An acrimonious argument is going on in Israel over the explosive issue of whether the public is allowed to take the law into its own hands if confronted with a terrorist who has just stabbed a Jew. There is no argument over the permissibility of killing a terrorist before he has attacked anyone if that seems the only way to prevent him from carrying out his plans. The dilemma is over whether it is permissible to kill a terrorist after he has knifed someone. Here, too, there is no argument about killing him if he is capable of continuing on his rampage; in that case, everyone agrees that he must be eliminated forthwith.
The problem arises when a terrorist is neutralized, lying flat on the ground, possibly wounded or handcuffed and unable to rise and continue injuring more people. Can physically attacking him and even causing his death be condoned, or is he entitled, once neutralized, to protection against spontaneous vengeance, to medical care and a fair trial to determine his punishment?
The answer to the question depends on the views held by the person to whom it is addressed. More tellingly, however, does the debate have to be based on deductions reached from the study of Israeli legal and moral systems, reflecting a country ruled by law where even a criminal is entitled to due process – or should the debate be based on the fact that the perpetrators are not part of Israeli normativity, do not accept Israel's moral standards and would like to destroy them along with the entire state, so that there is no logical reason for the system to protect them.
In other words, should the "lynch question" debate be guided by the legal principles that serve Israeli society, or should we look at the question from the point of view of the attacker, his society and the norms by which he lives. And don't forget that while this argument rages on, other, more immediate questions give Israelis no respite – how can the next attack be prevented and how can the next terrorist be deterred from stabbing even 80-year-old Jews in an attempt to murder them?
Many left-leaning Israelis use legal and moral arguments that derive solely from modern, liberal and secular Israeli experience. This is the stand espoused in a Haaretz article (November 3, 2015) by Professor Moshe Negbi, Hebrew University lecturer and legal commentator for Voice of Israel radio.
A glance at the title of the article, The Lynch Culture of the Extremist Right, suffices to ascertain his feelings on the subject. According to his point of view (or that of the editor in charge of writing headlines), inflicting injury on terrorists is not an emotional reaction to an incident in which a terrorist has just stabbed a Jew, but part of a "cultural pattern", an indication of something genetic and ingrained in the makeup of rightist extremists, guiding their every step. In his opinion, rightist extremists are people whose entire culture is one of lynching, people who spend their time looking for someone to lynch.
Negbi calls them "an uncontrolled mob", whose "criminal views" have infiltrated the halls of government and the security establishment, affording "unassailable proof of the increasing bestiality of Israel."
"Palestinian blood is not the only blood allowed to be spilled, so is the blood of anyone who attempts to stop Israel's degeneration from a law-abiding to a lawless lynch state," he claims. Professor Negbi goes on to quote justices and academics who have written scathing criticism of members of the IDF and security forces who acted against the law while carrying out their missions – and who received criminal punishments.
Similar views were expressed by Reshet Bet radio broadcaster Adi Meiri on her regular "It's all talk" program aired on November third. The problem of all these writers and radio broadcasters is that they analyze the stabbing terrorist issue through the rose colored glasses of liberal, modern Israeli culture. This is a culture that insists that every citizen and member of the security forces is obligated to exercise self-control, restraint and proportionality, even if this means protecting himself and others with his own body from a criminal who is intent on inflicting injury. They relate to the terrorist stabber and murderer as though he is a member of civilized society who has, unfortunately, strayed from the proper path, but is entitled to all the protection afforded by law to any criminal from the minute he ceases to be an immediate and palpable danger to others.
What motivates Negbi, Meiri and their friends is the moral ethos that claims that we Jewish Israelis are bound by an ethical code that prohibits our acting violently against someone who does not present a palpable and immediate danger, even if, less than a minute earlier, he stabbed us with intent to murder. This moralistic approach is to be found in Israeli law and in various court decisions. The principle behind it is that we do not act as our enemies do, we do not descend to their level – because we are better than they. Does this approach not smack of supercilious arrogance?
Another "minor" detail that bears noting is that our legal and moral dilemmas do not impress our enemies one bit; they simply take advantage of the fact that we allow them to wander freely and unchecked in our midst, enabling them to draw sharpened knives from their pockets at any given moment and butcher us.
According to our enemies' approach to the situation, Jews have absolutely no right to live in this land, not even in Tel Aviv, because they are conquerors of the Islamic state of Palestine that belongs to Muslims alone. We have no right to independence or sovereignty, because Jews are obligated to live under Sharia, Islamic law, as subservient dhimmis. If we protect ourselves, we are breaking the laws of Islamic protection and deserve to be butchered.
The average stabber knows that if caught, he will be put in prison where he can study for an academic degree, that within a few years he will be exchanged for an Israeli soldier or citizen kidnapped for the very purpose of freeing terrorist murderers, and that while he is imprisoned his family will receive generous sums of money from the Palestinian Authority (the source of which funding is the American taxpayer). This is in addition to the great honor that his family will enjoy, whether he is killed or not. If he is killed, he will have a school named for him, one in which children will study his "heritage", and possibly a street or even an organization that will spread the spirit of anti-Israel jihad in the world.
The stabber is motivated by the same concerns that encouraged Haj Amin al Husseini, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, to take part in the destruction of European Jewry in the 1940's. A Muslim who sets out to stab Jews knows that a reward awaits him in Paradise whether he is killed before, during or after he does so. Our moral concerns do not interest him in the least, but if worst comes to worst, they will be the reason he will be protected from the anger of those surrounding him at the scene. He relies on Israeli law and Israel's police force to protect him from the crowd's vengeance, and is sure he will survive to stab more Jews after he is freed during a prisoner exchange.
That is how Israeli morality works against Israel and its citizens, paralyzing Israeli deterrence and encouraging terrorists to stab Israelis. The stabbers are in a win-win situation since Israeli law and morals grant them immunity from immediate punishment by bystanders who were witness to their terrorist actions. It turns out that those who constantly spout lessons in morality actually behave immorally by encouraging terror and murder. It is fascinating to see a professor of law blatantly encouraging terror.
This is how Israel ties its own hands, making it more difficult to respond effectively to terror. Israel has lost its ability to deter terrorist murderers because they feel that they have immunity. It should be a given that any terrorist who takes up a knife to stab a Jew knows that he will not return home alive, that he will be killed either by security personnel or the people who witnessed his actions. Isn't the period when Muslims considered Jewish blood cheap a thing of the past? Israel has no choice, it must renew its ability to deter terrorists.
Both the left and right must remember that this is the Middle East. Peace in this region is not the lot of those who unwaveringly follow Western mores, laws and ethics. He who succeeds in convincing his enemies that he is invincible and that they had better leave him alone for their own good, has a chance of achieving peace.
Anyone who does not understand this or who does not want to understand it, is cut off from reality. I suggest that he wake up and connect the dots for his own good, before the butcher's knife separates his head from his body - and I am not engaging in mere fear mongering.
In case that scenario does occur, will his being a moral person be of any help?
Written for Arutz Sheva, translated from Hebrew by Rochel Sylvetsky, Op-ed and Judaism Editor