The bell rang and the class sat down, we were waiting for the teacher to begin class when one of my classmates turned to me and said, “you guys did it again, what is your problem?” I looked at him in complete shock as to what he was referring to; so I responded, “Massimo what are you taking about?” “Didn’t you hear Mona, that a bunch of Palestinian’s blew up a building in Oklahoma?” At that my face turned red and I was full of embarrassment, and I thought to myself, “why would the PLO blow up a building in Oklahoma ?” The rest of the time I thought only of the poor people who died at the hands Palestinians, like me, and I nearly wanted to cry.
From that day on I never really understood terrorism. I never understood why they were blowing up buildings, hijacking planes, kidnapping innocent people, or killing masses of political and religious leaders. I also didn’t know if I was too be proud of what the PLO had done for the sake of Palestinian freedom or to disappointed for they commited murder and killing was wrong. So I have decided to settle some of my own questions in this research paper. I will attempt to solve my own plaguing question: “are freedom fighters terrorists?” I will use as much information from outside texts, web sites, dictionaries, encyclopedias, as well as individuals that participated in the struggle to reach a concise and educated conclusion. For terrorists and freedom fighters have been around longer than we realize and we need to understand what the differences and similarities in each are, or if in fact they are one in the same.
If we take a glimpse at some definitions of terrorism (and terrorist) we can get a basic understanding of what these words mean. According to the American Heritage Dictionary terrorism is the political use of violence or intimidation. The New World of International Relations defines terrorism as a political use of violence to weaken a hated authority. These two definitions have the same basic idea yet give different angles merely by using different words. The use of “hated authority” gives us a different aspect on terrorism that intimidation lacks. We can look at others such as Webster’s Dictionary 2000, which states that a terrorist (noun terrorism) is a person who uses or favors violent and intimidating methods of coercing a government or community. This definition has given us more of a communal definition. If we look at what the Webster Encyclopedia 2000 says about terrorism we get a much longer answer so I will paraphrase it; it says that terrorists use violent behavior to undertake or promote a particular political objective. This often involves the overthrow of an existing political order. They also mention that terrorist activity is used to induce fear in its random and often unpredictable acts of violence, which are often aimed at a large population. We can see that the basic theme running through each definition is the violence involved in terrorism and the political aspect of terrorism. We can take this to mean that those who are terrorists are ones who use violent means to settle political problems. But is this definition simple enough, or are there different sides to the term terrorism? Would the Israelis call themselves terrorist today, when they were using violence to weaken a hated British authority during the beginning of the 20th century? Or would they call their neighbors the Palestinian terrorists because they were using violence to weaken a hated Israeli authority (during later 60’s until today)? With these questions the term freedom fighter is brought to the discussion. What is a freedom fighter?
For me to define freedom fighter it may be a little bit more difficult, but I have used the same sources as above to define this term. Freedom fighter is a person who takes part in resistance to an established political system . Also a freedom fighter is one who fights (esp. as and irregular solider) for the liberation of a nation from foreign rule or tyrannical regime . According a simplistic dictionary definition freedom fighter is one who fights for freedom, which is the condition of being free, political independence, as well as the possession of civil rights . Now I ask the same question as I did concerning the Israelis and the Palestinians, where the Israelis freedom fighters because they were people who fought for liberation from foreign rule (the British)? Or would they consider the Palestinians freedom fighters because they are fighting for liberation of a nation from a foreign (the current day Israel)?
I would agree whole heartedly with Kim Richard Nossal’s observation that the term terrorist has been overused and has been cynically abused for political purposes; as a result it has lost much of its meaning. She would also be correct in theorizing that those who used violence for political purposes they do not like are referred to as terrorists, but those who use violence for “good” objectives are given another name “freedom fighter ”. How can there be good violence and bad violence? To better understand good or bad violence we need to take into account the source of our information and to whom the violent act is being focused on. I will take one very controversial issue concerning both the Arab and Israeli conflict, the Dier Yassin (Dayr Yassin) massacre.
On the 9th of April 1948 there was an incident in a small village outside Jerusalem. As to the details surrounding what actually happened in that village are as politically effected as the spelling of the village’s name. The Israeli’s spell the city “Dier Yassin” and is the title of the battle. The Arab’s, on the other hand, have spelled the city “Dayr Yasin” which is referring to the same battle. I have just shown that the political motivation of words can even go so far as to change the spelling of a common village that both the Israelis and the Palestinians are familiar to. This also shows how each political side can interpret and misconstrue what really happened at Dier Yassin (Dayr Yasin) . According to Baruch Kimmerling and Joel S. Migdal, “It is impossible to discuss this pivotal period without reference to Dayr Yasin, which would become the war’s symbol for the Palestinians.” He hasn’t even begun to tell us what happened at the infamous battle when he sets up this introduction. But as we can see by using the terms “the war’s symbol for the Palestinians” he shows how important this battle was to the Palestinians. I would see this as seemingly pro-Palestinian. As for the flip side Rabbi Joseph Telushkin states in his introduction, “Since April 9, 1948, the Arab world has claimed that Jewish troops carried out a massacre of Arab men, women, and children in the Arab village of Dier Yassin, near Jerusalem.” By using the words “the Arab world claimed” he shows his political view. We could all safely say he is not an Arab. By using these examples I am trying to show that we can take one incident such as Dier Yassin (Dayr Yasin) and read a various number of accounts according to the side in which we hear it from. And although, neither side referred to the terms “terrorism” or “freedom fighter,” it shows that there is bias in publicized politics; and that the interpretation we may find will probably support one cause while attempting to discredit the opposition.
As common knowledge there are two basic sides to the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Arab and the Israeli’s. But little is told about the divisions among them. We hear a lot about the PLO but little do we know about the Fatah . Although there are two main groups, one side against another, there are also divisions within each group. Rabbi Joseph Telushkin proved there were differences in opinions about Dier Yassin when he stated, “While all parties concede that between 116 and 250 Arab soldiers and civilians were killed by Jewish soldiers, there is an unresolved debate in the Jewish community over what really happened at Dier Yassin.” If the Jews don’t even know and the Arab’s don’t know who does? Are the facts being misunderstood because of factual evidence or have they been modified to prove a political point. Later in the text Rabbi Telushkin states that the political party supportive of Menachem Begin head of the Irgun made the raid sound like the Israeli’s had prepared the Palestinians prior to the invasion. Then he goes to show that the Irgun’s political opponents, under Ben-Gurion and the Labor party make the raid sound as though there were hundreds and hundreds of Arab men, women, and children that were “killed in a orgy of violence.” In my opinion, and I think the Rabbi would agree that each political party was using the massacre for their own political gain. They were manipulating the incident to promote their own side and to discredit the opposition. How do we know who was right and who was wrong? We don’t, we were not there in 1948. Once again the terms “terrorism” and “freedom fighter” were not used but we can see how easily the view of the same incident can change according to the political spectrum of either side.
“Acts of violence against the occupying forces were certainly not unheard of in the territories: Between 1968 and 1975, the Israeli military counted and average of about 350 incidents a year; from 1967 to 1982, the number doubled. After that, it jumped precipitously to 3,000, which it self dramatically paled next to the outbreaks starting in December. Over the next six months, there were 42,355-recorded incidents. For the first time since the occupation began, the Israeli forces lost control of the population in the occupied territories .” Are the figures provided above use to show isolated terrorist acts, acts of freedom fighters, acts of revolution, or acts of war? In the eyes of those attacked they maybe isolated terrorist attacks. What the author was referring to was the beginning of the Intifada.
During one of my trips to the Middle East I met a man who was famous in his village for being part of the Intifada. Mr. Ismail Ihmidan put it simply when he said (translated from Arabic), “I will die for Palestine, I will die for freedom, so I am a freedom fighter!!!” Mr. Ihmidan gave me a unique understanding of what a freedom fighter was. For he has had a broken jaw, a broken leg, a broken arm, cuts, scars, eye damage and yes even broken teeth, all for the name of freedom. He would have died for his country, but would he have killed for it as well? His response was, “All I want is a free Palestinian state. Somewhere I can fly my flag and not be shot at while doing so. They (the Israeli government) have put us in a situation which leaves me no choice but to kill or be killed.”
Those who are fighting for freedom or in opposition to a hated authority would, consider themselves freedom fighters. Those who are being fought against whose authority is being hated, would consider these same people to be terrorists. Although difficult to compare, the terms terrorism and freedom fighter are like beauty, they are in the eye of the beholder.
All in all, I hope if have attempted to give enough information to answer my own difficult question: “are freedom fighters terrorists?” The term terrorist may have many different definitions but we can take the most common denominator to reach an educated definition: terrorism is a way of using violence to make a political message. But it is hard for me to take my definition and tell every political journal, encyclopedia, and dictionary to print it. The term terrorism as well as freedom fighter is used to show and support ones own cause. Also, the term freedom fighter is a word that has been manipulated to show sympathy for a cause or for a people. But they too are people who use forms of violence to make a political message.
To every International debate there are a variety of political angles the debate can be looked at. We cannot rely on one side or the other to prove their point for many times, as in the controversy around Dier Yassin (Dayr Yasin), each side has their own political divisions as well as separate political spectrums. Each side is usually willing to do what is necessary to promote its own cause while trying to discredit its opposition.
We must understand that these are English words that have been used many times over in political situations to show a political point. It is merely the power of words that has given the terms terrorism and freedom fighter their reputation, not the definition themselves. So for my own understanding, as far as terrorism is concerned, I know now to obtain as much information about the incident as possible and make my own decision. For no one else will do it for me, not even my own relatives.