By Professor Louis Beres, Purdue University. Louis Rene Beres was educated at
Princeton (Ph.D., 1971) and is the author of many books and articles dealing
with terrorism and international law.
February 2, 2004.
Moments after the latest bus bombing in Jerusalem this morning (January
29th), the group claiming responsibility, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, identified
its action as an expression of “freedom fighting.”
Plainly, however, there is NO cause on the face of this bleeding planet
that can ever warrant the deliberate mutilation and murder of defenseless
civilians riding on a municipal bus. Those who can find cause for celebration
amidst the mangled and burned bodies of young children must always be called
by their correct name.
By any reasonable standard of civilized human behavior these celebrants
support a uniquely unheroic form of slaughterer, a contemptible dreamer who
discovers sheer ecstasy only in massacre and who sees in unrestrained
terrorism a gloriously sacrificial form of religious worship.
What is plainly evident to reasonable human beings is also an incontestable part
of current international law. Supporters of Palestinian violence against Israeli
citizens frequently claim that the insurgent force is directed against an
“occupation, ” and therefore warrants “any means necessary.”
From the standpoint of authoritative international rules of behavior, this
claim is entirely incorrect. Even where the use of insurgent force may be
justified – and in the case of the Palestinians such justification is hotly debatable
– deliberate attacks upon noncombatants are always illegal. Indeed, there is no
more ancient and sacred principle of law than the immutable imperative to
protect the innocent.
“One man`s terrorist is another man`s freedom fighter.” There is NO basis in
law for this especially facile and shallow expression. The issue here is not one
of subjective interpretation.
On the contrary, there do exist precise and settled criteria that are
readily available to distinguish the terrorist from the freedom fighter. According
to international law, any insurgent who intentionally causes the explosive
incineration of men, women and children at lunch or at prayer or at a wedding
ceremony or on a bus is a TERRORIST! Period!
It is true that certain insurgencies can be judged lawful. Yet, even these
insurgencies MUST always conform to the laws of war. The ends can never
justify the means in international law. Never. Where the insurgent group resorts
to unjust means, as in the case of exploding a public bus, its actions are
How shall we know precisely when insurgent means are just or unjust? The
determinable standards that must be applied in judgment are known in law as
Just Cause and Just Means. These standards, and these standards alone, allow
us to differentiate lawful insurgency from terrorism.
National liberation movements that fail to meet the test of Just Means are NOT
protected as lawful or legitimate.
Leaving aside the very doubtful argument that Palestinian organizations
meet the standards of “national liberation,” especially after the prior Barak
Government offered the PA/PLO control of over 97% of West Bank
(Judea/Samaria) and Gaza, it is assuredly clear that they do not meet the
standards of discrimination, proportionality and military necessity.
These formal standards, applicable under the Laws of War, have been
applied to insurgent organizations by the common Article 3 of the four Geneva
Conventions of 1949 and by the two protocols to these Conventions of 1977.
They are binding upon ALL combatants by virtue of both customary and
conventional international law.
The ends CAN NEVER justify the means. As in the case of war between states,
every use of force by insurgents must be judged twice, once with regard to the
justness of the objective (in this case, the avowed objective is a Palestinian
state built upon the charred ruins of a dismembered Israel) and once with
regard to the justness of the means used in pursuit of that objective. A
Palestinian organization that deliberately targets indiscriminately with intent to
maximize pain and suffering can never claim to be “freedom fighters.”
American and European supporters of a Palestinian State presume that it will
be part of a “two-state solution,” that is, that the new Arab state will exist
side-by-side with the existing Jewish State.
Yet, this presumption is dismissed everywhere in the Arab/Islamic world.
Indeed, the “Map of Palestine” at the official website of the Palestinian National
Authority includes all of Israel. There are NOT two states on this map; only one.
Palestinian insurgents who resort to terrorism against Israel will never
acknowledge that a Jewish State has any right to endure. Why should this
should be so difficult to understand today, when even the most “moderate”
Palestinians themselves have been so cartographically honest on their own
Terrorist crimes, as part of a broader category called CRIMEN CONTRA OMNES
(crimes against all), mandate universal cooperation in apprehension and
punishment. In this connection, as punishers of “grave breaches” under
international law, all states are expected to search out and prosecute, or
extradite, individual terrorist perpetrators.
In NO circumstances are any states permitted to characterize terrorists
as “freedom fighters.” This is especially the case for the United States, which
incorporates all international law as the “supreme law of the land” at Article 6
of the Constitution, and which was formed by the Founding Fathers according
to the timeless principles of Natural Law.
Palestinian terrorists are NOT “freedom fighters.” They are “Common Enemies
of Mankind” who exceed all moral and legal authority in their persistently
barbarous attacks upon Israeli citizens. They should always be called by their