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"Blood on their Hands"

The Demonization of the Palestinians


 By Shmuel Amir


"Blood on their Hands"  is probably one of the most successful slogans ever invented by Israel's propaganda machine.  It has a most powerful and immediate impact, both visual and emotional:  it suggests a brutal murderer who should be confined to a prison for the rest of his natural days.


It further eliminates the need for any more profound enquiry.  No one need ask why he committed such a barbaric deed or if his victim had done him any wrong.  And it also eliminates any possibility of negotiations with him or with those in whose name he was acting (in our case the Hamas and other Palestinian groups).  It is obvious that they came to kill us simply because we are Jews and because murdering people is in their genes.  They are completely devoid of any human or humane values.


We have been told by Ehud Barak, a man whose hands have never been soiled by blood, that the Arabs are unable to distinguish between right and wrong because they do not come from the Judeo-Christian tradition.  We were told by another prime minister, Menachem Begin, that the Palestinians are two-legged animals.


As a result, in all media discussions regarding the issue of prisoner exchange (the name given to negotiations over the return of the kidnapped soldier Gil'ad Shalit even though the Israelis do not recognize their captives as POWs), the words "blood on their hands" are repeated in almost every sentence. And in such an emotionally charged atmosphere there is little room for logic.  (Nonetheless, it should be pointed out that the majority of Israelis still favor releasing those 450 prisoners in order to bring Shalit home.)


The blanket condemnation of people fighting for their independence as criminals has always been part of colonial strategy.  Turning POWs into criminals with blood on their hands tells us more about the colonial character of Israel than it does about the captive prisoners.


Colonial peoples fighting for their independence have always been accused of being cruel and murderous and thus labeled "terrorists."  Their colonial rulers could not possibly acknowledge them as soldiers because if those people were soldiers fighting for their freedom, then what were they themselves?  If they are labeled terrorists (and terrorists are surely not entitled to any rights) then "civilized European" soldiers have full permission to hunt them down like animals.


The blood-thirsty Mau Mau


A rather telling example of this practice, remembered perhaps by the older generation, is Kenya's war of liberation.  In 1952 a rebellion broke out in Kenya, known as the Mau Mau Rebellion.  This was an uprising of the Kikuyu people against the 50-year long appropriation of their lands by white settlers.  The farmers deprived of their lands became either serfs on their own land (the lucky ones) or were incarcerated in "reservations," or detention camps.


The Kikuyu rebellion was rife with barbarism, including brutality against Kenyans who refused to join in the struggle.  I remember the way the press (international and local Israeli) described the brutality of the Kikuyu in vivid detail.  The mere mention of the name Mau Mau was enough to send chills up and down your spine.  No one ever mentioned the reasons behind the uprising.  No one ever mentioned the brutal subjugation of the natives by their British masters.  Even today one can hardly believe the facts.


The prisoners were tortured and starved and some of the tortures were grotesque.  They were attacked by dogs and forced to commit atrocities on themselves and their fellows.  The British Secretary for the Colonies at the time, Alan Lennox-Boyd, described the torturers as a few "bad apples" (in Israel the term is "exceptional cases") and the uprising as an "atavistic evil." In one of the many books on the subject, the trials held against persons suspected of belonging to the Mau Mau are described as "a picture of systematic injustice."  Defendants had poor representation, convictions were made on scanty evidence by dubious informers, and the judges were usually highly prejudiced (and also bribed).  The result was 1090 hangings.


In terms of military power, the rebels were poorly armed against the might of the British Empire.  The Mau Mau described themselves as their own tanks. 


In terms of victims, the figures are fairly representative of such colonial confrontations.  The Mau Mau (the "brutal monsters") killed 32 white settlers and about 200 British soldiers and police during the period of the rebellion.  The British hanged 1090 suspects and killed 15,000 others.  They detained another 150,000 Kikuyus of whom some 100,000  (according to various sources) perished.


Fortunately or unfortunately, these figures don't tell the whole story because before they left Kenya, the British destroyed hundreds of thousands of documents.  But after putting down the uprising, the British were finally forced to leave Kenya. The famous "terrorist, " Jomo Kenyatta, who had been imprisoned, was released and became Kenya's first president. 


The end of this particular story is not limited to Kenya.  Dr. Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana had also been imprisoned by the British and eventually became the country's first president, as did Nelson Mandela of South Africa.  Imprisoned for long years as a "terrorist," Mandela had the dubious honor of being officially "acquitted" by the American Congress of terrorism and named instead  a "freedom fighter."  We in Israel have now only to await the release of Marwan Barghouti, the most popular Palestinian leader today and probably the best choice for future president of a free Palestine, from his prison cell in Israel, where he has been sentenced to three life imprisonments.


No colonial regime can exist without disguising and/or justifying its actions.  The British did it successfully over a long period of time.  They demonized the freedom fighters in their colonies as monsters while glorifying themselves as rulers of high moral standards, interested only in bringing enlightment and progress to the wayward "natives."  We, too, have been told time and again that the army of our "enlightened occupation" is "the most moral army in the world"


The Blood-thirsty Slaves of Virginia


In August 1831, while  slavery was still the norm in the United States, the slave Nat Turner led a rebellion of slaves in the state of Virginia, with seventy of his followers.  It began with the slaughter of whites in the city of Southhampton and victims were not only men, but women and children.


The rebellion failed.  Thousands of soldiers put down the small rebel army and Turner was captured and hanged.  Following this, the army conducted a massacre, killing  any slave who was even suspected of supporting the rebellion.


That same year the first issue of an abolitionist  journal, The Liberator, was published by William Lloyd Garrison.  He wrote:


On this subject I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation.  No,no!  Tell a man whose house is on fire, to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present.  I am in earnest – I will not equivocate – I will not excuse – I will not retreat a single inch – AND I WILL BE HEARD.




The main perpetrator of "blood on their hands" has always been the colonialist himself.  There are many differences among the various colonialist-anti-colonialist struggles but they all share one characteristic: the demonization of the victim, of the people trying to break the chains restraining them.  They are always depicted as murderers, their hands soaked in blood.  They are always described as savage monsters, animals, or creatures that God is sorry he created (former Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef). Furthermore, as is well-known, they are completely irrational.


Colonialists, on the other hand, according to their own evaluation, are rationalist and considerate, working for the benefit of the native population. Their aims are noble and their empires have brought only progress and civilization to the backward peoples of the world.


During our recent incursion into the Gaza Strip,  it was apparent to all that there was not a single drop of blood on our hands.  The blood of 1330 Palestinian men, women and children, could be discerned, however, on the wings of our bombers, on the turrets of our tanks and on the barrels of our cannons.


 Translated by Chaya Amir