Alon Ben-meir
The Middle East Times
March 19, 2008 - 7:28pm

The killing by Israeli undercover troops of four Palestinian militants in Bethlehem on March 12, raises questions not as much about Israel's right to self-defense but about the context and the circumstances under which this right is exercised. Even the right to self-defense and matters of national security must be balanced against the prevailing conditions.

In this instance, Israel has made an egregious mistake by killing four individuals whose continued threat to Israel pales compared to the Palestinian rage the act has provoked, and with it the potential for retaliatory violent acts against Israel.

However justified the killing may have been from the Israeli perspective, neither the targeted men nor the circumstances, or for that matter the timing, lends credence to Israel's claim of self-defense, not to speak of its commitment to a negotiated settlement. Here is why:

First, the four individuals appeared to have renounced violence, they posed no imminent danger, and hoped to be included in an amnesty agreement with Israel, but were refused.

Second, their killing shattered the calm of Bethlehem, a city which has been the calmest of all the Palestinian cities and which was planning to host an international investor's conference in May.

Third, the Israeli raid occurred at a delicate time embarrassing the Egyptians who were hard at work trying to arrange for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

Fourth, Israel is in the midst of peace negotiations with Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas, who now feels severely undermined by the Israeli action.

Fifth, the raid came on the heels of two-weeks of intensified violence in Gaza and Jerusalem, which killed 126 Palestinians and at least 12 Israelis and shook both communities amid international calls for calm.

Finally, the raid seems to defy the logic behind Israel's peacemaking strategy, as this particular act of killing will certainly play itself out in the Palestinian streets.

It will be a mistake to ignore Israel's legitimate concerns over the countless acts of violence perpetrated against its citizens by radical Palestinians from different political and religious affiliations. The string of suicide bombings during the second intifada left an indelible mark on every Israeli, and the endless barrage of Qassam rockets, as well as the recent killing of eight young Yeshiva students, has only reinforced Israel's zealous concerns over the security of its citizens.

Hamas' and Islamic Jihad's sworn commitment to destroy Israel has created a fatalistic mindset among the Israelis that has made their survival a zero-sum game against the survival of members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Moreover, the Israeli government argues that while it is committed to the peace process, it cannot afford to sit by idly, allowing known killers of Israelis to freely roam or not intervene to foil an imminent terrorist attack when the PA has failed to act.

Thus, from the Israeli perspective, the four had to be killed not only because they have Jewish blood on their hands but because, given the opportunity, they would have killed Israelis again and again because they do not accept Israel's right to exist.

But while understanding Israeli logic and sympathizing with it, there remains one fundamental question: When will Israel's leaders conclude that, despite the constant belligerency, there is a time when the elimination of certain individuals causes more harm than good and that targeted killing is not the answer to Palestinian resistance?

However Israel explains its recent targeted killing, the government cannot avoid the perception, if not the reality, that this act is: 1) totally inconsistent with the peace process, 2) plays into the hands of extremist Palestinians who argue against the peace negotiations, 3) perpetuates the vicious cycle of violent acts of revenge and retribution, 4) weakens the authority of Abbas, Israel's main negotiating partner, 5) raises serious questions about Israel's ultimate intentions, especially as it continues to expand existing settlements, and 6) angers many Arab states that view the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as central to their stability.

Whereas the targeted killing has been, from the Israeli vantage point, extremely effective, the Israeli defense apparatus must consider the political context under which these attacks are occurring. If peace with the Palestinians is Israel's strategic choice, then it behooves its leaders to demonstrate not only the ability to reach every terrorist but the political skills to manage the ongoing violence without damaging the peace negotiations. The principle of killing every Palestinian fugitive with blood on his hands, regardless of the circumstances, is blindly misguided because it begs the question as to when and under what conditions should the killings end.

Peace between Israel and the Palestinians requires more than a cessation of hostilities; it demands a demonstration of good faith, the rebuilding of trust, and genuine efforts to reconcile. The wounds inflicted by both sides are deep, painful, and have left many ugly scars. A measure of forgiveness and forgetting on both sides, whenever the opportunity presents itself, is critical if Israelis and Palestinians wish to ever coexist in peace.

Israel will not be able to redeem every Palestinian militant, but it must give a chance to those who have forsaken violence, even if they have not embraced peaceful coexistence. Israel's demonstrable desire for peace must not be put to question by mindless and unnecessary killings.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017