Friday, April 08, 2016

  • Friday, April 08, 2016
  • Elder of Ziyon
There was an uproar on Thursday at the statements of Zionist Union MK Zouheir Bahloul:
MK Zouheir Bahloul (the Zionist Camp) stated once again that the Palestinian who stabbed an IDF soldier in Hebron is not a terrorist. “The word ‘terrorist’ has become inclusive and generalizes every Palestinian as one [a terrorist],” said Bahloul during a radio interview earlier today (Thursday).

During the interview, Bahloul claimed that there is a difference between Palestinians who attack civilians and those who direct their attacks against IDF soldiers and military bases. “I agree that whoever murders an entire family is a terrorist,” he stressed. “They are terrorists and also murderers who deserve to be punished. Any person who murders another, destroys the life of an innocent person or stalks and attacks an entire family on their way home from work is a terrorist.”

Bahloul even said that his statement includes all types of citizens, even Israeli settlers in the West Bank. However, he claimed that when it comes to terror attacks against military targets, the Palestinians are not terrorists. “People who attacked families in their sleep would not considered terrorists if they had attacked a military base,” he stated.

“All those who fight for their freedom and independence are considered terrorists in the eyes of Israelis,” he claimed. “According to the [Israeli] people, every Palestinian who fights for his struggle in order to remove the injustice of the occupation is considered a terrorist. I agree that an attacker with a knife is a murderer but he is not a terrorist. My problem is that this word has become inclusive and generalizes every Palestinian as a terrorist.”
The reaction was fierce:

Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog said in response: "I reject and condemn Zuheir Ba'aloul's remarks. A terrorist is a terrorist is a terrorist."

"[I]t makes no difference whether that person has gone out to kill a Jew or a Palestinian," Herzog said.

The party also issued a statement making clear that Ba'aloul's comments did not reflect its views, and demanding the government take more effective action to bring what it called "a wave of terrorism" to an end.

Lawmaker Nachman Shai denounced the remark as "sad and unnecessary."

Erel Margalit, of Zionist Union, demanded Ba'aloul retract his "severe" remarks.

Far-right politicians predictably joined in the criticism. MK Shuli Muallem-Refaeli (Habayit Hayehudi) condemned the comment by asserting that it illustrated how "unfortunately the terrorists are also represented politically" in Israel.

“MK [Zouheir] Bahloul’s comments are shameful,” [Prime Minister] Netanyahu wrote in Hebrew on Facebook. “IDF soldiers protect us with their bodies from bloodthirsty murderers. I expect all Israeli citizens, and members of Knesset in particular, to give them their full support.”
So who is right?

Any definition of terrorist must be consistent no matter what the context. Terrorism against Jews and that against Arabs must be defined identically or else the word just becomes propaganda.

Unfortunately, there is no universal definition.

At first glance, Bahloul seems to have a point. There would seem to be a moral difference between attacking civilians and attacking an armed soldier.

But is stabbing a soldier in Hebron terrorism?

There are many definitions of terrorism that people have come up with. One that was indirectly created by the UN, in the context of the 1999 Terrorism Financing Convention, defines a terrorist act as one "intended to cause death or serious bodily injury to a civilian, or to any other person not taking an active part in the hostilities in a situation of armed conflict, when the purpose of such act, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population, or to compel a government or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act."

I think this is a very good definition. And it cuts to the core of the question of whether attacking IDF soldiers in Hebron can be considered a terrorist act.

Hamas mortars fired at IDF troops are not acts of terrorism. Rockets fired at civilians are. That is why I always call militants in Gaza terrorists - they may sometimes engage in quasi-conventional warfare but a key part of their strategy is to terrorize the Israeli public.

Can soldiers never be terror targets? Clearly, for example, those who are off-duty are not considered valid military targets.*

Here's another question: Is it terrorism to target police, or armed guards? The answer is clearly yes. They have weapons, but targeting them for political purposes cannot be considered anything but terrorism. Their jobs are purely defensive.

Soldiers in Hebron are not fighting a war, at least not in the legal sense. They are acting as police to protect Jewish citizens of Israel who live there. Their IDF uniform does not make them legitimate military targets when there is not a state of war, and I do not believe that the current uprising can be called a war.

It can be called a terror spree. The political motivation to murder a soldier is identical to the motivation to kill a random Jew: it is to instill terror in the population in order to intimidate them and instill fear.

Attacking a person doing police duties is a terrorist act no matter if he or she is wearing the uniform of an armed guard, a police officer or a soldier.

I believe that Bahloul is wrong in this case.

But his point is not as offensive as the reactions made it out to be; the knee-jerk responses against Bahloul by Israeli politicians were more posturing than enlightening. I didn't see anyone answer him with exactly why he is wrong, and that is a shame. (Bahloul was also making a political point, of course, by implying that Jews consider all Arabs to be terrorists.)

We should use this event as a good excuse to further refine the definition of terrorism, not for scoring political points.

*It is not so clear. Gidon Shaviv points out to me that Yoram Dinstein says "Enemy combatants in an international armed conflict can be attacked at all times and in all circumstances. They ‘may be targeted wherever found, armed or unarmed, awake orasleep, on a front line or a mile or a hundred miles behind the lines’." The Conduct of Hostilities Under the Law of International Armed Conflict (p. 34).

But this hinges on the definion of wartime.HRW says "International humanitarian law makes clear, however, that reserve or off-duty soldiers who are not at that moment subject to the integrated disciplinary command of the armed forces are considered civilians until the time that they become subject to military command-meaning, until they are effectively incorporated into the armed forces. Their incorporation into the regular armed forces is most frequently signified by wearing a uniform or other identifiable insignia." And another text on terror says "Similarly, noncombatants can include off-duty members of the military in nonwarfare environments."

Nevertheless, most definitions of terrorism seem to allow it to be possible to have terrorist acts against soldiers under some circumstances, as stated above.

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