Public sympathy for Hamas terrorists has precedents. Algeria's liberation in the 1960s from French colonial rule is viewed by history as a wholly just cause, despite horrific attacks against civilians. What does the analogy tell us about Israel's current situation?
KYIV — As of one month ago, Ukraine is no longer the only major conflict on the global stage. The world found itself divided between those who sympathize with and those who criticize the actions of the state of Israel.
In Ukraine, there is substantial support for Israel, with many viewing the conflict between Israel and Hamas as a struggle between civilization and barbarism. The horrific killings of Israeli men, women, children and the elderly on October 7 are considered an unforgivable crime, like so many suffered recently by Ukrainians.
The rest of the world, instead, has a myriad of differing perspectives. From certain left-wing activists in the West to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, we hear references to Hamas as a "liberation organization."
Yes, this is public sympathy for terrorists, but it has historical precedents.
In many ways, Hamas's current activities resemble what was considered a "liberation struggle" in the middle of the 20th century. While Ukraine views these events from a particular perspective, the global view on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict varies, with differing opinions, points of views and chosen historical analogies.
The Algeria case study
An illustrative case of a nation brought into being by ruthless militants is independent Algeria. In the 1950s, a radical left-wing terrorist organization known as the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) challenged the colonial authority of the French Republic in Algeria.
Initially, the armed struggle against the French authorities in Algeria did not enjoy widespread support. In the summer of 1955, the FLN adopted a brutal strategy, targeting Franco-Algerian civilians, often referred to as "pieds-noirs" (black feet). Their aim was to provoke a severe response against the local population and eliminate any possibility of a compromise between the French and the Arab population.
"One corpse in a suit is worth 20 corpses in a uniform."
The first attacks took place on August 20 in the vicinity of the cities of Constantine and Philipville, later known as the "Philippville Massacre." They were exceptionally gruesome. A few examples of these horrors, even by contemporary standards, are deeply disturbing. In the mining village of El-Khaliya, numerous women and children were killed while the men were at work; women were raped and beheaded, children's throats were slit, and infants were brutally killed. In Ain Abid, a newborn named Bernadette Mello was dismembered just five days after her birth and placed in her mother's dismembered abdomen. On a road near Philipville, Algerian Jew Haim Benshetri was forcibly removed from a car, subjected to horrific violence, and strangled with his own genitals in front of his wife and their three children aged 3, 5, and 11, who were also killed.
Soldiers of the National Liberation Army training during the Algerian War of Independence.
The FLN's atrocities deeply shocked France, with even renowned intellectual Albert Camus, of Franco-Algerian origin, expressing his disgust: "If I can understand and admire freedom fighters, I can only feel repulsion for those who kill women and children."
Public opinion in France demanded severe retaliation, resulting in large-scale punitive actions that can be compared to the current Israeli strikes on Gaza. Unfortunately, many innocent Arab civilians lost their lives in these actions. This further widened the divide between the indigenous Algerians and France, achieving the very rift the FLN sought.
Having achieved its objectives, the National Liberation Front continued its campaign by predominantly targeting civilians. Their ideology was encapsulated in the phrase, "One corpse in a suit is worth 20 corpses in a uniform."
Furthermore, the victims of terrorism were not limited to pieds-noirs; they also included Arabs who remained loyal to the French Republic. Moderates among the indigenous population were brutally executed, with acts such as castration, beheadings, and the killing of their wives and children.
In essence, the local population faced a stark choice: either support the FLN or face the prospect of death alongside their entire families. These ruthless tactics ultimately contributed to the FLN's victory in the war.
The Evian Armistice Agreements signed in 1962 between the FLN and the French authorities did not put an end to the terror. Despite promises of peaceful repatriation to France for the Franco-Algerians, FLN forces carried out a mass killing of pieds-noirs in Oran. Tens of thousands of Arab loyalists who could not leave the country were brutally murdered.
Algerian Jews, who were forced to flee to Israel, also suffered during this period. While in 1962, the Jewish community in Algeria numbered approximately 150,000 people, by 1971, only around 1,000 remained.
Sanctuary for terror
It is not surprising that Algeria established a rigid one-party dictatorship after gaining independence. Within three years, Ahmed ben Bella, the leader of the FLN and the first Algerian president, was deposed and imprisoned by his own associates. Algeria's territory also became a sanctuary for various international terrorist groups.
Nevertheless, it was the FLN that achieved an undisputed victory in the Algerian War. They assumed leadership of the new independent state, gained international recognition, and became a member of the United Nations. This recognition in the international arena affirmed the FLN's historical legitimacy, presenting the once-perceived terrorists as freedom fighters and portraying them as the side of righteousness, not evil, while the victims were denied the right to sympathy and remembrance.
in reality, history is on the side of the winner, whoever it is.
The brutal murders of civilians turned out to be seen in history as neither barbarism nor terrorism, but justifiable costs of the liberation struggle, which can and should be forgotten.
After the defeat of France, the only victims worthy of attention were those of the French army. And not only civilians, but also FLN fighters who were killed by the French or who were tortured during interrogations. The celebrated 1966 film "Battle of Algiers," directed by Italian Marxist filmmaker Gillo Pontecorvo, which won the "Golden Lion" at the Venice Film Festival and received three Oscar nominations, so vividly depicted this drama.
We can argue as much as we want that history is on the side of civilization, freedom or democracy. But in reality, history is on the side of the winner, whoever it is.
January 1, Algeria: Explosion of a bomb in the Bab-el-Oued neighborhood.
National Museum of the Algerian Revolution Wikimedia
Mistaken glory to the freedom fighters
People tend to believe in a just world where good always triumphs over evil. According to the logic of a just world, the victory in any war should go to the more worthy side. But what if a more brutal, crueler, less civilized side wins as a result of a bloody war, as in Algeria in the 1960s or, say, in Vietnam in the 1970s?
Then the outside observers try to convince themselves that it was this side that fought for the right cause and therefore won. Thus, not only they themselves are interested in whitewashing the image of the winners, but also many outsiders.
The Israelis have no other choice but to win.
The victory of terrorism in any part of the planet is the victory of evil. Therefore, it is more convenient to consider the terrorists who won not as terrorists, but as freedom fighters. This makes it much easier to maintain faith in a just world and the just laws of history.
So what does this mean right now for Israel? Simply, that the Israelis have no other choice but to win.
Victory is the only guarantee that Hamas will remain defined by evil in the annals of world history. That the killers of Israeli children will remain merciless barbarians, not fighters for the right cause. That the murdered Israeli children themselves will be considered innocent victims of terrorists, and not justified collateral damage in the struggle for liberation, forgotten as extras in a film one day honored at the Oscars.