reprinted from GIMUN Chronicles
by Camille de Félice, translated by James Hewlett
At a time when the use of the word ‘terrorism’ and its derivatives are becoming more and more frequent, and when not even a day goes by without us hearing about Islamist Terrorism, State Terrorism or even the Global War on Terrorism, it is important to remember that, despite various attempts by the United Nations to define it, there is still no universal legal definition for the word.
If finding a definition that suits everyone is problematic, then it is precisely because the term itself is vague, and defining one’s enemies as ‘terrorists’ is increasingly being used as a shortcut. The ambiguity surrounding the word’s meaning is explained in part by the fact that the very phenomenon we refer to as ‘terrorism’ has evolved since it first appeared in the Dictionnaire de L’Académie Française in 1798. At the time, the term denoted the regime under Robespierre established in 1793. After going through many changes, the term has now become an integral part of the geopolitical lexicon of the 21st century. As such, the word is no longer used in a restricted sense to describe a set of sometimes rather separate phenomena; ‘terrorism’ has become the umbrella term that everyone uses and sometimes abuses. Due to the lack of a definition that is both universally recognized and incorporated into international law, we will rely here on the definition proposed by Le Petit Larousse that describes terrorism as ‘any act of violence carried out by an organization in order to create a climate of insecurity or to overthrow an established government.’ Since 9-11, terrorists have become Public Enemy Number 1; they are the embodiment of an absolute evil, opposed to the established order, and as is often the case, they are savages and fanatics. The ‘Global War on Terror’ has been declared, and has become a significant component in the discourse of our politicians. Often used to label the opposing side’s fighters, certain groups have been labelled as ‘terrorists’, whilst under other circumstances, they may well have been called brave resistance fighters. This is particularly the case for separatist or national liberation movements. The Tamil rebels were defined as terrorists, whilst today it is the Kurdish and Basque fighters who are terrorists. Contrary to other such groups like Al-Qaeda or the Red Brigades during the Years of Lead in Italy, we are talking here about those groups that are fighting to break away from a dominant power that they perceive as foreign. Their fight fits into a given setting, with a specific enemy, and with limited territorial claims. The Larousse Dictionary defines resistance as ‘an action to physically resist someone or a group, opposing their attack by force or by arms.’
These two definitions are similar, but, whilst resistance is legitimate and applauded as an act of heroism, terrorism on the other hand, is a criminal act and is condemned. We therefore have to ask ourselves two questions: when do we start talking about resistance? When does terrorism come into play? These questions are crucial, especially when the International Community regards several groups that claim to be resisting and defending a national issue as terrorists. Let’s consider the case of Palestinian armed militancy. The bombings carried out during the Second Intifada, the rockets fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip, or even the attacks on settlers in the West Bank have led the International Community to blacklist Palestinian nationalist movements as terrorist organisations. In the eyes of many activists, these actions serve the struggle against Israeli occupation and they believe that the unequal power balance justifies the use of such actions. In the modern conception of war, the battlefield has been extended. Fighters no longer directly confront each other, and civilians are increasingly the first causalities of conflicts, creating a climate of terror amongst the population. As such, terrorism seems to be just as much a part of current warfare today. In the Palestinian case, those acts of violence of sending individuals to carry out attacks in Israel during the Second Intifada are very much an example of terrorism, if we refer back to the above definitions. Israeli civilians were generally the first victims of these attacks, and were targeted because of what they represented, not because of their direct involvement. Palestinian groups believe that, unless Israelis officially come out and oppose the policy led by their government, they are indirectly supporting the war waged by Israel, and therefore, there are no innocent civilians. Furthermore, armed Palestinian factions claim to be defending their people and land by responding with their own means to the Israeli violence. Last December, the General Court of the European Union annulled the addition of Hamas to the EU’s list of Terrorist Organisations as the result of a procedural error. However, the EU promptly clarified that it would still keep the assets of the organization frozen. Subsequently, the EU appealed against the decision by the General Court. For Sami Abu Zuhri, the spokesman for Hamas in Gaza, this reaction revealed a European bias towards resolving the conflict.  His conviction was also driven by the reaction of the International Community following the war in Gaza in the summer of 2014. Whilst there has been criticism of Israeli ‘terrorism’, the measures levied against Israel have remained modest. So would there be any truth in the statements by this Palestinian official who denounced the fact that in the eyes of the International Community, terrorism is only found on the one side, i.e. the Palestinian side? As a conclusion, let’s bring in the words of the French journalist Jean-François Kahn, who believes that “in all actions of resistance, there is a liberating intent; [and that] behind every terrorist action, there is a totalitarian intent”.  By struggling to secure their freedom and their right to live in dignity, are the Palestinians pursuing a goal that is in conflict with our democratic principles? In response to the daily violations of international law by the State of Israel, the multiple failures of diplomatic negotiations, and the soft-power international sanctions against Israel, is the Palestinian response not justified? And even if their means of action are questionable, is the International Community showing bias by accusing these Palestinian organisations of terrorism? References: 1. Le Monde, 19th January 2015 [In French] 2. Marianne-L’Histoire: Les terroristes, Hors-série, August-September 2011 [In French]