Two days ago the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, honored the 100th birthday of Avraham Stern, the founder of the Lechi movement. The Lechi movement was a hardline Zionist organization in the 1940s that took part in attacks against the British colonial administration. They were widely regarded as terrorists by other Zionist groups. But now, according to this article, they are “enjoying a warm and admiring embrace from the Israeli consensus.” The great irony that I see in this situation is that Olmert’s praise of Avraham Stern comes just days after the death and burial of George Habash, the Palestinian leader of the People’s Front for the Liberation of Palestine who pioneered the PR technique of airplane hijacking.
I will not comment on the lives of either of these two figures. I’m sure if I were an ardent Palestinian nationalist I would have great respect for George Habash and if I were an equally avid Zionist then Avraham Stern would seem like a hero. But the lesson that we can learn from these twin memorials is that to a certain extent terrorism is in the eye of the beholder. One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s insurgent. In 1777, George Washington might have looked like a bin Laden to his enemies across the Atlantic.
Perspective plays an important part in how we view violence. I don’t think equivocating Osama bin Laden with our Founding Fathers is morally acceptable, but one must recognize the important role that our individual predispositions and ideologies play how we understand our enemies.