Monday, September 22, 2003

An incredibly mealy-mouthed defense of the Washington Post's refusal to call Hamas a "terrorist organization" or to call its suicide bombings "terrorist acts." Apparently Al Qaeda can be called a terrorist group, but Hamas, which calls for the destruction of the state of Israel and tries to enact that destruction by murdering children, is not a terrorist organization. The thing that really gets to me about this article is its incredibly smug assumption of superior judgement. The Post's ombudsman says:
Making a general point, The Post guidance also says that "terrorism is real and identifiable, and we can identify it when that is appropriate." When it comes to the Middle East news report, however, that word is mostly used when describing one side's assessment of the other, and usually not in the descriptive voice of a reporter.

So apparently we are to wait for the Post to "identify" terrorism "when that is appropriate." Is only the Post (and other newspapers who refuse to call Hamas suicide bomb attacks "terrorism") authorized to decide that something is appropriately called terrorism? So reporters write or report only "descriptively"? They never write evaluatively, even in a strictly news story? Only when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict....

They attempt to justify the way they refer to Hamas in this way:
Critical readers also attempt to equate the U.S. battle against al Qaeda with the Israeli battle against Hamas. There are, however, differences. Hamas conducts terrorism but also has territorial ambitions, is a nationalist movement and conducts some social work. As far as we know, al Qaeda exists only as a terrorist network. It is composed of radicals from several Islamic countries. The Palestinian resistance is indigenous. Al Qaeda launched a devastating surprise attack on the United States. Israelis and Palestinians have been at war for a long time. Palestinians have been resisting a substantial and, to Palestinians, humiliating, Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza since they were seized in the 1967 war. That resistance has now bred suicide bombers. These are terrorist acts, not to be condoned. But the contexts of the struggle against al Qaeda and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are different. News organizations should not back away from the word terrorism when it is the proper term. But as a rule, strong, descriptive, factual reporting is better than labels.

So even by their own admission, suicide bombings are terrorist acts -- then why don't they label them as such in their news reports, and call their perpetrators "terrorists" rather than "militants" or "activists"? (My idea of an activist is someone who organizes for a particular political point of view -- not a murderer!). Even the European Union is prepared at this point to call the political wing of Hamas a terrorist movement! I have often been tempted to write on this issue but have refrained from doing so because it seemed like a minor point, in the face of real news about people dying from terrorist attacks, but this editorial piece is so outrageous I feel that I must write something.

I write not as a partisan of "Greater Israel" or a supporter of the settlement enterprise, but as a supporter of a two-state solution and opponent of the separation wall/fence now being built by Israel. I do not think that Israeli soldiers humiliating people at checkpoints and cooping Palestinians up in their towns and cities is the way to make peace. I believe that it is possible to make peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and the sooner the better, or we will end up with the results decried by both Thomas Friedman and Avraham Burg in recent editorial comments. My political beliefs are probably best described (with some modifications) by the founding principles of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom (although I think that they are still overly mealy-mouthed in their denunciation of Palestinian terrorism). However, whatever my opinions on what the solution to the conflict should be, I think that it is essential to call things by their correct names -- and Hamas and Islamic Jihad are terrorist organizations, regardless of any salutary social work they might engage in, and suicide bombings are terrorist acts, regardless of what the Washington Post thinks they are.

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