By Lauren Edgeley (2011)
The Guardian: ‘Suicide bomb kills 16 Israelis in hotel’
On March 28th 2002, Jewish Passover, a Palestinian suicide bomber walked into the lobby of The Park Hotel in Netanya, Israel and detonated. The bomber killed 30 people and injured 154; the attack came to be known as the Passover Massacre. The group responsible, Hamas, otherwise known as The Islamic Resistance Movement, coordinated the attack to disrupt peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation. This essay aims to examine the use of violence and terrorism in the controversial Palestinian/Israeli conflict, focussing specifically on the Palestinian group Hamas’ use of terrorism as a strategy of resistance against the presence of Israel in Gaza and occupation of the West Bank and against what could be argued as Israeli state terrorism. The arguments put forward in this essay will be made with reference to a newspaper article in The Guardian that reports on the suicide bombing. Firstly, this article will be analysed with a view to understanding the perspective of The Guardian and context and adequacy of the report, in order to understand the influence of the media’s perspective on defining a terrorist attack. Secondly, the incident itself will be discussed in reference to Gus Martin’s categories of terrorism in order to define the act, the perpetrators and context. Thirdly, once the attack has been defined, the controversial debate surrounding Hamas and Israel will be discussed. And lastly this essay will aim to conclude whether this particular case is in fact evidence of dissident terrorism in Hamas or state terrorism on the part of Israel.
In the very first paragraph of the report (See Appendix), The Guardian’s Suzanne Goldenburg describes the hotel bombing as ‘a crushing blow to efforts at the Arab summit to open a new chapter with the Jewish state.’(Goldenburg, S The Guardian Mar, 2002) Immediately, the context and impact of the attack is made clear and sets the tone for the article which focuses on the implications the incident has on the prospect of peace in this volatile region. The attack came just hours after Yasser Arafat spoke of peace between Palestinians and Israelis at an Arab league summit in Beirut, when news of the bombing broke
‘the summit was thrown into chaos with the Lebanese hosts blocking Mr Arafat from addressing Arab leaders via satellite link. The Palestinian delegation marched out. It was eventually persuaded to remain in Beirut overnight, but the outburst exposed the internal rivalries among the 22 Arab League states.’ (Goldenburg, S The Guardian Mar 2002)
This attack is clearly a case of terrorism, with an aim to disrupt the peace talks; it was a highly effective strategy for Hamas. Hot on the heels of the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada in 2000, the attack came after a series of suicide attacks against Israel, and proved to be the final straw, leading ‘to the reinvasion of much of the West Bank by Israeli forces in Operation Defensive Shield in March and April 2002.’(Levitt, M 2006:4) These repercussions were predicted in The Guardian article as Goldenburg notes;
‘Many in Israel saw yesterday’s attack as an event which could goad the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, into launching a crushing military offensive on the West Bank and Gaza. An Israeli government spokesman talked of a “Passover massacre”, vowing “far-reaching responses against Palestinian Authority facilities”.’ (Goldenburg, S The Guardian Mar 2002)
The Guardian report also gives the impression that the summit included a lot of squabbling and corruption between Arab leaders, mentioning the Syrian and Lebanese addresses ‘unsettled’ (Goldenburg, S The Guardian Mar 2002) feeling about Arafat’s gesture of peace towards Israel. Overall, the description of the summit and the reaction to the hotel bombing does give an impression of Israeli bias within the article. With most of the squabbling coming from the Israel opposing Arab countries and descriptions of the Syrian presidents ‘ramblings’(Goldenburg, S The Guardian Mar 2002) for example. When analysing the Guardian report further, notably Hamas are described as ‘attacking’ Israelis in order to ‘goad the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, into launching a crushing military offensive’ (Goldenburg, S The Guardian Mar 2002) as a response. There is no mention of retaliation on the part of Hamas, no mention of the numerous Israeli raids on Gaza during the brutal fighting that had been taking place during the second intifada. The article fails to give the full context of the fighting between Hamas and Israel focussing quite simply on the effect of the attack on peace talks. By doing this, the resulting public opinion could see the incident as an unjustified attack on innocent people in order to deliberately disrupt peace. The reason why Hamas want to disrupt these peace talks is not explained allowing for The Guardian correspondents interpretation to dominate the article.
There are number of problems involved in defining terrorism, as it is subject to context and perspective. Therefore instances such as the suicide attack in Netanya could be categorised as any of the different forms of terrorist violence, depending on a person’s interpretation. For example, Hamas are viewed as terrorists by the US, UN and EU but many Palestinians believe they are freedom fighters and have democratically elected them to govern Gaza and the West Bank. There are ‘literally scores of definitions of terrorism [that] have been offered by laypersons, academics, and policy professionals to describe the elements of terrorist violence.’(Martin, G 2010:56) But for the purpose of this essay, the categories used to define this attack will be provided solely by Gus Martin. Terrorist groups such as Hamas will more often than not regard themselves as freedom fighters, fighting a noble cause that they are even willing to give their life for. In the case of Hamas, this noble cause is the freedom of Palestinians from occupation and repression. But can the Hamas’ hotel bombing in Netanya actually be justified as noble? Using Gus Martin’s categories of terrorism, Hamas can be defined as a dissident terrorist group, anti-state in terms of its dissidence towards Israel, who despite denial, still maintain a degree of authority in the Gaza strip and occupy the West Bank. Martin describes dissident terrorism as violence ‘directed against existing governments and political institutions, attempting to destabilise the existing order as a pre-condition to building a new society.’ (Martin, G 2010:150) And as Hamas’s goal is to liberate Palestine from the Israeli occupation and establish an Islamic state on what is currently Israeli land, it clearly fits into this category. ‘Regardless of which model fits a particular anti-state movement, their common goal is to defeat the state and its institutions.’ (Martin, G 2010:150) Hamas could also be categorised as a communal terrorist group, a group fighting for the Palestinian cause, which evolved from the intifada; a communal uprising against Israel. There is also the religious aspect of Hamas that allows it to fit into the religious definition of a terrorist group. As the Islamic Resistance Movement for Palestine its aims are to establish an Islamic state; it believes ‘that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Muslim generations until Judgement Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up.’ (Hamas Charter 1988) And that ‘Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.’ (Hamas Charter 1988) The group’s commitment to this radical form of Islam has allowed for its most powerful weapon against Israel; suicide bombing, rewarding the bombers with Islamic martyrdom. ‘Founded in December 1987 when the first Palestinian Intifada broke out. Hamas’ military wing is the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigade, which first appeared in January 1992’ (Martin, G 2010: 358) and carries out its military operations. Alongside this military wing, Hamas has a political wing; as the governing party of Gaza, Hamas is also a political group that is involved in social programs such as building schools and hospitals which allowed for its strong support among Palestinians and becoming the main rival to the PLO. ‘It provides services— clinics, after-school programs, food distribution centers—that the Palestinian Authority fails to offer. It has demonstrated that it can hurt Israelis when, in the eyes of Palestinians, the Israelis have been hurting them.’ (Levitt, M 2006:6) As the Palestinian Liberation Organisation were viewed by many Palestinians as corrupt and involved in Israeli politics, the public wanted a group who revenged their grievances and fought for their freedom and what they believed to be their rightful homeland. This is the reasoning behind Hamas’ disruption to the peace talks, the reasoning not mentioned in the Guardian article.
‘Hamas made a concerted effort from 1994-1996 to establish itself as the prominent Palestinian Liberation Organisation. At the time, the PLO was deeply committed to the peace process, and Hamas was equally committed to sabotaging the process. The movement conducted a number of significant bombings, shootings, and acts of sabotage. It was during this period that Hamas set the precedent – and honed the methodology – for Palestinian suicide bombings.’ (Martin, G 2010:358)
It is this violence that has earned Hamas its terrorist label. But could Hamas have resisted against Israel in any other way? It is often debated that groups fighting for the Palestinian cause have no other means to rival such a huge military power such as Israel, and terrorist violence is the most accessible and effective method. There is some debate however, that non-violence during the first Intifada with the PLO actually had a positive impact on the peace process. The first intifada saw a mix of Palestinians that advocated violence as a tactic but also many activists who wanted to remain non-violent.
‘It could be argued that five years of mostly non-violent intifada forced the Madrid Conference, from which came the Oslo process and the first legitimisation of Palestinian territorial rights. Nonviolence worked, though it was still so counterintuitive to that warrior culture that its success is largely dismissed as incomplete and a fluke.’ (Hastings, T 2004:191)
Terrorist violence, however, was the weapon of choice of Hamas for the Palestinian cause; arguably Hamas are a product of their environment. After years of violence and repression, Palestinian resistance has evolved throughout the conflict. ‘The selection of terrorism as a strategic methodology is a process based on the experiences of each insurgent group, so that its selection is the outcome of an evolutionary political progression.’ (Martin, G 2010:78) Its use of violence, particular its suicide campaign, erupted out of retaliation to Israeli attacks such as the ‘February 1994 Hebron massacre when Baruch Goldstein killed and wounded scores of Muslim worshippers at the Ibrahim mosque on the holy site of the cave of patriarchs.’ (Martin, G 2010:358) The Guardian describes Hamas as ‘goading’ the Israeli government into violent retaliation but some could argue that Israeli actions have goaded Hamas into the use of force.
‘As ruthless as [Hamas] has been, their opponent – the Israeli government – have regularly applied repressive measures against them and their supporters, including physically coercive interrogations, the destruction of homes, and assassinations. This repression has fuelled fresh support for the rebellions.’ (Martin, G 2010:53)
The article in The Guardian reminds us of this, as the Israeli Defence Force offensive in Gaza and the West bank has been justified through the attack in Netanya. And if Hamas’ actions are in response to the actions of Israel, could it be argued that Israel is a terrorist state? Or are Israel’s actions and policies simply an example of state defence in response to the terrorist threat? Groups fighting for the Palestinian cause, such as Hamas, are seen by the state of Israel as a threat thus legitimising its response to attacks such as the Passover Massacre. But, when examining Israel’s actions with reference to state terrorism, it’s possible it will fit into the state terrorism category outlined by Gus Martin. Martin defines state terrorism as a form of violence that ‘can be directed externally against adversaries in the international domain or internally against domestic enemies.’ (Martin, G 2010:99) Israel’s enemies are groups fighting for the Palestinian cause both externally in the case of the Palestinian diaspora or internally in occupied Gaza and the West bank.
‘It is the business of the state to use, or threaten, violence in order to protect the society to which it belongs, from internal and external disruption. Indeed Weber’s famous analysis that the state is the entity that ‘claims monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory’ presupposes that the very existence of the state is determined by the right to use violence.’ (Claridge, D 1996:48)
This is this kind of justification that Israel use when confronted for its actions towards the Palestinians, however it can be argued that the history of the conflict can undermine the justification for the use of force. The Palestinians have been involved in an armed struggle against Israel since Israel’s establishment on what was formally British Mandatory Palestine in 1948, they have fought and lost many wars over their right to live in what is their indigenous homeland and have been refused the right to self-determination.
‘Palestinian terror may be a symptom but it is the Occupation that is the cause. The Occupation, the Israeli peace camp stresses, constitutes the infrastructure of terror. Nor does terror come only from “the ground.” Terror, when directed against a subjugated and powerless civilian population like the Palestinians in Gaza, is equally reprehensible. The wholesale onslaught of Israeli planes, missiles, tanks, bulldozers and troops on densely populated civilian centres, the levelling of whole neighbourhoods as we are witnessing at this moment, can only be called state terrorism.’ (Halper, J electronic intifada May 2004)
Groups fighting for the Palestinian cause are no match for the use of force implemented by the powerful Israeli Defence Force (IDF) and its non-state acting groups involved in its defence. By using this unequal monopoly of power against the Palestinians as a form of defence, Israel is committing terrorism itself. Though there are many definitions of terrorism, most academics agree that it involves political violence that is intended to generate fear and communicate some kind of message, this can be said for Israel’s actions toward Hamas and the Palestinian people. ‘A report from Israel’s International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism noted that state-sponsored terrorism can achieve strategic ends where the use of conventional armed forces is not practical or effective.’ (Martin, G 2010:109) Indeed Israel’s use of terrorist violence has been highly effective; it could even be argued that the ‘goading’ from Israel that encourages the use of terrorism by Palestinian groups such as Hamas are keeping them under the international terrorist definition that means they will not be legitimately recognised by the international community and thus their right to a secure national homeland is ignored.
To conclude, with Israel fitting into the category of a state terrorist as well as Hamas fitting into the dissident terrorism category, the blame for the attack on the innocent civilians in The Park Hotel in Netanya can be placed on both parties. This incident is a case of terrorism from above as well as from below, and thus the conflict as it stands shows no sign of resolution and breeds terrorism. Tom Hastings remarks that the key to possible peace is recognising that both Palestinian terrorist groups and the state of Israel use terrorist violence as a strategy and the best form of counter-terrorism begins with ‘recognising two sides of the same coin and accepting both levels of responsibility’. (Hastings, T 2004:234)
Claridge, D (1996) State Terrorism? Applying a Definitional Model in Terrorism and Political Violence, Vol. 8, no.3, p.47-63, London: Frank Cass
Crenshaw, M (1995) Terrorism in context Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press
Hastings, T (2004) Nonviolent Response to Terrorism North Carolina: McFarland
Makdisi, S (2008) Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation, New York:Norton
Martin, G (2010) Understanding Terrorism: challenges, perspectives, and issues London: Sage
Goldenburg, S (2002) Suicide Bomb kills 16 Israelis in hotel 28th March 2002 URL:http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2002/mar/28/israel1 [04/04/11]
Hamas Charter (1988) URL: http://www.mideastweb.org/hamas.htm [05/05/11]
Halper, J (2004) Israel’s “state terrorism” in Gaza 14th May 2004 URL:http://electronicintifada.net/content/israels-state-terrorism-gaza/5081 [10/04/11]
Karmon, E (2009) Israel’s War on Hamas – Understanding its Causes and its Stakes URL:http://www.ict.org.il/NewsCommentaries/Commentaries/tabid/69/Articlsid/609/currentpage/1/Default.aspx [04/05/11]
Levitt, M (2006) Hamas: Politics, Charity, and Terrorism in the service of Jihad URL:http://www.eaazi.org/ThorsProvoni/levitt/Levi0300110537.pdf [10/04/11]