MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
One person's terrorist is another person's freedom fighter.
One of the best examples of that may be the now-deceased former Prime Minister of Israel, Yitzhak Shamir.
Shamir, who died at age 96 of Alzheimer's disease in 2012, was a member of the now-dominant political party in Israel: the Likud. When Shamir passed away, Netanyahu effusively praised him: "Yitzhak Shamir belonged to the generation of giants who founded the state of Israel and fought for the freedom of the Jewish people. As prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir took action to fortify Israel’s security and ensure its future."
In the days of the British Mandate leading up to the independence of Israel in 1948, there was a primary Jewish paramilitary force, the Hagannah. The Hagannah more or less evolved into the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) after statehood was established, and many of the state's military leaders for years were its veterans.
However, for some Jewish fighters, the Hagannah was too traditional in its military approach, too modeled on the British army … and not willing to engage in the assassinations of British soldiers. The British were seen by many Zionists as pro-Arab. They particularly incensed creators of Israel by aggressively limiting Jewish immigration to Palestine during the years of the Holocaust, and in the post-war years when Jewish refugees were seeking a place to live.
As a result, two Jewish terrorist groups were formed: the Irgun, and then an even more notorious offshoot which was nicknamed the Stern Gang. Shamir was a member of the Stern Gang, while former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin eventually headed the Irgun. Their mission was to drive the British out of Palestine, and also drive as many Palestinians out of what was to become Israel. The Irgun and the Stern Gang employed terrorist tactics, killing British military officials (and even the British minister of state for the Middle East) and massacring Arabs. Their most historically noted terrorist action against the British was the blowing up of much of the King David Hotel in 1946, then the headquarters for Britain overseeing Palestine. Around 100 people were killed, including 15 Jews.
In a June 30, 2012, obituary for Yitzhak Shamir written by The New York Times, it is noted:
Many of his friends and colleagues ascribed his character to his years in the underground in the 1940s, when he sent Jewish fighters out to kill British officers whom he saw as occupiers. He was a wanted man then; to the British rulers of Palestine he was a terrorist, an assassin. He appeared in public only at night, disguised as a Hasidic rabbi. But Shamir said he considered those "the best years of my life."
It is important to qualify that many Jews in Palestine at that time, if not the majority, were leftists and socialists. As a result, many leaders and organizations condemned the actions of the Stern Gang, as the Times obituary records: "To the Jewish public, and even to the other Jewish underground groups, Shamir’s gang was 'lacking even a spark of humanity and Jewish conscience,' Israel Rokach, the mayor of Tel Aviv, said in 1944, after Stern Gang gunmen shot three British police officers on the streets of his city."
Both Shamir and Begin lost many of their family members in the Holocaust, but that was true of many of the Jewish residents of Palestine prior to the establishment of the State of Israel. Shamir and Begin's choice to engage in terrorism was their own; many others who survived the Holocaust viewed the acts of Irgun and the Stern Gang as a betrayal of Jewish values.
Over the years, Israel was first ruled by Labor Party leftists (many of whom did not have clean hands, either, considering their roles in what has become known as the Nakba - the forced dislocation of approximately 700,000 Palestinians out of lands claimed by Israel in 1948: A significant number of civilians were just gunned down). But as the right wing manipulated its way into power, accelerating its domination of coalition governments after the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a follower of an ultra-nationalist rabbi - and using its opposition to the Oslo Peace Accords as a cudgel - Shamir and Begin's worldview advanced. And that view professed that there was no room for Palestinians in the "historic" Israel.
The New York Times recounts:
As prime minister [Shamir] actively promoted continued Jewish settlement in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which Israel conquered in 1967. While he was in office the Jewish population in the occupied territories increased by nearly 30 percent. He also encouraged the immigration of tens of thousands of Soviet Jews to Israel, a move that changed the country’s demographic character...
[Referring to the first Intifada,] the fighting also deepened divisions between Israel’s two political camps: leftists who believed in making concessions to bring peace, and members of the right who believed, as Shamir once put it, that "Israel’s days without Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip are gone and will not return."
In this respect, Netanyahu is carrying out policies consistent with Shamir's vision of an Israeli one-state solution, with Israel occupying all the land between the West Bank and Gaza, to which the presence of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza is seen as an obstacle that must be overcome with force.
Given these circumstances - and Shamir's reference to his days as an assassin/terrorist as "the best years of my life" - it strains credulity to watch Netanyahu bullying on about the scourge of "terrorism." That is not to say that Hamas is any better than Yitzhak Shamir in terms of morality or compassion. Hamas is consistent with the historic record of Yitzhak Shamir, the Irgun and the Stern Gangs.
Israel is going to have to negotiate with some "bad people" who are unsavory and do condemnable acts, because, after all, some bad people who committed atrocities became prime ministers of Israel - and even the current prime minister (who was in the IDF many years after Israel's creation and is of a younger generation than Shamir) is accused of potential war crimes by the UN and tolerates Knesset coalition members who advocate for the expulsion of Palestinians from the Occupied Territories and even their killing.
The New York Times also recounts: "Years later, however, Shamir contended that it had been more humane to assassinate specific military or political figures than to attack military installations and possibly kill innocent people, as the other underground groups did."
Apparently, Prime Minister Netanyahu did not listen to that particular distinction made by the departed terrorist to whom he paid such lofty homage.
Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.