Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

10 Ellul 5761 - August 29, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
The Limits of Evenhandedness

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 daily).

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 such neutrality.

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 August 23.

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.

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