The many faces of terrorism

The many faces of terrorism Featured

Second of a series

THE world has condemned what is transpiring between Israel and Hamas as terrorism, pure and simple. A concerted missile barrage from Gaza was launched toward Israel with no specific targets except to do maximum harm to the populace, and the breaching of the border barriers by Hamas militants indiscriminately killed people from the kibbutz and concertgoers, taking hostages back to Gaza. An immediate retaliation from Israel using deadly firepower from the air, land and sea, a blockade of humanitarian aid, and the cutting off electricity, water and food deliveries resulted in thousands of casualties. The number of dead is climbing on both sides.

My column last week briefly traced the historical antecedents of the causes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that bred extremist groups that eventually erupted into deadly confrontations. Violence, blood and suffering are the underlying leitmotif. It ended with a conundrum: Who are the terrorists? The worldview is divided. Israel, the Jews, and their Western Christian allies label Hamas, the Palestinians and the Muslim Arabic allies the terrorists. And vice-versa!

What is terrorism?

The classic definition. It is a form of violence or intimidation carried out by actors or groups of individuals with the aim of instilling fear, creating panic and general discombobulation. It involves the deliberate targeting of civilians or non-combatants, often through acts such as bombings, hijackings, shootings and mass killings. The motives behind terrorism, more often than not, include promoting a specific political, religious or social agenda.

A deadlier kind is the state as the main actor, where government and its instrumentalities are employed against its own citizens to suppress political dissent, maintain control, and enforce authoritarian rule. Applied against other nations and neighboring countries, the tools could include state-sponsored assassinations, extrajudicial killings, kidnappings and torture.

State terrorism on an international scale using different methods but with similar consequences are economic sanctions and military interventions causing human rights transgressions and the suffering of the populace. The paradox of state international terrorism is that it is often justified as acts of defense for survival, distinguishing the same as legitimate state actions during times of conflict and national security concerns.

Israel's occupation of Palestine

The impetus for the establishment of Israel was predicated on the Jewish diaspora longing for Jerusalem and the promised land. "Next year in Jerusalem" — the ancient cry! A mandate for Palestine covered by a series of international protocols was initiated by the dominant Western alliance, which may have been enthused primarily to assuage their collective guilt for the centuries of discrimination and European pogroms culminating in the holocaust exterminating millions of Jews. Thus, the underlying legitimacies that gave birth to Israel. On the other hand, the same legitimacies failed to comprehend and encompass the yearnings and aspirations of those who already occupied these ancient lands, resulting in a clash of ideals — political, territorial and religious disputes. The formula and mechanisms put in place for recompense and just sharing of the land were disregarded. The chasm between the two peoples was too deep. The expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians from their homes, relegating them as pariahs, herding them into refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, and their eventual disenfranchisement were the first acts of terrorism inflicted by Israel upon the people of Palestine and sanctioned, albeit reluctantly by Israel's Western allies. The original refugees and descendants have grown to approximately 6 million souls. The seeds for terrorism have been planted and will flourish.

It can be argued that these actions taken by Israel in the occupied territories were necessary security measures in response to threats from an antagonistic majority surrounding a Jewish minority possessed of a fledgling state — something they have yearned for millennia. Jewish history from the diaspora was always defined by a cowed minority nation bullied by a majority of hostiles. Not anymore!

Jews as terrorists

The Jews have simply to look inward and rely on their own. Part of the process and prior to the birthing of Israel in the 1920s was a Zionist paramilitary group, the Haganah, formed with the express purpose of defending the growing population of the diaspora Jews trickling to Palestine, principally against Arabs marauding the Jewish settlements — without which Israel would have been stillborn. Haganah was intended to be a moderate paramilitary group in accordance with the strategic policy of havlagah (self-restraint). Haganah was later disbanded to become the precursor of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in 1948 at the State of Israel's independence.

Haganah's moderation gave way to breakaway radical groups — the Irgun and Lehi — that used violence to secure the survival of the Jewish state. Both were avowed terrorists in evicting the British from the Palestine Mandate and to defend against the incessant attacks of the Arabs on the incipient State of Israel. They refer to the Torah to justify their acts:

"Neither Jewish ethics nor Jewish tradition can disqualify terrorism as a means of combat. We are very far from having any moral qualms as far as our national war goes. We have before us the command of the Torah, whose morality surpasses that of any other body of laws in the world: 'Ye shall blot them out to the last man.'" (He Khazit-The Front, Wikipedia)

Through their harsh history, terrorism is in the DNA of the Jewish struggle toward the formation of the State of Israel.

Palestine al nakba (catastrophe)

The Palestinians' own diaspora started with the defeat of the armies of Arab countries upon the declaration of Israel's independence in May 1948. Deemed as the lowest point of Palestine history, the Nakba, the hordes of Palestinians driven from their homes, were no less biblical. They were unwelcome in other Arab countries although allowed to live humiliatingly in refugee camps. And with Israel's intransigence in holding on to these occupied lands, 60 percent of which were added to Israel by virtue of their victory, the Palestinians had no alternative. In their struggle to regain their patrimony, they had to resort to the only means available to them to draw international attention to their grievances and Israel's oppression and achieve self-determination. Violence! The Western world labeled this as terrorism.

And in the aftermath of another Arab-Palestinian humiliation in the 1967 Six-Day War, the Palestinians formalized and recognized their own Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) as an umbrella for various militant groups for a concerted effort to liberate Palestine and drive the Jews out of Israel. Led by Yasser Arafat of Fatah, it was not at first militant per se but was involved in both armed struggle and diplomatic efforts to achieve Palestinian self-determination. This was futile when the reality of Israel's permanency became apparent.

Thus emerged those under the umbrella, wreaking havoc — the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a Marxist-Leninist group founded in 1967; Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), an Islamist group in 1970; Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, during the second intifada in 2000; and the Hamas founded in 1987 during the first intifada and the main actor in last month's attack on Israel.

This is the other worldview. Both sides resort to terrorism. All are terrorists!

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