South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu today defended his criticism of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and said that former Israeli leaders engaged in terrorism in the past.
Minister of Religion Zevulun Hammer told the Nobel Peace Prize winner that he showed a “simple lack of understanding” toward the problems of the Middle East.
Hammer, who held a one-hour meeting with the Anglican leader, was the only Israeli official to meet with Tutu during his five-day Christmas pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Israelis have been highly critical of Tutu’s remarks, and he told reporters that an Israeli shouted, “Black Nazi pig!” at him during one rally.
When asked if he would condemn Palestinian attacks on Israelis as “terrorism” and whether he considered Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasser Arafat a terrorist, Tutu said the definition of terrorism must include military attacks on civilians.
Tutu also said Israeli leaders have practiced terrorism.
“There are people in high positions in Israel who did things which they would now call terrorism, for example the bombing of the King David Hotel,” he said. He was referring to the July, 1946, bombing that killed 91 Britons, Arabs and Jews.
The attack on the hotel, which contained the British military headquarters, was carried out by the Jewish Irgun underground led by former Israeli leader Menachem Begin.
“That was a terrorist act and Mr. Begin later became prime minister,” Tutu said.
Tutu said he did not meet with Israeli politicians because of his tight schedule, but added if he had met Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir he would have repeated his call for Israel to end its harsh treatment of Palestinians.
“I would say to him that I cannot myself understand people who have suffered as Jews have suffered inflicting suffering of the kind that I have seen on the Palestinians,” Tutu said.
“If I am accused, as I am often accused, of being anti-Semitic, tough luck,” he said.