What’s the difference between Palestinians, who Zionists regularly accuse of being terrorists and terrorist supporters, and early Zionists who used violence to fight the British and the Arabs before the founding of the State of Israel? This is an important question to answer, not because Zionists must defend themselves, but because Zionists need to understand if their movement is a violent and immoral one by nature. If early Zionists, the founders of our State, and an Israeli Prime Minister, were all violent and immoral terrorists, it should cause Zionists pause about their movement and cause.
Menachem Begin was the leader of the Irgun, a para-military force that existed before the founding of the State. It carried out attacks against the British and Arabs of Palestine. The Irgun, especially after its attacks on The King David Hotel and Deir Yassin, were accused of terrorism. This charge followed Begin throughout his life, especially after he was elected Prime Minister of Israel in 1977. The following excerpt from the book, “Right-Hand Man” by Menachem Michelson, discussed how Menachem Begin addressed the charges that Israeli Irgun fighters were terrorists.
“Several times, the question arose of whether Begin saw any comparison between the struggle of the Palestinians and the Jews’ War of Independence. Once, Mike Wallace, the well-known American interviewer asked him directly, “Mr. Prime Minister, you were the commander of a terrorist organization. Do you see any comparison between this and the PLO?”
Begin replied, “There’s nothing at all to compare. We fought to liberate our land from a foreign regime, from the British. They want to wipe us off the face of the Earth and take our land from us, because this land is ours. We threw out the British because the land is ours. What do the Arabs want? To throw us out of our land! There’s no comparison between the PLO, or any group of murderers of theirs. Another issue is the method of battle. They kill every man, woman, and child, whereas we did everything to avoid harming civilians. True, sometimes disasters happened, and civilians were hurt, but this was not part of our battle tactics.”
Prime Minister Begin’s answer won’t satisfy everyone. His first answer is predicated on the position that the entire land of Israel is the Jewish homeland and doesn’t belong to the Palestinians. Therefore, Jews fighting for the land are fighting for their land. Palestinians have no right to the land, and their efforts to fight the Jews isn’t a fight for their land, but rather to throw the Jews out of the land. If a person takes a different position and maintains Palestinians have a right to the land of Israel just as Jews do, Begin’s answer won’t come close to explaining how early Zionists were justified in their attacks against the British and the Arabs.
It’s important to note Zionists don’t have to accept the premise of their enemies that the land of Israel isn’t theirs and Palestinians too have a right to the land. Zionists don’t have to answer the charges of their enemies, and Begin’s first answer is perfectly acceptable. Other people disagreeing with the Zionist position that the entire land belongs exclusively to the Jews doesn’t obligate Zionists to change their position, entertain an opposite opinion, simply to answer an accusation. Begin’s first answer is perfectly acceptable to a Zionist.
Begin’s second answer was addressed to Zionist opponents who would scoff at Begin’s position that Jews fought for their land and Arabs fought to throw Zionists out of their land. Begin’s focus on Arab tactics of take no prisoners and murder everyone, irrespective of whether they are a woman or a child was directed at those who maintained both Jews and Palestinian fighters were justified in their cause. The Irgun’s code of only attacking those culpable of being a threat to the Jews in contradistinction to the Arab ethos of killing any and all Jews, pointed to the difference between the Zionist and Palestinian fighters.
The Irgun and other Zionist fighters were just in their struggle to win freedom for the Jewish state. The land of Israel is the ancient Jewish homeland. The Jewish people spent thousands of years pining to return to their homeland and never gave up claim to the land. British and Arab forces who violently denied the Jews the opportunity to return to their land had no right to prevent the Jewish people’s return and opened themselves to the same violence they were perpetrating against the early Zionists. The Irgun’s struggle was a righteous fight for their people’s freedom. Early Zionists owe them a debt of gratitude.