Find the ‘Terrorists’

March 29, 2001 12:00 by

Dear Friend,

This week in Israel has been one of the worst in recent years. Ten-month-old Shalhevet Pass was brutally gunned down by a Palestinian sniper in Hebron. A bomb near Kfar Saba snuffed out the lives of two teenagers on their way to school. Two bombs exploded in Jerusalem wounding dozens, and other bombs were neutralized in busy areas of Netanya and Petah Tikva.

We dare you to find the “terrorists” who perpetrated these ghastly acts.

You see, we couldn’t find any reference to Palestinian “terror, terrorism or terrorists” in any of the reporting by major news outlets this week, including Associated Press, Reuters, BBC, The Washington Post, The New York Times and others.

All the publications refer to the terrorists as “militants,” or occasionally “bomber” or “suicide bomber.” But never “terrorists.”

For example, the Associated Press headline refers to “Palestinian Militants” and the body of the story called it “the militant Islamic Jihad group.”"

The best CNN could muster was a snide, backhanded reference: “A senior aide to Sharon, Raanan Gissin, told CNN that it was ‘very important to have patience, self-restraint and cool-headedness’ as the government had a policy to deal with what he called terrorism.”

Only the Los Angeles Times broke from the pack and described the bloody crimes for what they were: “Three terrorist bombings in less than 24 hours left four people dead and dozens of Israelis injured.”

The omission appears to be based on attempts to maintain an “even-handed” policy equating terrorist acts by the Palestinians and legitimate self-defense actions by the Israel Defense Forces.

Yet fair-minded people reject this “backward-handedness.” Speaking to an AIPAC audience on March 19, Secretary of State Colin Powell stated, “We will not strive for some arbitrary measure of even-handedness when responsibility is not evenly shared.”

The U.S. Government clearly defines these inhumane Palestinian attacks as “terrorism.” On March 28, official administration spokesmen called on the Palestinian Authority to “speak out publicly against violence and terrorism, arrest the perpetrators of terrorist acts and resume security cooperation. The Palestinian Authority must do all it can to fight terrorism.”

The U.S. State Department officially classifies Hamas and Islamic Jihad as “terrorist groups” — not “militants.” According to the State Department report on Foreign Terrorist Organizations, “Various Hamas elements have used both political and violent means, including terrorism, to pursue the goal of establishing an Islamic Palestinian state in place of Israel.”

The State Department Office of Counter-terrorism provides clear definitions of terrorism: “[T]he term ‘terrorist activity’ means any activity which is unlawful under the laws of the place where it is committed (or which, if committed in the United States, would be unlawful under the laws of the United States or any State) and which involves the use on any “explosive or firearm (other than for mere personal monetary gain), with intent to endanger, directly or indirectly, the safety of one or more individuals or to cause substantial damage to property.”

On the other hand, the term militant, as defined in dictionaries, is more suitable for activists who aggressively work in support of a cause — within the bounds of international law, humanity, and civil disobedience — such as militant reformers, militant feminists, militant animal rights advocates.

Last month, after an HonestReporting campaign, the BBC admitted to an arbitrary policy of calling only British-based bombing “terrorism.” Maya Fish (, the BBC Newshour duty editor said: “In BBC World Service reporting the word “terrorist” is not used, no matter who plants bombs, kills or murders.”

By describing terrorists as “militants” journalists serve to mitigate the horror of terrorist crimes, and serve to encourage their violent methods. “Militants” do not shoot babies, bomb civilian buses, and blow up teenagers. If that is not “terrorism,” then what is?

The HonestReporting challenge: Check to see how your local newspaper or TV station termed the recent terrorist actions. If you agree that it constitutes biased reporting, write a letter in your own words, or adapt the critique below. You can CC: us at And please keep your comments respectful.

Thank you for your ongoing involvement in the battle against media bias.


To the Editor

Your report on the Palestinian bombings and attacks against Israeli civilians, including children, assiduously avoids calling the actions “terrorism” or the perpetrators “terrorists.”

“Militants” do not shooting babies, bomb civilian buses, and blow up teenagers. If that is not “terrorism,” then what is?

On March 28, official U.S. spokesmen termed recent Palestinian attacks as “terrorism” and called upon the Palestinian Authority “to speak out publicly against violence and terrorism, arrest the perpetrators of terrorist acts and resume security cooperation. The Palestinian Authority must do all it can to fight terrorism.”

Hamas and Islamic Jihad are both listed by the State Department’s Counter-terrorism Office as “terrorist organizations” — not “militant organizations.”

I would like to know your parameters for what constitutes “terrorism.” And is there a reason why you avoid using the terms “terrorism or terrorist” in describing heinous Palestinian attacks against Israeli civilians?

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