Before former Israel Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, he said something like this:  “There will be no peace in the Middle East until Palestine does to its terrorists what we have done to ours.”

What Rabin meant by — “what we have done to ours” — is “The Altalena Affair” and how members of the Israeli Irgun “terrorist” group were nullified and killed on order of ruling Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion as part of the newly-formed Israel Defense Forces (IDF):

It was Menahem Begin, the Irgun commander, who prevented a bloody civil war. He did not shrink from shedding Arab and British blood, but shedding Jewish blood was abhorrent to him. He forbade his men from reacting, and even during the worst days of the Saison, Irgun members did not defend themselves…

So what about the Altalena?

When Ben-Gurion proclaimed the establishment of the State of Israel in May, 1948, he was determined to put an end to all the armed organizations except the Hagana, which became the IDF (official Hebrew name: “Israel Hagana Army”). He waited only for a suitable occasion.

It came when the Irgun sent a ship to the new state loaded with fighters, arms and ammunition. It was called Altalena (“see-saw”, the pseudonym of Vladimir Jabotinsky, the spiritual and political father of the Likud). The details of the “Altalena Affair” are still clouded in mystery, but the outcome is very clear: Ben-Gurion demanded that all the weapons be turned over to him, Begin refused. Fire was opened on the ship, which had reached the beach of Tel-Aviv. Yitzhaq Rabin commanded the attack. Menahem Begin, who had boarded the ship, was pushed by his men into the sea and escaped. Some of the Irgun men were killed, the ship sank with all the arms in its hold. Ben-Gurion publicly praised the “holy canon” that sank it.

All this happened in the middle of the war against the Arabs. By acting resolutely, Ben-Gurion put an end, once and for all, to the existence of private armies in Israel.

Will Palestine kill its “terrorists” to bring peace to the Middle East as Israel did to the Irgun on the Altalena?

What role can the USA play in this peace negotiation if we are resigned to killing our own people — terrorist or not — without Due Process?

In the events leading up to signing the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 — were the separatist, Colonial, guerrilla American rebels the standing army — or were they the terrorists?

The definitions of “Freedom Fighter” and “Terrorist’ are purely contextual — and wholly dependent upon which side of the battlefield you stand and aim your rifle and fire your bombs.

14 Comments

  1. What’s interesting about the term ‘terrorist’ is that you can be on the ‘same side’ of the team and still use different terms for the same thing. For example, many news organizations refer to terrorist attacks on Israel as militant attacks — but were the same attacks to occur on us soil (as they did on September 11th) they are referred to as terrorist attacks by all.

      1. Irgun largely fit the bill of terrorists so it’s fairly safe to say that terrorists were on board the Altalena. What is less clear, since there was a war vs. a foreign invader being fought at the time, is what whether terrorism was planned by Irgun at that time.

        1. jonolan!

          Great to see you here in Carceral Nation!

          David Ben-Gurion later said if he had known Menachem Begin was “such a fine man” — he never would’ve ordered the attack on the Altalena because Begin was aboard and could have been killed. Begin was saved when his men rallied around him and leapt from the ship into the sea. Is that a convenient compliment in retrospect — or are terrorists facile and chameleon-like: One minute you want to kill them and the next, they are your best friend?

          Do you think George Washington was a terrorist?

          1. Do I think George Washington was a terrorist? No, not in the least. He was, however, the leader of a group of insurgent that, while primarily targeting only enemy soldiers, broke all the accepted rules of warfare of the day.

            That’s the odd thing. America was won through asymmetric warfare and not adhering to the normative battlefield restrictions and yet we are shocked when it works against us.

          2. Actually they didn’t. While the British had little, if anything, good to say about anyone else in the Continental Congress or the revolutionary army, they liked and respected George Washington, who their press called both the American Cincinnatus and a modern Fabius Maximus..

          3. Do you have a link we can read for the British respecting George Washington during the Revolutionary War? That would be a fascinating read.

            On November 1, 1775:
            Congress learns of King George’s rejection of the Olive Branch Petition, his declaration that the Colonies are in rebellion, and of reports that British regulars sent to subdue them will be accompanied by German mercenaries.”

            It’s interesting that King George would admire the leader of the rebel cause in the midst of an international wrenching!