The insanity of treating terrorists

We choose to ignore an internationally validated distinction that puts terrorists outside the Third Geneva Convention.

Rabbi Benjamin Blech

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Full disclosure: My pain at the ongoing news of stabbings and murders of innocents in Israel reached an unbearable level when I learned that a member of our family, Rabbi Yeshayahu Krishevsky, 60, was mowed down and brutally butchered with a meat cleaver in Jerusalem.

He was but one of many who were heartlessly massacred or critically wounded over the last several weeks. In some of these instances the terrorists were slain before they could continue their acts of carnage. In others, however, they were merely wounded. And what followed in every occurrence is part of a pattern that is simply beyond my comprehension.

Have you seen the picture of Hassan Manasra, the young Arab teenager who stabbed and critically wounded an Israeli boy who was riding his bicycle in Pisgat Zeev? Hassan, who “moderate” Palestinian President Abbas claimed was cruelly executed for no reason in an incendiary speech to his people, is resting comfortably in a bed in Hadassah Hospital. He is alive and well, provided with free food as well as the best medical care available - as are all terrorists who managed to survive their murderous killing sprees.

Yes, we are a very compassionate people. If those who come to murder us do not succeed at first, we will nurse them back to health so that they can try once again to carry out their self-declared goals. And we call that sanity!

Eli Bein, the general director of Magen David Adom, Israel's version of the Red Cross, asserted that MDA medics will treat terrorists first if they are in worse condition than their victims! So the lives of victims don’t even take precedence over their murderers. And we call that sanity!

Charles Sprung, director of the general intensive care unit at Hadassah in Ein Karem, had this to say:

“We took care of a terrorist here many years ago who was later freed in a prisoner exchange. He gave an interview in which he was asked how he was treated in the Israeli hospital and he said he greatly appreciated it, and imagined he could not have received better treatment anywhere in the Arab world.  Asked afterward if he intended to leave his terror ways behind, he said: ‘No. One thing has nothing to do with the other.’”

Of course, one thing has nothing to do with the other. Kind and civilized treatment is what the Arab world expects from us. But killing Jews is the goal to which they have committed their lives – and for which they are happily prepared to die. Yet, we continue to act with unappreciated saintliness even when it proves to be suicidal – and we call that sanity!

International law differentiates between patients, prisoners of war, and terrorists, defining the latter as “unlawful combatants” who are not protected by the Third Geneva Convention, unlike prisoners of war. Yet, even as we face an existential threat to Israel’s survival, we choose to ignore an internationally validated distinction. And we call that sanity!

Hadas Sapir, a nurse in the department of Alon Pikarsky, acting head of surgery at Hadassah, recounts how Maher Hamdi Hashalamun – the terrorist who stabbed and killed 26-year-old Dalia Lemkus as she waited for a lift home on November 10 of last year near the settlement of Alon Shevut southwest of Jerusalem – was brought to Hadassah after being shot by a security guard. He soon began complaining about the service and never thanked any of the staff, she says. One of the nurses taking care of him sat down outside his room at one point and just cried, Sapir says. “We are human beings, of course, and Israeli citizens.”

It was King Solomon, the wisest of all men, who summed it up in a pithy saying in the book of Ecclesiastes: “Do not be overly righteous.”
When asked if he believed that doctors in the Gaza Strip would act similarly when faced with an Israeli soldier brought into their hospital, Pikarsky answers immediately: “Without a doubt,” he says. “I am sure they would also honor their professional obligations.” Proving without a doubt how even the most intelligent doctor could be the most naïve and politically unaware dupe - totally ignorant of how Israelis have been treated by their enemies.

Compassion is a wonderful trait. Yet, Judaism, which may well claim to be the first to teach its value for mankind, was also wise enough to proclaim that “those who are too kind to the wicked are too cruel to the righteous." Kindness has its limits. As we are instructed, “And you shall eliminate evil from your midst.”

It was King Solomon, the wisest of all men, who summed it up in a pithy saying in the book of Ecclesiastes: “Do not be overly righteous.” It was Jewish theology which pointed out that turning the other cheek makes the victim himself responsible for the second blow.

Even Dr. Pikarsky, who feels we have no choice but to treat terrorists with the very best medical care, admits we may have gone overboard. “I actually think we sometimes overcompensate, and go above and beyond when it comes to treating terrorists. We have this desire to show ourselves, and show the world, that we are a light unto the nations.”

Please don't misunderstand me. I am not making a case for withholding medical treatment from our enemies. We need to provide this care not for their sake but for ours – to retain our humanity and to prevent us from sinking to their barbaric level. But surely common sense ought to remind us that medical triage must also include a moral component. As politically incorrect as it seems at first blush, all lives are not equal. Jewish victims take precedence over Arab murderers. Those who come to kill us forfeit claim to comparable care and concern. To overcompensate when we treat terrorists at the expense of our own people in order to prove to the world our ethical superiority is more than sinful – it is suicidal.

Indeed, it is a nice thing for us to fulfill our mission as Jews and to be a light unto the nations. But in order to do so we need to survive. For that, we dare not say "we will be righteous even if it kills us" – for it might do just that.

Rabbi Benjamin Blech, is a Professor of Talmud at Yeshiva University.