Putting Palestinian “Terrorism” into perspective

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Palestinian activist Marwan Barghouti, General Secretary of Fatah on the West Bank and an elected member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, wrote earlier this year to the Washington Post, “Want Security? End the Occupation.” His opinion, as you can tell, is not being taken seriously by the Israeli lawmakers, who conveniently locked him up, branding him and his Fatah movement as “terrorist.”

“Our enemies called us terrorists. People who were neither friends nor enemieséalso used this Latin name, either under the influence ofépropaganda or out of habit … They called us ‘terrorists’ to the end. And yet, we were not terrorists … It all depends on who uses the term …What has a struggle for the dignity of man, against oppression and subjugation, to do with ‘terrorism?’ Our purpose, in fact, was precisely the reverse of ‘terrorism.’ The whole essence of our struggle was the determination to free our people of its chief affliction — fear…if you love your country, you cannot but hate those who seek to annex itéif you love your mother, would you not hate the man who sought to kill her: would you not hate him and fight him at the cost, if needs be, of your own life?”

These were not the words of Mr. Barghouti, or of the spiritual leader of Islamic Jihad, rather, of revered former Israeli Prime Minister, and, incidentally, former leader of the (terrorist?) Irgun group, who personally led the notorious Deir Yassin massacre, Menachem Begin, rebuffing charges of terrorism against his militant gang, whom he refers to as freedom-fighters (from his book, The Revolt, New York, 1977).

To Begin’s dual ethical standard, murder of innocent civilians by Jewish (terror?) groups does not qualify as “terrorism,” rather, “a struggle for the dignity of man, against oppression and subjugation.” His observations of course have profoundly ironic poignancy when applied to the current Palestinian-Israeli conflict, especially the brutal suicide bombings orchestrated by the various Palestinian armed groups against Israeli targets.

Actually, characterizing the Palestinian attacks on Israeli targets as “terrorism” has become a political de rigueur, devoid of any objective reasoning. Take for example, though perhaps an interposition to the substance of this commentary, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s response to the recent Hebron attack (claimed by Islamic Jihad), which left 12 Israelis dead. According to Ha’aretz (17/11/2002), “All of the dead were from the IDF, Border Police or emergency security team of the settlers of Kiryat Arba and Hebron…” Mr. Annan condemned the shooting incident as a “despicable terrorist attack.” We’re talking settlerséoccupied territories, Mr. Annan! Ah, but Mr. Annan is a man of flexible conscience, long on intent short on action.

Never mind this UN hollow sham (it is part of the problem, you know). What needs to be asked is, do Jews, people, at least deep down in their conscience, understand the raison d’etre of the violence perpetrated by the various Palestinian armed groups, which, alas, sometimes extends to the killing of unarmed civilians?

Another Israeli premier, Ehud Barak, was more professed than Begin. He said, “If I were a Palestinian, I’d also join a ‘terror’ group” (Ha’aretz, 3 June 1998), epitomizing the idea that one person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. But why would Barak say that? Could it be that he concurs with Leah Rabin, late Yitzhak Rabin’s widow, when she said, “We [the Jews] used terrorism to establish our state. Why should we expect the Palestinians to be any different?” (Reuters, Sep 11, 1997)

Of course Mrs. Rabin is flattering her Israel. Zionists still use terror to perpetuate the occupation, only they now have more PR-oriented terms to describe their actions, like “self-defense” (yeah, shooting unarmed children and building new settlements is self-defense. Get out!)

But, only as recently as 1976, Israeli politicians and lawmakers had no shame in using the word “terror” to refer to their sustained Judaization campaign in Palestine. Israel Koenig, advisor to the Israeli Knesset, wrote in the Koenig Memorandum: “We must use terror, assassination, intimidation, land confiscation, and the cutting of all social services to rid the Galilee of its Arab population.” (Al Hamishmar newspaper, September 7, 1976)

But this media spin/PR “self-defense” nonsense does not fool too many people. “Right now, aren’t the Israelis and the Palestinians both terrorizing each other?” asked the 63-year-old media mogul Ted Turner, founder of CNN news network, recently in an interview with the Guardian newspaper. “The rich and the powerful, they don’t need to resort to terrorism…The Palestinians are fighting with human suicide bombers – that’s all they have. The Israelis… they’ve got one of the most powerful military machines in the world. The Palestinians have nothing. So who are the terrorists? I would make the case that both sides are involved in terrorism,” Mr. Turner continued.

We understand what is driving Israeli terrorism –political and religious Zionism. But, what is driving Palestinian terrorism? Could it be despair, after enduring so much injustice, for too long, as Mrs. Tony Blair recently suggested, when she said on the matter, “As long as young people feel they have got no hope but to blow themselves up you are never going to make progress.” (Ha’aretz June 19, 2002)

Or, is Palestinian “terrorism” a logical reaction, consequence, to the provocative Israeli policies in the Holy Land, as U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell recently suggested when he said: “When you start knocking down buildings with bulldozers, don’t expect people not to respond to this kind of activity. When you start announcing more settlement activity, this does not create conditions that would cause the other side to be less responsive or less violent.” (Ha’aretz, July 16, 2001). It is hard to imagine that Mr. Powell was expecting Palestinians to respond by writing letters to editors. Surely he is talking about violent reactions.

The truth is, in my opinion, Palestinian terrorism (to loosely use the term) is a result of all these factors: instinctual struggle for freedom/independence, despair and in reaction to the provocative Israeli policies (including mere vengeance).

Actually, if you listen carefully to Israeli politicians speak, you will realize that they do understand these Palestinian grievances well. Listen to David Ben Gurion, the first Israeli Prime Minister, profess: “If I were an Arab leader, I would never sign an agreement with Israel. It is normal; we have taken their country. It is true God promised it to us, but how could that interest them? Our God is not theirs. There has been Anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They see but one thing: we have come and we have stolen their country. Why would they accept that?” (Quoted by Nahum Goldmann in The Jewish Paradox, p121). Little did Ben Gurion know that Arabs are much more acquiescent than he thought, thanks to their “wise” and “pragmatic” leaders.

So, as arrogant as he may be, Ben Gurion understands that it is inevitable that Arabs hate Jews. After all, as he confessed, Jews stole their lands (give me a break about the “God promised it to us” bit). And, to borrow another Zionist leader’s words, “if you love your country, you cannot but hate those who seek to annex itéif you love your mother, would you not hate the man who sought to kill her: would you not hate him and fight him at the cost, if needs be, of your own life?”

Israeli opposition and Meretz leader MK Yossi Sarid thinks he knows how to end the cycle of terror and bloodshed in the Holy Land. He is onto something when he said (Jerusalem Post, 04/03/2002), in response to an attack on Israelis by Palestinian militants, that the “terror wave would continue as long as the occupation does.” Or, in the words of imprisoned Fatah activist Marawn Barghouti, before him, “Want Security? End the Occupation.”

Mr. Baha Abushaqra is a Media Activist with Palestine Media Watch.

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