Imagine the father in Gaza whose son dies in the bombings, who asks, “why couldn’t it have been me instead of him?” In the pain and loss of that moment, there is very little distance between survivor and suicide bomber.
Bernard Avishai puts it better than I can, asking “Do not terrorists come mainly from the ranks of youth who are ashamed to have survived?” I don’t think that the sense of shame is limited to Arab culture; “why not me instead?” is a question asked by survivors of every stripe. Take a survivor living with that shame and despair, and via the blockade subtract every productive thing he or she might do to beign the process of recovery and you are essentially asking one family member who has lost another to go on living life as if it never happened. That is not possible. The helplessness felt by expatriates and others sympathetic to the Palestinian cause is nothing compared to the helplessness felt in Gaza right now. That helpnessness is what makes suicide bombers.
But as these events have shown, terrorism itself is difficult to define. While it is a tactic used by some who have the option of classic warfare, it is also applied to those who have no alternative to attacks on civilians. The classic line, “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” rings true here (for a relevant cinematic take on that subject, watch Battle of Algiers). If Hamas had responded to the blockades and the violation of the cease-fire by attacking Israel conventionally, that would not have been labelled terrorism, regardless of the amount of criticism it earned. I’m sure they would be glad to have just as many F-16s and smart bombs, but that is just not the case. And for that lack of resources, they are the terrorists. Israel, regardless of the number of civilians it kills, will never be labelled a terrorist state. Hamas, regardless of the fact that it can wage war in no other manner, will always be labelled the terrorists. Something is wrong with our definition here.
To further explain my point, here is a clip from Glenn Greenwald, of Salon.com. He begins by quoting Barack Obama from the campaign trail this summer:
Barack Obama: “The first job of any nation state is to protect its citizens. And so I can assure you that if — I don’t even care if I was a politician — if somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that. And I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.”
Greenwald responds: “Can’t the exact same mentality be deployed to justify everything Hamas has done and is doing, to wit: “if a foreign power were brutally occupying my country for four decades — or blockading my country and denying my children medical needs and nutrition and the ability even to exit — I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that. And I would expect Palestinians to do the same thing”?”
With all this in mind, doesn’t it seem futile to label one side a terrorist? If America insists on labelling Hamas a terrorist organization, I shudder to think what label Israel, or America itself, might merit. Either we should apply it fairly or not at all…