Photo Credit: Jodie Maoz

What’s the difference between Palestinians, who are regularly accused of being terrorists and terrorist supporters, and the early Zionists who used violence to fight the British and the Arabs before the founding of the State of Israel?

This is an important question to answer, not because Zionists must defend themselves but because they need to understand whether their movement is a violent and immoral one by nature. If early Zionists, the founders of our state, and an Israeli prime minister were all violent and immoral terrorists, it should give Zionists pause concerning their movement and cause.

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Menachem Begin was the leader of the Irgun, a para-military force that existed before the founding of the state. It carried out attacks against the British and Arabs of Palestine. The Irgun, especially after its attacks on The King David Hotel and Deir Yassin, was accused of terrorism, and this charge followed Begin throughout his life, especially after he was elected prime minister in 1977. The following excerpt from the book Right-Hand Man by Menachem Michelson discusses how Menachem Begin addressed the charges that Israeli Irgun fighters were terrorists.

“Several times, the question arose of whether Begin saw any comparison between the struggle of the Palestinians and the Jews’ War of Independence. Once, Mike Wallace, the well-known American interviewer asked him directly, “Mr. Prime Minister, you were the commander of a terrorist organization. Do you see any comparison between this and the PLO?”

Begin replied, “There’s nothing at all to compare. We fought to liberate our land from a foreign regime, from the British. They [the PLO] want to wipe us off the face of the Earth and take our land from us, because this land is ours. We threw out the British because the land is ours. What do the Arabs want? To throw us out of our land! There’s no comparison between the PLO, or any group of murderers of theirs. Another issue is the method of battle. They kill every man, woman, and child, whereas we did everything to avoid harming civilians. True, sometimes disasters happened, and civilians were hurt, but this was not part of our battle tactics.”

Prime Minister Begin’s answer won’t satisfy everyone. His first answer is predicated on the position that the entire land of Israel is the Jewish homeland and doesn’t belong to the Palestinians. Therefore, Jews fighting for the land are fighting for their land. Palestinians have no right to the land, and their efforts to fight the Jews isn’t a fight for their land, but rather to throw the Jews out of the land. If a person takes a different position and maintains Palestinians have a right to the land of Israel just as Jews do, Begin’s answer won’t come close to explaining how early Zionists were justified in their attacks against the British and the Arabs.

It’s important to note Zionists don’t have to accept the premise of their enemies that the land of Israel isn’t theirs and that Palestinians too have a right to the land. Zionists don’t have to answer the charges of their enemies, and Begin’s first answer is acceptable. That other people disagree with the Zionist position that the entire land belongs exclusively to the Jews doesn’t obligate Zionists to change their position or entertain an opposite opinion just to answer an accusation. Begin’s first answer is perfectly acceptable to a Zionist.

Begin’s second answer was addressed to Zionist opponents who would scoff at Begin’s position that Jews fought for their land while Arabs fought to throw Zionists out of their land. Begin’s focus on Arab tactics of “take no prisoners” and “murder everyone,” whether woman or child, was directed at those who maintained both Jews and Palestinian fighters were justified in their cause. The Irgun’s code of only attacking those culpable of being a threat to the Jews, as opposed to the Arab ethos of killing any and all Jews, pointed to the difference between the Zionist and Palestinian fighters.

The Irgun and other Zionist fighters were just in their struggle to win freedom for the Jewish state. The land of Israel is the ancient Jewish homeland. The Jewish people spent thousands of years pining to return to their homeland and never gave up their claim to the land. British and Arab forces who violently denied the Jews the opportunity to return to their land had no right to prevent the Jewish people’s return and opened themselves to the same violence they were perpetrating against the early Zionists. The Irgun’s struggle was a righteous fight for their people’s freedom. Early Zionists owe them a debt of gratitude.

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Rabbi Uri Pilichowski is an educator who teaches in high schools across the world. He teaches Torah and Israel political advocacy to teenagers and college students. He lives with his wife and six children in Mitzpe Yericho, Israel. You can follow him on Facebook, and on twitter @rationalsettler.