Earlier this month, a previously unknown Arab/Islamic terror group claimed the murder and mutilation of four American civilian contractors in western Iraq as “retaliation” for Israel’s assassination of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.
“This is a gift from the people of Fallujah to the people of Palestine and the family of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who was assassinated by the criminal Zionists,” read the statement from the Brigades of Martyr Ahmed Yassin.
Now that Israel has also succeeded in eliminating Yassin’s successor, a pediatrician who devoted his professional life to blowing up Jewish children in buses and nursery schools, it is vital to understand what should already be obvious: terrorists have absolutely no rights of retaliation under international law.
There can never be any legal or moral equivalence between permissible acts of anticipatory self- defense against a leading terrorist, whether it be Sheikh Yassin or Dr. Rantisi, and the jubilant dismemberment, burning and hanging of American noncombatants carrying food supplies to hungry Iraqis. The fact that various Arab/Islamic terror groups see no difference between such expressions of force only reveals just how dangerous these groups have become. Indeed, they openly subordinate the most evident civilizational limits of humanitarian international law to the ritualistically primal pleasures of random slaughter.
By definition, terrorists are criminals under international law. They do not have any rights of reprisal. When a police officer shoots a fleeing murderer to protect human life, that action is certainly not comparable to the felon’s own criminality. The latter is an obvious instance of law-violation, one that must be circumscribed and punished. The former is an obvious example of law-enforcement, one that is indispensable to providing public order and security. The fact that both instances involve the use of force does not make them the same. They are not merely different actions from the standpoint of legality; they are diametric opposites.
The leaders of Hamas and its sister terrorist groups always urge “retaliation” for Israel’s self- defense policy of targeted killings – a policy now similarly followed and codified by the United States. With such misuse of language, the terrorists and their sympathizers acknowledge no legal difference between the essential use of force by states to protect against terrorism and the steadily escalating terror-violence that inevitably elicits such force. Recently, the frenzied Hamas cries for Jewish and “Crusader” blood were formalized in a widely-circulated deck of cards containing the pictures of Israel’s democratically-elected leaders. In a grotesque parody of the current American program to identify most-wanted Iraqi war criminals (criminals who are enormously popular heroes to Hamas and to other Palestinian terror organizations), these cards seek nothing less than to equate law-breaking with law-enforcement.
Normally, assassination is a crime under international law. There are residual occasions, however, where assassination may be not only permissible, but altogether law-enforcing. One such case is state-authorized counter-terrorism, so long, among other things, as the assassination is directed at the target terrorist as meticulously as is operationally possible.
By definition, on the other hand, assassination BY terrorists of a state official or of an ordinary citizen is always murder. It is true that in certain extremely rare circumstances, the assassination of a public official by insurgent forces could be construed as law-enforcing – circumstances called “tyrannicide” in political philosophy and jurisprudence – but these are surely not such circumstances. Here, in the matter of Hamas vs.Israel and the United States, Palestinian forces have repeatedly declined diplomatic methods of conflict resolution while simultaneously murdering the most fragile noncombatants with intentionality and cruelty.
To better understand this point, let us consider an eye-opening and altogether plausible scenario. In addition to Operation Iraqi Freedom and its associated plan to kill or capture leading Iraqi war criminals, the United States is now also conducting various other military operations in reprisal for the acts of terror of September 11th. An explicit major objective in these operations is the assassination of Bin Laden himself.
If these operations should eventually succeed, and Bin Laden is “removed,” al Qaeda’s successor leadership might then decide to murder an American high official. If, following such a murder, the United States were to respond with purposeful targeted assassinations, would any civilized person see “equivalence” in these reciprocal killings? Rather, wouldn’t it be perfectly clear that the violence by al Qaeda was entirely criminal, while violence by the United States was entirely law-enforcing?
Israel has been conducting necessary operations for many long and painful years against Palestinian terrorists. A major objective in these operations has been the targeted killing of criminals who plan barbarous attacks on Israeli women and children. Whenever Israel, in the most controlled and precise manner possible, targets the perpetrators of these heinous crimes,
Hamas and its fellow “freedom fighters” initiate yet another spasm of utterly indiscriminate murders. There is a “cycle of violence,” to be sure, yet there is anything but equivalence.
Impatient with all civilized limits, Hamas and its terrorist group partners now seek not only to reinvent language, but also to transform violation into punishment. This transformation, which unhesitatingly replaces law with vengeance, threatens to sacrifice ever-larger numbers of defenseless Israelis and Americans in the relentlessly desperate “martyrs'” search for immortality. Only a vast collective Jewish and American agony defines the Hamas idea of justice, an idea that handily masks genocide as “retaliation.” But no amount of linguistic manipulations can turn crime into law.
No cause on this green earth can ever justify the jubilant maiming, disembowelment, charring and murder of children on an Israeli school bus or adult American civilian contractors delivering food in Iraq, and no terrorist public relations campaign – no matter how slick and well-funded from Saudi Arabia or even parts of Europe – can ever succeed in portraying monstrous defilement as sacred goodness.
Copyright The Jewish Press 2004. All rights reserved.
LOUIS RENE BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971), and is the author of many books and articles on terrorism and international law.