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The Nature Of Massacre By: Ronald Radosh
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, April 26, 2002


We have been bombarded with a virtual assault of propaganda about the supposed latest Israeli horror: the so-called "Jenin massacre." Turn on any cable TV channel, and you will find Palestinian spokesman condemning Israel for this massacre; look at the signs of the pro-Palestinian demonstrators at last week’s march in Washington, D.C., and you will find signs condemning Israel for yet another "massacre." We have also seen continued use of the most obscene of comparisons: Israelis are the Nazis of the Middle East and the Palestinians today are the Jews. One Australian journalist has written that "Sharon’s war is not a war. Genocide would be a more accurate description." Writing in the The New York Times, Jimmy Carter argued last week that while Yasser Arafat was the legitimately elected democratic leader of Palestine who was chosen in a free election, Ariel Sharon had but one goal: "to establish Israeli settlements…throughout occupied territories and to deny Palestinians a cohesive political existence." Once again, the Jewish victim--Israel--becomes the perpetrator of terror and violence; all suicide bombings by Palestinian terrorists are but legitimate tools of "resistance" used by a "desperate" people who have no other means left to make their demands.

True to form, The Nation magazine (April 17) continues with its condemnation of Israel by arguing that the purpose of Israel’s current military efforts is to destroy Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority, in order to realize "the right’s dream of ‘Greater Israel.’" This is to be accomplished through using the means of a "scorched-earth invasion" which is, they approvingly quote an anonymous Palestinian, an "administrative massacre." In the same issue, the indefatigable Edward Said terms Israel’s actions that of "sheer wanton destruction, killing, humiliation and vandalism." As for Sharon, Said terms him "homicidal." Israel, he writes, is guilty of "systematic use of lethal force against unarmed civilians." One would not know from Said that Israel has faced systematic terrorist attacks since the end of the Oslo negotiations. The British journal The Economist agrees, as its editors write that in Jenin, several hundred Palestinians were killed "under the cover of fighting terrorism," but actually for the purposes of "wanting to resurrect the vision of a ‘Greater Israel.’" No terrorist attacks on Israel evidently ever occurred to precipitate the Israeli military actions; it was simply an example of Israeli aggression against a democratic Palestine.

As for the supposed massacre at Jenin, we already know that this is the chief propaganda ploy of the Palestinian media spinners. The Heritage Foundation’s scholar Ariel Cohen (NRO Online, April 16) has ably exposed this new Big Lie; when the rubble was cleared, 23 Israeli soldiers had been killed and dozens of Palestinian terrorists. There was no massacre. Over a week of fighting against fierce terrorist cadre, a dangerous house-to-house assault resulted in deaths on both sides. Israel has rightfully called the charge of a massacre nothing but a modern "blood libel." As Cohen has written, 200 Palestinians were killed in a fierce five day battle, in which Israel refrained from use air force, rockets and artillery in order to spare the lives of Palestinian civilians in Jenin. A massacre that never was, it is what Cohen calls "another Big Lie…a campaign that for its persistence and audacity would have made Joseph Goebbels…proud." It is an attempt to depict Jenin as a replay of the killing by Christian Lebanese militia twenty years ago in Sabra and Shatilla after the Israeli withdrawal, the blame for which was put on Sharon, even by the Israeli courts. Instead of looking at the carefully documented ties of Arafat with the terror apparatus, the goal of the campaign is to turn Sharon into the likeness of a modern war criminalas the leaflets handed out by the demonstrators charged.

It would be instructive, therefore, to give some examples from World War II of what real massacres look like. Take Lidice, which took place in Czechoslovakia on June 10, 1941. After the assassination by two Czech patriots of the Nazi ruler of Prague, Reinhard Heydrich, 3,188 Czech citizens were rounded up, of whom 1357 were shot. 657 more died during torture while being interrogated. Police then surrounded the Czech village of Lidice and rounded up the town’s entire population. In cold blood, they murdered 173 men and boys ten at a time. The others, women and children, were sent to the camps. At the war’s end, only 143 villagers were left alive. The massacre was undertaken by Prague police acting under orders from German officers.

Let us also look at Normandy in June 1944. Thirty-five Canadian POW’s were killed by an SS Panzer division after being taken prisoner. Similar episodes took place repeatedly. Forty prisoners were rounded up by another combat battalion near two small villages, and were all killed after being told to march towards the rear of the unit. On June 7 and 8, at the headquarters of the 25th SS unit, twenty more Canadian prisoners were shot, as were twenty-six more at a nearby chateau. In total, there were 31 different incidents involving 134 Canadians, 3 British soldiers and 1 American GI.

We should not forget the Malmedy Massacre of Dec. 17, 1944. During the Battle of the Bulge, the 1st SS Panzer Division came across US troops from the 7th Armored Division. Seeing the overwhelming odds against them, the US commander surrendered. The prisoners were marched onto a field, where machine guns from two SS tanks fired on the prisoners. 86 lay dead in the field. Those responsible for the massacre were brought to trial at the war’s end, and 43 of them were sentenced to death in 1946, and others to years of imprisonment.

The above are but a few examples of what real massacres were like. What they have in common is one simple thing: none of them were militarily necessary; they were done for the sake of inflicting pure terror, often against civilians or prisoners of war. There was no attempt to avoid injuring innocent civiliansthey were carried out in cold blood for the purpose of inflicting terror on their enemy. They were real massacres, and the use of the term is appropriate and accurate.

Writing in the 1940s, George Orwell commented how language itself is distorted and is misused to influence the political agenda. In his classic 1984, he coined the phrases "Newspeak" and "Doublethink" to reflect how the apparatus of the totalitarian state used language to enforce its control of the population. You could use "free" to be "free from lice," but you could not use it in the manner of arguing for the right to be "politically free." The old meaning was gone; only the approved meaning remained. In the same way, the Palestinian propaganda arsenal uses "massacre" as a loaded wordmeant to conjure up an image of Israeli inflicted atrocities, since the reality of combat deaths suffered under battle will not serve their purpose. It is time for those of the European and American media who use the term to describe Israeli action to be held accountable.


Ronald Radosh, Prof. Emeritus of History at the City University of New York, is an Adjunct Fellow at the Hudson Institute.


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