9/11, 20 Years On: A Catastrophic Impact on the Palestinian Cause

Muhammad Shehada
Muhammad Shehada
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Demonstrators protesting against Israeli attacks on Gaza, opposite the Israeli Consulate in New York  in May.
Demonstrators protesting against Israeli attacks on Gaza, opposite the Israeli Consulate in New York in May.Credit: TAYFUN COSKUN / Anadolu Agency v
Muhammad Shehada
Muhammad Shehada

I remember fragments of 9/11. The Palestinian media featured Yasser Arafat hastening to a Gaza hospital to donate blood for the victims and denouncing the attacks. Our schools observed a moment of silence the morning after. Some Palestinians in East Jerusalem lit candles and laid flowers at the U.S. Consulate.

But the footage that much of the rest of the world remembers is of a few dozen Palestinians naively celebrating the attacks, who saw it as an act of counter-intimidation and vengeance against the enabler and defender of Israel’s occupation and atrocities. Those images have, for years, been grossly exploited to delegitimize solidarity with Palestinian rights and to overwrite the Palestinian Authority’s own denunciations of terrorism, contentions given unwelcome fuel by the 9/11 attackers’ own ubiquitous references to the Palestinian cause.

This article is part of our special 9/11 project. Read it here

It cannot be overemphasized how catastrophic 9/11’s impact on the Palestinian cause has been ever since. Ariel Sharon worked tirelessly to frame his government’s brutalizing and caging of Palestinians as part of the “War on Terror.” It worked handsomely with Bush's administration.

Shortly after 9/11, Bush put a never-ending burden exclusively on Palestinians to demonstrate progress toward peace by showing they were on the right side of the war, working with no boundaries or horizon to assuage Israel's security concerns, in order to be worthy of statehood.

9/11 bestowed a level of legitimacy on Israel's unchecked aggression as a security necessity, a dynamic as strong today as it was then, used recently, when it bombed dozens of high-rise buildings in Gaza. Administrative detentions, extrajudicial executions and racial profiling became more normalized worldwide, let alone in Israel.

9/11 also made it easier than ever for the Israeli right to bundle all acts of Palestinian resistance, even diplomacy, as terrorism. The “terror” word has worked like magic to dehumanize, justify and shut down the conversation about Palestinian freedom.

While my memory of 9/11 is vague, a more vivid recollection is that of Osama bin Laden's death in 2011. At the following Friday prayer, a Salafist imam gave the sermon at the mosque in my neighborhood. He tried to mourn bin Laden as a “martyr.” He didn't get to finish his speech. The audience promptly and angrily interrupted him and kicked him out. Forced to become intimately familiar with the disastrous impacts of bin Laden's attacks, and his exploitation of Palestine to justify his actions, Palestinians made their opposition vocal, unambiguous and irrevocable.

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