Rattling the Cage: Terrorism, theirs and ours

Israel should be a lot more cautious than it's being these days about punishing Palestinian civilians as a strategy for changing their leaders' warlike ways.

larry derfner 88 (photo credit: )
larry derfner 88
(photo credit: )
If there were any reason to believe that deliberately targeting civilians in Gaza would stop the rockets on Sderot and Ashkelon, I'd be in favor of deliberately targeting civilians. If it worked, it would ultimately save both Israeli and Palestinian lives. I supported Israel's unstated policy of punishing the civilian population in Lebanon during the war two summers ago because I saw no other way to rein in Hizbullah, no other means of bringing pressure on those fanatics to leave us alone. But unlike most of the Israelis at all levels who want the IDF to make ordinary Gazans suffer and die, believing that this will force Hamas and Islamic Jihad to stop their terrorism against us, I recognize that such a policy is itself terrorism. Deliberately targeting civilians for a political purpose is textbook terrorism. It's not true what the cliche says - that terror is terror is terror. When Israeli fighter jets and cluster bomb launchers act with deliberate disregard for "collateral damage" in Lebanon following a deadly, unprovoked attack by Hizbullah, or when Israel chokes off the delivery of basic supplies to Gaza in response to steady, unprovoked rocketing by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, that's terrorism. That's punishing and killing civilians to force the enemy leadership's hand. BUT FOR several reasons it's not the same, it's not nearly as bad, as a Palestinian walking through a school and letting off 500 rapid-fire bullets at clusters of helpless teenage Israeli boys trying to hide. For one thing, Palestinians have non-violent options for dealing with Israel that Israel didn't have with Hizbullah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. For another thing, Palestinians have been offered peace by Israel, which Israel has never been offered by Hizbullah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. For one more thing, what Ala Abu Dheim did at Mercaz Harav Yeshiva plainly showed far more evil intent than anything Israel has ever done to anyone. And if we compare how terrorism is viewed by Arab and Israeli societies, Israeli society shows a decency that Arab societies, on the whole, don't. Israelis may be in favor of punishing and killing Arab civilians as a tactic in war, but they don't celebrate in the street and pass out candy while the bodies are being buried. In one way, though, Israeli terrorism is actually more deplorable than Palestinian terrorism - because Israel has the military machine to be able to fight much more cleanly than the Palestinians do. Setting aside the rights and wrongs of the conflict, a war fought strictly between Israeli and Palestinian armies would be a war fought on Israel's terms. BUT EVEN though Israel, on balance, has a lot less to apologize for than the Palestinians do in the matter of terrorism, Israel should be a lot more cautious than it's being these days about hurting and killing Palestinian civilians as a strategy for changing their leaders' warlike ways. If we're going to be so outspoken in condemning terror, we ought to think a lot longer before engaging in it ourselves. The aerial and cluster bombing of Lebanon was overkill meant to turn the Lebanese people against Hizbullah. The air, land and sea blockade of Gaza was and is meant to turn the Gazan people against Hamas. The latest Israeli idea, popularized by Vice Premier Haim Ramon, is for the IDF to fire long-range artillery shells at the source of every Gazan rocket that's launched. Everyone knows that the Kassams and Grads are often fired from crowded residential neighborhoods - and that's the whole point of the tactic, which Ramon won't admit but which ordinary Israelis will. "The Palestinians have families, too, and if their families have to suffer like our families suffer, they'll blame Hamas, and Hamas will have to stop the rockets or face the revenge of their own people. I'm sure this will stop it," a man in Ashkelon told me. He was suggesting that the IDF fire 50 shells for every Gazan rocket. Ramon reportedly recommended a ratio of 40 to 1. ARTILLERY shells are notoriously inaccurate. One of them wiped out a large family picnicking on the Gaza beach a couple of years ago. Imagine how many civilians in Gaza would be killed if the IDF returned 40 long-range artillery shells to the source of every rocket fired. Attorney-General Meni Mazuz reportedly said it would be a "war crime." It would not only be a war crime, it would be stupid and futile. As another, more thoughtful man in Ashkelon told me, such a tactic would "only kill a lot of civilians living in the buildings where the terrorists fire rockets from the rooftops. By the time the [IDF] shell hits the building, the terrorist has run away and the people inside get killed. You think some Hamasnik cares if Palestinian civilians die because of him? It doesn't even enter his mind." Israel's unofficial policy of hitting Lebanese civilians so they'll constrain Hizbullah from attacking Israel seems to have paid off. But Israel's siege of Gaza, based on the same strategy, has backfired. It led Gazans to break through the border to Egypt, where the terrorists among them were able to bring back much more weaponry. It also left the Hamas leadership bolder and more popular than ever. All we need now is to start firing artillery shells on Gaza's neighborhoods. LET'S ADMIT it: Sometimes the targeting of civilians in war - i.e. terrorism - works. If it didn't, it wouldn't be as popular as it's been for so long. Let's also admit that we civilized people all support terrorism, or will at least give serious thought to targeting civilians in war, if we believe it's in a just cause and will ultimately save lives. A word of reminder: Hiroshima. But when Israel identifies itself as the world's chief victim and opponent of terror, when it urges the world on to fight the "war on terror," then Israel has to restrain itself to targeting civilians in war only as an absolute last resort, and only when there's a very high likelihood that this will ultimately save lives. On that moral and practical basis, Israel has to ease the siege on Gaza as much as it can without directly aiding Hamas's and Islamic Jihad's warmaking ability. And Israel has to forget about showering Gaza with long-range artillery shells. Even in a just cause, there are limits. If there aren't, how long is it before the cause stops being just?