We have every reason to be distressed, angry and disgusted. We are distressed at the accidental deaths of Palestinian civilians, children included, in a military operation against a cruel and evil mass murderer. But Salah Shehadeh was aware that he topped Israel’s hit list and deliberately chose to shield himself among civilians in a densely populated area. The deaths and injuries in Gaza City are his responsibility.
We have reason to be angry that Gideon Meir, head of Israel’s Foreign Ministry Information Department, rushes to tell CNN and the BBC that the strike was “indefensible,” and that Foreign Minister Shimon Peres follows with an outright apology.
Apology for what? Given the carnage orchestrated by Shehadeh and his gang of savages, such apologies – which are tantamount to an acknowledgment of guilt – are a form of masochism. They are even more grotesque in view of our desperate efforts – unlike those of any other nation – to try to minimize civilian casualties, frequently at the cost of the lives of our own soldiers.
What are we expected to do when we locate the Palestinian counterpart to bin Laden brazenly organizing new, large-scale terror attacks?
Are we to stand by with folded arms until more of our children are blown to pieces? The chorus of hypocritical international bleeding hearts with their usual double standards is beneath contempt. Their condemnations contrast starkly to their muted responses to the suicide bombers and terror attacks targeted against Israeli civilians.
None of our detractors questioned why a mass murderer could be permitted to live and work among civilians while actively plotting to kill more Israelis. Instead, we are informed that Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, head of an organization whose goal is the destruction of Israel, and who is one of the chief instigators of suicide martyrdom, was allegedly on the point of agreeing to a cease-fire. This report comes from Reuters, which quoted Yassin as saying that Hamas would “consider” a cease-fire if, among other conditions, Israel evacuated the West Bank and released Palestinian prisoners. The timing of this report is transparent as psychological warfare to create the impression that the killing of Shehadeh was a Sharon conspiracy to kill the negotiations.
THE GALL of tyrants who inhabit the United Nations, who condemn Israel while remaining silent over bestial acts of genocide which take place among their own members, defies belief. Kofi Annan sanctimoniously lectures Israel about international law in the knowledge that Shehadeh brazenly continued recruiting, planning, and manufacturing bombs for suicide martyrs right until the moment of his elimination. No word from the UN secretary-general regarding the international legal implications of a regime enabling mass murderers to carry out their activities in the full light of day.
The shameless Europeans are of course again targeting Israel for war crimes. In this context it is noteworthy that Javier Solana, the European representative to the Middle East – a biased and hostile critic of Israel – crossed all red lines some days ago by holding a personal meeting with none other than Hamas leader Yassin. Yet paradoxically, Solana was secretary-general of NATO three years ago during the 78-day aerial bombardment of Yugoslavia which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of innocent civilians. He himself approved the use of cluster bombs on crowded cities and densely populated areas, including the botched effort to assassinate Slobodan Milosevic by bombing his bunker which was located in a residential neighborhood. Contrast that to Israel. According to Ha’aretz correspondent Amir Oren, out of more than 100 assassinations of terrorists in the territories, innocent bystanders were killed on fewer than half a dozen occasions. Yet despite this, Europe is one of the leaders in the campaign to demonize Israel.
Naturally the Third World joins in, too, particularly the Africans for whom practicing genocide against one another is almost de rigueur. Then there are the Chinese, whose respect for human rights in Tibet and elsewhere is fully on record. And of course the Russians, whose handling of the Chechen insurrection hardly reflects the humanitarian considerations they demand of us.
Regrettably, even our friends the Americans this time felt sufficiently pressured to join the pack. We have been reprimanded for being “excessive” and “heavy handed.”
Yet in 1986, after an American soldier was killed by terrorists in a German nightclub, president Ronald Reagan ordered an air strike on the residence of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi. He escaped, but 37 civilians, including his daughter, were killed.
There were no condemnations by the United Nations or the Europeans on that occasion.
A FEW months ago, referring to casualties incurred among non- combatant family members of al-Qaida, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told The New York Times that the women and children were in the battle zone “of their own free will, [and] know who they’re with and who they’re supporting and who they’re encouraging and who they’re assisting.”
Even more recently, the Americans acknowledged that the killing of 400 Afghani civilians in a bombing raid was an accident. The implication was that what was an “accident” for the Americans is for Israel targeted killing with malicious intent.
It would indeed be stretching the imagination somewhat to visualize the United States standing aside and passing up an opportunity to eliminate bin Laden out of concern for the welfare of civilians living with him.
We are at war and Israeli civilians are being murdered every day. In such circumstances, the primary obligation of any government must be to defend its citizens. The government has no choice but to intensify its efforts to dispose of all who threaten the lives of its populace.
It is therefore high time that we stopped apologizing for civilians killed because they live in proximity to leading terrorists who openly plot to kill Israeli civilians. As John Podhoretz noted in a recent New York Post article – reprinted in these pages on Sunday (“Living Camouflage,” July 28) – the Fourth Geneva Convention (Part 3, Article 1, Section 28) states explicitly that “The presence of a protected person may not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations.”
Thus, Arab civilian communities should be clearly warned that they risk their lives if they choose to live in proximity to those trying to kill us. They should understand that the days are over when they could, without risk, indulge in public demonstrations of embracing martyrs, and hold street celebrations every time an Israeli civilian is blown up.
There are those who claim that our actions will only bring about reprisals and intensify the terror. That is not so. The Palestinian terror machine has certainly not exercised restraint these past three months and it is no secret that if they could kill more of us they would do so irrespective of how many terrorists or civilians we harmed. It is not as though we have not endeavored – with unilateral cease-fires and other efforts – to “break the cycle of violence.” We tried again and again and the response was always more terrorism and more suicide bombings.
THERE ARE no simple solutions, but the killings could end overnight. Almost all Israelis are appalled at the thought of indefinitely ruling over the Palestinians. The Palestinian Authority has only to announce an end to terror, arrest the killers, and make a genuine effort to enforce law and order. Israel would respond immediately. Negotiations would follow, and the bloodshed would be halted.
But as long as the murderers carry on business as usual, with the PA looking on approvingly, Israel has no choice.
We take pride that despite the provocations and the broad support for suicide bombers by the Palestinian people, we have retained our humanity and Jewish moral standards. While Palestinians express joy at every Israeli civilian killed, we remain genuinely distressed whenever innocent Palestinians – men, women, or children – are harmed in a war we do not seek.
But if a mass murderer is killed and innocent civilians die with him because they are living in proximity to the area in which he plots the killings, then they are the inevitable victims of war.
This – not apologies – is what Israeli spokesmen should be conveying to the world.
The writer is senior vice president of the World Jewish Congress. [email protected]