by Tom Segev
The terror attack on the King David Hotel in Jerusalem was in its day the equivalent of the Twin Towers; yesterday was its 60th anniversary. There are two historic plaques at the hotel, one of whose wings was used by the British Mandate authority. On one of the plaques, which has been hanging there for some time, a few words note the terror attack: "On July 22, 1946, the Etzel underground bombed the southern wing." The action is attributed to Etzel alone, but there is no condemnation. "Underground" generally has a positive connotation.
The unveiling of the other plaque this week was meant to cap an academic conference held at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center on the issue of who is a freedom fighter and who is a terrorist. It was quite a week to clarify such a question. They can be distinguished by organizational affiliation, goals, targets, means of combat and mode of operation. They all assume that a freedom fighter is a good person and a terrorist is a bad one. Nearly every terrorist defines himself as a freedom fighter, and vice versa: freedom fighters are usually defined as terrorists. So was Begin. He invested a lot of effort to convince history that he was not a terrorist. Among other things, he emphasized that his organization did not harm civilians. There's a thesis that could serve as an historic lesson from a moral standpoint: not harming civilians.