June 2006


Israelis killing Palestinians, and vice versa

Is ‘moral equivalency’ really so wrong?

By Henry Siegman, HENRY SIEGMAN is a senior fellow on the Middle East at the Council on Foreign Relations and a visiting professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.
June 18, 2006

For Siegman’s op ed click here


My rebuttal

Professor Siegman argues in this piece that Israeli retaliation to Palestinian terror does not move the peace process forward. He makes several assertions to support his argument, however, the reasoning here is flawed and more often than not one sided, tilted in favor of exactly what Palestinian terrorism wishes for, the complete cessation of Israeli defense of their homeland.

The professor asks in his title “is moral equivalency really so wrong?” It is not so much wrong as it just doesn’t exist in this conflict.  There is no moral equivalency between what Hamas does in the name of “ending the occupation” and what Israel does in response. A missile killing a known serial murderer in his car which also unfortunately takes the life of his children is not equivalent to a brainwashed, blood thirsty, vengeful, young man who would blow himself up at a kids party, a religious gathering where many children are present, or a dolphinarium.

The professor presents no scientific evidence that what the Israelis do promotes more terror and therefore is morally equivalent to the Palestinians. So, I would argue that Israeli retaliation is just as likely to reduce the violence level as to raise it and therefore, serves to protect Israeli lives. It is morally justified to kill 45 terrorists in Jenin because they can no longer kill any innocent people. And, if in that process seven innocents also die, that is the collateral damage that we all must accept as an unfortunate part of war. That is not the same as targeting innocent civilians specifically. If retaliation saves even one Jewish life then Israeli policy is worth it. After all, the primary purpose of a nation-state is to protect its citizens.

”Palestinians insist that, like the Israelis, their objective is not to kill innocent civilians but to end a crushing occupation that is now in its 40th year. Killing civilians is seen by some of them — immorally and stupidly — as a means to that end.”

I would like to know which Palestinians have said this. I have never heard that proclamation. On the contrary Palestinian actions do not support the above statement. Consider these examples:

1) Suicide bombs are packed with all kinds of nails and tacks so that even if they don’t kill everyone they stand a good chance of inflicting undo suffering.

2) When the Palestinians blew up Sbarro’s pizza parlor back in 2001 or whenever it was, they erected a side show shrine in the West Bank, complete with twisted metal, broken glass, and mutilated body parts some of which were small, obviously symbolizing  the slaughter of small children. The people paid money to enter the display and cheered at what they saw.

3) Half of the 1000 or so Jewish deaths are of children under sixteen, which Palestinians seem to revel in.

4) When two young boys, ages twelve and thirteen, happened to wander into enemy territory without warning a couple of years ago, they were found in a cave so mutilated that their parents had to identify their dead bodies through dental records.

Does this sound like a people who regret the violence that they are forced into?

How many Arab children are among the 3500 casualties that the professor sites for Palestinians? Moreover, how many of those are trumped up casualties which are not truly the work of the Israeli military.  The events that inspired this editorial began with a so called errant Israeli missile which supposedly landed on the beach in Gaza and killed a number of people including small children. But, the Israelis have raised a very strong case that the explosion which killed those unfortunate people was actually the work of Hamas trying to set booby traps for Israeli commandos who have used that very beach before to land and launch raids against terrorist activity. The Palestinians have a history of using their own incompetence to blame Israel.

The professor argues that Israeli strikes cannot be justified unless the strike has the ability to move toward a final settlement to the conflict. In the absence of diplomatic negotiations Israeli retaliations will never end Palestinian terror, therefore, they offer a morally inadequate solution.

While Israeli retaliations may not contribute to the end of the conflict something can be said for their effectiveness as a policy. I wonder if the professor would agree that at the very least the Palestinians are thrown off balance with Israeli counter attacks. They might even be running a little scared which might make them a little more timid in carrying out attacks. That in itself would save lives, and therefore, makes retaliations morally acceptable.

Take for example the killing of the leader of Hamas, Sheik Achmed Yassin in 2004. A month later Israel targeted his successor Abdel Aziz Rantisi and killed him while driving in a car in the Gaza Strip. The next leader coming to power would not reveal his identity to the international community because of fear that Israel was only a step away from having him join his predecessors. Thus, he could not obtain the stature of the two before him and remained incognito until he was safely ensconced in Damascus. His name is Khaled Meshaal and if the Israelis could get to him I am sure they have a missile with his name on it.  Playing this kind of hardball sends a message to the Palestinians that they cannot deny. If any Palestinian contributes to the planning, and execution in full or in part in the wholesale slaughter of innocent people in Israel they will be targeted for elimination.

Israel accepts that it is destined to experience continued terror into the future unless one of two things happen, the Palestinians come to their senses and seek a negotiated settlement to the conflict, or Israel unilaterally takes some kind of action which will guarantee the security of its population. The Israelis are running out of patience. They will not wait forever. That is why you are seeing in small steps the unilateral withdraw of Israel from Palestinian claimed land and the definition of permanent borders in the presence of the barrier currently under construction on the West Bank.

The professor argues that there is a “vast disproportion between Palestinian civilian casualties from Israeli ‘mistakes’ and Israeli casualties from Palestinian terrorist assaults.” He uses the example that Kassam rockets have not killed anyone, but Israeli air strikes kill Palestinians on a daily basis. So, Palestinian incompetence matched against Israeli efficiency equals brutality on Israel’s part.

If Israel waits until one of those rockets actually kills somebody will they be more justified in retaliating? It is morally outrageous to suggest that Israel not retaliate on that basis. As a nation state it has the imperative to protect its population from attack. Even if some in the Israeli body politic believe that Israeli retaliation does not diminish terror against their state they have the obligation to respond. And, when they can, take the initiative to disarm the terrorists by force, whether that means blowing up a bomb factory, taking out a publicly up front killer, or launch limited commando raids into the territories to keep the Palestinian militant stature off balance.

The professor insists that collateral damage in Israeli counter attacks are not justified on any level. This suggests that Israel cease retaliation for Palestinian terror against its population. It is unconscionable to tie Israel’s hands in such a manner. The only thing this accomplishes is that it gives the Palestinians carte blanche to do anything they want to Israel without fear of punishment. As long as they refuse to come to the negotiating table in good faith, which is part of their agenda anyway, they are protected against Israeli retribution. The professor’s assertion implies that if Israel stops retaliating that will somehow convince the Palestinians to negotiate rather than murder.  Why can’t people see that it is not Israel’s borders that are bloody, but Palestine’s?

The professor seems to think that it is a simple matter of democratic politics that will change the situation. He implies that only since the Labor Party was voted out of office in 2000 that Israel decided not to negotiate. I would remind the professor that the Labor party took the negotiations as far as it could go in 1999. Ehud Barak thought he had a workable formula for both sides. But, he was wrong, Arafat refused to budge on a final settlement. And, Barak would not give up anymore. He conceded later that the people of Israel had given way on many painful concessions, and Arafat could not give way on even one, accepting a fair settlement for both sides. I wonder what the professor would suggest the opposition do, that Barak and his party did not? Even President Clinton, Ehud Barak’s ideological equivalent, thought that Arafat turned down a reasonable settlement on the total issue.

The professor asserts that it is “Ariel Sharon’s unilateralism, embraced by his successor, Ehud Olmert,” which is the stumbling block to peace. But this is incorrect, Even now as this is being read, Prime Minister Olmert is looking for ways to try and negotiate with President Abbas, but his hands are tide as long as Hamas, who intends on destroying Israel, remains the party in charge in Palestine. The unilateral moves Sharon implemented and Olmert will follow through with is not an “avoidance” of peace but a measure to secure the Israeli population in the event that peace will not be obtained. It is not what the government of Israel desires but in the absence of any real peace partner, “unilateralism”  might turn out to be the only alternative. The government of Israel will make its people secure either through peace or unilateral measures, but it will be secure.

The prospects for peace have been on the table for six years. All the Palestinians need to do is to renounce its campaign to kill off the Jewish State and accept its terms. I agree, terrorism  cannot be defeated, but Israel can make its own population safe, thus the reason for unilateral moves, building barriers and so forth.

I am surprised that the professor thinks his argument so weak that he must go back in history to find a parallel between the Jews and suicide bombers. Because he cites Israel’s pre-state underground as an example showing how Jews are just as barbaric as Palestinians, there are several things you should know which the good professor has conveniently left out of this assertion.

The killing of innocent civilians in Palestine did not begin with the Irgun. Palestinian Arabs were killing innocent Jews as early as the 1880s when some hearty European Jewish pilgrims began to set up working settlements in Palestine. The Jews finally responded in 1903 with the formation of Ha-shomer, the forerunner of the Haganna. Arab terror took a decisively violent turn after World War I and Jews were attacked time and time again. However, The Haganna always had a policy of defensive restraint, and continued that policy until its dissolution after Israeli independence.

After riots and continuous attacks in Jerusalem, Hebron, and many other Palestinian cities and hamlets through the 1920s and into the 1930s, a few Jewish defense force members grew tired of not taking the attack to the enemy. The Irgun, formed in 1932, was first devised to work against British occupation, and dealt very little with Arab terror. However, from 1936-1939, the Arab riots became so brutal against the Jewish population that the Irgun decided that the time was right to strike back.

The professor’s assertion based on a Benny Morris quote that it was Jewish terror that taught the Arabs how to be so murderously cruel apparently was just the opposite. It was the Arabs that taught the Jews how to kill with no mercy.

The professor would have you believe that the Irgun was widely accepted by the Yishuv (organized Palestinian Jewish community). In fact the underground was supported by a small minority of the population. The Irgun never reported more than 1500 members while the Haganna, with its policy of “restraint” contained around 6000 trained and equipped fighters along with maybe four or five thousand others who were mostly without  weapons or special training. The Haganna received more support than any of pre-state Israel’s four main militia groups. It was the Hagana’s policy which followed into the IDF after Israel became a state.

While they were a force to be reckoned with in Jewish Palestine it is inaccurate to imply Irgun operations as having the support of the entire Yishuv. This is compared to a Palestinian population which sports a 60 to 80 per cent support for terrorism against innocent Israeli civilians. If the professor cares to dispute what I say, I would urge him to look at the voting results in the last Palestinian election.

Where is the moral equivalency there, professor?

In conclusion, the professor makes some wild assertions that are not supported either by history or by current geopolitics. As long as the Palestinians refuse to negotiate in good faith, Israel will continue to defend itself and its population. The problem as I see it is that the vast majority of the people of Israel want a peace settlement, one that supports two free independent states, one Jewish and one Muslim. The vast majority of the Palestinian nation cannot accept a Jewish State along side its own. Therefore, the region will continue in this cycle of violence until Israel takes the necessary steps to safely separate itself unilaterally from the Palestinian in its midst.

Photo at top courtesy of charlottepickering.wordpress.com

Come to my website for more articles, op eds, Jewish history, the Middle East, Jihad etc., at hartnation.com

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