Updated: June 22, 6:51 a.m. EDT
Even before Benjamin Netanyahu locked him in a warm embrace, Jared Kushner began his effort to broker peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians by making it clear that he completely accepts Israel’s vision of itself as an innocent victim.
That’s because Kushner started his 15-hour trip to the Middle East on Wednesday by mourning with the family of an Israeli police officer, Hadas Malka, who was killed by a Palestinian assailant in East Jerusalem on Friday.
Since her death, Israelis have been outraged over the murder of Malka, who was a member of the border police force charged with maintaining Israeli control in the Old City of Jerusalem, one of the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967.
Kushner also expressed the condolences of his father-in-law, President Donald Trump, according to Yedioth Ahronoth, an Israeli newspaper. The father of the murdered woman reportedly tried to draw a contrast between Israelis and Palestinians by telling Kushner that while his wife was weeping and in pain over their daughter’s death, the mother of the Palestinian who killed her, and was shot dead afterward, “is praising and glorifying her son.”
Malka’s killing, as part of a coordinated attack by three Palestinian assailants on officers at the Damascus Gate in the Old City, was described by Israeli officials as a terrorist attack.
Ahead of Kushner’s visit, Jason Greenblatt, the Trump administration’s peace envoy for the region, echoed that language by condemning what he called the “savage terrorist attack” on the young officer.
While the young woman’s killing was the latest in a long series of tragedies in nearly a century of conflict, the description of the attack as terrorism overlooks the fact that she was in East Jerusalem as an armed officer responsible for enforcing Israel’s control over the captive population of an occupied territory. The use of that language by American officials also clashes with U.S. law, which clearly defines terrorism as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.”
President Obama’s last ambassador to Israel, Daniel Shapiro, praised Kushner for mourning Malka’s death, and confirmed to The Intercept that the Obama administration had also described Palestinian attacks on Israeli soldiers as terrorism.
While Israeli officials and reporters routinely refer to all Palestinian attacks against members of their security forces as terrorism — and Americans have followed suit — the political philosopher Michael Walzer has argued that it is important to distinguish that sort of violence from the attacks on civilians.
“Terrorism is the deliberate killing of innocent people, at random, in order to spread fear through a whole population and force the hand of its political leaders,” Walzer wrote in 2002. “The common element is the targeting of people who are, in both military and political senses, noncombatants: not soldiers, not public officials, just ordinary people. And they aren’t killed incidentally in the course of actions aimed elsewhere; they are killed intentionally.”
“I don’t accept the notion that ‘one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter,'” Walzer wrote. “In the 1960s, when someone from the FLN put a bomb in a cafe where French teenagers gathered to flirt and dance and called himself a freedom fighter, only fools were fooled,” he added, in reference to excuses once made for terror attacks aimed at French civilians by Algerian militants.
In an interview in 2006, Walzer was asked if it was ever possible for attacks on soldiers to be acts of terrorism. He answered:
My instinct is to say that attacks on soldiers are not terrorist attacks. That does not make them right, terrorism is not the only negative moral term in our vocabulary. I did not think that the plane that flew into the Pentagon in 2001 was a terrorist attack or, better said, it was a terrorist attack only because the people in the plane were innocent civilians who were being used and murdered. But if you imagine an attack on the Pentagon without those innocent people in the plane, that would not have been a terrorist attack — whereas the attack on the Twin Towers was terroristic.
I feel the same way in the Israeli cases: Whatever you want to say about Palestinian resistance to the occupation, there is a difference between attacking soldiers and killing civilians, and it is an important moral difference.
Of course it is not only in reference to violence against Israelis that American officials now routinely misuse the word “terrorism.” The term has also been incorrectly used to describe actual or planned attacks on U.S. troops fighting the “war on terrorism” in Iraq. That was made clear in 2013, when the Justice Department announced the successful prosecution of two Iraqi citizens living in Bowling Green, Kentucky, on federal terrorism charges, for attempting “to send weapons and money to Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) for the purpose of killing U.S. soldiers.”
The two men, Mohanad Shareef Hammadi and Waad Ramadan Alwan, had “participated in terrorist activities overseas and attempted to continue providing material support to terrorists while they lived here in the United States,” Lisa Monaco, the assistant attorney general for national security, said at the time.
“These are experienced terrorists who willingly and enthusiastically participated in what they believed were insurgent support operations designed to harm American soldiers in Iraq,” David Hale, the U.S. attorney on the case, said after the men were convicted.
“Protecting the United States from terrorist attacks remains the FBI’s top priority,” Perrye Turner, special agent in charge of the FBI Louisville Division, added.
However, a closer look at the charges against the two men reveals that their “terrorist activities overseas” consisted of using explosives and sniper rifles “to target U.S. forces” during the American occupation of their home country between 2003 and 2006. While American officials obviously had the right to prosecute men living in the U.S. who plotted to kill American soldiers, Iraqi insurgents who resisted the U.S. invasion by force were clearly not attacking noncombatants.
Rather than being, as it might seem, a narrow issue of semantics, the description of Hadas Malka’s killer as a terrorist reveals a profound confusion over the question of what role Israeli soldiers and the paramilitary border police play in enforcing the occupation of areas seized by Israel during the 1967 war. Although Israel claims that Jerusalem is not occupied, its annexation of the city’s Palestinian neighborhoods after the war is not recognized by other nations, including the United States.
As an occupying power, Israel is not entitled under international law to colonize the territory it seized in battle — as it has done in the West Bank and East Jerusalem by facilitating Jewish-only settlements, including those Jared Kushner’s family foundation has helped to support financially.
When U.S. officials like Kushner treat violence against Israeli officers maintaining an armed occupation as a terrorist outrage, they surrender entirely to Israel’s view of the conflict as one in which its use of force is legitimate and any attack on its security forces is terrorism. By ignoring the fact that Malka was an armed combatant killed in an occupied territory, Donald Trump’s son-in-law also accepted Israel’s claim that the status of Jerusalem is no longer up for negotiation, just because it was conquered by force of arms five decades ago.