All Commentary
Sunday, December 1, 1996

Arab Terrorism: Causes and Cure

What Grievance Against the United States Makes Arabs Willing to Kill and to Die?

Some of the information in this article was obtained from the April 1996 issue of Washington Report On Middle East Affairs.

Politicians are quick to condemn Arab terrorism such as the 1983 attack that killed 241 U.S. servicemen in Beirut, Lebanon, the Oklahoma City bombing (that turned out not to be the work of Arab terrorists), the World Trade Center bombing, and the Saudi Arabian bombing that killed or injured hundreds of people. The press always devotes substantial coverage to such events. But the big question—the one that neither politicians nor the press ask—is, Why do some Arabs engage in such activities? Why are they willing to engage in suicide attacks and bombings, and why do they single out the United States (as well as Israel) as their target? What grievance makes them so willing to kill, and to die?

Anyone who pays any attention to the news knows that the United States has been the strongest supporter of Israel since its founding in the 1940s, and that various Arab states have, at one time or another, been enemies of Israel. Much less reported by the U.S. media is the violent Israeli aggression against the Arabs—Palestinians in particular—since the founding of Israel.

The Palestinian problem exists because the state of Israel was established on Palestinian land. During the 1948 war, the Israeli forces not only drove the Palestinians from their homes, but also made a point of dismantling more than 400 Palestinian villages, towns, and cities stone by stone, so that the Palestinians would have nothing to return to. As a result, three million of the estimated six million Palestinians are refugees, a million of whom are forced to this day to live in appalling conditions in refugee camps with little hope for the future.

The Palestinians’ property right, one of the most basic of all human rights, was systematically disparaged. The disparagement continues to this day, as evidenced by the West Bank settlement policies of the present Israeli government. Russian Jews and others are being given Palestinian land to live on, and the Palestinian owners are being driven from their land without compensation. Whole Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem have been confiscated and turned over to Jewish settlers in an effort to consolidate the Jewish hold on the city, which Israel is making the capital of the Jewish state.

The land grab is only one of many human rights abuses that the Palestinians have endured. Palestinians are subject to searches at numerous checkpoints in their own country. Their homes can be blown up without due process if a family member is merely accused of terrorist activity. There have been systematic attempts to prevent Palestinians from getting an education, as evidenced by the closing of Palestinian schools. While the official reason for the shutdowns was to close places where Palestinians could gather and organize, Israeli government officials also closed correspondence schools, where no gathering could take place.

Beatings, torture, imprisonment, and even killings of Palestinians have become commonplace. Palestinian farmers have been deprived of water for their farms, while Israeli farmers get what they need. Palestinian freedom of travel has been restricted or denied on numerous occasions, making it difficult or impossible to visit family or go to work, thus causing economic hardship. Christian and Moslem Palestinians who live in the West Bank and Gaza have been prevented from worshiping at Jerusalem’s religious sites for security reasons. Palestinian merchants who sell watermelons in the local market have been beaten because they sliced open the watermelons, revealing the colors of the Palestinian flag, which was forbidden at the time. Palestinians have also been beaten for wearing shirts in the colors of the Palestinian flag. During the recent election, right-wing Israeli party posters placed in front of polling places falsely warned Palestinians that their health and pension benefits would be taken away if they voted, greatly reducing the number of Palestinians who dared to vote. Some of those who tried to vote were beaten by police.

About 40 Israeli police beat one young Palestinian in front of James Moran, a member of the U.S. Congress. Bystanders said this sort of thing happens all the time. Israeli rubber bullets have caused some Palestinian youths to become brain dead. Between the start of the intifada in 1987 and mid-1995, more than 1,400 Palestinians, including 260 children were killed. The American press devotes little or no space to these Palestinian murders, yet never fails to cover a story involving the death of one or two Israeli soldiers.

U.S. press coverage is biased toward Israel. But that is not why some Arabs want to blow up Americans and American property. One of the main reasons these Arabs are outraged is because the U.S. government has been the strongest supporter of Israel from the very beginning. Sirhan Sirhan, the Arab who assassinated Robert Kennedy, said he did so because Senator Kennedy approved the sale of military aircraft to Israel, which would be used to kill Palestinians. While the Holocaust was a tragedy, and while everyone agrees that systematic extermination of an ethnic or religious group cannot be condoned, it does not follow that the survivors of an abused group have some inherent right to found a country on someone else’s land.

U.S. taxpayers have been forced to support this land grab, and the many human rights abuses that have accompanied it, since the 1940s. For the 1996 fiscal year alone, American taxpayers had to pay more than $5.5 billion for various kinds of aid to Israel—$1,375 for every Jewish man, woman, and child (Palestinians don’t get the benefit of the aid). Yet Israel cannot be called a poor country. It has a gross domestic product per capita approaching that of England.

Re-Examining Foreign Aid

The whole issue of foreign aid needs to be reconsidered. The U.S. Constitution provides for a government of limited powers. The government can do constitutionally only what is specifically enumerated. As the Constitution says nothing about foreign aid, it is constitutionally suspect. Those who favor foreign aid programs might argue that giving foreign aid is in the best interest of the United States. But even if that were sometimes the case, it does not follow that foreign aid programs become constitutional just because they might be in America’s best interest. Besides, the best interest argument does not seem to apply to Israel, a country that has received nearly $78 billion in foreign aid from the United States between fiscal 1948 and 1996. At least part of the military aid Israel receives is used to deny the human rights of Palestinians. The nonmilitary aid is used to support an economic system that is basically socialist. How can the United States have an interest in supporting such a regime?

American taxpayers are being forced to support Israeli terrorism and socialism. At the very least, the foreign aid spigot should be turned off, the sooner the better. In addition, politicians who have the courage should speak out against the human rights abuses perpetrated against the Palestinian people. Even if one concedes that the United States has some strategic interest in Israel (I do not concede this point), it does not follow that American taxpayers should be forced to support a corrupt regime that systematically abuses the human rights of a targeted ethnic group. Human rights are human rights, and no government should ever condone or financially support a regime that systematically disparages them. Once U.S. support stops, Arab terrorists (some of whom may legitimately be called freedom fighters) will be far less likely to attack U.S. property and citizens.

Although some Arabs hate the United States because of its support of Israel, that is not the only reason why some Arabs are angry with the United States. Historically, various U.S. governments have supported corrupt regimes. The United States government supported the Shah of Iran; a fascist South Vietnamese dictator who was fighting a communist North Vietnamese dictator; Stalin’s enslavement of millions of East Europeans; and Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines when it was fashionable to do so. During the Gulf War the United States government came to the aid of a family of dictators in Kuwait who were being attacked by an Iraqi dictator. American soldiers were summoned to a Kuwaiti prince’s house to reinstall the gold plumbing that had been stolen by Iraqi soldiers—hardly a legitimate use of American troops. The U.S. government has supported a number of corrupt regimes in Arab countries over the years because American leaders thought it was in the best interest of the United States to do so. Although it is seldom in anyone’s true best interest to support corrupt regimes, it is a morally bankrupt policy, and the Arabs recognize that fact.

While cutting off American aid to Israel and ending support for corrupt Arab regimes might stop Arab terrorism against the United States, it will not stop the violence in Israel. That is unlikely to cease until human rights abuses are stopped and the land that has been taken is restored to its rightful owners. Muslims, Jews, and Christians can live in peace, but only when human rights, including property rights, are respected.

  • Robert W. McGee is an associate professor of accounting at Fayetteville State University. He has had more than 40 years of experience working in a variety of capacities, including public accounting, corporate accounting, tax law, banking, consulting, and education. Clients include the United States Agency for International Development, the World Bank, the African Development Bank, and the Central Intelligence Agency. He has participated in several USAID Accounting Reform programs. He was in charge of assisting the Finance Ministry in Armenia convert the country to International Financial Reporting Standards; in charge of reforming the accounting curriculum at all the major universities in Armenia and Bosnia; drafted the accounting law for Armenia and Bosnia, and reviewed the accounting law for Mozambique; reviewed securities legislation for Turkey; trained government ministry officials in Bulgaria, Rwanda and Tanzania, accountants in Russia, and economists in Ukraine. He has lectured or consulted in more than 30 countries and has earned 13 doctorates from universities in the United States and 4 European countries.