Israel – ’19 killed by Jerusalem suicide bomb’ (Guardian, 2002)

By Kelly Bailey (2011)

A Critical Analysis of the Guardian Article:

‘19 killed by Jerusalem suicide bomb’

18th June 2002

Source: (


On the 18th June 2002, a suicide bomber, later identified as Mohammed al-Ghoul, blew himself up on a bus in Jerusalem, killing twenty people, including himself and injuring more than fifty (‘19 killed by Jerusalem suicide bomb’, 2002). Hamas, also known as the Islamist Resistance Movement claimed responsibility for the attack and since the incident have continued to use suicide bombing in an attempt to drive all Israeli forces from the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza (Novak, 2006). Their ultimate aim is to establish a Palestinian state based on historic boundaries that are now covered by modern day Israel (Novak, 2006). The article that this analysis is based on was taken from The Guardian Newspaper (Appendix 1), a daily British broadsheet founded in 1821 (Demleitner, 2002).

The article in question is clear that what happened was a case of terrorism, yet it devotes very little time to reporting on the actual suicide bombing itself and also does not provide a reason for the attack. Conversely, when commenting on the murder of senior Palestinian officials by Israel, a clear reason for the murder is explained inexplicitly legitimising Israeli tactics. The end of the article comments on separate suicide bombings in Israel, which again have no context and also add nothing to the main report. A denunciation of the bombings provided by Yasser Arafat, who was the chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) is also included, which is particularly poignant, as the PLO represent the very people that Hamas claims to be fighting on behalf of.

The general use of language in the article is extremely emotive, for example, the fact that school children were harmed during the attack is mentioned several times, alongside descriptions of a “row of bodies laid out on the pavement” (‘19 killed by Jerusalem suicide bomb’, 2002). The inclusion of views from the international community, alongside the inclusion of the sentence: “The attack provoked outrage around the world” effectively pits Hamas against the international community (‘19 killed by Jerusalem suicide bomb’, 2002). The article also mentions the possibility of retribution stating that “Expectations were running high that the Israeli retaliation would be ferocious” (‘19 killed by Jerusalem suicide bomb’, 2002).

The only attempt made in the article to contextualise the bombing is when wider comments regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict are made. September 2000 saw the outbreak of the second intifada, partly sparked by the failure of the Camp David summit earlier that year (Q&A Middle East Conflict, 2003). What followed was two and a half years of vicious fighting and in March 2002 Israeli forces moved into the occupied territories in an attempt to put an end to the suicide attacks (Q&A Middle East Conflict, 2003). Israeli actions caused Palestinians extreme hardship and eventually even the US, Israel’s closest ally, called for the withdrawal of troops (Q&A Middle East Conflict, 2003). This is the context that the article fails to mention.

Main Essay

This essay will analyse the role of Hamas in the controversial Israel-Palestine conflict, paying particular attention to the type of political violence and the category of terrorist action that this event and Hamas as an organisation fall into. Within this discussion, attention will also be paid to the role of Israel as a possible terrorist state and also the role of its primary supporter, the US, as a potential sponsor of state terrorism. The analysis will then consider whether the actions of Hamas are legitimate, using Just War Theory as an analytical framework. The Guardian article will also be reflected on throughout the essay.

Although there are consistencies in the various definitions of terrorism, the absence of a single, all encompassing definition is now accepted in the field of political violence (Martin, 2010). However, for the purpose of the forthcoming discussion it is important to establish a workable set of the common characteristics of terrorism, so that the different categories can be contextualised. A single definition will not be provided, as most of them exclude state terrorism, which is not appropriate for this analysis. Common themes of terrorism include: the use of illegal force; use of unconventional methods; attacks aimed at ‘soft’ civilian targets; attacks aimed at affecting an audience and importantly attacks are usually fuelled by some kind of political motive (Martin, 2010: 43).

Gus Martin offers a way of categorising different acts of political violence and at the outset it appears that the actions of Hamas would fit the dissident terrorism category. Martin (2010, 44) defines dissident terrorism as:

Terrorism ‘from below’ committed by non-state movements and groups against governments, ethno national groups, religious groups and other perceived enemies.

According to Martin a significant proportion of dissident terrorism is anti-state in origin, with a view towards destabilising the political status quo and establishing a new society (Martin, 2010). According to their charter of 1988, the aims of Hamas include:

…discarding the evil, crushing it and defeating it, so that truth may prevail, homelands revert [to their owners], calls for prayer be heard from their mosques, announcing the reinstitution of the Muslim state. (Yale Law School, 2008)

This demonstrates just how applicable Martin’s description of dissident terrorism is but it does not provide a complete classification of Hamas. Firstly, there is an issue with the phrase ‘non-state movements’ as Hamas is also a political party and in 2006 won an overwhelming majority at the Palestinian Parliamentary elections. (Profile: Hamas Palestinian Movement, 2011). The situation created in the occupied territories by Israel would also dispute the applicability of the phrase “perceived enemy”, as during Israeli occupation, schools have been closed, numerous laws have been passed reducing the Palestinians to a subservient status and at one point, the colours of the Palestinian flag were even banned (Said, 1989: 6).

At its core, Hamas also has religious aims as it ultimately wants to establish an Islamic state and finds itself disgusted with the dilution of Islam that has taken place since the spread of Westernisation (Yale Law School, 2008). Hamas also believes that the fight for the liberation of Palestine is an individual obligation and that therefore jihad is a binding duty on all Muslims (Yale Law School, 2008). These characteristics are consistent with most definitions of religious terrorism, which all assert that there is an assumption that action has been sanctioned by an otherworldly power and that terrorism is needed to protect what is considered the one true faith (Martin, 2007: 130). Does this mean that Hamas is a religious terrorist group rather than a dissident terrorist group or is it acceptable to fit into more than one category? Assuming that Hamas fits perfectly into a single category does an injustice to the complexity of the organisation and would consequently make further study of the group problematic.

As is pointed out in the article, when the Israeli murder of top Palestinian officials is mentioned, there is violence that takes place on the parts of both Israel and Hamas. Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories is illegal under international law and has been condemned by the United Nations (UN) on several occasions (Al-Kidwa, 2002). Israeli attempts to change the character of the territories by building illegal settlements and allowing approximately four hundred thousand Israelis to settle there is also in contravention to the Geneva Convention (Al-Kidwa, 2002). There are also reports of massacres of Palestinians due to the disproportionate military force used by the Israelis, when responding to Hamas’ attacks (Al-Kidwa, 2002). This certainly fits some of the criteria of state terrorism, which is broadly defined as “terrorism ‘from above’ committed by governments against perceived enemies” (Martin, 2010: 46).

In Israel’s defence, however, the Palestinians have been offered a homeland on three separate occasions: 1937, 1947 and 2000-2001 but they considered the terms offered unacceptable (Dershowitz, 2003). Hamas and similar groups have stated that even if occupation were to end in the occupied territories, they would not stop using terrorist tactics, as their ultimate aim will still be unachieved (Dershowitz, 2003). This has clear repercussions for Israel, which despite being a fully recognised country, is now fighting for its right to exist. For example, in 2005 all Israeli settlements were uprooted from Gaza and withdrawn to the international border, only for rocket fire to fall on numerous Israeli towns and villages (Viewpoint: How not to create a Palestinian State: 2011). Finally, four years after withdrawing, Israeli troops were sent back to Gaza to stop the attacks (Viewpoint: How not to create a Palestinian State: 2011). Hamas equates success with the destruction of the Israeli state, which makes compromise unlikely.

State terrorism is not limited to actively taking part in terrorism, however, and many scholars recognise that involvement in state terrorism in the form of sponsorship for example, is itself, a form of state terrorism (Martin, 2011). Does this make those condemning Hamas’ actions and indirectly supporting Israeli actions, sponsors of state terrorism? In the context of the article we would be referring to countries such as the United States and the UK but there are a number of countries that have been accused of sponsoring state terrorism. Of course a condemnation of Hamas’ actions is not the same as supporting Israeli terror but the US in particular has been accused of showing inappropriate support to the Israeli regime.

Martin (2010) distinguishes between patronage (active involvement in) and assistance (tacit participation in) state terrorism. Badey (2007) agrees that state supported terrorism exists and puts these activities into three broad groups including: funding of terrorist groups; providing safe havens for terrorist groups and finally providing intelligence or other types of technical assistance. According to Martin, the US would fit into the assistance of state terrorism category, whereas according to Badey they would fit into the category that provides intelligence and technical assistance. An example that demonstrates the applicability of both categories are the thirty two Security Council Resolutions, all of which criticised Israeli treatment of Palestine, that have been vetoed by America on Israel’s behalf since 1982 (Mearsheimer & Walt, 2008). The vetoing of these resolutions has prevented international action on Israeli state terror (Mearsheimer & Walt, 2008). Despite the fact that support of state terrorism undoubtedly exists, it should not be treated as a defining characteristic of international terrorism. It is not surprising after all that states support the actions of other state and non-state actors with similar interests (Badey, 2007).

The relationship between the US and Israel is derived from the fact that both of them are fighting terrorist groups originating in the Muslim and Arab world (Mearsheimer & Walt, 2008). This entire relationship is not only demonstrated by the statement given on behalf of George Bush in the article but also by a recent statement made by US Vice President Joe Biden proclaiming that: “Americas bond with Israel is unbreakable” (Angel, 2011). Some consider this entire relationship highly ironic, as it has arguably angered terrorist groups subsequently making America more susceptible to attacks (Mearsheimer & Walt, 2008).

Now that the different types of political violence have been discussed, the legitimacy of the actions of both Hamas and Israel will now be explored using just war theory as an analytical framework. Just war theory is a “moralistic doctrine” that is often used by terrorist groups who believe that they are fighting for a just cause, which subsequently warrants the use of terrorist tactics (Martin, 2010: 8). In particular, state and dissident terrorism are reasonable subjects of just war scrutiny because their characteristics directly challenge the doctrine (Martin, 2010). For example, in the case of dissident terrorism, the attack of soft civilian targets such as the school children injured in the suicide bombing on the 18th June 2002 (Martin, 2010). There are two components to just war theory: just causes of war – jus ad bellum and just conduct in war – jus in bello (Martin, 2010).

The just cause theory suggests that a just cause of war is if it is waged in self-defence, as a state is entitled to protect itself against violence from other states (Valls, 2000). Whilst Hamas is not officially a state, it has been discussed previously that many of the roles that it takes on are state-like. For example, as an organisation Hamas provides: clinics, after school clubs and food distribution centres, which the Palestinian Authority fails to offer (Levitt & Ross, 2006). When this in combined with the fact that Hamas are responding to Israeli violence within the occupied territories, justification of their actions by the jus ad bellum criteria becomes possible (Levitt & Ross, 2006). Does this also legitimise the possible Israeli retribution that is hinted at in the article, as Israel would merely be reacting in self-defence after being attacked by a state-like entity? Obviously Hamas is not a fully recognised state and some may argue that the above discussion is therefore irrelevant. What it does demonstrate, however, is that the applicability of just war theory is not as straightforward as some would like to believe.

This also brings into question another of the jus ad bellum criteria: that war must be waged by a legitimate authority (Fabre, 2008). A legitimate authority is often assumed to refer to a state, which is a “sovereign political organisations with the power to enforce laws within a given territory” (Fabre, 2008: 964). With this in mind, does Hamas qualify as a legitimate authority? Andrew Valls (2000) explores this issue and he asserts that any rights that a state enjoys are derived from the rights of the citizens within that state and “the moral status of the state is therefore derivative, not foundational” (Valls, 2000: 68). One of the fundamental rights of people is the right to self-determination and people have the right to defend this premise.

An emphasis on individual rights is also provided by the cosmopolitan tradition, which mirrors the thoughts of Valls by stating that whatever privileges the state has, it only has them in so far as they serve individual interests (Fabre, 2008). If this is true then it holds that a state does not have the right to wage war just because it is a state, portraying a significantly broader definition of legitimate authority than is traditionally suggested (Fabre, 2008). This could potentially put the actions of Hamas in line with just war theory. It would also, however, justify the actions of Israel.

A war also has just cause if it is waged as a last resort but does this apply to Hamas? Michael Walzer (1988) does not think so and believes that the rhetoric of last resort is essentially an excuse and that terrorism is usually adopted as a first resort. Hamas was born out of the 1987 intifada, recruiting a significant amount of members from the Muslim Brotherhood (Levitt & Ross, 2006). The Muslim Brotherhood takes pride in using non-violence, a premise which Hamas was quick to denounce in their 1988 charter, which promotes the use of violent jihad:

Allah is its target, the Prophet is its model, the Koran its constitution: Jihad is its path and death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of its wishes (Levitt & Ross, 2006: 8).

At its very core Hamas condones terrorism as part of a holy jihad, demonstrating that it is not a last resort. Whilst it may not be the last resort, it could be Hamas’ only option, as it would be almost impossible to fight Israel in a more traditional manner and as demonstrated by the continual failure of peace negotiations, soft diplomacy does not seem to work either (Viewpoint: How not to create a Palestinian State, 2011).

Even if terrorism can meet all of the criteria of jus ad bellum, it may not be able to meet the criteria of jus in bello, as terrorism is usually condemned not because of the reasons behind it but because of the manner in which it is carried out (Valls, 2000). With this in mind, the jus in bello aspect of just war theory will now be explored in relation to the actions of Hamas and Israel, to shed more light on whether their actions can be legitimised.

A criterion within jus in bello is that of proportionality, which in essence addresses whether the costs of an action are disproportionate to the gains (Valls, 2000). Considering that the death toll accruing to terrorist acts pales in significance to that of all out war and also that of state terrorism, it appears that Hamas’ actions would satisfy this criteria (Valls, 2000). It should follow, therefore that the twenty people killed in Jerusalem, including the bomber, are an appropriate cost to pay for the possible outcome of an independent Palestine but many, including the Palestinian Authority; George Bush; Ariel Sharon and Jack Straw, all of whom condemn Hamas’ actions, find this uncomfortable. This is ironic considering many of the entities that they represent have themselves been involved in acts that would struggle to meet the just war criteria, perhaps even more so than the actions of Hamas (Valls, 2000). The illegal war in Iraq being one but certainly not the only example (Valls, 2000).

Perhaps the most controversial application of jus in bello to terrorism is the criterion of discrimination, which requires that non-combatants are not targeted. The people killed in the June 18th attack were non-combatant and included several children, so in this respect Hamas’ attack was indiscriminate and therefore contradicts this particular criterion (Valls, 2000). The atrocities that Israel has carried out, however, are supposedly in the name of and on behalf of its citizens, which could arguably make them legitimate targets (Valls, 2000). In the article, Ariel Sharon specifically states that “we have to fight and struggle – and that is what we will do” reminding us that governments are supposedly acting in our name (‘19 killed by Jerusalem suicide bomb’, 2002).

Another Guardian article (Appendix 2) published on the day after the article at the centre of this analysis takes a very similar tone to the one from the 18th June. The article reports on yet another suicide bombing in Jerusalem and although the group responsible for the attack is not named, the incident shares similar characteristics of the attack on the previous day, with the article even making specific reference to the bus bomb from 18th June. Again the tone seems supportive of Israel and offers no context or motive for the bombing. The point should be made that the Guardian is known as a ‘quality paper’ so one would assume that the readership would have a good knowledge of current affairs, so it may be inappropriate to include a history of the Israel-Palestine conflict in every article (Demleitner, 2002). However, due to the nature of both reports, a reader who had no prior knowledge of the Israel-Palestine conflict would certainly be excused for believing that Israel was an entirely innocent party.

To conclude, this essay has highlighted the complex nature of Hamas as an organisation, by demonstrating that it does not fit completely into one category of terrorism. It has also highlighted that it is plausible for Israel to be labelled as a state terrorist, with its closest ally, the US, arguably its main sponsor. It has been established that the remit of just war theory is no longer confined to traditional warfare and that according to the criteria; the actions of Hamas could be justified. None of these conclusions are reflected in the article, which definitely appears to be more supportive of Israel than Hamas and this is achieved by not providing a motive or context for the suicide bombings. This makes it appear as though the attacks happened spontaneously and that they are beyond explanation. This results in a distortion of the overall picture, preventing a thorough understanding of the phenomenon.


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One thought on “Israel – ’19 killed by Jerusalem suicide bomb’ (Guardian, 2002)

  1. The structure is clear and coherent, the signposting is appropriate, and the intro and conclusion are good too (though the intro is more powerful than the conclusion).

    The analysis is very good. The application of just war theory to the conflict is particularly commendable, as through it is demonstrated not only a good grasp of the topic but also great analytical skills. In terms of how the analysis could have been pushed even further, perhaps a few more words on Israeli counter-terrorist responses (short term, but also long term with e.g. the wall) to this incident would have been interesting. Further information about the actual suicide bomber could have also been interesting (poor? religious? insane?). A more detailed discussion on whether Hamas achieved at least some of their goals through this and other acts of terrorism in that campaign could have also been useful. Questions like these could have stretched the analysis even further.

    A good amount of research was conducted for this essay, using a good variety of sources. It certainly demonstrates good knowledge of the topic.

    Overall, more concise argumentation could indeed have allowed to stretch the analysis further, but this essay already demonstrates excellent critical thinking and a great grasp of the topic.


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