The Definition, and Non-Recognition, of Terrorism.
Original Thinking by Barry Shaw.
The recent 13th World Summit on Counter-Terrorism, organized by ICT Herzlia, headed by Boaz Ganor, was a tremendous success.
One of the key factors to the success of this stimulating event was that it addressed all they key issues in today’s burning and murderous world.
However, for me, a jarring note was a chance meeting with a European journalist at one of the conference’s workshops. This reporter has been based in Israel for two years and her brief was Israel-Palestinian relations, or lack of them.
Our conversation approached the matter of Palestinian terrorism at which point she became defensive.
“We don’t call it terrorism. We don’t take sides” was her knee-jerk response.
I told her that I was one of the co-founders of the Netanya Terror Victims Organization and asked her what she calls the person who walked into the Park Hotel in my hometown and blew up over thirty people, mainly elderly, women, and children, and injured many more. Her answer was that he was a suicide bomber. I asked if this isn't a terrorist. “No,” she replied, “he is a fighter.”
By this time the girl was looking for an escape route and excused herself by telling me she had somewhere to go. Conversation promptly ended for fear I may convince her otherwise. Some would say she is entitled to her opinion. But does she?
In the final panel of the conference, which coincidentally addressed the topic “Defining Terrorism” and to which this journalist was conspicuous by her absence, I told Boaz Ganor, who chaired the workshop, that I had encountered a European journalist who was attending his international conference on counter-terrorism yet is incapable, or unwilling, to use the term “terrorist” in her articles.
The journalist had told me that she couldn't, or wouldn't, use that word because she or her journal would not be accused “of taking sides,” but the mere fact that, for her, a terrorist has morphed into a “fighter” even when targeting civilians displays a clear case of taking sides. The use of the word “fighter” goes some way in justifying the motive behind killing innocent civilians. More grotesquely, it equalizes the perpetrator and the victims. Such is the perverted morality of European journalists, and many of their politicians.
Boaz Ganor has a theory for the definition of terrorism. It is based on the deliberate targeting of civilians for murder for political, religious, or cultural aims. Ganor differentiates between this and attacks against military targets which, by his definition, does not constitute an act of terror.
This theory was met with a robust rejection from Colonel Richard Kemp, who led British forces in Afghanistan and is a counter-terrorism advisor to the British Government. In his opinion, the beheading of Lee Rigby, an off-duty soldier, dressed in civilian clothes, on the streets of Woolwich, London, by two Islamists on 22 May, 2013, can only be described as an act of terror.
Boaz Ganor professed that if Hamas were to officially declare that they will continue to hate Israel, work for its destruction, continue to target and kill Israeli military personnel, but will renounce and refrain from targeting civilians, that he would be the first to say that they are no longer a terrorist organization.
“This,” he said, “would constitute a victory for counter-terrorism.”
He may have a point but until that day comes the murder of Israeli civilians by Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, or Al-Qaida continue to unquestionably be acts of terror.
The international communities’ inability to come up with a clear or adequate definition of terror is preventing the victims of terror from having the justice that comes with having their day in court. They cannot successfully bring a case of terrorism against perpetrators in a legal environment that has no guidance or clarity in defining what terrorism is. The failure to properly define terrorism hampers the extradition of perpetrators for trial and judgment.
A definition that has international recognition is urgently needed for the sake of justice for the
victims of terror, and for the morality and defense of nations in which terror is perpetrated.
Barry Shaw is the Special Consultant on Delegitimization Issues to the Strategic Dialogue Center at Netanya Academic College.
He is also the author of ‘Israel Reclaiming the Narrative.’ www.israelnarrative.com