done their best to justify military support to those who lost the elections so they could fight the winners. And Israel launched a large scale military intervention in the Gaza strip that the winners of the elections managed to control after the end of the civil war. When international and Israeli activists tried to send humanitarian supplies to the suffering people of Gaza, the politicians accused them of supporting terrorists. The Israeli government called on their militaries to stop the convoy of ships.  Israel’s United Nations Ambassador Gabriela Shalev said “Israel reserves its right under international law to use all necessary means to prevent these ships from violating the … naval blockade.” (The Associated Press, 2010). The most recent example is the punishment of both Hamas and Fatah for trying to reconcile their differences.

As these cases of criminalisation have been carried out the overall negative view of Israel has not improved. On the contrary: more people in Israel and outside are supporting the Palestinian struggle for independence (Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, 2010). This seems to indicate that the acts of criminalisation have not been well received by many of the main international actors. On the contrary it can be argued that the criminalisation of what has normally been seen as normal political activities has backfired (Martin, 2007) against the state of Israel (BBC, 2011).

Whether this means a change in the policy of criminalising his opponents is still to be seen. But as of January 2013 there is neither signs of a more moderate use of the label “terrorism/terrorist” nor a reduction in criminalisation of opponents.

Criminalisation of individuals and organisations can have an immediate negative impact for anyone who is the target for such a policy. For those who are punished or branded ”terrorists” the consequences can be hard enough. The examples described in this article proves that the criminalisation strategy adds to the negative view of the Israeli policy on Palestine.


1. I wish to express my thanks to Mikael Baaz, Joakim Berndtsson, Ulf Carmesund, Janne Flyghed, Henrik Frykberg, Tormod Otter Johansson, Hitham Kayali, Brian Martin, Majken Jul Sørensen, and Stellan Vinthagen for very valuable comments on drafts for this chapter.

2.  To label someone a terrorist is not by itself to criminalise that group or person in a formal sense. But as a part of the political discourse it has a similar effect by stigmatising and discrediting as for those who are in a legal way accused and given punishment as terrorists.

3.  There are many such lists of terrorists. FBI, US State Departement, UN, EU, China, India and Israel are just a few examples of states and inter-state bodies that have created such lists.

4.  And interestingly enough this definition also opens up for acts of terror committed by states; so called ”State Terrorism”.

5.  Interview by the author with Hitham Kayali, director of  Al-Karemeh National Empowerment Fund the first two years.

6.  Yesha is the Hebrew acronym for Judea, Samaria and Gaza (Yehuda, Shomron, Aza), also referred to as “the territories.” That is the part of Palestine most Orthodox Jews want to include in Israel.

7.  Translation done by ”The Association for Civil Rights in Israel”. The original Hebrew version of this law can be dowloaded here:

8.  Petitions against this law are being filed to the High Court. As this text is written they have not acted on these petitions yet.

9.  The author’s interviews with members of Hamas in Ramallah 2006.



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