Terrorist label in dispute

Name-calling secondary to achieving peace

The question of who merits the label of terrorist has become an issue in Minneapolis.

An ad published Tuesday in the Star Tribune criticizes the newspaper for referring to Palestinian suicide bombers by other terms such as "gunmen," "separatists" or "rebels" rather than terrorists. The ad was signed by more than 350 people, including both U.S. senators from Minnesota, Gov. Jesse Ventura, former Sen. David Durenberger, Jewish community leaders and others.

The ad quotes an explanation by Star Tribune Assistant Managing Editor Roger Buoen in a Feb. 3 column by Lou Gelfand, the newspaper's ombudsman.

Buoen said that because of the emotional nature of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, the newspaper avoids the use of the term terrorist in stories on that subject.


While there is good reason in trying to be even-handed in covering an extremely controversial issue, it would be hard to argue that suicide bombers do not qualify for the term terrorists. They blow themselves up and kill people indiscriminately, without regard to whether the victims are civilians, women, children or whoever.

The real problem comes in deciding, in fairness, what terms to use in referring to the Israelis' treatment of Palestinians. In the latest months of the conflict, they have killed about three times more Palestinians than the Palestinians have killed Israelis. The Israelis' victims also have included men, women, children and innocent bystanders. Even members of the Israeli Army reserves have publicly protested repressive treatment of Palestinians by the Israeli military. There is a difference in that the Israelis' killing is done for the most part by the military armed with modern weapons, rather than by individual civilians, but the results for the victims are about the same.

Both sides, of course, argue that their actions are in response to previous provocations by the other party.

President Bush also has been criticized for not referring to the Palestinian suicide bombers as terrorists. He defends himself by saying he makes an exception because Yasser Arafat and the Palestinians, unlike most terrorists, have in the past engaged in peace negotiations and can be expected to do so again.

The Post-Bulletin follows the terminology of the Associated Press and the New York Times in its dispatches on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Jack Stokes, Associated Press spokesman, says the news service policies allows the use of the word "terrorist" in referring to attacks by non-governmental groups on civilians.

After so many years of lethal conflict, it is impossible for outsiders to prove definitively who is right and who is wrong in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The two sides have irreconcilable interests, which they pursue with whatever means they have available.

The important thing for the United States is to make better use of its capacity to encourage both sides to stop the killing and reach an agreement by giving both sides some -- but not all -- of what they have asked for. The United States should call on the United Nations, leading Arab countries and other interested parties to exert their influence to the same end. Unless the United States shows responsible leadership, the conflict will lead to unrest and civil war throughout the Middle East. That will amplify the power of the al-Quaida terrorists who have brutally attacked the United States and are planning to do so again.

We should be less concerned about how to apply the terrorist label and more concerned about what can be done to bring an end to the endless killing of Israelis and Palestinians.

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