Everyone tries to be evenhanded. The press always reports the
Palestinian attack and the Israeli response together.
Diplomats and politicians condemn all violence in the Middle
East on the occasion of a particularly horrible bomb against
Israeli civilians. The U.S. State Department issues repeated,
monotonous calls for "both sides" to end the violence. And the
most common figure cited to sum up the entire cycle of
violence is that over 600 Palestinians have been killed and
about 170 Israelis (this figure changes often, sometimes
The purpose of this way of talking is to sound neutral between
the two sides of the conflict. Neutral it may be, but woe to
In the first three weeks of August, each day there were no
fewer than 17 Palestinian attacks in the West Bank and the
Gaza Strip and in Israel -- and as many as 56 on the worst
day. These attacks include "shootings, bombings, grenades,
assaults, stabbings and running over" according to the IDF
spokesman's figures. In August through the 23rd of the month
(4 Elul) there were 752 attacks -- a fairly typical month,
figuring that there were a total of 7036 attacks in the almost
11 months from last September 28 (erev Rosh Hashanah) through
The claim that over 600 Palestinians have died in the current
wave of violence includes over 40 terrorists who murdered
themselves, hundreds who were killed with weapons in their
hands while shooting at IDF troops or civilians, not to
mention several who were documented as having been killed by
Palestinians, including the 12-year-old boy whose death was
recorded by French cameras. Even some of the children were
killed because gunmen stood in a crowd and shot at armed
soldiers, while other children wielded guns themselves.
Moreover, the situation now is similar to a Palestinian war
against Israel. Terrorists are trying their worst to do as
much damage to Israelis as they can. If they have not done
more up until now it is not because they are restraining
themselves (as Israel is) but because they cannot do more.
Their policy is to kill, kill, kill.
In a war, it is accepted (because there is no other way) that
every enemy soldier is a legitimate target. One does not have
to certify that he has killed people or that he intends to do
so. If he is part of the war effort, then the warring state
may do whatever it can to kill him. Israel's efforts to
physically eliminate terrorists thus meet higher standards
than they really must.
In this context, to draw a balance between the violence of the
Palestinians -- acts done at their initiative to strike at
innocent civilians of a state that wants to talk to them and
has made significant concessions to their desires -- and the
violence of Israel -- undertaken in response to unremitting
attacks and killing, in self-defense and to directly prevent
further violent acts against innocents -- is morally
indefensible. It puts the murderer and his victims and
potential victims at the same moral level.
No political calculation can justify such a travesty, and in
the long run it will not prove effective either. Part of
America's power comes from its moral foundations, and if these
are undermined, America will ultimately lose out -- and so
will the rest of the world.