The death penalty for terrorists

Sometimes a country must violate a principle to ensure it be upheld.

kuntar nazi 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
kuntar nazi 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The sickening specter of a monster like Samir Kuntar being welcomed home in Lebanon as a conquering hero should turn the stomachs of all who repose faith in humanity. Even for a generation neutered to horror stories, his crimes stand out. In April, 1979, after killing a police officer and then shooting Danny Haran at close range in the back in front of his four-year-old-daughter Einat, Kuntar proceeded to smash the head of the little girl on beach rocks and then crushed her skull with the butt of his rifle. The coup-de-grace was when, in an attempt to hide her surviving child Yael from Kuntar, Smadar Haran accidentally suffocated her while attempting to quiet her whimpering so as not to reveal their hiding place. I still remember, as a boy, encountering the rabbinical teaching that humiliating someone in public is worse than actually killing them. What? Worse than murder? Years later, it made sense to me. When you embarrass someone, you make them wish they were dead. You have, in effect, made them into their own murderer. This is the legacy of Kuntar. True evil corrupts all around it and is capable of transforming even the most loving mother into an accomplice to murder. One can only imagine the anguish that Smadar Haran, who has since thankfully remarried, feels as she watches Israel's northern neighbor roll out the red carpet for the heartless killer who exterminated her family. But the bizarre story of the release of Kuntar does not end there and includes the fact that while a prisoner in jail he married an Israeli Arab woman who campaigned on his behalf. Although he later divorced her, she was paid a monthly stipend by the government for being the wife of an incarcerated prisoner. All this would be comical if it were not so tragic. IT IS time that we articulate what few wish to, namely, that Israel must finally institute a death penalty for convicted terrorists. To be sure, human life is of infinite value and every human being is equally a child of God. No country upholds this statute more than Israel, which is why it is prepared to set killers free just to retrieve the bodies of its fallen soldiers. Israel could have defeated Hizbullah and Hamas with ease had it not always limited its overwhelming firepower to protect innocent civilians. A country this virtuous naturally balks from putting anyone, even terrorists, to death. But there exist those fiends whose crimes are so heinous that they have erased the image of God from their countenance and have forfeited any reasonable right to walk God's earth. Worse, keeping terrorists alive in prison just invites further kidnappings of innocent civilians and soldiers who are hunted down by Hamas and Hizbullah to exchange for their terrorist brothers. Here in the United States there is an impassioned and legitimate debate as to the humanity and righteousness of the death penalty. Those who argue against it maintain that mistakes are made and innocent people are meted out the most severe and irreversible punishment imaginable. They, of course, have a point. A moral society shudders before it takes life and only does so when there is an essential certainty that the defendant in question is guilty of unspeakable crimes. Indeed, no major legal work has ever been harsher on the death penalty than the Talmud which states: "A Sanhedrin which kills once in seven years is considered murderous. Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah said: Once in seventy years. Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Tarfon said: If we had been in the Sanhedrin, no one would have ever been killed..." (Mishna Makot 1:10). BUT SURELy these humanitarian considerations do not, cannot, apply to terrorists like Kuntar who infiltrate a country looking to dash children's brains against rocks. And keeping them alive once they are caught simply draws a bull's-eye on countless other innocent civilians who become magnets for trade. This, of course, is exactly what occurred with Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser. Indeed, keeping terrorist mass-murderers alive in prison bespeaks a contempt for life, demonstrating as it does that civil societies lack the moral courage to draw a line and declare that the lives of mass murderers, after a fair and impartial trial, will always be forfeit. Few Americans flinched when Timothy McVeigh was executed in June 2001 for having murdered 168 people in the Oklahoma City bombing six years earlier. Israel itself put Adolf Eichmann to death in May 1962 for being one of the supreme architects of the Holocaust. The allied nations of the world came together to conduct the Nuremberg Trials of major Nazi war criminals, hanging 10 of the convicted on October 16, 1946. Their purpose was to broadcast to all humanity the fate of anyone who would ever attempt such crimes again. As for those who argue that if Israel puts its terrorist captives to death the same will be done to its soldiers once captured, I ask, does anyone seriously believe that it would be otherwise? We once believed that Goldwasser and Regev might likewise come home alive, and for two years Hizbullah manipulated the emotions of the country to believe just that. But like so many other Israeli prisoners before them, they ultimately came home in a box. I am not suggesting that Israel take unilateral action and simply hang captured terrorists. They should be given a fair trial, just like Kuntar, in which he was found guilty and sentenced to more than 500 years in prison. But once found guilty and allowed an appeal, if their conviction is upheld, they must be executed. There are times when a country must temporarily violate a principle to ensure it is upheld. Police cars speed to catch those who themselves speed on highways, thereby endangering other motorists. Surgeons cut open people's chests with knives to save their blocked arteries and stopped hearts. And just governments must sometimes take the lives of unrepentant terrorist mass-murderers to protect and uphold the infinite value of human life. The writer is the international best-selling author of 20 books, most recently The Broken American Male and How to Fix Him.