The spike in violence in Israel - particularly the recent, high-profile murder of children - has once again ignited the national debate over capital punishment. This paper has taken a stand ("What child killers deserve," Editorial, November 4) against the execution of child-killers, suggesting instead that we "lock them up and throw away the key." I can concede the virtue of this position vis-a-vis civilian murderers, as there is a high probability that these criminals will rot in prisons for decades, a fate that may arguably be worse than death.
But when it comes to terrorists, I strongly advocate that we adopt the opposite response.
Desperate times call for drastic measures. The savage attacks which periodically target our civilian population bring home a terrible reality many of us already knew: The Palestinian terror machine has no red lines. Every gathering of Jews - anytime, anywhere - is a legitimate target for these sadistic haters; on a plane, at a Pessah Seder, in a school library, a kindergarten or a hospital. There is no "Geneva Convention" to restrain them, no moral boundaries in which to confine their crimes.
Like Amalek of old - the archetypal Jew-hater par excellence - these contemporary Hamans prey upon the innocent as their primary targets.
They enter hospitals with explosive-belts under their clothes; they lay in wait to shoot at passing cars; they blow up school buses as they load or unload their young passengers. And when they have perpetrated their "courageous" deeds, an ecstatic Palestine dances in the streets and hands out candies, displaying overwhelming, enthusiastic support for the outrage. Even the "moderate" Palestinians like Mahmoud Abbas mutter only the most tepid and half-hearted of condemnations, never declaring that the crime was wrong; saying only that "it hurts Palestinian interests."
IN SUCH an environment, we must take drastic action. One of the things we can and should do is activate the death penalty - used just once in our history, when the architect of the Holocaust, Adolf Eichmann, was executed by hanging on June 1, 1962 - against any terrorist who survives an attack, or against those who directly assist him in carrying out his crime.
Endorsing capital punishment is not very popular these days. The European Union bars member states from using the death penalty, and human rights activists scream bloody murder at the prospect of innocent people being wrongfully executed. Some religious leaders decry the unfairness of anyone taking a life other than the God who gave it (though they are strangely silent about euthanasia).
Jewish sources, too, tend to lean against capital punishment. The Talmud calls a Jewish court that executes one person in 70 years a "bloody court." And Maimonides writes: "It is better to acquit a thousand guilty persons than to put a single innocent one to death." Yet the Talmud, not to mention the Torah, cites numerous occasions when criminals were indeed executed, ruling specifically that capital punishment can be instituted "when the times demand it."
And in the United States - which suspended executions in 1973 but resumed them in 1977 - a recent Gallup poll found that 60 percent of the population not only supports the death penalty, but believes the sentence is not being carried out often enough.
There are three compelling reasons why terrorists should be executed and, as in the Eichmann case, their remains cremated and unceremoniously dumped at sea in an unknown location. First and foremost is justice. Simply put, these monsters who specifically target civilians have no right to live. They have forfeited the most basic human privilege by virtue of their crimes; any punishment save death is too good for them and is an obscene insult to the grieving victims of terror.
Secondly, killing a terrorist insures that he or she will not be committing any more murders. We have seen all too often how murderers are set free in this country after a relatively short time, only to kill many more innocents. As long as we have morally-misguided men in our government who, incredibly, go around calling for mass-murderers such as Marwan Barghouti to be freed in the name of "peace," we can never be sure that these criminals will stay behind bars. Unless we execute them.
FINALLY, THERE is certainly an element of deterrence created by capital punishment. In America, a clear correlation has been shown between the number of executions and the concurrent decrease in homicides. The most striking example of this is in Texas, which executes more murderers than any other state. According to the Justice for All organization, the Texas murder rate fell by 60 percent after the state began to aggressively enforce capital punishment. And while Middle East terrorists often proclaim their willingness - even zeal - to be martyred, their accomplices in terror, and even they themselves may certainly be influenced by the knowledge that their lives will be forfeited for their crimes.
Critics may say that executing terrorists will only inflame the situation, and endanger Israeli lives even more. But anyone who has an inkling of what Hamas is all about knows the absurdity of that argument.
Judaism, more than any other religion, cherishes the sanctity of life and will go to great lengths to protect it. But that is precisely the point: Anything less than the death penalty for terrorism is an insult to the victim, to society and to life itself.
The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra'anana.