Letters to the Editors
RE: Requiem For Arafat
To the Editor:
I read Requiem For Arafat (2005, Issue 2) by Shawn Fisher with dismay and disbelief. Mr. Fisher’s comparison of Yassir Arafat, the late chairman of the Palestinian Authority, to President George Washington is offensive to me both as an American and as a supporter of human rights. It is based on ignorance and misinformation. One with even a basic knowledge of American history should know that George Washington led soldiers in a conventional war against British soldiers in order to gain independence after the British would not allow the colonists to peacefully separate. In contrast, following the 1947 United Nations decision to divide the disputed territory of Palestine into one Jewish and one Arab state, the Arabs in the territory refused and declared war on the newly formed Jewish state of Israel. After losing that war, instead of turning to diplomacy and negotiations or even fighting a conventional war, Yassir Arafat directed Palestinians to hijack airplanes, murder Israeli Olympians and to blow themselves up in suicide bombings with the express intention of murdering innocent Israeli civilians, including children. Yassir Arafat and his Palestinian Liberation Organization turned to terrorism to try to gain the land they refused to share and lost in war.
The Arab-Israeli conflict is not black or white. Both Israelis and Palestinians have compelling claims to the same land. Instead of engaging with Israelis in negotiations, however, Arafat used his leadership to encourage Palestinians to enter peaceful venues like the Olympics, pizza parlors, discos and shopping malls in order to kill Jews. Even after Arafat signed the Oslo Accords with Israel to end the Arab-Israeli conflict, he continued to support Palestinian terrorism against Israelis.
Mr. Fisher argues that one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter and that the line between the two is blurry. Would Mr. Fisher argue the same about Osama Bin Laden? To follow Fisher’s reasoning, wasn’t Bin Ladin just standing up for his fellow Muslims against America when he murdered innocent Americans at the World Trade Center? As Americans in a post 9/11 world, we live in constant fear of terrorism. We live the way Israelis have lived since Israel’s inception in 1948. Yassir Arafat was Israel’s Osama Bin Ladin. To call Bin Ladin or Arafat anything except a terrorist is absurd and offensive to the thousands of civilians that died at their hands. The line between terrorist and freedom could not be clearer, and Yassir Arafat was a terrorist.
Hillel at the College of Staten Island
3A-104 Multi-Faith Center
Shawn Fisher, author of
Requiem For Arafat responds
Dear Ms. Mallin
While you are entitled to your opinion as I am mine, both are, in the end, subjective, a fancy of the person expressing it. Therefore, no matter how different another person’s opinion may be from mine, I will never be offended by it. How could anyone who lives in a nation built upon freedom of expression take offense to another’s opinion unless, of course, that person was closed minded? You are, however, wrong on several points that you would try to imply are facts.
First, let’s look at the term “terrorist.” It would seem that you, like many others, are trying to personify an action. Terrorism is a tactic used by people, not a profession that one might aspire to. There are no union halls for terrorists, no W2’s and there aren’t any floats for terrorists on Labor Day parades. Terrorism as a tactic is defined by Columbia University Press as: “the threat or use of violence, often against the civilian population, to achieve political or social ends, to intimidate opponents, or to publicize grievances.” While the use of terrorism is not limited to the military, for the sake of this discussion I will stick to the military understanding of tactics. So any military or paramilitary group can and has used the tactic of terrorism without being branded a criminal by the greater civilized society.
This brings us to your apparently blind understanding of the American Colonies’ fight for independence. Just by basic logic you should realize that the original colonists were, in fact, English citizens and that the formation of any group of organized armed peoples outside of the government’s (The Monarchy) legitimate force who then acts against that legitimate force, is in fact, an illegal group, conducting criminal activities. Yes, we believed that we were doing the right thing, but in the end, we were technically criminals and not an army.
As for the idea that Washington and his band of British criminals were fighting a conventional war—nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, had he fought by the rules or war at that time, we would still be holding tea time today in the United Colonies of England. Thankfully, Washington was an intelligent enough tactician to realize that only unconventional warfare could win our rebellion for independence. Washington employed the use of snipers to fire on British officers--an act considered to be both unconventional and barbaric at that time in Europe. He withdrew his troops even after defeat such as in the battle of Brooklyn, where it was expected that he would surrender as was practiced at the time. Washington even employed terror tactics against his enemies, a term used in his own orders to General John Sullivan:
“The Expedition you are appointed to command is to be directed against the hostile tribes of the Six Nations of Indians, with their associates and adherents. The immediate objects are the total destruction and devastation of their settlements, and the capture of as many prisoners of every age and sex as possible. It will be essential to ruin their crops now in the ground and prevent their planting more. I would recommend, that some post in the center of the Indian Country, should be occupied with all expedition, with a sufficient quantity of provisions whence parties should be detached to lay waste all the settlements around, with instructions to do it in the most effectual manner, that the country may not be merely overrun, but destroyed. But you will not by any means listen to any overture of peace before the total ruinment of their settlements is effected. Our future security will be in their inability to injure us and in the terror with which the severity of the chastisement they receive will inspire them,” said General George Washington.It can be seen quite clearly that the Continental army by no means used conventional tactics as such your statement is wrong. As for the PLO fighting a conventional war, how would you propose they do that? Should the United Sates supply them with weapons, training and support in the same way that it did for Israel to reclaim sovereignty of their lands; which the U.S. still does? What an interesting sight it would be to see an Israeli and Palestinian pilot in a dogfight over the Mediterranean Sea both piloting the latest U.S. manufactured F-18. Or would it be fairer for America to take back all the military support it has given modern Israel and reduce their army to using blood and stone to defend against a tank? Any military tactician in the world would laugh at your complaint that the PLO refuses to fight a conventional war. It would just as futile for the PLO to fight a conventional battle as it was for the Continental army. They do not enjoy the same relationship with a sugar daddy as Israel does!Oh, and good old Osama Bin Laden? No one can have a debate about freedom fighters these days without someone trying to make a direct comparison to him. Alright, here we go, where exactly did this spoiled rich kid get his power from? Oh yeah, the United States back when the Soviets controlled Afghanistan. The Americans supplied Al-Qaeda with weapons, training and support to reclaim sovereignty of their lands. Wait a minute, why does that sound familiar? Oh yeah, the U.S. did the same thing for Israel as I mentioned above. The only difference being that once we won the cold war we turned our back on him and Al-Qaeda. Makes me wonder if the United States ever found Israel unnecessary and we turned our back on Israel, would Israel behave in the same fashion towards the U.S. as Osama has. Oh wait, they already have. During the Six Day War between Israel and the Arab States, the American intelligence ship USS Liberty was attacked for 75 minutes in international waters by Israeli aircraft and motor torpedo boats. Thirty-four men died and 172 were wounded. Honestly, I object to war and to the use of violence in general. I understand it, however, and understand the unfortunate need for it at times. And what I realize most of all is that in war there can be motivations and there can be goals but never can there be rules. I think no one can ever describe what war is better then 19th century U.S, General Sherman in addressing a group of young military cadets on their graduation day. “Cadets of the graduating class…Boys… ‘I’ve been where you are now and I know just how you feel. It’s entirely natural that there should beat in the breast of every one of you a hope and desire that some day you can use the skill you have acquired here. Suppress it! You don’t know the horrible aspects of war. I’ve been through two wars and I know. I’ve seen cities and homes in ashes. I’ve seen thousands of men lying on the ground, their dead faces looking up at the skies. I tell you, war is hell!” Ms. Mallin, you can play all the semantics you want, but the truth is that Israel and Palestine have been at war and are still at war and that there is nothing conventional about war.