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Justifying terror with counter terrorism

August 23, 2014 at 12:59 pm

Under the banner of “terrorism” and “counter terrorism” democratic countries have justified interventions, invasions, the waging of wars in distant places- and the loss of civilian lives. There is no international consensus on a set definition of “terrorism” despite the terms relentless use in political discourse- following 9/11 this intensified, with counter terrorism spurring wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Airstrikes have resumed in Gaza after talks to end Israel’s latest military offensive- dubbed “Operation Protective Edge,” failed. The operations aim is to destroy the “terror tunnels” and put an end to the “terror projectiles” fired from Gaza into Israel. Counter terrorism has justified the current offensive, as it has the previous ones, the blockade on the Strip, and the decade’s long occupation of Palestinian Territories.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a speech following the resumption of airstrikes. He slammed the “barbarism” and “savagery” of Hamas, and called the group “branches of the same tree” as the extremist militant group ISIS who are currently wreaking havoc in Iraq and Syria. In a warning to the West he noted that both are “enemies of Israeli, are enemies of peace and enemies of all civilized countries.”

His address was similar to a speech he gave much earlier in his political career. Since 9/11 “terrorism” has featured in political discourse much more frequently, it however was not born with the attacks on the twin towers. The United States had employed it during its proxy wars in Latin America, for example, and Israel used it to describe the attacks of Palestinian militants.

In 1979 Israel organized a conference to define “terrorism.” The conference’s aim according to its chair, the much younger Netanyahu, was to convince the rest of the world that the threat Israel faced was a threat to “all democracies.” More specifically it aimed to convince the US that the Palestinian problem was in fact an international threat to peace.

It brought together key US and Israeli political figures to push for an “anti-terror alliance.” Netanyahu spoke critically of the weak attempts of Western States to tackle threats of terrorism and the failure of the United Nations which had become “a springboard and clearing house for terrorists-” advocating for an alliance unafraid to use force.

The conference was named the Jonathon Institute, after Netanyahu’s brother who died attempting to free hostages from a plane in Entebbe that had been hijacked by pro-Palestinian militants demanding the release of prisoners. It didn’t mention that Israel was responsible for the first ever hijacking of a plane in the Middle East- a Syrian airways civilian jet in 1954, with the intent “to get hostages in order to obtain the release of our prisoners in Damascus,” who had been captured on a spy mission in Syria.

One of the speakers was Menachem Begin, the Last Commander in Chief of Zionist militant group Irgun and the first Likud Prime Minister of Israel. At the time of Irgun, the newspapers were talking about “terrorists” but these were not Palestinian fighters, rather they were Zionist ones. Irgun planted bombs on buses, trains and in market places to secure the proclamation of a Jewish State.

At the conference, Begin read a speech which defined freedom fighters from terrorists. The Jewish fight was a “fight for survival” and the difference between his group and the “Arab” terrorists was that “a terrorist kills civilians. A fighter for freedom saves lives until liberty wins the day.”

However, Irgun had killed civilians. In one day, the group planted a barrel bomb outside Damascus gate, bombed Alhambra cinema, a market place frequented by Arabs and a local cafe- taking around 38 lives. In the Nakba, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine with the founding of the State of Israel, Jewish militant groups expelled tens of thousands of Palestinians from their homes. The Deir Yassin massacre saw 100 men, women and children massacred by Irgun, and Zionist militant group Lehi.

Lehi was led by Yitzhak Shamir, who before he became Prime Minister of Israel in 1983, wrote an article defending terrorism. He stated terrorism was “part of the political war appropriate for the circumstances of today” which “demonstrates in the clearest language, heard throughout the world including by our unfortunate brethren outside the gates of this country, our war against the occupier.”

The occupier he was referring to is the British Mandate forces, who occupied Palestine from 1917 until the State of Israel was born. The forces arrested 100’s of Jewish fighters, who were deemed as political prisoners by their supporters.

British Prime Minister Clement Attlee declared Irgun’s bombing of the King David Hotel which took 93 lives in an attack against British troops stationed there, “an insane act of terrorism.” The Irgun’s radio network announced that it would mourn for the Jewish victims, but not the British ones. No remorse was mentioned for the largest group of victims, the “Arabs”. The British Army described the bombing of markets places in Jerusalem as “indiscriminate and murderous attacks which resulted in the death of innocent civilians.” The New York Times and many other newspapers, referred to the group as a “terrorist organization.”

Not long after the Zionist militant groups were the terrorist threat the British and US were fighting, the leaders of those groups were shaping the use of the term “terrorism” in political discourse, as Israel is still doing today.

George Bush senior, sent a message to be read out during the Jonathan Institute conference. He condemned states that sponsored terrorism- the “Carloses, the Arafats and the Red Brigades” (Cuba, the Soviet Union and Palestine). At the time the US funded groups who were accused of committing acts of terror in Latin America. Iran was on a US list of states guilty of “state sponsored terrorism,” and the US condemned it. However, secretly the US was selling it arms and illegally diverted profits from these sales to the Contra rebels fighting to overthrow the Sandinista government of Nicaragua- condemned by many for the terror they inflicted on civilians.

Iraq was on the list alongside Iran when its leader, Saddam Hussein, allied with the Soviets. When he invaded Iran, the US took Hussein off the list and armed and funded him- when Iraq invaded Kuwait, a place the US didn’t want Saddam to invade; it was put back on.

Fighting the Islamist terrorist group Al-Qaeda justified the war in Afghanistan following 9/11. But during the cold war the US supported the Mujahidin (Islamic freedom fighters), from which Al-Qaeda would come from, in the war against the Soviet Union communism- which was a bigger threat than Islamist fighters at the time. When the civil war erupted in Syria in 2011, the US gave arms to the rebels fighting Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad- many were an offshoot of Al-Qaeda who they were still battling with in Afghanistan.

In political discourse, the term terrorism is far more useful when it remains undefined- for throughout decades it has been manipulated and molded to delegitimize the opposition. The guilty “terrorist” may change but the aim remains the same.

In a recent speech Netanyahu drew comparisons between the situation in Israel and that faced by the British in WWII. He said, “We learned from Churchill that even if the price is blood, sweat and tears, a nation that seeks life is obligated to fight with determination for its freedom.” His words were meant to justify the continued bombardment of Gaza but I heard in them Gaza’s right to fight for freedom. I also heard an echo of Israel’s history, and the Jewish militants that employed tactics to gain their state similar to the ones Israel is condemning.


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