When Terrorists Aren’t Terrorists

BBC Report, May 2, 2011.

In the early hours of this morning, the US army slaughtered Osama bin Laden and his family in their residential home in Pakistan. A spokesman for The White House said Mr bin Laden was responsible for a number of “terror’ attacks. Four other civilians were killed during the raid, which the USA claimed was an operation “in response to attacks on its citizens”.

Osama bin Laden is part of the militant organisation Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda has not been involved in much international activity since their alleged organisation of the 9/11 bombings ten years ago. The White House Spokesman nevertheless said that Mr bin Laden and his associates deserved to “pay a heavy price”.

After the 9/11 attacks, governments in Europe called on President Obama’s administration to act with restraint. However, Al-Qaeda’s second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri described this attack as “genocide”.

This murder is the latest step in a cycle of conflict between America and its militant enemies.


This, of course, is not how the BBC reported the assassination of Osama bin Laden in 2011. Rather, the world rejoiced as its most infamous terrorist was defeated. Heads of state from around the world welcomed the news, and the USA was exalted for its role in the fight against terrorism.

For some reason, however, such applause has not accompanied Israel’s actions in trying to defeat its terrorist enemies. Indeed, the BBC questions whether these are even “terrorists” at all. Descriptions such as “militant” and “fighter” are seen as more appropriate, despite the fact that Hamas is listed as a terrorist organisation by the EU and the USA.

The double standard beggars belief. Osama bin Laden was a terrorist, just as those firing rockets indiscriminately at Israeli towns are terrorists. So why does the media celebrate the killing of the former but not the latter?

The four others killed during the Navy SEAL raid were civilians, just as civilians are killed during Israeli Air Force strikes on military positions in Gaza (and, one must remember, just as civilians are killed in any war zone in any area of the globe in any period of history). So why does no one criticise the deaths of bin Laden’s friends and family in the same way the world censures any civilian death in Gaza?

Why is America acclaimed for its actions in removing terror threats halfway around the world, but Israel is condemned for defending itself from terror on its doorstep?

Why is bin Laden described as a terrorist and not a “terrorist”?

The Economist provides an answer. According to them, Israel need not worry about Hamas because the organisation “stopped ordering suicide bombings nearly a decade ago”.

Well, my quick-witted friends at The Economist, you bright sparks you, Al-Qaeda has not blown up any major financial centres for over a decade now, but I don’t see you suggesting we invite them into a government with anyone.

While no death should be rejoiced, one can understand why the world was pleased to be rid of Osama bin Laden. But why don’t the same standards apply to those who threaten Israel?

Do Israeli lives matter less than American lives? Is it acceptable to avenge only terror attacks against the land of the free and the home of the brave, but not those against the land of milk and honey?

Why isn’t the American government reprimanded for a “disproportionate response” in destroying “terror targets”? Why does Osama bin Laden deserve to die so much more than “Hamas militants”?

The difference, it seems to me, is less about those committing acts of terror and more about those being terrorised. Of course we should be appalled and distressed and demand retribution when America is attacked, because America is the great, the powerful, the mighty.

But when Israel is attacked, instantly the emphasis shifts. Israel, mate, please, you need to calm down. You need to “show restraint”. You need to let those pesky “militants” at your borders stockpile their tens of thousands of rockets. Sometimes you can just be so silly, Israel. Such a bad temper, you’ve got there.

Now, this can’t be because people have deep concern for the fate of the Palestinians, because then the focus would be on the fact that more Palestinians have been killed in Syria in three years than in Israel and the Occupied Territories in 66, or the fact that in Lebanon Palestinians are denied the right to own property or access to healthcare (I’m sorry, now where do I hear mutterings of the word “apartheid”?).

This can’t be because there is a sincere worry about the number of civilians killed in warfare, because over the years the ratio of civilian:combatant casualties in Gaza has been astonishingly lower than in almost every other warzone (we’re talking 50% civilian casualties in most modern war zones, compared to as low as 3% in Gaza during the second intifada). But who’s counting?

This can’t be because Israel is the paradigmatic nation-state on the fringes of an increasingly integrated European Union “superstate”, because surely no one would treat a group of people differently simply because of their national identity?

And surely, really, absolutely not, this can’t be because Israel is the home of the Jews? Can it?

Terrorists don’t seem to be terrorists in Israel. Self-defence is not self-defence, but rather disproportionate response (or, in the words of the inimitably observant Mahmoud Abbas, “genocide”). Rocket attacks on Israeli civilian centres barely get a mention. When Osama bin Laden was killed, the world cheered America. When Hamas terrorists are killed, the world is appalled at Israel.

The present conflagration will not be solved until the international community and international media stop pressuring only one side. There will not be an end to terror, or “terror”, until the world insists that terrorists are terrorists wherever they are, and starts valuing Israeli lives as much as anyone else’s. I just hope these “journalists” begin to understand that.

About the Author
Josh Goodman is a second year Classics student at the University of Cambridge and an alumnus of FZY/Young Judaea Year Course 2011-12.