Killing an injured terrorist may be wrong, but it isn't murder either

The killing of an injured terrorist in Hevron poses a difficult moral dilemma - but in grappling with it we must not lose our perspective.

Ari Soffer,

OpEds Ari Soffer
Ari Soffer
Ari Soffer

What to make of the controversy surrounding the killing of an injured terrorist in Hevron by an IDF soldier last week?

While many on both sides of the debate see it as a straightforward issue - "he is a murderer" versus "he is a hero" - the reality is far more nuanced.

On the one hand, morally-speaking the soldier most certainly is no murderer. An armed terrorist who comes in order to kill and hoping in the process to achieve "martyrdom" can hardly be described as a "victim." I'll go further still: he deserved to die. Him and all the others like him; those motivated by a genocidal, Nazi-like bloodlust to murder and maim as many Jews as possible. These are no innocent victims but jihadist terrorists, murderers and degenerates of the worst kind - whether they ultimately succeed in killing or not.

Were it not for the heavy concentration of soldiers in Hevron, Judaism's second-holiest city, the terrorist would surely have targeted civilians, as many others have. Men, women and children; civilians, police officers and soldiers; pregnant women, the elderly and the disabled; mothers, fathers, rabbis, nurses, teachers and students; peaceful worshippers at prayer - all of these are considered fair game to the Arab and Islamic chauvinists for whom the very notion of Jewish empowerment and independence, Zionism, is considered a most grievous "provocation."

The only essential difference between the knife/gun/car/ax-wielding Arab terrorist who stalks the streets looking for Jews to kill in 2016, and the machine-gun-wielding guard at a Nazi concentration camp in the 1940s, is that while the latter's Jewish victims were mostly powerless to resist, the former's are - to his great misfortune - a very different breed of Jew indeed.

So please, spare me the faux outrage. And no, the video did not disturb me - far more disturbing are the videos and pictures of murderers being given free treatment at Israeli hospitals at tax-payers' expense. To know that a man or woman who robbed a family of a loved one, who left orphans, widows and grieving parents behind, or left innocent people with life-changing injuries, will be pampered and treated using my taxes is a far more sickening prospect than a jihadist killer getting his just desserts.

And yet, at the same time, the prospect of a soldier carrying out a field execution - if that is indeed what occurred (which, though you would believe otherwise from some of the media coverage, has still yet to be determined) - poses a very disturbing problem.

In a rule-of-law society it is the courts who must mete out justice to criminals; not soldiers, not police officers and not civilians - no matter how enraged or wronged they are.

For the record, I am personally a supporter of the death penalty, at least in cases of terrorist murderers. I believe that such a punishment is not only fundamentally the only just one for premeditated murder, but that it would serve as a deterrent - even to those who attack with the intention of dying in the process. It's one thing to be killed in a blaze of (in)glory during the course of an attack, quite another to die alone, as a common criminal, staring at the hangman's noose.

But allowing individuals to exact "justice" in the field is the start of a slippery slope which could well lead to a total breakdown in law and order, with terrifying consequences for the general public. If such authority is granted to the army or police - let alone private citizens - Israel could quickly descend into the dark, savage anarchy engulfing many of our neighbors, where the rule of the gun (or sword) is the only real authority, and blood-vengeance, death squads and summary executions affect the innocent and guilty alike. Worse still, such authority could easily be abused by those in power in unthinkable ways. It could be the death-knell of Israeli democracy.

It is worth pointing out that the law and order argument, too, is a nuanced one. Take the recent stabbing in Petah Tikva: putting aside the fact that in that case the terrorist was not yet neutralized and therefore still posed a potential danger anyway - automatically justifying his victim's subsequent heroic actions - should a stab victim pulling the knife from his neck and killing the terrorist who attacked him with it in retribution - even if he was already neutralized - be subsequently punished? Personally, I would recoil from such a notion, and it would take a particularly heartless, morally-bankrupt judge to seriously consider punishing a victim in such a way.

Yet the case last Thursday was markedly different: the soldier who fired the fatal shot was not injured and the terrorist in question was lying mortally wounded on the ground. Angry though he may understandably have been over the preceding attack which injured his comrade, he was not himself the victim. The only legitimate justification (and for his part this is the soldier's version of events) would be if he believed the terrorist still posed some kind of threat, for example by carrying a concealed explosive device.

This is not impossible - in at least one attack terrorist knifemen also used improvised explosives - but whether that was the soldier's true motivation is for the military court to decide. It is of course the IDF's duty to try the soldier in question and, if it is determined that he broke the rules of conduct, he should be punished accordingly.

But there is something very disturbing in the way the case has played out in parts of the media. I'm not talking about the trial by media which is, unfortunately, an all too common phenomenon - rather, I refer to the way in which we are being subtly robbed of our moral compasses without even knowing it.

Consider, that when a Palestinian terrorist stabs a pregnant woman, or stabs a mother or father to death in front of her or his children, or guns down parents in front of their children, or stabs and slashes scores of innocent passersby, it is forgotten within a day or two, and certainly receives little critical analysis or direct criticism of Palestinian society and the terrorism it breeds. It's just one of those things; maybe it's even Israel's fault.

In some cases - and it has happened far too often to be anything other than a concerted editorial position - news articles will either whitewash the act of evil committed or even go so far as to equate the victims and their killers, or highlight the "suffering" not of the victims' families, but of the families of the Palestinian "martyrs".

Much in the same way as the Duma attack was the focus of so much more outrage, international criticism and self-flagellation by Israel and Jews everywhere, there are those who would have us approach the events in Hevron last Thursday as somehow more outrageous than the attack which preceded it.

Well, it wasn't. In fact, after half a year of daily attacks (and decades of brutal terrorism before that), that one soldier may have lost his calm and shot a would-be murderer in the head is far less worthy of outrage than the daily acts of Arab terror we have sadly become inured to. If anything, we should give pause for thought to just how few such incidents have occurred in spite of the huge pressure and constant dangers faced by IDF soldiers.

To those who answer with the predictable "we should be better than them," I would say that - apart from being a fundamentally racist sentiment (why are "we" better than "them"?) - I personally have no desire to be held to a "higher standard" than anyone else. "Higher standards," too, are a form of racism, particularly when - as is the case with Israel in the kangaroo court of international opinion - they magically apply only to our obligations, but afford us no greater rights or legitimacy.

So, as Israel navigates the difficult yet crucial task of enforcing the rule of law even on the complex and morally challenging battlefield, we must resist the urge to leap to uninformed conclusions, as well as the groupthink which pushes us to sympathize with the terrorist as a victim, and to view the soldier as a cold-blooded killer.

What happens subsequently is up to the military court to decide, and we should be proud of the State of Israel for that.





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