Rattling the Cage: One man’s terrorist

By LARRY DERFNER
July 28, 2010 21:49

The greatest denouncers of Palestinian violence against Israel also tend to be the greatest defenders of pre-state Zionist violence against Britain.

4 minute read.



Larry Derfner

larry derfner 58. (photo credit:d)

One evening about 20 years ago, someone with a “Middle Eastern accent” called the Knesset and said a bomb was set to go off. I was working at The Jerusalem Post that night, and I can’t remember how much advance time the caller gave, but security guards went all around the Knesset and informed everyone, and some people left, but many stayed. It turned out there was no bomb.

But what if there had been, and it had blown up the Knesset and killed a lot of people who’d chosen to ignore the threat? Would we say of the bombers, “Well, they warned everybody, it’s not their fault people were killed”?

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I’m reminded of that evening by an interview in last Friday’s Yediot Aharonot with Sarah Agassi, one of the two young Etzel women who called the King David Hotel on the afternoon of July 22, 1946 and warned the British authorities to evacuate the building, which was their headquarters, because it was about to blow up. “They had a half-hour. If they had evacuated people at 12:35, it wouldn’t have happened,” she said.

By “it,” she meant the deaths of 91 people in the hotel. “I don’t regret it for a second,” she said, blaming Sir John Shaw, the British chief secretary, for ignoring the warning. (The British maintain they received none.) “It’s because of him that so many were killed,” she said.

We don’t call that terrorism, though. We don’t call it “glorifying terrorists,” either, when we name highways, neighborhoods, schools and hospitals after the man who ordered the bombing, Menachem Begin.

Ninety-one people killed – Britons, Arabs, Jews and others.  “There were other actions no less courageous that we carried out against the British,” said Agassi. “For example, blowing up armored cars. We would hide out in Rehavia, we knew their route, we’d place the bombs and set them off when the car passed, then run away.”

Etzel (the Hebrew acronym for “National Military Organization in the Land of Israel”) killed civilians, too – Arab civilians, scores of them, in tit-for-tat bombings of Arab markets and other public places.

After the War of Independence, Begin was a terrorist in the eyes of some Israelis, but by now he is a supreme, unchallenged national hero. Remembered as a gentleman, he is the most beloved leader in Israeli history.

We see no reason why he shouldn’t be. But when the Palestinians, beginning with their leaders, eulogize Muhammad Oudeh, who planned the Munich Olympics killings of 11 Israeli athletes, or name a square in Ramallah after Dalal Mughrabi, leader of the Coastal Road bus hijacking that killed 37 Israelis, then we are outraged.

“Whoever sponsors and supports naming a square in Ramallah after a terrorist who murdered dozens of Israelis on the Coastal Road encourages terror,” said Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in March. He called on Palestinian leaders to “stop the incitement.”

But four years ago, when Etzel veterans commemorated the 60th anniversary of the King David bombing, Netanyahu, scion of a proud Revisionist family, was the featured speaker. “It’s very important to make the distinction between terror groups and freedom fighters, and between terrorist action and legitimate military action,” he told the audience.

IN THE hypocrisy that characterizes Israel’s view of Palestinians, this is the height of it: The greatest denouncers of Palestinian violence against Israel also tend to be the greatest defenders of pre-state Zionist violence against Britain.

After electing Begin prime minister, we elected Yitzhak Shamir, who had been one of the leadership trio of Lehi (the Hebrew acronym for “Fighters for the Freedom of Israel”). Lehi went Etzel one better – not only did it kill for Israeli statehood, it killed after statehood, too. On September 17, 1948, Lehi men in Jerusalem shot to death Count Folke Bernadotte, the UN’s envoy to the Middle East (who, as a Swedish diplomat during World War II, had saved many thousands of Jews from the Nazi death camps).

At Lehi’s 70th anniversary celebration in Jerusalem last month, National Union MK Arye Eldad (whose father, Yisrael, had been one of Shamir’s partners in the leadership) said from the podium: “Count Bernadotte wanted to internationalize Jerusalem. In response, Lehi killed him. With his death, the concept of taking Jerusalem away from the Jewish people died with him.”

Hooray. And after Yitzhak Shamir dies, there will be highways, neighborhoods, hospitals and schools named after him, too.

It seems to me that if you are going to condemn the Munich Olympics killings and the Coastal Road Massacre, you also have to condemn the King David Hotel bombing and the Bernadotte assassination. By the same token, if you justify or even “understand” Begin’s and Shamir’s violence, you also have to justify or at least understand the violence of Muhammad Oudeh and Dalal Mughrabi.

And if you don’t – if violence in the name of your nation’s freedom is what you call heroism, but violence in the name of the enemy nation’s freedom is what you call terrorism – then you have no principles at all. Then the only thing you stand for in this world is the side you happen to have been born on.


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