By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
Jewish law states explicitly and, as far as I know, other legal systems are of the same opinion that if someone is about to kill you, you’re entitled to kill the would-be assailant. That’s, of course, why many of the terrorists who’ve attacked Israelis in recent months have been shot to death. Last Wednesday the victim was an Israeli officer. He was shot by another soldier who aimed at the attacking terrorist and missed. The terrorist sustained moderate wounds; the soldier died some hours later.
But already before that happened, people were asking whether opening fire in this way was necessary in all cases. Perhaps the would-be killers could be “neutralized” without having to pay with their lives. Many of them have been under 20, allegedly the products of the Palestinian education system under occupation. A good proportion had links to Hamas which is bent on harming Israel even if it means destroying its own people everywhere and especially in Gaza, where Hamas rules. Some are said to have chosen what their faith describes as a martyr’s death rather than a life under occupation.
Even Israel’s Chief of Staff has been asking questions in public about trigger-happy Israeli soldiers. Not everybody in his country was pleased with his implied strictures, but in the end even the prime minister decided to support him, at least in public.
An added reason for Israelis’ reluctance to criticize the practice is the fact that many, even ostensibly neutral or friendly foreign governments – not just Sweden through its notorious foreign minister – have expressed displeasure, often reflected in the media in their countries that will headline incidents telling about the deaths of Palestinians while minimizing the reason for it. It feeds into the hostile prejudices that see Israelis as cruel aggressors and Palestinians as innocent victims.
The bitter truth is, of course, that violence breeds violence and may create situations in which would-be victims end up as villains. It’s another terrible by-product of the occupation to which the current government of Israel seems to be blind and which even its parliamentary opposition doesn’t wish to challenge. The reason is at least in part the Palestinians’ reputed reluctance to talk peace, though judging by the antics of several of the ministers in the Netanyahu government, Israel may be colluding with it.
As serious as the current wave of terror is viewed in Israel, experts tell us that we should be much more worried about what happens on the other side of the country’s borders: (a) Hamas is digging tunnels and amassing weapons that threaten the South; (b) Hezbollah has a large arsenal of Iranian and other missiles ready to attack the North and perhaps reach as far as the Centre.; (3) the Palestinian Authority is fragile; the departure of Mahmoud Abbas, which in view of his age is likely to happen soon, may create chaos in the territories threatening not only the settlers but also Israel itself, not least Jerusalem.
In other words, here it’s business as usual. It’s been like this in one form or another – often very much worse than it is today – since Israel’s inception and before. Yet the country’s population has grown tenfold since independence. The economy is solid and Israel continues to thrive. The art of living here is to learn to accept anomalies and contradictions. Those who visit us from abroad are often charmed by the country and inspired by its citizens: Israel’s inexplicable magic.