- the West’s response to the anti-British terrorist campaigns of the Jewish terrorist groups Irgun and Lehi in the 1930s and 40s
- “our” response to Islamic terrorism in more recent years.
There are also obvious differences but this post is taking a look at the similarities that struck me on reading Anonymous Soldiers: The Struggle for Israel, 1917-1947 by Bruce Hoffman.
Before looking at the parallels notice Hoffman’s striking concluding remarks on the relationship between the two terrorisms (my own bolding and formatting, pp. 483-4):
The Irgun’s terrorism campaign in fact is critical to understanding the evolution and development of contemporary terrorism. The group effectively directed its message to audiences far beyond the immediate geographic locus of its struggle — in New York and Washington and Paris and Moscow as much as in London and Jerusalem. This taught a powerful lesson to similarly aggrieved peoples elsewhere, who now saw in terrorism an effective means of transforming hitherto local conflicts into international issues.
- Less than a decade later, the leader of the anti-British guerrilla campaign in Cyprus, General George Grivas, adopted an identical strategy. . . . the parallels between the two are unmistakable.
- The internationalization of Palestinian Arab terrorism that occurred in the 1960s and 1970s would also appear to owe something to the quest for international attention and recognition that the Irgun’s own terrorist campaign . . . .
- And the Brazilian revolutionary theorist Carlos Marighella’s famous Minimanual of the Urban Guerrilla, which was essential reading for the various left-wing terrorist organizations that arose both in Latin America and in Western Europe during the 1960s and 1970s, embodies Begin’s strategy . . . .
Thus the foundations were laid for the transformation of terrorism in the late 1960s from a primarily localized phenomenon into the security problem of global proportions that it remains today.
Indeed, when U.S. military forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001, they found a copy of Begin’s seminal work, The Revolt, along with other books about the Jewish terrorist struggle, in the well-stocked library that al-Qaeda maintained at one of its training facilities in that country.
Extraordinary Rendition and Guantanamo for the “worst of the worst”
The cabinet approved the decision two days later, and on October 19 , 251 imprisoned Jewish terrorists whom the authorities deemed the most dangerous were secretly flown from Palestine to British-occupied Eritrea aboard eighteen DC-3 transport aircraft accompanied by fighter escort. (p. 153)
From there, Lankin was transferred under heavy guard to police headquarters at the Russian Compound for interrogation. Later that day he was brought to the adjacent central prison facility and, deemed the most dangerous of the lot, quickly transferred to Acre prison and then exiled to the secret terrorist detention facility in Eritrea. (p. 189)
International monitoring bodies like the Red Cross and problematic access to these remote prisons. . . .
The Geneva Convention said not to apply to terrorist prisoners who do not have POW status . . . .
As a result of intensive lobbying by Peter Bergson’s Hebrew Committee of National Liberation, in 1946 the Colonial Office had granted the [International Red Cross] access to the camp. It was less keen to do so again. The main reason was that following an escape in January 1947 the British army had decided to move the remaining prisoners to a more secure facility in Gilgil, Kenya. Operation Malvolio, as the relocation was code-named, was secretly completed between February and March 1947. The authorities were thus reluctant both to reveal this to the IRC and especially to allow its inspectors to visit the new camp. The Colonial Office accordingly had solicited the advice of the Foreign Office, which gladly provided a justification to reject the visit request. Because the 1929 Geneva Convention applied only to prisoners of war and the detainees in Kenya were not POWs, the IRC had no jurisdiction over them or their treatment. Indeed, the Foreign Office concluded, the camp’s military jailers and the Palestine administration “were free to treat [the] suspected Jewish terrorists as they saw fit.” (p. 441)
Many of those sent to the prisons 3,000 miles away in Africa were “mere suspects”. (p. 441)
Trial by Military Tribunals and Extraordinary Powers
Military tribunals — presided over by a field officer along with two more junior officers — would replace civilian courts to judge crimes involving the discharge of firearms, illegal possession of arms, bombs, and other weapons, and acts of sabotage and intimidation, with the first two categories punishable by death. All sentences were to be subject to confirmation by the GOC [General Office Commanding] — from which there would be no right of appeal. (p. 68)
Now, under the 1946 amendments, soldiers were given the right to arrest people without having to produce a warrant or court order and to detain them for up to seven days without having to justify this action before a court of law. Nor were warrants needed to conduct searches of any dwelling or building.
Trial by military tribunals was also reinstated with the tribunals rendering summary judgment: that is, no pretrial inquiry was required, nor was there any disclosure requirement, so the prosecution did not have to furnish evidence of its case to the accused. Tribunal members did not require any prior legal training, and although the rules of evidence based on English law governed court proceedings, these could be relaxed at the court’s discretion.
Finally, there was no right of appeal: the GOC alone had the authority to confirm, pardon, or overturn convictions. Life imprisonment was mandated for people convicted of wearing uniforms, parts of uniforms, or any police or military insignia or headgear, and five years’ imprisonment was specified for harboring or abetting any person suspected of violating the regulations. (pp. 248-49)
We came to help them. Why are they attacking us?
Memories are still fresh of Western armies occupying Iraq and being shocked to find that from among the people they had been told they were there to help came those who sought to kill them. The British soldier experienced the same in Palestine . . . .
Nevertheless, a perceived sense of ingratitude figured in an animus felt by some British troops toward the Jews. It was beyond the comprehension of many to understand why the Yishuv [Jewish community in Palestine], in the words of the Sixth Airborne’s official historian, “were misguided enough to regard the British army as their oppressor.”
Similarly, Major Roy Farran, one of the most highly decorated British officers during World War II, who had fought as a tank commander and then a commando in the elite Special Air Service (SAS) and in 1945 was serving as second-in-command of his old regiment, the Third Hussars, then attached to the Sixth Airborne Division in Palestine, also writes of the “displaced personnel we had seen in Europe, humble in their gratitude to us, their saviours, but I could not identify them with these ungrateful, well-fed whiners. No, rather I thought of the boys who had been urged forward to their death by propaganda about German atrocities to the Jews. Where did these things fit in?”
The best explanation perhaps is the ambiguous security conditions that prevailed in Palestine at this time. Brigadier R. N. Anderson, a combat engineer, explained the difficulties of coping in this perplexing environment. “Unlike the war, when one had one’s period of rest (normally amongst liberated peoples who were friendly),” he wrote, “the soldier is always on duty [in Palestine] and alert to the fact that, at any time, he may expect a murderous attack. In conditions where the moderate Jew will not cooperate with the Security Forces it is impossible to know who is friend or who is enemy.” (p. 230)
Terrorism compared to medieval and Nazi barbarism
After a highly publicized torture and hanging of two British personnel by the Irgun terrorists. . .
Emblazoned across the front pages of newspapers were photographs of the gruesome death scene, leaving little to the imagination. Describing the lynching as an act of “medieval barbarism,” the Daily Express fumed that “not in the black annals of Nazi wickedness is there a tale of outrage more vile.” The more staid Times was equally unrestrained, commenting that “the bestialities practised by the Nazis themselves could go no farther.” (pp. 463-64)
Similar responses after the attack on the King David Hotel in Jerusalem:
The attack evoked horror and umbrage back in London. Addressing the House of Commons, Attlee termed it an “insane act of terrorism.” Daniel Lipson, a Jewish member of the opposition Conservative Party, declared that the bombing brought “dishonour and shame to the name of Jew”; his fellow Tory, the Earl of Winterton, described the Irgun “as vile and treacherous a foe as the Nazis.” (p. 306)
Shaw regarded “terrorism in Palestine … [as] an infectious disease,” (p. 154)
The Youth attracted to terrorism
That many youth were being attracted to the terrorist organisations was also deplored. . . .
The problem, as [Chief Secretary for the Government of Palestine John Shaw] explained in a lengthy telegram to Stanley, was the growing “numbers of Jewish young men and women who are becoming infected with the gangster virus; these are providing recruits for the terrorist organization.” (p. 153)
Madrassas breed recruits and sympathizers
The Yishuv was the Jewish community in Palestine . . . .
“This was the direct outcome of the Jewish Agency’s “totalitarian organization and regimentation” of the Yishuv—which amounted to nothing less than the “negation of free thought and speech.” Sedition was taught in the schools and fomented by the Jewish youth movement in a manner, the chief secretary continued, that was “unpleasantly reminiscent of Hitler Youth.”
The effect could be seen both in the recruits swelling the terrorists’ ranks and in the dangerous number of passive sympathizers who, “even while they doubt the wisdom of [the terrorists’] methods, are multiplying.” (p. 154)
Terrorists become heroes to many, & many fear to betray them
A statement by the Irgun just after another attack. . . But Yishuv representatives often said they were opposed to the Irgun and terrorism generally.
“We know that the Yishuv is split on many social and political questions, but stands united behind the armed fight for our last hope. We also know that in his heart, every Jew is with us.” (p. 148)
Rounding out this dismal picture was the terrorists’ own growing popularity with the Yishuv and the mounting disquiet their activities were causing among Arabs both in Palestine and farther afield.
“Admiration for the skill and the courage of the terrorists” was palpable across the entire Jewish community, Lieutenant Colonel Martin Charteris, the director of military intelligence at army headquarters in Jerusalem during 1945 and 1946, who later became private secretary to Queen Elizabeth II, wrote. “Actuated by a spirit of complete ruthlessness, which takes no account of human life, provided with an abundance of targets and the initiative enabled to make their reconnaissance on the spot, and, above all, protected by the local population who are at best too frightened to give them up and at the worst, entirely their supporters, they have an enormous advantage over the forces of law.” (p. 246)
Why can’t the majority stop them if they oppose them?
From the Manchester Guardian‘s editorial . . .
“The wanton savagery of the terrorists, the inability of the Jewish majority to stop them, the inevitable but futile reprisals, the general atmosphere of hate and fear which is making life intolerable for soldiers and civilians: all these things continue and will continue until a settlement is reached.” (p. 391)
Widespread suspicion and hostility towards Muslims generally
Similarly, anti-Semitism began to resurface as a direct response to the terrorist attacks.
One British officer attributed anti-Semitism to the disposition of the Jews to refuse to show deference to their British “colonial masters”, but this feeling was degenerating into something far worse in the wake of terrorist attacks . . .
Only weeks before, a British officer with several years’ service in Palestine had written to the Foreign Office. “Among the British in Palestine,” he began, “suspicion and hatred of the Jew is being widely voiced with the bitterest venom. In some cases the crude surge of anti-semitic passion is worthy of a Nazi.” (p. 229)
But what this officer found most troubling was that these sentiments were progressing beyond mere verbal expressions of opprobrium into threats of physical violence. “Already ‘responsible officers’ are talking with vindictive relish of smashing the settlements to search for arms,” he warned. “The swine must be squashed” had become something of a battle call, with the Yishuv widely described as “The Enemy.” In this respect, the terrorist acts perpetrated by the Irgun and Lehi “played into the hands of the anti-semites, who were quick to blame the whole Jewish population for the political crimes of a few.” (p. 229-30)
The increase in hostility towards Jews generally followed the King David Hotel bombing….
His point was taken up by Richard Crossman, a member of the Anglo-American Committee, who was troubled by the growing anti-Semitic attitudes evident within both the military and British society. His concerns were well justified. A report provided to army intelligence by an officer who had just returned to Palestine from leave in the U.K. evidenced precisely the same intemperate attitudes toward Jews that the Labour MP stated had taken hold in Britain. The pervasiveness of such views in the wake of the King David bombing is borne out by the Mass Observation research project, which documented the popular views of ordinary Britons from 1937 until the 1950s. “Leave them there to scrap it out,” one respondent commented, reflecting the prevailing mood. “It’s one of those dead end problems with no possible way out.” (pp. 312-13)
Bevin was characteristically blunt in his reply. “The British Government had not taken the initiative in blowing people up,” he told his guests. The foreign secretary described how a year earlier he had warned Weizmann and Shertok that “this terrorism was a dangerous thing to play with.” Britain, he continued, had long been the Jews’ “best friend … and now seemed to be almost their last friend.” Anti-Semitism was growing in Britain because of terrorism in Palestine. Bevin had never known it to be as blatant or rampant as it had become; indeed, the “destruction of the King David Hotel had burned deeply into the heart of the British people.” (p. 331)
We’ve seen film of Arabs rejoicing over the deaths of soldiers . . .
A letter sent by the intelligence staff officer at army headquarters in Jerusalem to a Jewish Agency official in late June, concerning a traffic accident that involved an army vehicle, depicts even more starkly the mutual antipathy that was now commonplace. A soldier had been killed in the collision and horribly burned and mutilated. Jewish passersby had acted gleefully, the officer recounted, evidently “pleased such a thing had happened to a British soldier.” Some had also laughed when the “odd pieces of the soldier’s body” were being extricated from the wreck. “I don’t much like sending you the enclosed report,” he apologized, “because I know that there are plenty of Jews in Palestine who do not regard the Army as the successors to the Nazis, but it does explain the occasional anti-semitic attitude of some of our troops.” (pp. 445-46)
A child killed . . .
Army intelligence in Palestine now feared that the “rising wave of anti-Semitism in England” might incite renewed attacks on the Yishuv by disgruntled soldiers and police in Palestine. Their concern was not unfounded. On the night of August 29, a Jewish settlement in the Shomron bloc was once again subjected to sustained indiscriminate gunfire from a nearby army camp—this time killing a nine-year-old child.(p. 464)
Not suicide bombers, suicide murderers
The word “terrorist” appeared to be taking on a glamour association, so . . .
Instead, the War Office issued a directive specifying that the word “terrorist” would no longer be used in any military communication to describe “members of the Stern and Irgun and other Jews involved in outrage and sabotage.” The logic behind this change in terminology, the War Office explained, was to deprive the perpetrators of the “glamour” and publicity they received in press accounts of their operations.
An ancillary intention was to counter a tendency among law-abiding Jews to “dissociate” themselves from these acts much the same as Germans now dissociated themselves from the Nazis. The invidious rationale used was that “everything was blamed against the Nazis, yet no one professed to be a Nazi or to hold Nazi views,” while, in Palestine, “everyone blamed the terrorists as if they were a race apart” and provided no help to the authorities. “The so-called terrorists are in fact members of the Jewish community in Palestine. [The] word ‘terrorist,’ ” the order concluded, “will therefore not be used; when referring to such persons terms such as armed Jews, Jews, thugs, murderers will be used.” The troops applauded the decision, but it was completely ineffective as both the BBC and other news outlets continued to use the term. (p. 386)
In the opening quotation there was an allusion to the terrorist plan to gain publicity. I am not covering that or other goals of the terrorists in this post, however. However, I will mention their “righteous motivation”. . . .
Our righteous cause
Throughout the proceedings neither man would evince any sign of contrition or regret for his act, and they repeatedly rejected their attorneys’ suggestion that they save themselves by pleading temporary insanity. “What I did is right,” stated a note that both defendants signed and gave to the London Daily Express’s Cairo correspondent. As Bet-Zuri later explained, in a statement that is perhaps the classic elucidation of the terrorist mind-set, “Our deed stemmed from our motives, and our motives stemmed from our ideals, and if we prove our ideals are right and just, then our deed was just!” (p. 199)
Clash of Civilisations
Prior to the Jewish terrorist actions (aspects of which are described above) there was an Arab Rebellion, 1936 to 1939. The British were able to crush them decisively because as a rule the Arabs challenged the British army in the open rural spaces and often in large formations. The Jewish terrorists operated quite differently — clandestinely and in the urban areas. But there were several terrorist attacks on Jewish targets nonetheless. The Jewish community (Yishuv) were divided on how to respond.
Like a deer in the headlights, the Yishuv, meanwhile, had no idea which way to jump. From the start, Weizmann had correctly grasped the existential threat that the Arab Rebellion posed to the Jewish national home.
“On one side, the forces of destruction, the forces of the desert, have risen, and on the other stand firm the forces of civilization and building. It is the old war of the desert against civilization, but we will not be stopped,”
he had declared on April 23, 1936.
But other leading Zionists argued that such fears were not only exaggerated but counterproductive—ascribing to the Arabs an ideological cohesiveness and degree of coordination that did not exist.
Berl Katznelson, a lifelong Zionist-socialist, founding father of the Labor Party, and the editor of the leading Hebrew-language daily newspaper Davar, for instance, dismissed any talk of an Arab “rebellion” as nonsense. Katznelson couldn’t discern any distinct nationalist movement orchestrating the disorders.
“In all these terrorist manifestations,” he wrote, “one might find evidence of personal dedication to religious fanaticism and xenophobia, but we cannot discern anything else … Can this be described as nationalism? Let’s not believe it for a moment!”
This view reflected that of the high commissioner and other British officials as well and indeed many in the Yishuv who were also inclined to downplay both the dimensions and the consequences of the rebellion. (pp. 55-56)
Not everyone was so dismissive of the Arab rebellion as a chaotic force of darkness against civilization:
Ben-Gurion, however, would have none of it. “There are comrades among us who see only one enemy, the government,” he responded. “In their opinion, there is no uprising or revolt by the Arabs … I have a hard time understanding the astonishing blindness of people like [them].” In a letter to the Labor Party Central Committee in August 1936, Ben-Gurion expressed his bafflement with what he regarded as a willful denial of the facts. “The Arabs fight with arms and strikes, terror and sabotage, mayhem and destruction of property … What more must they do to make their acts merit the name of rebellion and uprising?” (p. 56)
Ben Gurion knew that the Arab rebellion was no different in spirit and aim from the looming Jewish rebellion.