Last week, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni stated that there is a difference between Palestinian freedom fighters who act against soldiers and terrorists, who act against civilians. The Livni test is interesting, of course, both because the foreign minister was basically talking about her father, Eitan Livni, who was the chief operations officer in the Irgun and later a Knesset member. Naturally, Livni does not view the Irgun people as terrorists, but as freedom fighters. And so says the Irgun's official history, too: It operated against military and government facilities, not against civilians.
Livni most likely was raised on this myth, on the lofty self-image nurtured by Menachem Begin even before his organization fell apart. The truth was different. On July 6, 1938, Irgun people snuck a bomb into the produce market on Hamelachim Street in Haifa. Two Irgun veterans reported later, in a book that was printed with the aid of the Defense Ministry, that 18 Arabs were killed and 38 wounded in the operation. Two days later, Irgun people carried out an attack in Jerusalem; four Arabs were killed. Ten days after that, the Irgun returned to the Haifa market: 27 Arabs were killed and 47 wounded.
In their book, "Divrei hayamim le'milhemet hashihrur" ("Chronicles of the War of Independence"), editors Yaakov Amrami and Arie Melitz described how the attacks were carried out: Twice, the bombs were brought in inside baskets of vegetables. One bomb was placed inside a crate of shoe polish. Over the years, the organization also struck at buses, coffee shops and movie houses. People from the Haganah and Palmach also carried out actions against Arab civilians. Both were terrorists, also according to the criteria presented by Livni on "Nightline."
As we know, most terrorists tend to describe themselves as freedom fighters and most freedom fighters are generally persecuted like terrorists: And both are right, usually; thus, trying to differentiate between them is basically meaningless. Livni focused on the targets of the attacks, not on their aim; for a moment it seemed that she ruled out in principle any harming of civilians. This also makes for a nice historic lesson: Indeed, there is no justification for harming civilians. Never: Not in Dresden or Hiroshima or Hanoi or Beirut or Ramat Gan or Gaza. But Livni also justified the artillery fire on Gaza, and then the definition game requires other participants: state-sponsored terror, harming civilians during wartime.
It really isn't that simple to live with the rule that you never harm civilians: Not when the Palestinians place rocket launchers in the midst of residential neighborhoods, not when Israel gives its citizens weapons and sends them to live in the settlements. The Livni test therefore looks like something that could be argued about on "Popolitika"; but the war for the Land of Israel has never been up to the test.
Neither Israelis nor Palestinians have ever forsworn terror. Both have used it and found on occasion that it advances their goals. Arab terror in the 1930s almost led to the expulsion of the British from Palestine, on the eve of World War II; Jewish terror gave a push to their expulsion in the late 1940s. There is a generation of Israelis that grew up not only admiring the terror used by the underground organizations prior to the state's founding, but also on a whole ethos of wars against colonialist regimes everywhere.
Yitzhak Shamir called himself "Michael" after Michael Collins, the famed leader of the Irish underground. Naturally, Israelis also grew up admiring the partisans who fought against the Nazis. In the 1950s and '60s, they identified with the liberation movements in Africa and South America. Along with their admiration for Che Guevara and Steve Biko - a leader of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa - Israelis also nurtured friendships with leaders who had sat in jail up to then as terrorists: Israel gave them weapons and money, invited them to Israel and showered them with great honor. Their books were translated into Hebrew and published by national publishing houses. Nothing offended Israelis more than the pejorative "imperialists."
Until Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser came along and placed himself at the head of the "non-aligned" nations and expelled Israel from the family of the good guys. In 1956, Israel joined forces with England and France, partly in the hope of bringing about Nasser's ouster, and starting in 1965 it had to deal with a new generation of Palestinian terrorists - with Fatah. Since then, it has been ceaselessly pondering the question - Who is a terrorist and who is a freedom fighter?
Moshe Dayan compared the Fatah to the Irgun; in this comparison, Israel took the role of the despised British. Many years later, Ehud Barak said that if he were a Palestinian, he would have joined the terror organizations. Fatah hijacked planes and thereby put the Palestinian problem on the world map - Who knows if anyone would have heard about their distress if it weren't for their terror? It's doubtful if Ariel Sharon would have initiated the dismantling of the settlements in the Gaza Strip if not for Palestinian terror. This is the same Ariel Sharon who in the 1950s stood at the head of a renowned paratroop unit that committed acts of terror in Palestinian villages across the border.
What does all this mean? Only that terror is terror is terror.
The cup is ours
The Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv currently has a most peculiar object on display: a trophy that was given to one of the winning teams in some sports competition that was held in Palestine in 1936. The two teams belonged to the German Templer community, and in the spirit of their sympathy for the Nazis, they etched a swastika on their championship cup. Twelve years later, Irgun people came to the Arab village of Yahudiyya and there they discovered the cup. They took it as spoils and in order to commemorate themselves and their victory, carved the symbol of their organization (a map of the Greater Land of Israel with a rifle lying diagonally across it and the words 'Rak Kach' - "Only This Way" below) beneath the swastika. Making it appear that the Irgun had defeated Nazi Germany in World War II, or at least in that sports competition.
The exhibition on the Templers has been drawing a lot of visitors, and deservedly so. These Germans came to Palestine shortly before the first Zionists, who learned much from them about how to hold onto the land. The Templers played a part in developing systematic agriculture and dairy farming; they built neighborhoods that are currently targeted by real estate sharks, and hostels as well. The curators of the exhibition take a sympathetic view of them, and occasionally seem to admire them with nostalgic affection - almost as pre-Zionists or pre-yekkes. Again and again, the text of the exhibition says that the British expelled the Templers from Palestine, leaving the impression that they harassed them for no reason. Therefore, visitors are in for a big surprise when they finally come to the trophy and see that the good Templers established a branch of the Nazi party in Palestine.
No, they weren't all Nazis and the curators of the exhibition actually seem a bit uncomfortable about them and tend to describe their exploits as if they were only pages in some picture album and not an expression of a real political abomination: "In this period, to the pastoral photographs documenting their presence in Palestine are added photographs of marches in which the participants wave swastika-emblazoned flags, and photographs of apparently military ceremonies," says the text, as if describing some charming popular folklore. "With the outbreak of World War II, some of the men enlisted in the German Army and the British concentrated the remaining Templers in agricultural settlements. During the war, the British evacuated some of them to Australia and Germany and their expulsion from the country was completed in 1948, about a month before the declaration of the founding of the State."
After the Templers were "concentrated" and "expelled," they received compensation from the Israeli government, in the framework of the reparations agreements that also regularized the compensation payments from Germany to Jews. The agreement is hanging there on the wall, right after that sports trophy with the swastika. I wouldn't mind too much if the narrative were less balanced.