“He deserved to die.” This is what is said about every Palestinian that has ever felt the force of the Israeli army and been eliminated in a “targeted assassination.” But has anyone ever really thought about the true meaning of the words “he deserved to die?” Certainly not, or if they have, then not profoundly enough. In Israel, the death sentence is reserved for treason in wartime or crimes that fall under the law for trying Nazis and their collaborators. Therefore, by what right, and on what moral or legal basis does state security allow itself to decide that any person “deserves to die”?
There are a several answers to this question:
1. This person plotted and was responsible for the death of a number of innocent Israelis, and for these reasons he deserves to die.
2. This man was a “ticking bomb” (and we’ll discuss this terminology more below), and if the Israeli army does not eliminate him at the appropriate time, then he will undoubtedly kill a number of innocent Israelis.
3. The man was in a densely populated area where insurgents were also located. If the Israeli army were to send in infantry to eliminate him, it would put the lives of its soldiers in enormous danger. Thus, it is preferable to use helicopters to eliminate the wanted man.
How mistaken you are if you think that these claims have any legal basis. According to Israeli army regulations, firing at a suspect should be a last resort, and a soldier is not to fire his weapon at a suspect, even if that person represents a clear danger. Rather, the soldier must first ask the suspect to halt in very clear terms. If the person does not respond, then warning shots must be fired into the air. If he still does not halt, then other means can be used to stop him (rubber bullets, tear gas, etc.). If this still does not work, only then is it legally permissible to fire directly at the person. Any other method not in line with these specific methods is a serious offense, entailing the prosecution of the violator.
As ridiculous as this may sound, not one of the victims of the so-called “targeted assassinations” posed an immediate threat to the lives of soldiers, only an indirect threat. I did not hear someone ask him to halt in order to check his identification, nor did I hear warning shots fired into the air, or see rubber bullets or tear gas used.
Neither do I know that this person was accused of collaborating with the Nazis or betraying Israel in wartime. For these reasons we must regrettably admit that assassinations are simply illegal. When the Israeli army carries out an assassination, it is breaking its own laws, not to mention international law as well. Other claims repeated by state security officials are also not applicable here. The death penalty is not applied for the crime of murder in Israel no matter how gruesome the killing or how many people killed.
Furthermore, there is nothing to prove that if the Israeli army had not eliminated the wanted person, he would have been directly responsible for the death of many innocent and blameless people. This claim is simply unacceptable in any court of law, because no man is a prophet or a fortuneteller. Moreover, in a case in which it can be ascertained with complete certainty that the person will be responsible for the murder of innocents (as impossible as that is), he would not be sentenced to death. (Once again, in the state of Israel, capital punishment is only applied in cases of Nazi collaboration or treason, specifically if the accusation comes from the political leadership, such as the Minister of Defense or the Prime Minister, and not the judiciary or attorneys.
There is no reason to discuss obtuse claims such as, “We are at war and in war the law does not apply,” “Would you like this insurgent to come into an Israeli area, blow up a bus and, God forbid, kill one of your family members?” Or, “The Palestinians don’t operate according to the rule of law and in their operations they commit crimes against humanity. Therefore, why must we abide by the law?” All these claims lack any basis in reality for the following reasons:
First: The state of Israel is not in a state of war. At least no one in the political leadership has made an official declaration of war. Even if they did want to declare such a thing, they could not, because one can only declare war against another state, and there is still no state for the Palestinians.
Second: Even if we were at war, we would be obliged to follow international law. Such law prohibits the use of various types of arms, the torture of POWs, and the illegal annexation of occupied land.
Third: I certainly prefer not to allow an insurgent to enter Israeli territory to bomb a bus, especially if that bus is anywhere near my family. Nevertheless, the law is not supposed to protect my personal interests, but to defend justice, the populace, and livelihood equally for all people—even if this goes against national or individual interests.
Fourth: There is no question that Palestinian terrorists are committing crimes against humanity with their attacks on innocents. However, this does not mean that because Palestinians do not follow all the rules, it is permissible for us to break them. This position is legally insupportable.
On top of all this, regardless of questions of legality, it is worth mentioning that “targeted assassinations” are not exactly targeted. About 70% of those killed or wounded during these assassinations are innocent bystanders and people who are in no way associated with the assassination, and this includes children.
These innocent people that have been killed in “targeted assassinations” served as the fuel that stoked the fires of hatred. How can the simple Palestinian individual — who lives under constant strain in poor social and economic conditions, in constant fear of Israeli soldiers knocking on his door or from the gunships that hover in the air, who does not enjoy a moment of inner peace — be expected to understand that his friend who was wounded during the operation was not meant to be hurt. This does not interest him, and it is of no importance to anyone that the Israeli army was trying to assassinate “an important Hamas individual.” This will not bring his friend back to life, and for this reason he and any other person in his family will join the circle of supporters for suicide attacks in Israel. They may even become terrorists themselves.
“A ticking bomb” is a phrase whose meaning we all know well: an individual that will perhaps directly and immediately attack innocent people. But according to its use by the security apparatus, the meaning of this phrase has changed entirely. Now the driver of the car that transports the insurgent to the scene of the crime is also a “ticking bomb”, as is the person who sent the bomber and the person who helped to create the bomb, and in short, any person who has anything to do with the situation. For these reasons he automatically becomes, in the national consciousness, “deserving of death.”
The moral waffling that takes place in order to justify “targeted assassinations” is preposterous. It is strange to unequivocally state that the targeted assassination of insurgents and terrorist leaders is legal and legitimate, and supported by international law as well. Such a statement lacks any semblance of seriousness. Targeting such insurgents could be considered legal, but there are several controversial points. How does one decide who is or is not a terrorist? Is it permissible to shoot him, or should he simply be arrested? In any case, the way the Israeli army deals with this issue is certainly illegal. The Israeli army shoots in civilian areas and ignores the injury done to passers-by who have nothing to do with the situation.
According to international law, no one can be executed without a trial unless he represents a direct and immediate threat. In such a case, shooting is not an execution, but self-defense. It is totally prohibited by international law to take any punitive measure that might hurt the innocent, even if they are only a few. Collective punishment is also prohibited (not to mention the demolition of homes). All these things and more, which do not comply with international law, can be found on the United Nations site or on any other sites that deal with various international accords.
Those who defend targeted assassinations raise some of the most difficult questions in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: is the life of an Israeli soldier equal to the life of a Palestinian? Simply, yes, they should be equal, because the life of a black man is equal to the life of a white man, and the life of a soldier is equal to the life of a Palestinian. More significantly, which life should be exposed to danger to prevent this kind of crime or any other crime? I will say clearly, the life of the soldier.
The Israeli soldier — unlike any simple civilian — is more prepared, more physically fit, and more equipped to face danger since he is equipped with more means of self-defense. On top of that, he is a soldier and he is supposed to protect people, regardless of whether they are Jewish, Palestinian, or Swedish. Therefore he is expected to do what is required of him (of course, according to the proper rules and regulations) to guarantee their personal security even if this means he and three of his comrades must face real danger in order to protect the life of one Palestinian.
It goes without saying that the soldier, just as he is required to protect settlers and those living in illegal settlements, without taking into consideration how few they are, is also required to protect Palestinian civilians (those living within the occupied territories). International law explicitly states that the occupier must treat those in the occupied territory as civilians — i.e. provide them with the necessary food, health care, and security.
If all this talk of international law, war crimes, and immoral actions seems to you as just words repeated by those who are emotionally involved, then you have no right to say a single word about Palestinian terrorist organizations. The public must understand that only when Israel is morally superior to Palestinian terrorism will nations of the world stop seeing Israel as a greater threat to world peace, and the United States will not need to use the veto whenever the UN wants to pass a resolution condemning Israel and its crimes.