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You say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to

How do you define terrorism? Well, if you're William Raspberry, you don't bother. You just declare yourself confused, everyone bad, wash your hands of the whole thing, and go have dinner.

Here's where I get in trouble: Does it make sense to see the crisis in the Middle East as primarily the work of Palestinian terrorists driven by anti-Israeli hatred?
Uh, yes? Is this a trick question? Actually, I shouldn't be flip; it's far more than that. It's primarily the work of Arab regimes driven by anti-Western hatred, of which anti-Semitism (let's call it what it is) is only part. Saddam Hussein isn't paying terrorists because he hates Israel; he's paying terrorists because it distracts the United States from going after him, and because it distracts the people of Iraq from going after him.
I certainly do not intend to praise the Palestinian suicide bombers who were, for a while during Passover, blowing themselves up on a daily basis. But to think of them as violence-prone cowards -- even to call them terrorists -- is to miss the most salient fact of their behavior: utter desperation.
Haven't we gotten past this silliness by now? As Jonah Goldberg noted, it's brainwashing, not hopelessness, that describes these bombers. Raspberry continues:
I don't dispute that the suicide bombings constitute terrorism (even while the United Nations struggles to define the term). A good-enough working definition is violence, particularly against civilians and innocents, in furtherance of political ends.

But isn't it reasonable to examine those political ends? Isn't it reasonable also to ask what moral distinctions there are between what the suicide bombers (and those who dispatch them) are doing and what the Israeli forces have been doing?

No, it's not "reasonable to examine those political ends." Not as long as the terrorist attacks continue, it isn't. Otherwise, you're rewarding terrorism, and thus encouraging future terrorism. And as for your second question, if you have to ask, Mr. Raspberry, the answer is beyond you.
President Bush has described the latter as justified in retaliating for the suicide bombings. Those who see the suicide bombers as heroes naturally view their actions as retaliation for the latest humiliation visited upon them by the Israelis. What seems obvious to me is that every act of violence, by both sides, is both aggression and retaliation -- and that it does no good to try to separate one from the other. One might just as well hope to settle claims on the land variously called Israel and Palestine by hiring a title-search company to look it up.
Sure. Why bother making moral distinctions? That might involve thought. It's so much easier to throw up your hands and declare policeman and criminal, England and Germany, Sharon and Arafat to be exactly the same. By the way, Sharon's actions are not "retaliation" for the suicide bombings. They're an attempt to stop future suicide bombings by getting the people responsible.
Just as Sept. 11 has changed the way we think of our security, so should the wave of suicide bombers change the way Israelis think of theirs. What's the point in making clear to those who would attack you that they do so at peril of their lives if they knowingly do so by giving their lives?
This is the fuzzy thinking that comes from the belief that Palestinians are acting because they're "desperate," instead of understanding that this is part of a coherent strategy. You don't see Yasir Arafat strapping bombs to his own chest, do you? The point, Mr. Raspberry, is to make it clear to the people directing the suicide bombers that these actions will cost them their lives. Yasir Arafat may publicly proclaim his desire to be a martyr, but he sure doesn't seem to be in any big hurry to die -- at the same time he was saying he was willing to be killed, he was begging for help from world leaders.
Are they terrorists? Certainly. But is Israeli President Ariel Sharon any less a terrorist because he does his thing through a uniformed military, with tanks and machine guns? There's terror -- and intransigence and duplicity -- on both sides, and precious little value in trying to determine which side owns the preponderance of guilt.
Well, no. He's any less a terrorist because he doesn't deliberately blow up pizzerias and discos and supermarkets. How on earth did Raspberry get so confused that he thought the weapons, rather than the targets, determined whether it was terrorism?
Or the preponderance of virtue, for that matter. Much is made of the concessions the Israelis offered -- and that the Palestinians (in the person of Yasser Arafat) rejected about 18 months ago. And hardly anything is made, in the United States, at least, of the Palestinians' earlier concessions -- particularly of Israel's right to exist within secure borders and the abandonment of the Israel-is-Palestine contention in favor of a Palestinian state made up of only the West Bank and Gaza.
Perhaps because those of us who are paying attention don't believe that any such concessions have been made? Perhaps we've been listening to Hamas when they've told us that they don't support any "two-state solution"? Perhaps we were paying attention as Yasir Arafat walked out at Camp David? Perhaps we've seen Arafat's refusal to stop terrorist attacks?
But, as I say, there's not much point in reviewing the bidding now. What strikes me as essential is the recognition by each side of what the other side requires and a search for ways these requirements can be had without unacceptable peril.
Great! Got any suggestions for us? No, of course you don't.
For a long time, it seems to me, Israel preferred a stable strife to what it considered unpalatable concessions. The intifada, at first, and the suicide bombers now seem calculated to force serious negotiations and concessions by rendering the status quo intolerable.

Why is it so much easier for us in America to see Sharon's actions as in Israel's legitimate interest than to see the suicide bombers' as serving theirs?

Because the suicide bombers' "interest" is in killing Israelis. And by the way, how awful of Israel to consider the death of all its citizens to be "unpalatable."

This is one of the most muddled arguments I've read in a long time; at least the Europeans know what they want, even if it's wrong. Raspberry seems to have just turned on his television, seen a bunch of people getting killed, and decided it was too much trouble to figure out what was happening. But "a pox on both your houses" is literature, not foreign policy.


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